Saturday, February 9, 2008

How to Respond to a Supercilious Christian

Kelly O'Connor
Feb. 7, 2008

Not all Christians are supercilious, of course. Many are
content to live and let live, and some even grant that science (despite
its lack of supernatural entities) does some good. But Christianity as
an organized, evangelizing movement has been on the offensive lately.
Witness the new wave of evangelicals and their leaders such as Rick
Warren, Lee Strobel, and William Lane Craig with their aggressive
stance against scientific materialism and their bestselling books
attempting to refute science. So, assuming you're an atheist, what do
you say to the theist who asks, "You don't (chuckle) believe in a god (snicker)?"

Anybody familiar with the original article will see that the
preceding paragraph is the same paragraph as the opening to "How to
Respond to a Supercilious Atheist" by Alan Roebuck. By changing a few
words, the same attack can be launched right back at him, and the rest
of the article isn't much better. It appears to be a primer in
projection. After all, when in doubt, just accuse them of being just like you.

Roebuck advises his fellow theists to take a different approach to
defending the faith-instead of coming up with actual evidence, you
should just tell atheists how our worldview is the one that is based on
assumptions and presuppositions. He eschews using the First Cause
argument and the defense of miracles because, "No matter what evidence
you give, the supercilious atheist finds a way to dismiss it." I wonder
if he has ever considered that it may be dismissed because it is not
valid evidence.

The First Cause argument doesn't work because, at best, it can only
be used to show that something created the universe, and that something
is not necessarily Yahweh. It could be another god or a multitude of
gods. Even that is questionable, though, due to the fact that they have
yet to show that the universe itself is contingent upon some necessary
being and not the necessary "being" itself. I would also advise theists
to drop this argument from their arsenal, but not in favor of Roebuck's

Roebuck states that, "it is not the case that your evidence
for God is valid but nevertheless is cancelled out by his superior
evidence against God." Gee, Sherlock, where can I find this "evidence
against God?" How about the absolute penury of evidence for god?
Theists have not yet grasped the concept of the burden of proof,
apparently. It's really simple, so I find it astounding that it is so
easily dismissed-the one who makes the positive claim (ie-god exists)
is the one who has to prove that claim, not the person who is in the
default position of suspension of belief due to lack of evidence (ie-as
far as we know, god does not exist). As much as I hate to be the bearer
of bad news, if you believe something without sufficient evidence, you are irrational.

Roebuck claims that atheism's vulnerability lies in the "false
worldview" that we hold that only material, objectively verifiable
things exist. First of all, this is not true. Not all atheists are
scientific materialists. There are many who believe lots of different
wacky theories that don't involve a god and there are others with other
notions of how the universe operates. This argument is only applicable
to a portion of atheists who also hold a materialistic worldview.

Roebuck then claims that scientific materialists assume this and
have come to their conclusion before examining the evidence. (Is the
projection evident yet?) The only evidence that exists is physical,
material, verifiable, and falsifiable. The existence of god is none of
the above. Any religious statement can be considered factually
meaningless by virtue of the fact that it doesn't meet the
falsifiability criterion. The only assumptions being made here are that
god exists and it's up to atheists to disprove that. Obviously, Roebuck
doesn't understand that this is impossible, and that is the very reason
why we can say that no evidence for such an entity exists.

He uses an example of a blind man dismissing the existence of color
because he cannot sense it, and likens that to the atheist who can't
sense god. First of all, the blind man knows he is blind. He recognizes
this sensory deficiency and doesn't believe that everybody on earth is
also blind. Furthermore, Roebuck is demonstrating his lack of
understanding of the functioning of the brain by asserting that color
exists in some more than abstract sense. Color appears as it does to us
in the small portion of the light spectrum that we are able to
perceive. For other creatures, the world around them is entirely
different, and we can study how this process operates, what causes
disorders such as blindness or the inability to perceive color and from
where it stems.

Is Roebuck suggesting here that atheists suffer from a sensory
deficiency as well? Does he believe that theists have been endowed with
a "sixth sense" that enables them to make contact with the
supernatural? If so, I'd like him to demonstrate what part of our
anatomy is causing this problem so that it can be rectified. Blindness
stems from either the brain or the eye itself not operating properly.
Where does "spiritual blindness" originate? Seen as how all of our
senses are processed in the brain, and also have an external organ by
which the information is received, he should be able to show where our
malfunction is occurring.

Roebuck claims that the theist must challenge our "assumptions" to
properly expose the atheist as a pedant, and says that first we have to
define our criteria for making the determination that there is no valid
reason to believe in god and how we know they are correct. He must be
talking to different atheists than I, as most people that I know would
respond with the criteria being objectively verifiable evidence, and
that we know this method of validation to be the most accurate due to
hundreds of years of making advancements as a society thanks to the
scientific method.

He moves on to what kind of evidence would be needed to verify the
occurrence of an actual miracle. This would be a difficult question
because most people with a scientific mindset would not know what it
would take because even unexplained phenomena could potentially be
explained in the future. Not knowing the answer right now doesn't imply
that the answer is unknowable. Besides, an omniscient, omnipotent being
would know exactly what was necessary and could provide it if he chose.
Unless, of course, we are his "vessels of wrath" created only to go to
hell and demonstrate god's wonderful mercy.

He again misconstrues the position of atheists who allow for the
possibility of the supernatural, although I personally feel that any
knowledge of such a plane of existence is impossible to ascertain, by
positing, "How do you know that a super-naturalistic explanation,
involving a God who intervenes from time to time, cannot be the correct
explanation? Wouldn't one have to be, for all intents and purposes,
omniscient in order to know that God could not have been involved?" We
don't know for sure that it couldn't be the correct explanation, and he
is shifting the goalpost from his particular god to "a
super-naturalistic explanation." This is a common tactic in
apologetics, and it should be pointed out that he doesn't know that the
supernatural being that started it all wasn't Zeus. As far as the
omniscience goes, we can answer that we do not have to be omniscient to
say that at this time, there is no evidence for such a being and no
need to appeal to one. Making up an answer when there is none is called
argumentum ad ignorantium.

He attempts to take on the issue of the logical contradictions
inherent in the attributes that his god is given but misses most of the
salient points. He deals momentarily with omnipotence and claims that
god can do "anything that can be done." Didn't god make the rules to
begin with? Could he not have made them different than they are? What's
the point of having an omnipotent creator of the universe who was
beholden to some other rules, and from where or whom did those mandates

He dedicates a measly three sentences to theodicy, and just says
that a god who allows evil for some unknown reason could exist, but
never ties it back into the real contradiction, which is how could that
god be considered omnibenevolent? Again, god either created atheists
specifically to be tortured for all eternity by no fault of their own,
having been given the gift of faith or not, or he just chooses not to
intervene for some mysterious reason. Either way, how can one argue
that this being loves me? He will send me to hell purposely, either
because it's my destiny, or because he just doesn't intervene because
we need faith, which is a gift from him that we are supposed to somehow
give ourselves. That's not circular or anything.

He moves on to what he calls "arguing presuppositionally", and
gives an inadequate explanation of an axiom, which he then changes
slightly to allow for the existence of god to be a non-axiomatic axiom.
He claims that all knowledge is based upon one foundational principle
that cannot be proven, but is intuited. He is muddying the waters here
by the use of the word "intuit", as an axiom is just something that is
self-evident. I feel he chose that word for the specific purpose of
misleading the reader and priming them for the upcoming shift in

He claims that axioms can be tested by deducing whether or not the
system is "logically, morally, and existentially consistent." He
asserts that the atheist worldview fails because the "nature of
knowledge cannot be validated empirically." People have many different
epistemological views, and the use of scientific methodology to
determine the validity of anything is necessarily going to have some
starting point and then system of experimentation. That is all we have
with which to work, and he is attempting to negate the materialist
worldview by using a point that he himself believes regarding his
own-that not everything can be empirically validated.

He claims that one cannot live a purely naturalistic life as that
implies that you define your own meaning, and that makes everybody's
meaning invalid. We couldn't "stick to it when the going gets rough." I
have no idea what kind of data he is using to determine this, but the
search for meaning is an individual endeavor-even for the religious.
People may claim that they "live for god", but in reality, nobody does.
If all they are living for is the promise of an afterlife in paradise,
then they logically would all just commit suicide to get there faster.
Instead, what we observe is christians not following the dictates of
their own belief system and living their daily lives in much the same
way that we heathens do. They also use their families, their
responsibilities, their hopes, dreams, and future endeavors as
"meaning." Being handed a blanket "meaning" for your existence only
serves to cheapen the very concept.

He claims the existence of god is axiomatic, but cannot be
"intuited" like other axioms. These are, after all, "subtle and cosmic
questions." If it is not self-evident, it is not an axiom. Period. He
says that any proposition "must be judged true or false in light of
what we already know to be true." I'm with him there, but how on earth
does that prove the existence of god as axiomatic? His writing goes
from merely ignorant to absurd at this point.

Perhaps the most amusing quote is this one: "...some people are
content to believe without having any proof of their beliefs, and you
can't argue with someone like that." You're telling me. Again, this is
an example of projection at its finest. He claims that theism excels at
"accounting for the facts of reality", but I'm not sure exactly what
type of reality to which he refers. Reality is that which can be
observed and generally agreed upon. Imaginary sky-daddys don't fall
into that category.

His final snafu is that he comes around full-circle to admit that
the foundation of religious belief is faith-that which is believed but
cannot be proven. Did he not just spend 5 pages attempting to prove
that his god belief is logically superior to a naturalistic worldview?
I feel as if I missed the middle ten pages of this argument and walked
into the conclusion of a completely different one. He claims that by
pointing out our assumptions, theists can claim victory over atheists,
but all he is really saying here is that he has the opinion that we do
the same thing that they do. If that's true, why is it acceptable for
them and not for us? It seems to be a very odd contradiction to say
that atheists are wrong because we work from our presuppositions, but
then to base your own worldview on presuppositions. How exactly can you
determine whose presuppositions are correct? If they cannot be proven,
how can anybody know? Given his own argumentation, how does he know
that our supposed presuppositions, while I don't believe that a
naturalistic worldview implies presuppositions, aren't the correct
ones? Can we not take every argument here and turn it around on
religion with no difficulty?

To put the nail in the coffin, his endnotes declare that the true
impediment to our belief is that we hate god. This laughable notion is
constantly used against us and is by far the most ridiculous assertion
in their repertoire. It is nothing short of an attack that attempts to
discredit our use of rationality by claiming that it is an emotional
issue at its core. If anybody is rationalizing their emotions, it is
the theist whose fear of death overwhelms him to the point that he
makes up fairy tales to assuage the constant anxiety that life in an
unknown, unpredictable universe can induce. This article was a pathetic
attempt to discredit atheism, or more accurately, scientific
materialism, by ascribing to it all of the properties of religion. That
alone is enough to demonstrate the intellectual vacuity of their