Pain, Loss, Evil -- these were the things that Clives Staples Lewis struggled with in his early years. Lewis, one of the most profound and prolific writers of modern times tells of his journey away from the Christian faith to a valley of unbelief, then back up the mountain where he meets God--whom he calls Joy with a capital "J". Lewis starts by recounting his early childhood fantasies and experience, which he notes are a manifestation of Joy. To him, these memories would become goal of his existence to recapture the feelings and security that they offered.
Lewis recalls that his first religious experience in his life was he death of his mother. After reflecting on this experience, Lewis says, "With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and island now the great continent had sunk like Atlantis." (The First Years) What Lewis had known as solidarity and peace became an island, puny memory of existence in an ocean of life. This imagery reflects the deep disappointment and the longing to return to that island that seemed so large in his early life. But it seems that Lewis was lost at sea and had no idea how to find his way back, so with that, he attempts to find the way on his own with no charts, maps, or a compass to guide him.
fundamentalism meets mac...
thank god or thank goodness?
It was interesting to read an atheist's perspective on how one views medicine and healing. Surprisingly, it wasn't all that different from the way Christians see it, save one thing: God. And it is on that matter I have been thinking about.
One thing that Dennett notes in the article is how "good intentions" are often used as the standard in view of God, but not the one that is applied to man. He thinks that if a doctor's work was just "good intentions" by theist standards, then the doctor would have a lot more room for error. He says:
…if you have good intentions, and are trying to do what (God says) is right, that is all anyone can ask. Not so in medicine! If you are wrong--especially if you should have known better--your good intentions count for almost nothing...In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does!
I think that Dennett misevaluates Christianity. It is true that God wants our intentions to be pure, but it also true that God wants our conduct and effort to be pure too. People are filled with good intentions, but often fail to act on those intentions. This is not at all what God wants. I am sure that Ted Haggart had all the intentions in the world to not do what he did, but he did it anyways, and now has become yet another moral failure in the eyes of Christianity and secular world alike. Intentions weren't good enough here. What if this had been the pope? The ramifications would have been even larger. It is of the utmost importance that Christians and Christian leaders especially maintain impeccable behavior to not discredit themselves or Christianity. When Bill Clinton failed morally, it didn’t deface the faith as much as when someone like Jim Baker did.
On the same issue, God wants more than good intentions in the work place and work of the church. What if Christian charities all over world who deliver aid to the people who need it desperately decided that it was just good enough to have the intent to help people? Nobody would ever get helped. But the intentions have manifested themselves and today many people receive aid because of Christian charities. And what about the doctors who work for these charities? These people often sacrifice potentially lucrative careers to live in less than acceptable living conditions to help people. Such sacrifice goes beyond mere intentions to showing people an example of what Christ preached: complete selflessness without any intent other than love. So essentially, religion demands excellence in two areas: work and morality. This is a far cry from what atheism would demand.
On thankfulness, Dennett thanks goodness, rather than God for all that he has received. Dennett sees goodness as those who have helped keep him alive for his life. He says:
I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.
I am in complete agreement with Dennett on this statement, but as a theist I would take it a step further. First, I would thank God for goodness. From whence does goodness come? As a theist, I believe God, but where does an atheists get the concept of goodness from? C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity writes about how he perceived there to be so much evil in the world, but in doing so, he realized that he could have no perception of moral law without a moral law giver, namely God. How can Dennett know anything about goodness apart from someone who defines goodness? If it is subject to himself, then as an individual I could certainly think that murder is a goodness. But we know it is not, and on that I thank God for the goodness and justice he gives us.
Second, I don't have to be an atheist to thank goodness. Dennett spells out those who he thanks, and I too and grateful to those who have helped keep me alive all these years. I can thank the doctors, nurses, orderlies, security guards, insurance agents, x-ray technicians, and so many other. I can thank religion, the very institution that is so often criticized for stifling the growth of reason is the very institution that preserved learning while the Europe was in chaos, from which medicine was born. And on top of that, I can thank God. So which heart of gratitude is ultimately a greater? If I am thanking God and people, then presumably I would have more gratitude than those who just thanked people. I can also thank God for life, the air I breathe, the planet on which I live, the food that the planet provides me with. Can an atheist thank the ground for food? Can an atheist thank anything for life? Certainly not. It is quite humbling to realize that there is so much that we take for granted, and I can't help but think that these things are a gift, not an accident--something I can be infinitely grateful for.
Third, Dennett holds that we should repay goodness for what goodness has given us, but he also maintains that trying to repay God is ludicrous:
The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness--by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come...Or you can thank God--but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you?
Dennett is right on when he says we can't repay God, but I don't think it is ludicrous. What seems more humbling is realizing that I can't repay what has given to me: life, air, food, and so much more. This exponentially increases my gratitude. It is in that gratitude that love is born. It is fundamentally different than the way Dennett see it. He sees it as a give and take economy--what one takes out he or she should put back in. A person with that perspective might feel that they have given more than they have taken, and hav a sense of entitlement. The Christian worldview is all give, because we realize that we have been given so much more than we could ever repay. It is out of a heart of gratitude that love is born. So which is true altruism? Because of how Christians perceive blessing, it makes one more grateful and more generous than atheism, which is more altruistic.
One final thought: What if Dennett had died? Can anyone thank goodness for that? Probably not, but one can at least thank God when someone who is a Christian departs. For a Christian, life doesn't end at the grave but continues on and for that hope that I can and will be eternally thankful.
the vanity of atheism
The point of this essay is not to defend prayer, but to show that atheism is even more futile than religion even if faith is false. If you are interested in looking at the arguments for this, read or watch the video at GodIsImaginary.com, and you will quickly see how misinformed the author of the site and many others who think like him are about prayer.
As mentioned above, what atheism often critiques related is worship, and the vanity thereof. Worship as they see it is pointless because what one worship does not exist. Worship however is not confined strictly to religion, although it is generally associated with religion. One can worship God, while another can worship the Beatles. The object of worship is different, but the fundamental principles are the same: adoration and devotion to something. Atheists will probably say that they worship nothing at all, but the reality of it is that anyone who adores something or someone in the highest regard is worshiping that thing. For an atheist, it is not supernatural, but something else. It is that “something else” that lies the problem.
Anything that is not supernatural is part of the natural order of things. Such things are bound to the universe: its laws and substance. Everything in the universe is made from the same fundamental building blocks of matter and energy, so whatever it is that an atheist holds in high esteem is made from the same elements as a block of wood. Whether an atheist adores intellect, reason, humanity, or science, ultimately these things can all be tied back to the same material that comprises a block of wood, so there really is no difference in adoring science than worshipping a totem pole. It all the same if it is part of the natural world.
The Bible also shows the absurdity of this in Isaiah 44:
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
"Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
"Save me; you are my god."
18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand. (NIV)
It tells how a man takes a block of wood, carves a god out of it, then bows down to worship it. He then takes the other half of the block of wood and cooks his dinner with it. The same thing that the man cooks his dinner with is the same thing he worships. The reality of the matter is that it doesn't matter what he makes his god out of. One may as well be worshiping a sculpture made from bellybutton lint. One may object, saying that they don't hold a thing in high regard, but an idea, such as humanism, love, science, or reason. These things though are also part of the natural order of things, and without something to give them intrinsic value outside of the natural order; they are merely chemical processes in the brain, and nothing more. It would seem even more absurd to worship chemical-electric process than to worship a block of wood.
Where theism differs is that it doesn't worship the natural order of things, but worships that which created the natural order. One cannot reduce creator worship to the absurdity of worshiping the created because the creator is fundamentally different from the natural order.
But what if atheists are right and theists are wrong? One could grant hypothetically that atheism is right and theism is wrong. In this hypothetical world, all the religion of man would be in vain and all that has been done in the same of religion is futile. In this hypothetical world, nothing religion does changes the outcome of events in the future, nor does anything in the past matter. Even if these are true, it still doesn't fundamentally change the vanity of atheism. In the video on GodIsImaginary.com, the analysis shows how prayer does not fundamentally alter random events. They conclude saying,
And think about this. What if a minister says, "God tells you to tithe money to the church. If you do, God will answer your prayers." This is fraud. The minister is lying to you in order to get your money. The belief in prayer is pure superstition.
One then has to ask, is atheism any better? Most atheists have in one way or another some form of optimism. As they see it, opening the worlds eyes to what they call the truth will usher in a new era for mankind that will ultimately better the race, however hope in the this optimism is nearsighted. On the same principle applied to prayer, the optimism cannot alter random events in natural world. Such events may be natural disasters, disease, accidents, and things of that nature. Likewise, this optimism can't cheat death. Ultimately, the universe will decay into heat. The stars will all burn out, the earth will be absorbed into the sun, and the places for refuge will grow fewer and fewer, ultimately leading to the extinction of the human race. So any hope outside the hope for life after death is in vain, and such is the vanity of atheistic optimism.
One then has to compare the eschatological implications of religion and atheism. Atheism will lead nowhere. Theism leads to life beyond the grave. Even if theism is wrong, the hope it offers is so much better, and not nearly as delusional or nearsighted as atheistic optimism, so it seems more reasonable to be a theist than it does to be an atheist in that sense. It would seem that if atheism was really better, it might have caught on, but it hasn’t. The idea of atheism is nothing new, and has existed for thousands of years, but it has yet to become main stream. That may due to the fact that after seeing the vanity of atheism, that the presumably primitive and superstitious people saw the vanity of it and abandoned it for something better: theism.
imagine 'no religion too'
It is no secret that Dawkins would like to see religion just disappear and everyone endorse atheism and humanism as their worldview. While his intentions may be noble, I think that his view would ultimately spell disaster, not utopia, for the people of the world. First, if everyone believed like Dawkins and there were no religion in the world, then everyone would effectively be atheists. He wants uniformity on worldview. The question I would ask, how this is any different than fundamentalist religious sects who want everyone to believe like they do. How can Dawkins preach against something so adamantly when he himself portrays himself in the likeness of fundamentalists. Even under his worldview one could not be an agnostic because in agnosticism there is at least the possibility of God and thus a chance that religion might be warranted, because they have no other reason to believe otherwise.
Dawkins also likens his views to those of John Lennon, the ex-Beatle who wrote the song Imagine:
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there are no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
In this song, there are a few things to note. First note uniform atheism. We've discussed this already. Second, note the communist overtones: "No Possessions" and "Sharing all the world." Lennon's version of utopia sounds good, but is it possible? Atheistic communist states have been proven empirically to fail within the first 70 years of their conception. Consider the former Soviet Union and the Soviet Block countries of Eastern Europe. The USSR started as a communist state with atheism (more or less) as the state sponsored worldview. It wasn't even 70 years before it fizzled and plummeted into ruin. China was much the same. After the death of Mao, China has lessened its stance on hardline communism and pressed for a more market driven style government and economy after seeing the failure of communism. One of few remaining communist nations, North Korea, can't even feed its people. This is a far cry from Lennon's view of utopia where there is no hunger.
Dawkins Writes in the God Delusion :
Imagine with John Lennon a world with no religion...Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ killers', no Northern Ireland 'troubles', no 'honour killings', no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.
Let's imagine a world with Dawkins view: Hope in inherently greedy men for a better tomorrow, starvation and poverty on everyone corner because your leaders would rather pursue nuclear technology than grow food, a great Cultural Revolution to destroy religion, no ability to think about spiritual things or convene with those who do, no televangelist fleecing you for money because you don't have any, no need to work because you could live off the labor of someone else, and if you do work what you work for may be taken away and given to the one who does not. These are just a few things that one could say drawing from the examples that we have of failed atheistic states.
Christians would like to see a place of peace without war, famine, and all the vices, but Christians are not so naive in thinking that everyone would want to embrace such a place. The Christian worldview maintains that people are inherently selfish, and would rather seek the good for themselves, even at the expense of others. As a result, Christians do not expect nor act as if people would embrace selflessness and peace, but they assume they will act to the contrary even if peace and selflessness were completely possible. It is not human nature to want to give up something for somebody else, but rather a force of will. Christians desire to have peace and to eliminate hunger and they do much to attempt to solve these problems.
I am not blaming atheism for the problems in Russia, North Korea, and other communist or formerly communist states. But I am saying is that Dawkins' analysis of many world problems is not really the result of religion as it is political ideology in the guise of religion. Communism carries with it atheism, and atheists would be quick to point out that the two are not the same thing. In the same manner, Atheists cannot call terrorist cells Islam, for it too would commit the same fallacy.
internal inconsistencies of a purely scientific worldview
It is probably true that not all atheists are irreligious, but generally speaking, being atheist automatically makes one an empiricists because atheism denies any sort of transcendence. Transcendence is necessary of rationalism is to be true. If all that can be learned is from experience, then the sole arbiter of truth is essentially science. Science is the systemized approach that people use to test hypotheses based on observations.
Empiricism and its progeny science themselves are not inherently bad, but by virtue of what they can observe are limited in their scope, and for that reason can make some faulty claims or be used inappropriately when it steps outside that scope. The axiomatic base of empiricism as stated is that all that is knowable is what can be learned from the natural world through the senses. This statement sounds good, but how can it possibly be known to be true? The problem with this statement is that it is absolute; however it cannot be known to be absolutely true without assuming it to be true. In this case, it is a priori , and this something is known outside of sense experience, ultimately defeating empiricism. However, one could argue that it isn't known to be true axiomatically. Rather, it is known to be true based on how one has learned. In this case, it is not absolutely true. In the same manner, atheists cannot say that God does not absolutely exist. Even Richard Dawkins grants this, saying that one can no more prove the existence of God than they can Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He says that it is just a so remotely improbable that it is not true.
Another problem arises when one considers the implications of empiricism. If all that one can know is from the natural world, then how can anything ever be known about God? Atheists think that it is delusional to believe in God, because as Dawkins sees it, faith something that is not based on evidence. One could however turn that statement back on atheism and say how can they say anything about God without evidence or some sort of observational data? In an empiricist?s framework, any and all kinds of God talk are meaningless. Some empiricists have made this observation, but there are some who insists on taking on religion such as Dawkins. This seems to present a problem: if one wants to take on religion, then he or she really isn't committed to the pursuit of truth of science, but to something else. An empiricist would be like Spock in Star Trek IV when he is asked bay a computer, "How do you feel?" As a Vulcan, Spock has no feelings, and he does not understand the question. In the same manner, if one was truly an empiricist, when one mentions God, he or she should act confused rather than repulsed.
One question that begs an answer from empiricism is that if all that is knowable is that which can be learned through experience and the senses, how could a notion like God ever arise? The Freudian tradition thinks that God arose as a result of psychogenesis: a way of explaining things that were unexplainable at the time. While that may offer an explanation for the evolution of theology, it still doesn't answer the question. Why did things not remain a mystery? Apparently human beings are creative enough to invent a concept that had never been observed. If this is true, then it is possible to know about things apart from empirical observation, ultimately defeating pure empiricism. However if the concept of God was observed, then it only seems logical to conclude that God exists.
Even more fundamental to than the notion of God is self awareness. How can the natural world know anything about itself from within itself? If all that was ever known was light and never darkness, how would one know about light? Flying at 40,000 feet moving at 600+ mph in a 747 doesn't really feel any different than standing on the ground. One would never know he or she was flying on a 747 without having entered the 747 or looking out the window and seeing the ground below. Consciousness cannot arise from something without some point of reference outside of consciences. In relating that to empiricism, it only seems fair to say that one has to be at least aware of his or her senses before he or she can possibly learn from them. Otherwise, consciousness is a delusion.
While these four objections to empiricism are by no means exhaustive, they are certainly a starting point and have to be considered when one wants to reject transcendence. I for one cannot embrace this worldview based on the internal inconsistencies it has. It is true that theists do make some assumptions as axioms, but the difference is these axioms don't have the problems that one who reject such thinking.