Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Would Bill Nye Do?

A popular atheological strategy (popular to the New Atheists, internet atheists, militant atheists, and others of this general ilk) that I frequently run across is the argument that biblical writers, or especially Jesus, spoke in such un-scientific terms. For instance, it is claimed that Jesus misspoke about the smallest seed, calling a plant a tree, indeed, not knowing anything about modern agriculture is one recent charge I read. Of course enough of these statements are shot out at the reader with such frequency, the "other side" not able to "speak" is always a must, and with the suppressed premise that has been allowed to enter into the readers mind is that if (say) Jesus really were God he wouldn't have spoken this way, he would have spoken in scientifically precise terms, the author then lets out a hearty guffaw, and says, "See, Jesus just can't be God because he's a friggin idiot." My paraphrasing is intended to tone down the rhetoric I've seen them employ!

Call this the "Jesus should have known better if he were really God" objection. Ethically, the New Atheists say that since Jesus didn't act like Mr. Rogers, he can't be divine. Epistemologically, the claim is that he should have been more like Bill Nye "The Science Guy." Metaphysically, then, Jesus should have been fully Mr. Rogers and fully Mr. Nye - a hypostatic union an atheist can stomach!

For the life of me I can't see why the above mentioned atheists find these kinds of "arguments" all that rationally compelling. If they want to persuade the Christian, then I can give them an insider secret: We do not find these arguments persuasive, at all. We actually shake our head in disbelief at the kinds of straws these atheists must grab at to reject Christianity. And we're not alone. For instance, atheist Michael Ruse is reported as saying, "The Dawkins Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist." And reading between the lines, he means all New Atheist propaganda and belligerent attacks on believers. And Ruse isn't alone. Many atheists have condemned the militant village atheist.

Certainly these kinds of arguments, like the ones in popular atheist best sellers like The God Delusion, God is not Great, Letter to a Christian Nation, and constituting the majority of what one finds on the internet, are not the best the atheist has to offer. The Christian is, or should be, ready to admit that there are some serious, well-thought-out objections to the Christian faith that we need to deal with seriously and honestly. But this post isn't about those arguments. Rather it's about the more popular ones like those listed above.

I should like to explain why I find these oft repeated objection so utterly ridiculous and poorly-thought-out. Above I said that we could call these types of objections the "Jesus should have known better if he were really God" objection. But I fear this title isn't too catchy. And so I'll give these class of objections a catchy acronym. Above you will recall that I said that it seems that the New Atheist expect Jesus to be something like Bill Nye "The Science Guy." And so rather than the popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), we will refer to this class of objections as WWBND (What Would Bill Nye Do?).

WWBND: Jesus should have stated everything such that it always lined up with the most accurate, complete, final scientific picture of the world lest he be less than God.

Thus to call the mustard seed the smallest seed is not what Bill Nye would do. To speak in terms of ancient agricultural practices is not something Bill Nye would do. These claims are violations of the WWBND principle and as such serve as evidence against Jesus' divinity - 'cause were the divine to come to earth he would talk like Bill Nye, Jesus didn’t so talk, ergo, Jesus is not divine. I think I've captured the essence of this argument. I will now lay out some reasons why I think it is so ridiculous. It actually serves as a testimony against the New Atheist. Shows the level they're operating at.

For starters, why suppose the WWBND principle valid? After all, Jesus didn't come here to give science lessons. Math either, for that matter. Being technically correct about a seed (I'm placing the poor exegesis that drives the criticisms on the back burner for now) seems rather unimportant when speaking about the central problem man has, and how he might be right with God and avoid the consequences of his law-braking actions (though the New Atheists would object to even this given that Mr. Rogers wouldn't have taught a hell). I suppose the atheist would respond with something like this: "God must always say what is true in the final analysis. Uttering falsehoods is an indication that one is not a god. And of course, the 'final analysis' mean scientifically accurate to the nth degree."

Of course Christians do not think God can lie. But of course we do not think, along with those who hold common sense in esteem, that using popular vernacular, speaking phenomenologically, or even estimating is properly called lying in any and all circumstances. I don't know about you, but I don't normally call someone a "liar" if I overhear him saying that he needs to "get on the ball" and keep his finances in order. Of course an extended study of the mustard seed parable (I also do not hold people to standards of scientific accuracy when in the midst of parables, but that's just me) is beyond the scope of this post, I refer any interested to any major Christian commentary on the subject. What I want to explore are the possible implications I see arising from the WWBND standard atheists impose of Jesus.

For example, suppose Jesus did speak how the atheist wanted him to for the Gospel accounts to be believable. And also suppose Jesus is God, and so knew everything. Thus his statements would be the final end-of-the-day statement of how things are. Let's look at this Burgess Shale situation and see how things "might have gone." I will list three things that would happen if Jesus spoke WWBND style:

  1. Would anyone have listened to Jesus? Image you were a first century Jew. You here a man speaking of molecules, worm holes, neurons, E=MC2, the speed of light, the particle-wave aspect of light particles, a planet spinning thousands of miles per hour (supposing that speed was even coherent to them) with them and all other objects held down by an "invisible" terrestrial "glue," DNA, various theories of perception and audition, genes, memes (!), germ theory, microbes, red giants, black holes, etc. What would they have thought of his “modern” theories of agriculture? Would it have even made sense? Even been possible to enact? If any of us were first century Jews we would rightly scoff at this weirdo and his crazy thoughts. Then he claims to be God. "Yeah, sure, like God would really say things like that.

  2. On what basis does the atheist suppose that if Jesus did speak in terms of the final, completely accurate scientific picture, we would find his statements believable? Putting aside the language problem and how our modern scientific terminology would be stated in first century Hebrew and Greek, we should point out other things. For example, given that most scientific theories have developed, been discarded and replaced, revamped, shown to be flat-out wrong, and other things along these lines, and besides the fact that every scientist I know admits we do not have the final picture today and that almost all theories will be stated radically different in years to come, why think if Jesus spoke in this finalized language we would say, "Now that's God." Since many theories today would have received ridicule and scoffing at the hands of scientists just a hundred years ago, why think that the final theory, which could be thousands of years ahead of our current state, would not be something we would ridicule just as much as how we ridicule now.

    Now some atheists have said that Jesus should have revealed the solutions to important things, like how to stop "global warming," but (a) this would have been laughed at just a few years ago (and would be laughed at by many today), (b) Jesus did give the solution to global warming in terms of salvation (the point is that there are rather more important things for him to discuss), (c) this evidences the narcissism and solipsism of today’s atheist.

  3. Finally, if Jesus did speak in terms of the final complete picture, and given the eminently plausible assumption that people in the first century would have thought him crazy, and assuming that anyone would have even bothered to chronicle his life, then the New Atheist would no doubt tell us all how "evil" Jesus was because he spoke in ways that his hearers were determined to reject and thus to judge them with hell for rejecting him would be unfair. This point shows how the New Atheist simply has an agenda and there is no evidence they would accept of fail to explain away. Their arguments are consistent with everything, thus they are meaningless.

    Once we really spell these kinds of objections out, place meat on their bones, we see them as the distorted, and rather pathetic, rantings of angry atheists who worship “Science” as their God and think the only acceptable explanation is a “scientific” one and the only proper language is “scientifically accurate.” The problem is that neither of these impositions are scientific stated or demonstrable.


    1. Great points.

      Since many theories today would have received ridicule and scoffing at the hands of scientists just a hundred years ago

      And many theories from 100 yrs ago DO receive ridicule and scoffing at the hands of scientists today. It's both.
      It's even worse than you said. :-D

    2. Paul writes:

      Now some atheists have said that Jesus should have revealed the solutions to important things, like how to stop "global warming,"

      That and "important things" like global warming would have been largely (if not completely) irrelevant to the agrarian society of an obscure nation, both in terms of effect on the environment and technological ability to respond.

      Maybe Jesus should have taught them how to manufacture solar-powered plows. That would have convinced ancient Jews.