Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reviewing Randal Rauser's "The Swedish Atheist..." Chapter 20




Chapter 20: Would a Most Perfect Being Have a Most Imperfect Church?
We begin with a continuation of comparing the Christian concept of God with the Greek concept of Zeus. Granted, Zeus has more in common with Jesus than Jehovah, but Randal is playing a little sleight of hand trick here. Instead of holding up like religious concepts he’s reaching for the polar opposites and then saying that one of these fits his preconceived definition.

What are the odds that Randal’s concept of God will fit the exact definition he selected for it? Odd are probably in his favor. This prompts Randal to affirm:

“[W]hile Zeus was created by other gods, Christians and Jews always taught that Yahweh is the creator of all things…. The difference between various concepts of God is important for eliminating certain descriptions of the most perfect being.”

Remember my objection to this method of assigning templates to your chosen God concept and then holding them up to your chosen definition the last time? It really amounts to little more than a type of “naming” game.

Holding up dissimilar God-concepts to your randomly selected definition, and then saying, this one fits and this one doesn’t, is easy. But in essence, all one has done is show that some templates fit arbitrary definitions better than others. Likewise, definitions can be found to be compatible with certain templates. This is to be expected. But one hasn’t proved anything.

All Randal has done is show that the Greek template is less compatible with a randomly selected definition for a Perfect God and that the Christian template is more compatible with this same randomly selected definition of a Perfect God.

But what if we were to assume that God wasn’t a perfect being? Well then, the Greek template would be more compatible than the Christian one, and Randal still hasn’t said why the definition of a Perfect being is more plausible than an Imperfect being, accept that’s the definition he likes because it fits with his theological views.

Sheridan then launches into an example of a girl with liver cancer from Australia whose parents flee to El Salvador to avoid having to give her the mandatory medical treatment required by the Australian Law so that they can, instead, pray for hear recovery in accordance with God’s will. This is Sheridan’s counter to Randal’s claim that God is a perfect being. The fact that God didn’t do anything to ease the young girl’s suffering is essentially a version of the Problem of evil, and it is a strong argument against the Christian God, but Randal doesn’t seem to think so.

“But how exactly does that work against Yahweh’s claim to be God?”

I don’t know what happened here, but I thought we were talking about God being a so-called perfect entity. Not God’s claim to be divine. This is trick theologians like to use when they have no good or ready answer for the skeptic. They quickly change topics, or raise other points, so as to bog down the conversation in a quagmire of confusing and irrelevant points—hoping to throw off the exacting scrutiny of the skeptic.

The question I would of asked Randal is, “Wait a minute, are you saying Yahweh is claiming to be a perfect God? If so, that’s easy to disprove!”

Then all one would have to do is reference the Bible. End of debate. The folly of the apologist exposed.

Instead of dealing with these hard hitting issues, real world Randal has his atheist puppet do the same thing real world Randal likes to do, change topics. Sheridan then begins to harp of all the religious idiots which exist, saying that “as far back as you care to look your God has been trailed by an unbroken chain of idiots.”

Randal scoffs.

“Idiots? The whole lot of us?”

We feel burdened to answer Randal here, so we shall. No Randal, not all religious are idiots. But many are. And not to point any fingers, but have you read your own book? It has some pretty unintelligible comments in it that only an idiot could make. Does that mean Randal is an idiot, or that he just wrote a sad example of an apologetic book? I think it’s the latter. I don’t believe Randal’s mentally deficient, but his brain certainly seems overcast by the storm of religious nonsense.

Coming back to the suffering of the little girl, Sheridan points once again to the parents’ negligence and asks:

“[I]s it part of his [God’s] perfect plan that children suffer agonizing deaths?”

Randal’s defense is rather lame, but let’s allow him to make it anyway.

“I don’t think those parents correctly understood God’s will…”

If you find yourself shaking your head that the best Randal can come up with is the excuse that these good Christian literalists simply misunderstood God, then where does he draw the line? Hell, maybe *all Christians are misunderstanding God all the time? What’s his criteria for discerning who is good at understanding God and who isn’t?

It’s not coincident that if you’re not a Christian, the reason we nonbelievers are told why we often cannot grasp God is that we do not have the Holy Spirit to guide us to God’s Truth™. But here’s the problem, if the parents in the story cited by Sheridan are, in fact, real Christians, then shouldn’t they understand God’s will because they have the Holy Spirit?

Lots of problems arise due to Randal’s poor reasoning, but never mind. We aren’t allowed the luxury to debate real discrepancies or raise real objections. This is Randal’s grande conversation with himself, and Sheridan is turning more and more into a nitwit reminiscent, well, most uneducated apologists.

Randal informs:

“Medical quackery has nothing to do with the Christian view of God.”

Really? So, does Randal consider the power of prayer medical quackery? Inquiring minds want to know.

Randal then comes back with this doozy:

“[T]his tragic story could just as well have been about a couple of atheist parents who favored quackery to proven medical treatments. I am not sure why you’re blaming the Christian concept of God for the medical ignorance and foolishness of some deeply misguided parents.”

That’s right. Because atheists have a belief in the supernatural power of prayer, firmly feel miraculous healing happens all of the time, and hang on every word of a religious holy text which instructs them on how to invoke prayer to heal the sick and get their desired miracles.

No, wait. That’s Christians.

How Randal confuses the two is beyond me. But it seems he simply doesn’t want to admit that unquestioning religious beliefs can often lead to folly if followed faithfully, because that would be admitting that one’s religious beliefs are fallacious. There’s a reason medicine works and prayer doesn’t. If you ever wanted greater evidence for the inefficacy of miracles, and the impotency of God, quite frankly, there isn’t a better example than the failure of prayer.

Randal then states:

“Parents subject their children to abuse and neglect for all sorts of reasons, not just religious ones.”

And although he’s right, it’s beside the point. Sheridan’s example was a direct objection to a perfect God. If God was perfect, and was real, then he’d answer those prayers, heal the sick, and work a few miracles in favor of his faithful followers. The point wasn’t to say there isn’t child abuse in the world, it was to say that if your God is perfect then he’d be burdened to have to oblige his followers and answer their prayers as promised in the holy texts of the faith. Then it’s a matter of whether or not such a belief compels the parents to neglect their child.

Sheridan then quips, “The fact is that belief in God promotes fatalism.”

Randal counters by informing:

“The Christians I know believe God works through modern medicine and that he expects us to use our common sense… there’s no essential link between theism and fatalism.”

Of course, Randal is wrong on both accounts. There’s no way he can *know that God wants people to use common sense. That’s just a wild assertion on his part. Meanwhile, as to his claim that there’s no essential link between theism and fatalism, I mean, really? Does Randal even know what Calvinist Christianity is?[1]

Randal and Sheridan continue to argue. Sheridan asserts that it’s Christians who are frequently doing such things, and Randal wants to know “how often do Christians do these things compared to non-Christians?”

A lot, actually (hint: try using Google search).[2]

Randal then states that the reason Christians get caught doing abhorrent things happening frequently is quite simple.

“Christians outnumber atheists by multiple orders, so it’s not surprising we’d have more examples of Christians committing evil acts—just like we have more examples of Christians committing heroic and good acts…”

Sigh. Yes, that explains the link between faith and faith based actions precisely. (Not really).

Next, Randal proves that he doesn’t only partake of the Koolaid, he flat out guzzles it.

“How many of the hospitals and orphanages built in the last two millennia were built by atheists? And don’t forget that the largest mass-murderer of the twentieth century was an atheist.”

Ooh, yes. Evil psychotic mass-murdering atheists. It’s not clear whether Randal means Stalin or Hitler, but it doesn’t matter, both are incorrect. It’s a fallacy (association fallacy to be exact) to invoke either of them because of their atheism, since apart from whatever else they didn’t believe, they were A) mass murdering psychos, and B) used religion to a great degree as a means to help carry out their evil design. As Richard Dawkins quipped, they also had mustaches. Meanwhile, it is well known that Hitler was a Catholic and Stalin trained in the Russian Orthodox faith.[3]

On the Iron Chariots Wiki page for Stalin, we learn that

“As the de facto ruler of the USSR, he initiated many purges. Many clergy were killed and this is often cited as Stalin's anti-christian mark. However, like Henry VIII he did not simply remove clergy, he replaced them. He established a new national church of Russia, which of course answered to him. He considered the church very important to extending control from Moscow to the satellite nations. Stalin's church was called the Russian Orthodox Church or The Moscow Patriarchate; and the suppressed church was called the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. They have a bitter history.

Stalin was many things, a former theologian, the head of the national church, and one of the most brutal dictators ever. His own views on religion are difficult to guess. Many scholars think of Stalin as a ruler who envisioned himself as a god.

Furthermore, there is the concurrent claim that the USSR was an atheist nation. While the Communist Party suppressed religious fervor, it did so only out of jealously of loyalties. The Communist Party demanded loyalty to itself above all others, even above God. Russia has always been an intensely religious nation. They consider the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church to be equal to the Vatican's Pope; or even above the Pope. To claim that Russia became atheistic overnight in 1917 only to emerge deeply religious in 1989 is incredibly ignorant.

One may also note that almost all of the leaders of the USSR, from Lenin to Gorbachev, except for Malenkov, were atheist or non-religious or did not have their religion documented. Yet only Stalin committed such historic atrocities. Gorbachev explicitly affirmed his atheism, but he nonetheless campaigned for religious freedom and was very friendly toward believers.”[4]

But Randal’s point is well taken. Simply having religion or not having religion doesn’t make one evil. Accept for, you know, when having religion does make someone evil … by causing them to fly planes into skyscrapers or bomb abortion clinics to ensure women don’t get the medical help they may desperately need, to trying to lobby to have the right to teach nonsense to children in public schools.

There’s a reason we don’t see atheists doing these things, but Randal is right about people frequently having a propensity to do bad things. But that doesn’t address the criticism of good people behaving badly because of religion and their religious beliefs.

To conclude this chapter Randal asserts:
 “I certainly don’t find that the sins and errors of individual Christians—or people who claim to be Christians—warrant the conclusion that Yahweh isn’t God.”

But doesn’t this ignore the criticism entirely?

The point is, if Christians had a direct conduit to God, to morality, and to miracles like they claim, then a perfect God would be obliged to act in accordance with his perfect nature, and answer prayers, cause wondrous miracles which defy our knowledge of the natural world, and all this in accordance to his perfect plan—which could only be a form of predestination if God was at all perfect—because a perfect being would be all knowing by definition of perfection.

So Christians would be morally superior to everyone else (even with sinners included), they would have the ability to invoke magic (and things like praying for the cure of your child’s illness would actually work), and it would be clear that God was working wonders for his believers but not anyone else (since only those who are in communion with a perfect being would benefit from this so-called personal relationship), and this evidence would all go a long way to establishing the Christian God as the perfect God Randal holds as the ideal type of God in his mind. But this we do not find.

Instead we find that Christians, based on this ardent belief in a perfect God, all too often waste their time praying for sick children only to have the children suffer. And this is a direct cause of their religious beliefs. All too often Christians make the best sinners, because no matter how bad you behave, you can always ask God’s forgiveness. And the only personal relationship it seems any Christian has with God is the one they have imagined in their mind, otherwise, all these above things would be true rather than false.

Now, as for the question of Yahweh claiming to be God, the God of the universe, this isn’t really a claim anyone can take seriously. We’ve never heard it from the horse’s mouth, but rather, have an old book filled with myths in which believers held that a mythical deity, not so dissimilar from any of the other mythical deities of his day, was a God among gods in a story about Gods.

Therefore the claim that Yahweh must be considered the one true God simply because some believers believed it and wrote it down in a book is certainly not a good enough reason to accept the claim. It’s exactly the same as me asking you to accept Spiderman as a real person because my child saw him in a book—and because Spiderman fits with what my child thinks a hero should be. But not Batman. Batman obviously couldn’t be a true hero because he’s too dark and startles the fine line between vigilantism and the law—and that’s just un-hero-like.

This is essentially what Randal has asked us to believe. And it’s so patently absurd that I have to worry about the common sense, or lack thereof, of those who read this hokum and accept it hook line and sinker. Which, when you stop to think about it, would be a defeater for Randal’s ideal perfect God, technically speaking. After all, his God wants people to use their common sense, but if they did that then then wouldn’t read books like this.

Chapter 21 is called “Would a Most Perfect Being Command Genocide?” I’m sure it will probably be more of the same. So join me, won’t you, as we discover the depths one Christian apologist will go through to salvage belief in a nonsensical deity.






[1] Perhaps it would help to clarify. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. It leads to a bleak outlook, because without free will, without choice, what purpose could there be to life? At the same time, Calvinist Christianity preaches the doctrine of predestination. It is shocking that Randal, who is a theologian, doesn’t know this. Either that or he’s being deliberately disingenuous here.

[2] Of course, there is something along the lines of child neglect and abuse for specifically Christian reasons in the news almost on a weekly basis. Here’s the latest tragedy:

[3] I’ve written in depth on whether or not Hitler was an atheist or not. If Randal means Stalin, then I recommend Christopher Hitchen’s book God Poisons Everything, in which he tackles the subject of Stalin’s homicidal motivations superbly. My article can be read online at:
http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.jp/2011/09/christan-nazism-or-nazi-christianity.html

Also, don’t forget to check out Wikipedia’s in depth bio on Stalin at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist