Friday, December 12, 2008

Culture Warrior Atheists

Not that I'm a fan of plopping nativity scenes down at Legislative buildings, and there's been plenty of critiques leveled at that expression of evangelicalism, I'm also not a fan of pompous atheists pretending they're so much more intellectually superior than everyone else. The above sign was placed by the Freedom From Religious Foundation. Their president is Dan Barker. I debated Barker. Most people - atheist and theist alike - don't think the debate showed off the superior intellectual skills allegedly possessed by atheists. Anyway, these kinds of stunts are just as silly - perhaps more so - as when theists do it. Plastering your car with Christian bumper stickers as a means of evangelism (as if fellow road travelers will be converted ex opere operato) looks just as silly as plastering your car with that fish-with-legs transitional fossil. Both sides imbue that American value of ubiquitous microwaving. Thinking hard is substituted for bumper sticker slogans. Make sure you offer your platitudes as a catchy jingle so as to get the consumers to buy your product or ideas. Cogent and rigorous argumentation is a faux pas. So both sides - atheists and Christians - have exhibited an anti-intellectual spirit. We should expect this with Christians given all that atheists have told us about religious adherents. We should expect those who "sacrifice reason for blind faith" to act in anti-intellectual ways. But what excuse does the atheist have? So, the "New Atheist," the "Village Atheist," the RRS, the FFR, etc., is just the other side of the anti-intellectual coin. I think this is because most of them are former fundies and have taken their confused view of Christianity - marketing Jesus for mass consumption in order to make it palpable to American consumerism - right on over to their atheism. They still read the Bible like their former fundie selves, and they still "preach" the good news of atheism, making it "culturally relevant," just as they preached (or were preached to) as fundies. They even use their own version of hell fire and brimstone preaching: "Religious adherents are going to destroy the world with nukes!! Repent and bow down to the goddess Reason, now!" But to argue for all of thiscultural analysis is beyond the scope of this post. All I aim to do here is look at the atheists' sign.

i) What is meant by "reason?" And, how can it "prevail?" Didn't Barker tell me in our debate that I "reified" logic? Talk about reification! Anyway, Barker thinks "reason" is the way your neurons fire. So, the opening of the sign should read: "At this season of the Winter Solstice may c-fibers fire in a prevailing way."

ii) Haven't these atheists excluded other atheists? The sign is a sign for strong atheism. How exclusive! Maybe weak atheists should complain to the Governor?

iii) Anyway, how can "reason" tell us something like this: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell?" How much would you have to know to know something like that? Has anyone ever proved such a strong claim? Indeed, it is an assault on "reason" and an expression of faith! So, the atheists who constructed the sign stuck their foot in their mouth within two sentences!

iv) The next statement is "There is only our natural world."

a) But then how is there "reason?" Does this happen in a physical brain? How so? A mind? How's that?

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil & bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting
Lizard's leg & howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.

Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1

The crone throws the wing of a bat and the eye of a newt into the cauldron, mixes it up, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial "protection" or "love" or "safe trip" or "powerful trouble" spell or charm.

Likewise, take the physicalist. That crone, Mammy Nature, mixes a few billions neurons, synapses, and some firing c-fibers, into that cauldron called your noggin, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial mind with beliefs and intentionality and thoughts.

When appeals to the "mustbebraindidit" argument are made, I'm going to point out that this has a name: The bat wing and eye of newt fallacy.

b) How are there any norms? What about "morality?" Didn't the naturalist J.L. Makcie teach us that, "If their were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38).

But this brings up another issue. Why object to the stealing of the sign as if it were really wrong (this really happened, apparently some Christians stole the sign. Perhaps they wouldn't have if they had placed a monument of the ten commandments at the Legislation building ;-). If the consistent answer as that which agrees with Mackie is given, how can you object to the stealing of the sign?

c) Has "reason" proved that "there is only the natural world?" Again, this is a metaphysical presupposition.

v) The last statement is that "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Again, talk about a "reification fallacy."

a) Of course, one wonders what is meant by "minds." And what does it mean to say one is "enslaved?"

b) And, does "myth and superstition" mean "not true?" One would assume so. But why think our minds are aimed at producing true beliefs?

"The idea that one species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just toward its own increated prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in moral compass--a conscience that swings free of both social history and individual luck." (Richard Rorty, "Untruth and Consequences," The New Republic, July 31, 1995, pp. 32-36.)

Or atheist Pat Churchland:

"Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival [Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."

Do these guys get to put a sign next to their atheist friends? Belief in naturalism and Darwinism may just be a "useful" myth that helps us survive. We don't believe it because it is true, rather, it has survival value - just like religous beliefs once had.

c) Of course, with these scientifically precise atheists, they must really mean that religion makes that muscle which pumps blood throughout the body, "hard." If not, so much for their critiques against the Bible when it uses phenomenological or metaphorical language.

d) Of course, there's nothing objectionable about "hard hearts" and "enslaved minds." It's not as if moral or epistemic norms are being violated.

So, not only have these atheists violated their own touted strengths, "protectors of Reason," they have made themselves just as forgettable, sad products of American consumerism as the theists they want to do battle with.


  1. Is there a free audio file of the debate running around somewhere online? I've found a few sites where you can listen through your browser, and one site sells it for $.98, but I like to have a file on my computer and I like free.

  2. Go here:
    Then right-click on 'download playing' at the bottom of the screen, and then click save link.

  3. Thinking hard is substituted for bumper sticker slogans.

    Triablogue Rules!


  4. I was thinking of making a bumper sticker out of that.

  5. It'd be the first bumper sticker I put on my car, that's for sure.

  6. Paul's debate with Barker can also be downloaded at Along with other debates and audio material on apologetics.

    You may need to "right-click" and "save as" to download files.

    I love this debate. Paul demolished Barker. By the end of the debate Barker was left speechless. So much so that all he could do was to resort to his personal dislike of the Biblical God even if He does exist. I've listened to about a dozen debates that Dan has done. In my opinion, this is the only one where he was defeated. More than that, blown to smithereens!

    Two comments on the debate.

    1. As a Continuist when it comes to the spiritual gifts, I would be open to the possibility of God speaking a non-universally binding, non-canonical private (as opposed to public) revelation. In which case, God could have spoken through the cat about the gospel. As God spoke through Balaam's donkey.

    Also, even if one weren't "open but cautious" when it comes to the charismatic gifts, a speaking cat is "possible" precisely because demonic possession is real. If the devil could speak through a serpent, then he can speak through a cat (cf. Acts 16:17-18; Matt. 8:30ff).

    2. Barker should have admitted that cats could theoretically speak since on his view, evolution can lead to cats evolving to talk, and then evolving not to talk, then evolving to talk, then evolving not to talk. Even evolving to fly, breath underwater, dance the Tango et cetera. That was the whole point about the limitations of induction. For all Dan knew, there could be billions of talking cats populating dozens of planets in our galaxy. Or even in an unexplored cave so that 60% of cats on earth speak. Cats intelligent enough to know to avoid encountering atheistic scientists. That could account for why secularists haven't found them yet (grin).

    In fact, as Van Til would say, if there were no God, then Dan's atheistic deterministic materialism might still be false. We might live in a contingent world in which strange things happen like cats instantly popping out of existence, or rollerblading dogs instantly popping into existence for no metaphysical reason at all. Causality and sufficient cause might be illusory.

  7. Thanks for the comments, AP.

    As far as your first point, I agree; God *could* speak today through a cat.

    But, that still leaves the epistemological problem as to how I know it is God speaking largely unresolved.

  8. 2. Barker should have admitted that cats could theoretically speak since on his view, evolution can lead to cats evolving to talk, and then evolving not to talk, then evolving to talk, then evolving not to talk. Even evolving to fly, breath underwater, dance the Tango et cetera. That was the whole point about the limitations of induction. For all Dan knew, there could be billions of talking cats populating dozens of planets in our galaxy. Or even in an unexplored cave so that 60% of cats on earth speak. Cats intelligent enough to know to avoid encountering atheistic scientists. That could account for why secularists haven't found them yet (grin).

    As I recall, Barker tried to "stun" Paul by asking if he believed in talking snakes. As if this was a hammer blow to Christianity, or something.

    I remember making this same point with some atheist after the debate. Although I used a parrot to drive home the point that on evilutionary terms a talking animal is not as absurd as Barker wanted it to be.

    I am Mr. Anderson....funny stuff.

  9. I don't believe in talking snakes.

    They have no vocal chords.

    They have no lips.

    They have a very thin flat tongue that can't be of use for speech, it just darts in and out of their mouth so that molecules in the air can stick to it and then carries those stuck molecules back into the snake's mouth where the tongue is pressed against the roof of its mouth so the molecules can be sensed by the snake's veramo-nasal organ so it can smell what's in the air. The snake doesn't smell with its nose, but with its tongue.

    It uses it's tongue simply to gather in molecules from the air to use them to smell what's in the air, it's not eating dirt or even tasting dirt, it's merely sensing what's in the air.

    Also, read professor Veenkra's essay on the talking serpent in The Challenge of Bible Translation By Ronald F. Youngblood, et al.

    And see The Good and Evil Serpent: The Symbolism and Meaning of the Serpent in the Ancient World (Anchor Bible Reference Library)by James H. Charlesworth

  10. Mr. Babinski with all due respect, I believe you've missed my point. Atheistic evolution allows for "species" to continue to change. Why can't snakes evolve (or de-evolve) to have the equiptment (right kind of tongues, vocal cords, brains etc.) to talk? If not all of them, then a portion of the population. If you argue that then they would no longer be snakes, then I would argue that on atheistic grounds the "identification" of species falls prey (grin) to the problem of the sorities paradox. How much can a "species" change till it's no longer the same species it was before? If you base it on something like the inability to inter-breed, I would point out that that's an arbitrary criteria.

    In fact, I would argue that on atheistic grounds all criteria for identifying species are arbitrary. Since, there is no transcendant ideal model in the mind of God after which all creatures of a species must (more or less) conform. On atheistic grounds, there's *no* reason *not* to assume that each individual creature is particular, unique and distinct. That is, having no correlation to one another whatsoever. Since in naturalistic atheism there is no basis for immaterial universals by which to classify individuals. That is, unless you're a platonic atheist who believes in things immaterial as well. However, I suspect you're a naturalistic and materialistic atheist who believes only in the material world.

    Not only is there no possibility of correlating separate creatures by classification in naturalistic atheism; but when creatures are together there's no way to make distinctions either. Since it's all molecules in motion, when an atheist holds an apple in his hand, where does the apple end and the atheist begin? If the atheist eats the apple, does the atheist become an apple? Or does the apple become an atheist? You might say, "Obviously the latter." But why that presumption? What happened to the apple? Did it magically disappear? On the basis of naturalism, maybe the "person" is the one that never existed. That is if we take seriously the implications of eliminative materialism.

    It seems to me that your rejection of the possibility of snakes evolving to speak shows either a lack of imagination on your part OR a lack of thinking through the implications of both atheism and macro-evolution. You may say that the laws of physics prevent snakes from evolving in such a way. But how do you know what the laws of physics are (assuming they are invariant)? All scientific laws on atheistic grounds are descriptive not prescriptive since atheists neither create the laws of physics, nor do they have universal inductive experience by which to learn through experimentation the inherent properties of matter.

    And as I said in my original post atheism does not automatically rule out the possibility of a contingent world. An honest atheist ought to admit that if there were no God, maybe the universe might not be uniform. In which case, for all he knows we live in a contingent world where giant monkeys pop into existence out of nowhere, swallow moons twice their size, and poop out footballs made out of cookie dough. For all the atheist knows, while the absolute God like that found in Christianity, Judaism or Islam (et al.) doesn't exist, other finite "gods" do. They too might have popped into existence out of nothing, or from the apeirion. Maybe the Roman and Greek legends of finite gods have historical basis. Why should anyone grant atheists' often unargued assumption of an ordered and rationally accessible world?

    Btw, while I believe in a historical fall in the Garden of Eden, I don't dogmatically hold to the interpretation that the devil literally possessed a snake and spoke through it. The reference to a snake could be a metaphor for the subtlety of the devil as some have argued.