Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The irrelevance of evidence to atheism

According to Richard Dawkins:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dawkins evidently spent a fair amount of time with a rhyming dictionary to craft this sentence, and he’s undoubtedly pleased with the result.

Other village atheists like John Loftus, Christopher Hitchens, Hector Avalos, and Robert Ingersoll also accentuate the dastardly character of the Biblical God, as they see it. And this also holds true for Park Avenue atheists like David Lewis and William Rowe.

However, one of the ironies of the moralistic objection to God’s existence is that it renders moot most other arguments against God’s existence.

Atheists attack the argument from prophecy. The argument from miracles. The ontological argument. The cosmological argument. The teleological argument. The argument from consciousness. The argument from religious experience. Biblical archeology. And so on and so forth.

You’d think from all this that they reject God’s existence, either because they think God is inevident, or because the evidence is stacked against him.

But suppose the Lord arranged the stars to spell out “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Would they suddenly bow before the incontrovertible evidence of his existence and become devout believers? Would they love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength? Would they glorify God and enjoy him forever?

Not if they think such a God is a moral monster. In that case, no amount of evidence, however compelling, would change their jaundiced view of God. For they have already decided that such a God is wholly unworthy of worship.

So the alleged lack of evidence, or counterevidence, is irrelevant to atheism. At least the type of atheism which rails against Biblical theism.


  1. Reading this thread brought back a memory of the story of the grizzly bear and the skunk.

    The bear, observing out of the corner of his eye the skunk as they were eating garbage at the garbage dump during sparse years said to himself, "it's not worth the smell to crush him," knowing full well his fierce force and power with one swipe could end the skunk's life!

    Hmmmmm? So it's the smell, is it? :)

  2. Amen! I've come to the same conclusions from my irc chats with atheists.

    But suppose the Lord arranged the stars to spell out “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”

    I agree with William Lane Craig's following statement, "Indeed, I could well imagine that in such a world, after a while, people would begin to chafe under such brazen advertisements of their Creator. And in time, eventually come to resent His effrontery for such brazen advertisements of His existence." (paraphrase)

    I'd add, that people would end up either begrudgingly feigning obedience out of fear. Or "obey" out of a sycophantic desire for rewards and not out of genuine respect, love and gratitude.

    Just like how people tend to slow down and drive right at the speed limit when they know a police car is driving behind them. In fact, the longer the police car drives behind them, the more anxious and resentful they become because they suspect the police officer is "just LOOKING" to catch them in a violation. When in the real case of our loving, forgiving and merciful heavenly Father, He's "looking" for reasons to bless and reward people for the good they do (all things being equal that is; and not in a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian way I might add).

    Again, in such a world there would be sycophants who would obey God *merely* for the benefits rather than out of love. But in both the cases of the driver AND the "brown noser", the problem wouldn't technically be the rationally coercive evidence of God's existence (since the saints in heaven have that and so have the unfallen angels), but rather the attitude of the people involved. So, this would especially be true post lapsis (after the Fall) due (in part) to the natural depravity of men.

    Still others, would respond to such irrefutable evidence in the opposite manner. They would, like Lucifer, rebel against such a God because, as the saying goes, "Familiarity breeds contempt." In the case of humans, it would be a response influenced by their depravity. However, in the case of Lucifer and the other fallen angels, they fell from an original state of moral purity.

  3. continued:

    I suspect part of the reason why God has providentially done things the way He has is so that there would be opportunity for people to willingly/freely (but not libertarianly) seek, find, choose, and love God.

    He does this in order to:

    1. prove that He Himself is truly worthy of such love and devotion from both those who do have such undeniable evidence (like the angels who didn't fall) and from those who don't have such evidence like fallen human beings on earth.

    2. provide opportunity for greater reward for His human believers who persevere in faith, obedience and faithfulness even when there are times when God's existence is in doubt; or when while His existence is believed, yet His seeming indifference seems to be more the case. Since, there is a kind of faith (or faithfulness) that believes and perseveres despite adversity (including challenges to belief in God's existence and/or trust in God's goodness).

    As C.S. Lewis said in "A Grief Observed", "The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer..' "

    Or as (the saint or not-so-saint) Theresa of Avila reportedly has said, "[God,] If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies. "

    It takes persevering faith to believe that "behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face." Nevertheless, the experience of the Christian also shows that Charles G. Trumbull wasn't being too hyperbolic when he said, "Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love."

    All this gets to the issue of where such faith (and faithfulness) can come from with the amount of evidence 1. "for" 2. "against" and 3. "neutral on" God's existence. Here, I would just quote Blaise Pascal in his famous Pensées (which, if read in such a way, doesn't necessary contradict Van Tillian theology of the ubiquity of the evidence for God).

  4. continued:

    563 The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it.

    577 There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable.—Saint Augustine, Montaigne, Sébond.

    574 All things work together for good to the elect, even the obscurities of Scripture; for they honour them because of what is divinely clear. And all things work together for evil to the rest of the world, even what is clear; for they revile such, because of the obscurities which they do not understand.

    562 It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion.

    576 God has made the blindness of this people subservient to the good of the elect.

    Catholic Blaise Pascal said this as someone who, while rejecting the Jansenism he was exposed to, nevertheless held to a high view of predestination. Evidentally, he was influenced by the Jansenists.

    Some will argue that these comments and answers won't satisfy the non-believers' requests for reasons, evidence and arguments to believe Christianity and trust Christ.

    We Calvinists heartily agree since they will be judging by the criteria of their unbelieving, arbitrary, inconsistent, and question begging standards. "Standards" which they use to examine and judge what is often a strawman representation of Christianity.

    When Erasmus fully realized the implications of Luther's doctrine of predestination, Erasmus (essentially) asked, "If predestination is true, who can come to believe that God actually loves them personally? Or who can bring themselves to love such a God?" Luther's answer was, "I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you [Erasmus] describe them. So there will be some who believe it."

  5. continued, and final:

    That's because it takes God given faith to believe that God is truly good even when there seemingly appears to be evidence to the contrary both in the world and in the Word (i.e. in truly Biblical doctrine like that of God's sovereignty). Nevertheless, the persevering Christian's experience bears it out as Psalm 73 declares.

    1. Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
    2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
    3 For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
    16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
    17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.
    21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
    22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

    23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
    24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.

    I'll conclude this by quoting Luther's Bondage of the Will:

    Keep in view three lights: the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory (this is a common and a good distinction). By the light of nature, it is inexplicable that it should be just for the good to be afflicted and the bad to prosper; but the light of grace explains it. By the light of grace, it is inexplicable how God can damn him who by his own strength can do nothing but sin and become guilty. Both the light of nature and the light of grace here insist that the fault lies not in the wretchedness of man, but in the injustice of God; nor can they judge otherwise of a God who crowns the ungodly freely, without merit, and does not crown, but damns another, who is perhaps less, and certainly not more, ungodly. But the light of glory insists otherwise, and will one day reveal God, to whom alone belongs a judgment whose justice is incomprehensible, as a God Whose justice is most righteous and evident - provided only that in the meanwhile we believe it, as we are instructed and encouraged to do by the example of the light of grace explaining what was a puzzle of the same order to the light of nature.

    For those of you non-Christians who didn't get the earlier reference, I was quoting William Cowper's hymn "God Moves In A Mysterious Way"

    I invite you to "Taste and see that the LORD is good and gracious"

  6. The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

    I have often thought this about Mother Nature, too. Especially after you see one of her hysterical fits like over in Indonesia during a tsunami.

  7. Of course Dawkins merely begs the question, because by whose standards are any of these things wrong?