Atheism Fit for a Comedian – a Critique of Rationalwiki

As a serious consumer of humor, I periodically look at what George Carlin has to offer on Youtube. Some of his comedy is of the outrageously funny ain’t-that-the-truth nature as is his critique of the language used during airplane safety checks. Some of his gutter language is unwatchable. One thing consistent is his disgust toward religion (often Christianity). His comments are meant to be funny but come from a supposedly serious, but unscholarly, reflection on this topic. While he claims he was a Catholic before his age of reason, it’s obvious he has never decided to think reasonably about religion.

 

800px-Jesus_is_coming.._Look_Busy_(George_Carlin)

George Carlin from Wikipedia commons

 

I bring Carlin up not to do an exhaustive critique of him because to do one of a comedian would be absurd. I have more fish to fry in other places than that. I bring up Carlin as an introduction to pointing out that many supposedly serious critiques of religion do not rise above the level of Carlin and reflect the equivalent minuscule amount of serious thought.

In particular, I start with an essay on RationalWiki[i] authored by someone calling himself[ii] Rational Thinker (hereafter “R.T.”). In the name of the website and author we have an example of the atheist presumption that to think religious claims are true is to think irrationally. On the other hand, to doubt religious claims is to think rationally. If that’s true, such supposed rational thinkers should be educated in what they are studying – namely religion – in order to think rationally about it. However, the understanding they show reveals them to be anything other than that. Take, for instance, R.T.’s critique of faith.

All religions have in common that they are faith based. People are taught to believe claims from some ancient text or self-proclaimed spiritual leader, instead of relying on their own senses, evidence and critical thinking.

Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens said: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Christians, and I would imagine most religious believers, do have an element of faith in their beliefs because many of their beliefs cannot be verified by current means available and must be simply taken on trust in the founders of that religion (or other reliable disciples or followers of it). However, this doesn’t mean that everything is to be believed without evidence. Nor is R.T. the only writer who has said such a thing. Chester Dolan has said that

Faith, as the theologians and other mystics use the term, is the capacity to accept as “true” declarations that have no predictive content. It is their way of asking us to believe something for no other reason than because they say it is so, not because there has ever been the slightest evidence to demonstrate that it is so.[iii]

If this is true of Christianity, then Christianity would have revealed this to be the case at its beginning. Jesus, the Gospel writers, Paul, and others would have responded to any questions about evidence with “you just gotta believe man! Take it on faith.” However, according to the Gospels, the disciples did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead until Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection and convinced them. In order words, to the disciples, seeing was believing. Luke writes, that Jesus appeared to his disciples using several infallible proofs.[iv] Tim Chaffey explains that the Greek word translated as “infallible proofs” is one from logic that refers to something “to be known in a convincing and decisive manner, proof.”[v] When Paul later explained, to the Corinthians, the reasons for believing that Jesus rose from the dead, he again appealed to evidence. This time it was in the form of testimony from people who were there.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 3-8)[vi]

Ryan Turner, at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, explains that this statement is creedal in nature because Paul’s words are written in a way that suggests it was a passed-on tradition.[vii] Turner’s is not a lone opinion. Christian apologist Gary Habermas, in his debate with Antony Flew, based part of his argument for the resurrection on the fact these statements are creedal.[viii] Brett Kunkle, in an article for Stand to Reason ministries, argues similarly.[ix] Paul was citing the testimony of people who were there.

Today Christian scholarship is deluged with apologetics books that speak to the intellectual side of Christianity. In particular, Henry Morris’ book Many Infallible Proofs argues for Christianity in ways that are all based on evidence, not blind faith. Other apologetics books do the same. Morris, in fact, says

As a matter of fact, the entire subject of evidences is almost exclusively the domain of Christian evidences. Other religions depend on subjective experience and blind faith, tradition and opinion. Christianity stands or falls upon the objective reality of gigantic supernatural events in history and the evidences that they really happened. This fact in itself is an evidence of its truth.[x]

morris many infallible proofsApparently R.T. prefers to not even embrace Christian scholarship and most likely the scholarship in any religion. Although some people may believe without evidence, most people have difficulty believing something that their mind rejects if the evidence is not there, and the evidence is obviously different among religions. For example, Eastern and New Age religions cite evidence of reincarnation and evolution since much of their beliefs hinge on whether reincarnation and evolution are true. Some religions hinge on the prophetic statements uttered by their founders. Christian apologists cite historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection or evidence of prophetic statements as well as scientific evidence. It’s simply irrational to think most people believe things by faith alone without at least some reasoning and evidence to back them up, and that is certainly true of Christianity.

This isn’t the only place such thoughts have been expressed. On why atheists disbelieve in God, the website thoughtco.com offers us this irrational tidbit on faith:

All religions or other theist-based systems are predicated upon the concept of faith, defined as the belief in a concept that cannot otherwise be defended by logic, reason, evidence, or science. No concrete evidence is necessary to believe in God or gods. Instead, people are supposed to simply have faith—a position they wouldn’t consciously adopt with just about any other issue. For instance, try standing in front of a speeding bus with nothing but “faith” to keep it from hitting you.[xi]

This paragraph had everything correct until I got to the end of the first paragraph. Obviously, from what I indicated earlier, the disciples of Jesus did require visual proof and apologists today defend Christianity by logic, reason, evidence, and, yes, even science. I actually think it’s atheism that is believed without any of those things.

Something from Nothing

It is often asserted that the fact there was a beginning to the universe can lead to the conclusion God created that beginning. R.T. quotes Stephen Hawking who says that to ask what existed before the beginning of the universe is to ask what is north of the North Pole. In other words, time is analogous to direction; in each case, there is nothing beyond the limit and therefore nothing beyond it to comprehend. So why ask?

Yet, Hawking remarked that “Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention. . . . There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang.”[xii] Apparently there were a number of scientists and philosophers who believed that the problem of the beginning of the universe cannot simply be dismissed away by a faulty analogy, and that’s why Hawking made such a statement.

What R.T. is referring to is the no-boundary proposal popularized in Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time. More should be said about it than the mere glossing over I can give it. I can say that I’m skeptical of it because Hawking introduces something called “imaginary time” without any clear spacetime boundary and hence no beginning to the universe. To me, this is no surprise as I’ve found that evolutionists continually find that when scientific evidence doesn’t fit their theories the scientific laws, data, evidence, and even common sense are faulty and must be revised or reinterpreted.  For instance, Richard Dawkins even suggests that something can come from nothing and that is interesting. (I cite this in my recent essay on Dawkins.)[xiii] I’m working on an essay for the LSI (Lutheran Science Institute) journal touching on this and will post the link here when it is done and accessible. For the time being, I simply note that William Lane Craig has written that few cosmologists have followed Hawking and that Hawking’s model has not eliminated the need for a creator.[xiv] I should also mention that Quentin Smith debated Craig, and Smith took issue with Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument and could have simply dismissed it immediately with R.T.’s “no North Pole” argument but didn’t.[xv] Apparently, R.T.’s counterargument isn’t obvious commonsense as R.T. seems to make it when he cites it without any suggestion it could be wrong.

Soul Man

As far as an immaterial soul, R.T. argues that “since this thing is non-physical, it again cannot interact with the physical world without violating basic science,” and this, he thinks, applies to God as well. I wonder if he has ever seen two magnets get repelled by a magnetic field. Apparently, in this case, the immaterial can influence the material. Know what else is immaterial? Well, let’s start with wind, gravity, radio waves, and concepts like eternity. Apparently, yes, immaterial things can influence the material. The existence of these things is not an argument for the soul; it’s just an argument that immaterial things can influence the material.

In quantum mechanics, it is well known that the act of measuring a subatomic particle influences its behavior. Two Youtube sites that have proven beneficial to me are the Inspiring Philosophy site and the Noetic Sciences site. Both argue that observation can influence a subatomic particle without a direct connection. It has been suggested that the mind may interact with the brain at the subatomic level via quantum mechanics, and since the mind is separate from the body then it must be immaterial. Out-of-body experiences are further evidence that the mind is immaterial but can influence the material. It stands to reason, then, that the immaterial mind can influence a subatomic particle and the brain without a material connection.

inspiring philosophy

noetic science

Moral Man

 On morality, R.T. shows again his inability to think seriously on the subject. He says “the fact that religious beliefs have frequently been important factors in causing or exacerbating divisions between peoples – sometimes even resulting in warfare – rather devalues religion’s claim to the moral high ground.” Does he reason as so:

  • True religions will have believers who act morally.

  • Religious believers up to this point have acted immorally.

  • Therefore, those religions must be false, or at least their followers can’t be trusted to impart moral truth.

If that is his reasoning (and it seems the only reasoning possible), then it’s wrong for a reason any good logician should be able to spot quickly. Primarily, it ignores the fact that people have free will that allows people to do horrible things though they know better. Unfortunately, often religious people do wrong even though they know, or should know, better. That includes me. That is their failing, and mine as well, and people with moral training can often fail as I often have. This doesn’t invalidate the moral code they are to obey or whether they should encourage others to act morally even if they unfortunately fail to obey those moral codes.

If we are to take R.T. seriously, we would have to believe people who sometimes steal have no business telling others not to steal. But, people should always tell others to behave morally even if they fail to do so because acting morally is always a proper goal as is encouraging others to do so. Clearly what makes a religious moral code objectively true is the truth behind the religion, not the behavior of the religious. If God exists, then God’s commandment to not steal will hinge on His existence, not on the behavior of His followers.   This reasoning is clearly beyond R.T. who is not a rational thinker but a pseudo thinker in the tradition of George Carlin.

If you follow the logic of the matter, you will see that what atheists really want is a license to sin with God there to clean up the mess each and every time.

Speaking of Carlin, he once spoke a bit on why he rejected his Roman Catholic faith. Carlin said he really tried to believe in God but looked around and found that things were really messed up: “War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is NOT good work. If this is the best god can do, I am NOT impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being.”[xvi] Similarly atheist Bertrand Russell could not believe in God and said “I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?”[xvii]  Apparently Russell was no better than Carlin on these matters. There is clearly a blind eye in some atheists who believe God has no business interfering in our business but should keep us from hurting ourselves by – perhaps – making us nothing but robots (something I’m sure atheists would disprove of). If you follow the logic of the matter, you will see that what atheists really want is a license to sin with God there to clean up the mess each and every time.

This doesn’t mean that religious people are free from criticism. They should explain why others do immoral things in God’s name or without God’s approval. They should also seek to do good, always, not to bring glory to themselves but to God, and they should seek to correct moral error when it exists.

Religion and Evolution Conjoined

R.T. shows a great deal about his intellectual inadequacies when discussing NOMA which is short for “non-overlapping magisteria.” R.T. suggests NOMA is used to justify religion, but this is not even close. It’s used to have your cake and eat it too. I’ll explain.

Many creationists have said that evolution and creationism are not compatible. However, evolutionist Stephen Gould proposed a way to make peace between them: NOMA. Under this idea, both religion and evolution occupy their own spheres of influence that sometimes conflict. Gould says that “The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.”[xviii] This is a twisted view of the relationship between the two because clearly the Bible doesn’t touch on only issues of meaning but of historical occurrences (the beginning of the universe and the death and resurrection of Jesus, for instance). In many areas they do conflict, but Gould wants to satisfy his theistic fans who believe in God but also believe in evolution. He does so by watering creationism down as do all theistic evolutionists I’ve read.

If you want to know more about my opinion of theistic evolution, see this link.

For another irreligious thinker critical of religion but no better mentally on the topic than Carlin, see my critique of Bill Maher at this site. Please note my critique of Maher comes at the end of the essay.

That’s my conclusion to Rational Thinker. It’s clear that his brand of atheism is no better than that of the other thinkers I’m mentioned here, and their ramblings are no better than the ramblings of a comedian angry at religion but ignorant of the subject they study. At least with R.T. you get an occasional giggle without the cover charge.

Jeffrey Stueber

Email the author

View Table of Contents

View about the author page

Read the Wastelands of Unbelief – an edited version of my book published by Tate Publishing

[1] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Essay:Why_religion_is_bull****  (remainder of site address deleted because it contains a swear word)

[2] I will refer to R.T. as a male in the rest of this essay although I don’t know R.T.’s gender.

[3] Jeffrey Stueber, review of Chester Dolan’s Holy Daze, http://www.tektonics.org/guest/dolan.html

[4] Acts 1:4.

[5] Tim Chaffey, “Infallible Proofs,” https://answersingenesis.org/jesus-christ/resurrection/infallible-proofs/

[6] From http://www.biblegateway.com

[7] Ryan Turner, “An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11,”

https://carm.org/analysis-pre-pauline-creed-1-corinthians-151-11.

[8] See the book Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate

[9] Brett Kunkle, “An Early and Reliable Account of Jesus’ Resurrection,” https://www.str.org/blog/an-early-and-reliable-account-of-jesus%E2%80%99-resurrection#.WyJ1dqdKiM8.

[10] Henry Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1996), 9.

[11] https://www.thoughtco.com/why-atheists-dont-believe-in-gods-248065

[12] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang To Black Holes (New York: Bantam, 1988), 46-47.

[13] See my essay at https://thesecularleftcritique.wordpress.com/the-delusional-dawkins-a-review-of-the-greatest-show-on-earth/.

[14] William Lane Craig, “In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/the-existence-of-god/in-defense-of-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/. For another critique, see Aron Wall, “Did the Universe Begin? VII: The No-Boundary Proposal, “http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/did-the-universe-begin-viii-the-no-boundary-proposal/

[15] For the William lane Craig, Quentin Smith debate, see their book Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology.

[16] https://www.thoughtco.com/top-george-carlin-quotes-on-religion-4072040.

[17] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1975), 10.

[18] Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html.

Advertisements