A Debate/Discussion between “New Apologetics” and “Dogma Debate” on “The Top 11 Reasons for Atheism”

February 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics

The following discussion originally took place on the New Apologetics Facebook page between April 13, 2013 and June 10, 2013 in front of an audience of approximately 20,000 online viewers.

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[Photo: An icon of Saint Abraham of Rostov destroying a statue of the pagan god Veles.]

This post will be the venue for a discussion concerning the defensibility of 11 proposed reasons for atheism. The representative(s) from Dogma Debate will attempt to argue that their 11 reasons constitute a strong rational case for atheism, and the representative(s) of NewApologetics.com will argue the negation of that claim.The case for atheism will be stated first by David Smalley of Dogma Debate in the comments below, and the rebuttal from NewApologetics.com will follow. The number of “rounds” has been left undetermined and will ultimately be decided by the judgment of the debate participants.
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David Smalley (Introductory Remarks)

Hello, and let me begin by thanking everyone who will be participating in, and reading this discussion. As I often point out on Dogma Debate, continuing these conversations in a civil manner is the single most important thing we can do. For sure, the one thing we all have in common, is a desire for truth. That drives these discussions, and I am honored to be having them with you.

I will go on record for the first time, saying that I’ve never taken a ‘debate,’ written or otherwise, in which atheism was the affirmative position. It’s my worldview that atheism shouldn’t be viewed as an affirmative position, but rather a skeptical one of affirmative claims made by those who claim to have knowledge not available to the rest of us.

Atheism is more of a ‘prove it’ position, than an “I have proof” position. The basis of my ‘proof’ is that not a single religion or belief system has been able to scientifically demonstrate the existence of their god(s) – therefore, the best I can offer in this debate, is my reasons and explanations for why atheism is the best option, and the default option that logic points to with basic deductive reasoning.

But always remember, I am human. I am fallible. I do not claim to be in the ear of an all-knowing creator of the universe, and there is certainly no 2-way communication with me and a deity. There is a lot I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn.

With all that said; my ignorance is not your evidence. Because I can’t explain the beginning of the universe, or because science has yet to discover the origin of life on earth, does not automatically get us to a virgin giving birth to a Canaanite Jew who later rose from the dead and floated to a paradise in the sky.

To me, that is the affirmative claim that remains unknowable and must be taken on faith – via ancient writings in 3 different languages over 1600 years by 40+ different authors and thousands of unknown scribes.

I’ll begin with my first reason for atheism shortly…
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David Smalley My Top 11 Reasons for Atheism

1. If we truly had one creator speaking to prophets, it would do so consistently, not contradictory as thousands of different religions have proven.

2. Living by the means of man helping man, and realizing time on earth is not a practice run, creates an urgency of life that requires fulfilling.

3. I asked my four-year-old daughter where the stars came from. She confidently said “The moon made them.” I followed by asking “Then where did the moon come from?” She strongly asserted “Daddy, the moon is the boss. Nobody made the moon.” This is an unmistakably familiar mindset; and rightfully embarrassing for an adult to hold such similar thought.

4. Demeter, Jesus, Apollo, Horus, Zeus, Mithra, Yahweh, Tammuz, Ganesha, and Allah are only 10 of the thousands of gods recorded in history. An Atheist is not one that refuses to read religious doctrine; but is often one who reads too many.

5. In the technicalities of most religions, there is no difference between a believer that dies before having time to repent, and a nonbeliever that rejected the doctrine altogether.

6. If the Christian god created humans as sinners, how could it rightfully expect us to believe the corrupt messengers it has sent to teach us the way of life?

7. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” – Epicurus

8. All babies are Atheists. Religions are taught depending on the location and era in which you are raised. Being born in the U.S. in 1974 does not make you right, it most likely just makes you another Christian. That’s no better or worse than the person born in Tibet in 1955, who proudly worships the Dalai Lama.

9. It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.

10. Only for the sake of argument, if I were to astonishingly find myself face to face with a supreme being, I would expect to be judged on my life as a humanist, and how I treated others, (just as most Christians plan to be judged on character, not on the actual Ten Commandments). If my positive actions were ignored, and I was instead judged on using my intelligence to doubt religious doctrines created by human sinners, I would rather be eternally punished than bow to such an unfair tyrant who made things seemingly impossible for humans to succeed at this horrific game.

After more than a year of responding to comments on this and continuing my debates and investigations into religion, and my own psychology, I realized there was an 11th, and most important reason for my atheism…

11. I could go through the motions, attend the churches, shake the hands, follow the rituals of whichever religion or denomination of Christianity I liked the best, sing the songs, and help with the luncheons, but that still wouldn’t make me a believer. It would make me a pretender. I am honest with myself and those around me that these things do not appear logical to me. I didn’t choose to be an atheist, and belief isn’t a choice. I just realized I was one. I simply refuse to be a hypocritical, disingenuous Christian – so I am honest with myself and others about my disbelief.
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NEW APOLOGETICS (INTRODUCTORY REMARKS)

Thank you to David Smalley of Dogma Debate for participating in this discussion. Thanks also to anyone who will take the time to carefully follow this debate.

Points such as the ones made by David in his 11 reasons for atheism are often dismissed out of hand by those attempting to defend theism. We affirm the fact that these are all valid and important questions, and we look forward to this exchange between persons of good will.

In his introductory comment, David wrote the following:

“I will go on record for the first time, saying that I’ve never taken a ‘debate,’ written or otherwise, in which atheism was the affirmative position. It’s my worldview that atheism shouldn’t be viewed as an affirmative position, but rather a skeptical one of affirmative claims made by those who claim to have knowledge not available to the rest of us… Atheism is more of a ‘prove it’ position, than an ‘I have proof’ position.”

We agree with David that atheism (provided that “atheism” is defined simply as “the ideological state of lacking belief in God”) does not have the burden of proof in debates of this sort. Theists are making a controversial claim about the nature of reality, and atheists (under the above definition) are skeptical of that claim. In many cases, depending on the versions of theism to which an atheist has been exposed, the atheist’s skepticism (and outright protest) is not only rationally justified, but is morally obligatory.

In light of this agreement about the burden of proof, we would like to establish that David is arguing the affirmative position here because this debate is not about the truth or falsity of atheism as such, but is only about whether or not a set of proffered reasons for atheism “holds water” from the standpoint of rational scrutiny. In the introduction, we described the parameters as follows:

“The representative(s) from Dogma Debate will attempt to argue that their 11 reasons constitute a strong rational case for atheism, and the representative(s) of NewApologetics.com will argue the negation of that claim.”

The truth or falsity of atheism remains outside the scope of the debate because the proposed 11 reasons could all fail to provide any rational support for atheism, but atheism could still be true. Alternatively, the proposed 11 reasons could provide a strong case for atheism, but atheism could still be false despite its plausibility.

Therefore, as defined in the initial description of the debate parameters, our response will aim to demonstrate that none of the 11 reasons can contribute to a case for atheism by means of any known process of reasoned inference. If we argue this position successfully, it does not, in itself, imply that any atheist should therefore revise their views because of our efforts. David writes something very insightful in his introductory remarks:

“…my ignorance is not your evidence. Because I can’t explain the beginning of the universe, or because science has yet to discover the origin of life on earth, does not automatically get us to a virgin giving birth to a Canaanite Jew who later rose from the dead and floated to a paradise in the sky.”

We agree completely.

Our next statement will begin the rebuttal to David’s 11 proposed reasons for atheism.
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NEW APOLOGETICS  (OUR RESPONSE TO THE “TOP 11 REASONS FOR ATHEISM”)

We would like to thank David once again for agreeing to enter into this discussion on our page. We begin by stating that, in general, we agree with all the points he has made; we would like to show that they are based on ideas essential to Catholicism as well as to David’s atheism, and therefore (while being very powerful as questions) they can neither logically necessitate nor evidentially support atheism as a conclusion.

We now examine the 11 Reasons in sequence and propose our responses.

Reason 1: 
“If we truly had one creator speaking to prophets, it would do so consistently, not contradictory as thousands of different religions have proven.”

Our response: 
It’s been a confusing mess over the centuries, and it is clear that most worldviews are based on cultural norms rather than rational or theological constants. However, this phenomenon is not logically incompatible with the existence of God, and is, furthermore, guaranteed to be part of the human experience if Catholicism is true.

Consider the following from the Second Vatican Council:

“[The Church] knows that [the truth] is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature’, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.” (From the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium)

We agree that God speaks with consistency. However, the same revelation of God we affirm to be true also assures us that false prophets will be in abundant supply:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” (Matt 7:16)

We propose that, given the above quotes, the following argument establishes that religious confusion cannot be the basis of a well-reasoned conclusion to atheism:

1) If the existence of religious confusion is a good reason to conclude to atheism, then the existence of such confusion is either logically incompatible with Catholicism being true, or it is at least contrary to what one should reasonably expect if Catholicism is true. [This premise is certain because, necessarily, all reasoned conclusions proceed from either a deductive or inductive inference.]

2) It is not the case that the existence of religious confusion is logically incompatible with Catholicism being true, nor is it reasonably contrary to what one should expect if Catholicism is true. [The preceding quotes show that we should invariably expect there to be religious confusion if Catholicism is true.]

3) It is not the case that religious confusion is a good reason to conclude to atheism. [From 1 and 2]

Since we should expect there to be false prophets in the world if Catholicism is true, it is impossible to use the existence of false prophets and the confusion they cause as evidence against the existence of God or as reason to conclude that Catholicism is false. To do so is akin to using the existence of Christmas trees as evidence against Christmas.

Reason 2:
“Living by the means of man helping man, and realizing time on earth is not a practice run, creates an urgency of life that requires fulfilling.”

Our Response:
The essence of Reason 2 is an inextricably necessary aspect of Catholic teaching, and is therefore not an idea that supports atheism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: ‘He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’ Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033)

And further corroborating David’s point:

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.” (Second Vatican Council, Guadium et Spes)

If a particular idea is an essential tenet of Catholic teaching, then that same idea cannot also be a good reason to think that atheism is true.

[We add one additional clarifying point: We do not have to beat ourselves up about those times in which we failed to act well, for in our sorrow at having done the wrong thing, we believe that God, who is mercy itself, will enable us to become free to love as we desire.]

Reason 3:
“I asked my four-year-old daughter where the stars came from. She confidently said ‘The moon made them.’ I followed by asking ‘Then where did the moon come from?’ She strongly asserted ‘Daddy, the moon is the boss. Nobody made the moon.’ This is an unmistakably familiar mindset; and rightfully embarrassing for an adult to hold such similar thought.”

Our Response:
Theism posits an uncreated, metaphysically necessary source for all contingently existing things, but does not assert that something already *known* to be contingent is a possible candidate for that ultimate metaphysical source. We therefore agree with the essence of Reason 3 (which is that no contingent thing, like the moon, can possibly be a candidate for the creator and sustainer of all contingent being). However, since this principle is common ground between theists and atheists, we conclude that that it is not a means to argue for atheism.

Reason 4:
“Demeter, Jesus, Apollo, Horus, Zeus, Mithra, Yahweh, Tammuz, Ganesha, and Allah are only 10 of the thousands of gods recorded in history. An Atheist is not one that refuses to read religious doctrine; but is often one who reads too many.”

Our Response:
There are very good reasons to conclude the non-existence of various proposed deities, and most atheists are epistemically justified in their rejection of those various ideas of divinity to which they have (thus far) turned their attention. In many cases, the arguments raised by intelligent and well-informed atheists are conclusive with respect to discrediting particular distorted or caricatured concepts of God. Such diminished ideas of God are, frequently, the norm in popular discourse, but do not represent theism in its essence. Atheological arguments generally arise from honest critical thinking and often evince a familiarity with religious texts often excelling that of many believers of a given religion. The efforts of honest atheists are laudable and good in that they help to divest us of idols and culturally created but unanalyzed concepts of God which are unworthy of reasonable belief.

In our broad experience, we have observed that all of the known atheological arguments are entirely inapplicable to the Catholic concept of God either because they fail to critique the idea of God actually taught by the Catholic Church or because the arguments are otherwise provably unsound.

Reason 5:
“In the technicalities of most religions, there is no difference between a believer that dies before having time to repent, and a nonbeliever that rejected the doctrine altogether.”

Our Response:
The Catholic view recognizes the injustice in the misguided religious attitude rightly critiqued by David in Reason 5. The Second Vatican Council, quoting Pope Pius XII states:

“Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium)

According to the Catholic Church, the salvation of non-Christians obtains through the redemptive work accomplished by Jesus Christ, and is accomplished by God’s grace which is made available to those who honestly pursue the truth. This grace leading to the eternal salvation of non-Christians is, according to Catholic teaching, not only a possibility available to those who have simply never heard about God or the Gospel from a purely informational perspective, but is determined by many contributing factors. The Second Vatican Council further states:

“The imputability of [atheism] can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. ‘Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes)

We agree with David that there is an ideological and humanitarian disaster caused by a religious attitude which unjustly demonizes those skeptical of religious claims or which cavalierly asserts that those outside of certain ideological boundaries are destined for eternal loss. However, the moral evil which unjustly condemns honest skeptics is not a reason to conclude to atheism, but is merely a reason to conclude that there is unjust suffering brought about by fallible human beings. In light of the fact that the sense of justice driving David’s critique in Reason 5 is an integral aspect of the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is not helpful in constructing a case for atheism.

Reason 6:
“If the Christian god created humans as sinners, how could it rightfully expect us to believe the corrupt messengers it has sent to teach us the way of life?”

Our Response:
We agree with David that the above question points to a situation, which, (if it were to obtain) would be gravely unjust. However, this question makes an erroneous assumption: that God created human beings as sinners. The Catholic Church actually has a very optimistic take on human beings, and understands original sin very differently. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes:

“Finding an answer to this [question of original sin] requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without–from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are ‘present.’ Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives–themselves–only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event–sin–touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning)

The view of the Catholic Church on original sin is the polar opposite of the view David uses as the basis for Reason 6. Consequently, Reason 6 cannot be used as evidence for atheism, but only as a question intended to point out the injustice entailed by a specific distortion of the concept of God. And that concept of God is one which we also reject for the same reasons that David does.

Reason 7:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God? – Epicurus”

Our response: 
We agree that the world is full of facts that challenge our belief in God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 164)

In citing the quote from Epicurus as Reason 7, David has presented a set of questions about the relationship between God and evil, but has not thereby presented an argument against the existence of God. In order to count as a reason for atheism, the questions would at least need to be reformulated as an argument. David’s formulation of the argument would need to circumvent the following proof that no argument from evil can be successful in providing evidence against the God of Christian theism:

http://newapologetics.com/the-tractatus (The proof is found in Article 2.)

The defeat of arguments from evil as possibly providing evidence for atheism does not in itself provide an answer to the question of *why* the world is the way it is if God is all powerful and all good. According to the Catholic Church, the answer requires an understanding of the entire Christian faith as a whole:

“If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309)

We are happy to discuss the “why” of evil with David, but it is presently beyond the scope of this debate, which only seeks to examine the plausibility of a given set of reasons for atheism.

[As an aside for the sake of our broad audience, we affirm that the answer to the question of “why” has nothing to do with God causing or approving of evil/suffering as a necessary means to a good end. We affirm that God never fails to bring a greater good out of every evil, but it is not the case that God’s non-prevention of evil is because of some higher purpose to be found in the evil itself. Rather, the non-prevention of evil is due to the fact that God is not morally free to do evil in order to prevent evil. This simple moral prohibition has deep implications for the nature of the world that are not immediately apparent. It is, ironically, God’s perfect opposition to evil and his refusal to compromise with it that gives rise to the possibility that evil has any power in the world at all. The following article begins the explanation, but is only a partial treatment:http://newapologetics.com/the-theodicy-of-divine-chastity]

Reason 8:
“All babies are Atheists. Religions are taught depending on the location and era in which you are raised. Being born in the U.S. in 1974 does not make you right, it most likely just makes you another Christian. That’s no better or worse than the person born in Tibet in 1955, who proudly worships the Dalai Lama.”

Our response:
We can agree on the idea expressed here, though we would go farther and say that although babies can be said to be atheists, we could also say that they are “a-atheists” as well, or that they are simply in an open state of receptivity to their environments. That would indeed mean that someone born in the U.S. in 1974 is likely to be a Christian and that someone born in 1955 in Tibet is likely to “proudly worship the Dalai Lama”, and we absolutely agree that the dignity and intellectual capacity of persons is independent of upbringing and religion.

Reason 9:
“It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.”

We agree, though we would mention that it is not quite the “either/or” of educated decision vs. fearful decision, and that it is often a more complicated process.

Reason 10:
“Only for the sake of argument, if I were to astonishingly find myself face to face with a supreme being, I would expect to be judged on my life as a humanist, and how I treated others, (just as most Christians plan to be judged on character, not on the actual Ten Commandments). If my positive actions were ignored, and I was instead judged on using my intelligence to doubt religious doctrines created by human sinners, I would rather be eternally punished than bow to such an unfair tyrant who made things seemingly impossible for humans to succeed at this horrific game.”

David’s sense of justice is completely in agreement with reason and with the teaching of the Catholic Church here. Any “God” of the sort David rejects on the basis of Reason 10 would be unworthy of worship. The quote from Lumen Gentium cited in response to Reason 5 is also applicable here.

As an expression of solidarity, we cite Christopher Hitchens’ lapidary statement of faith in that which is true, good and beautiful, contrary to any religious assertions which tempt a person to replace love with fear:

“It is a horrible idea that there is somebody who owns us, who makes us, who supervises us waking and sleeping, who knows our thoughts, who can convict us of thought crime, thought crime – just for what we think, who can judge us while we sleep for things that might occur to us in our dreams, who can create us sick (as apparently we are) and then order us on pain of eternal torture to be well again. To demand this, to wish this to be true, is to wish to live as an abject slave. It is a wonderful thing, in my submission, that we now have enough information, enough intelligence, and – I hope – enough intellectual and moral courage to say that this ghastly proposition is founded on a lie, and to celebrate that fact, and I invite you to join me in doing so.”

Intellectual and moral courage are not offensive to God. Neither is the forceful rejection of false gods. Upon his death, since we believe Catholicism to be true, we also believe that Christopher was met by one much like himself.

Reason 11: 
“I could go through the motions, attend the churches, shake the hands, follow the rituals of whichever religion or denomination of Christianity I liked the best, sing the songs, and help with the luncheons, but that still wouldn’t make me a believer. It would make me a pretender. I am honest with myself and those around me that these things do not appear logical to me. I didn’t choose to be an atheist, and belief isn’t a choice. I just realized I was one. I simply refuse to be a hypocritical, disingenuous Christian – so I am honest with myself and others about my disbelief.”

Our response:
God would ask nothing more than David requires of himself in this sense. Once again, the quote from Lumen Gentium cited in response to Reasons 5 and 10 is directly relevant. Of immediate and direct relevance is the following statement from Benedict XVI:

“In the Gospel Jesus takes up this fundamental theme of prophetic preaching. He recounts the parable of the two sons invited by their father to work in the vineyard. The first son responded: “‘I will not go’, but afterward he repented and went.” The other son said to the father: “‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.” When asked by Jesus which of the two sons did the father’s will, those listening rightly respond: “the first” (Mt 21:29-31). The message of the parable is clear: it is not words that matter, but deeds, deeds of conversion and faith. As we heard, Jesus directs this message to the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel, that is, to the religious experts of his people. At first they say “yes” to God’s will, but their piety becomes routine and God no longer matters to them. For this reason they find the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus disturbing. The Lord concludes his parable with harsh words: “Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Mt 21:32). Translated into the language of the present day, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts.”

We conclude by inviting David and those encouraged by the Dogma Debate show to be further encouraged by the fact that NewApologetics.com, the Catholic Church, and Jesus Christ are not in disagreement with the core ideas which they believe separate them from God.

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David Smalley (Rebuttal to New Apologetics)

In their opening response, New Apologetics states that my reasons “do not necessitate nor evidentially support atheism as a conclusion.“

But atheism is simply the conclusion that no belief is warranted, and is therefore the default position of any and all minds until religion is taught. So the very fact that no religion has yet to prove their version of god to be demonstrable, absolutely leads to atheism as a valid conclusion.

If it doesn’t, which god is the ‘obvious’ one? If there is no obvious one, a lack of belief is the default.

Let’s get to the reasons…

For #1 – New Apologetics claims that men being deceived by the “Evil One” is why we see so many inconsistent ‘truths’ about who the ultimate creator actually is. Remember, the best argument against any religion, is any other religion. So if you were Satan, and Christianity was the true belief, wouldn’t you try to make one of the other religions look like the perfect system to pull believers away from Christianity? Why doesn’t Satan make the Jews look 100% right? Or why doesn’t Satan use his magical deceptive powers to make it seem obvious that Islam is the only logical way to go? Why does Satan seem to make ALL religions equally fail at demonstrating their version of ‘God’? Since all posited gods have failed to be positively identified, lacking a belief in all of them is the logical conclusion until proven otherwise.

For #2 – New Apologetics states that because the Catechism teaches that helping one another is a good way to live, my reasons for secular humanism don’t support a logical conclusion to atheism. I would agree, if that portion of the Catechism were the first words ever recorded in human history, and started at the beginning of time itself. But how did people live morally for thousands of years before the Catechism existed? Aren’t there moral Jews? Aren’t there moral Muslims? Aren’t there moral Mormons? Of course there are – but how could that be when they haven’t read the Catechism? Saying that morality came from any religious doctrine is like saying words came from a dictionary. Both only recorded what already existed. The bottom line is, being a social species, like many other animals that have demonstrated morality; we evolved social ethics and compassion as survival techniques, and had them long before any religion came along to take credit for it. Once again, no god has been proven to be the absolute source for any morality, and we see morality exist in those who have no religion, and we see those with belief in religions act immorally; therefore there is no direct logical link between the existence of any god and morality, which means atheism is the default logical conclusion until proven otherwise.

For #3 – I’m afraid New Apologetics has missed the point. The purpose in rejecting the logic of my daughter who was 4 yrs old at the time, was to say that giving up by saying one thing had no creator because it was the “boss,” and therefore it created everything, is more fantasy than science. The proper scientific approach would be to keep testing, studying, and looking for answers as to the origin of our universe, which is what atheism typically suggests, rather than assuming you have a complete understanding of all creation by way of your direct communication with the most powerful creator in the universe, and assuming magic is the answer, therefore science fails. Atheism is the default logical conclusion, because once again, no demonstrable creator, that required no creator, has been proven to exist.

For #4 – New Apologetics has given a very ambiguous answer – and with all due respect, has completely avoided the challenge this reason poses to all religious beliefs. My point in that reason was to show that studying multiple religions and learning about thousands of religious claims, along with parallels drawn with Christianity, and showing that many of the miracles told in Christian doctrine are not original, but often copied from other sources, and getting to the bottom of the historical evidence showing the political motivation of the canonization of the Bible, is exactly why many Christians become atheists in the first place. Atheists are often accused of not believing simply because we haven’t read into it – and that’s just not the case in most situations. Religions are more like languages than facts. They depend on where you’re from, when you’re born, and the things your parents say. Atheism is the realization that none of them actually have proof.

For #5 – My reason was that a non-believer is in the same spiritual position as a believer who dies before having time to repent . New Apologetics responded by talking about how non-Christians can still go to heaven if their unbelief was no fault of their own. That doesn’t address my reason.

For #6 – New Apologetic’s states “The view of the Catholic Church on original sin is the polar opposite of the view David uses as the basis for Reason 6.” If that’s the case, the view of the Catholic Church on original sin is also the polar opposite of God’s word in the Bible. Psalm 51:5 states “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Is that God’s word? Romans 5:12 tells us “Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.” Is that God’s word? Ephesians 2:1 says we are “dead in transgressions and sins” and Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I have two follow up questions: If the Catholic position is different from the Bible’s on original sin, how do we know the Catholic Church is not distorted by the “Evil One” as suggested in the response to #1? Secondly, if the Catholic position is that we are not born sinners, why do they baptize infants?

For #7 – I quote Epicurus in this reason to show the impossibility of the Christian idea of God. A god cannot be both all-good, and still watch and allow horrible suffering. If that god is unable to do something about it, he is not all-powerful. And if he is neither willing to stop it, nor able to stop it, then why is he called a god in the first place? The entire basis of the argument is to prove that the Christian god, combined with what we know about the reality of suffering, are mutual incompatible properties; and therefore, shows that atheism is the logical conclusion. But New Apologetics has taken that to say that I have only argued that evil happens, not that God doesn’t exist. And I say once again, you have missed the point.

For #8 – We are in pretty close agreement. Babies are born in a state of unbelief until that belief is taught. If one lives without a belief, they are without theism, which is the definition of atheism. One cannot be “without-without belief.” You either have belief in a particular theism or you don’t. Those that don’t are atheists.

For #9 – There is no disagreement.

For #10 – I’m not clear on what New Apologetic’s means about Christopher Hitchens meeting a god “much like himself” upon his death. Please clarify. Also, New Apologetic’s didn’t really respond to my actual challenge. That life, if truly created and developed to run this way by a god, was done so in a manner which seems to be a nearly impossible game of guessing, with horrific results for the wrong choice.

For #11 – Once again, I brought up apples, and New Apologetics has attacked watermelons. I don’t know where the disconnect is, but for the sake of time, I’ll respectfully ask that you directly respond to my actual challenges rather than quoting Popes who didn’t really address my reason for atheism. In my final reason, I explicitly stated that we can’t choose our belief, but we could only pretend, but not force ourselves to believe something. The response from New Apologetics is all about “words vs. actions” and “good deeds and behaviors.” My challenge of not being able to choose one’s belief, and therefore, one should not be held accountable if something appears false to him or her, was not addressed in the slightest.

I honestly look forward to a more productive follow-up response by New Apologetics so that we can get to the core of these issues.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

NEW APOLOGETICS  (RESPONSE TO THE “TOP 11 REASONS FOR ATHEISM”, Second Statement)


I. RECALLING THE TOPIC OF THE DEBATE

We begin our second statement with a reiteration of the nature of this debate in order that we may hopefully begin to connect with David on the agreed upon topic. This is a debate about the following question only:

“Do David’s 11 reasons for atheism have any rational merit in supporting a case for atheism?”

Therefore, we reiterate the following both for David’s sake and for our audience:

  • *This is not a debate about whether atheism is true. [In our introductory remarks, it was explained that these reasons could all fail and yet atheism could still be true. We admitted that a decisive victory in refuting all of the 11 reasons does not entail that any atheists need to change their minds about their position.]
  • *This is not a debate about whether God exists. [We have not attempted to argue for theism, nor do we intend to do that in this particular exchange. We are only arguing one point (viz., that David’s reasons are not worthwhile as *reasons*), and that point is established quite independently of whether theism is true.

We are very happy to debate David on the question of whether or not God exists, and we will fully accept the burden of proof in such a conversation.

Despite strict parameters being stated in the debate description and the Introductory Remarks, David did not appear to integrate them into his response or into his interpretation of our arguments.

We invited David to reconsider his latest response, but he declined.

II. OUR POSITION RESTATED

We agree with David that in the broader “debate” between theism and atheism, the person arguing for belief in God has the burden of proof. We agree that this burden of proof is a very serious one and is often not adequately met by those arguing for theism. We agree that most theistic arguments are non-sequiturs and do not enable a neutral person to legitimately conclude to theism by means of any known reasoned inference process.

So, for any atheist who is simply taking the stance of “lacking belief until shown good reasons to believe”, then we regard that to be an amply justified and respectable stance. It is a reasonable and honest position. The point of disagreement comes when David goes beyond the “waiting for a reason to believe” position and advances these so-called “reasons” for atheism.

If these “reasons” are to succeed at their intended function of influencing a person on the question of God, then they must be such that there is a legitimate way to infer the truth of the proposition “There is no God” if they are properly understood.

Our position is that the 11 reasons do not offer any way of concluding to the falsity of theism whether deductively or inductively, and that they don’t help an atheist argue a case for the non-existence of God in any way. They are, at most, interesting and meaningful questions.

David made a great point in his opening statement:

“…my ignorance is not your evidence. Because I can’t explain the beginning of the universe, or because science has yet to discover the origin of life on earth, does not automatically get us to a virgin giving birth to a Canaanite Jew who later rose from the dead and floated to a paradise in the sky.”

An atheist’s inability to answer the typical questions put forth by theists does not count as evidence that God exists. David is right about that. However, this principle cuts both ways:

While David’s “reasons” raise interesting questions to be considered by those investigating religious belief, they do nothing more than that. Such questions may have successfully stumped a number of theists who tried to answer them without adequate knowledge, but that is not really important to David’s purpose in touting them as reasons for atheism.

“Our ignorance is not your evidence.”

We can answer the questions that David asks and we are interested in having the opportunity to do so, but such is beyond the scope of this debate.

We now respond to David’s second statement from the standard of evaluation originally set forth at the beginning of the debate.

III. A CLOSER EXAMINATION OF OUR METHOD

In deconstructing David’s proposed reasons for atheism, we opted for the following method because it is decisive in achieving our intended aim:

  • *We show how each of the purported reasons for atheism is either an essential tenet of the Catholic faith or is at least compatible with it (and hence necessarily *not* a reason for atheism)or
  • *We show how a particular “argument” is rationally bankrupt in that no deductive or inductive mode of inference can allow a neutral person to conclude to atheism by means of it.

In those cases where we argue that one of David’s reasons is an essential tenet of the Catholic faith (or is at least compatible with it), we do not need to show that Catholicism is true or even probably true. In order to establish our conclusion, we only need to show that David’s alleged reason for atheism is an aspect of the Catholic faith (or compatible with it) regardless of whether or not Catholicism is true.

In other words, if David’s reasons in support of atheism are actually part and parcel of a known theistic worldview, then they manifestly cannot be “atheistic” in their implications. For a defender of these 11 reasons, there is nowhere to go with that fact but “back to the drawing board”.

For those instances where we rebut a particular reason by showing that there is neither a deductive nor inductive basis for arriving at a conclusion of atheism, we purposefully chose to employ simple deductive arguments proving our stance.

In his response to date, David neither mentions these arguments nor does he attempt to identify any false premises or invalid inferences.

In reviewing the debate, Patrick Speckamp, one of our atheist fans writes:

“Having followed the written debate as well as the radio discussion between Dogma Debate and NA, it appears we have a case of mistaking apples for oranges:

It seems that David, while raising very interesting points and questions, is not focusing the debate on the topic at hand: Are the 11 reasons helpful in order to rationally argue the truth of atheism in any way?

What David seemingly misunderstands is that NA are not even proposing or justifying a theistic view in any of their responses. They critically engage with each of David’s reasons, mostly to the effect that the point raised would warrant neither world-view.

It is my personal hunch that the debate could have advanced to a more sophisticated level very rapidly if James had been given 5-10 minutes on the radio show in order to coherently outline the correctly understood Catholic position. If that had been the case, David would probably have realized that none of the points he raised is really controversial for NA. David’s reasons are only preliminary steps in ‘weeding out’ those concepts of God or religion that are indeed unworthy of further consideration or debate. The real discussion would have started there.” – Patrick Speckamp

 

IV. EXAMINING THE PARTICULARS

We now proceed to address David’s response to show where it either fails to attend to the debate topic, illegitimately requires of us something beyond the debate topic, fails to consider the stated purpose of our response, or ignores a deductive argument set forth against the position David is defending.

David writes:
“In their opening response, New Apologetics states that my reasons ‘do not necessitate nor evidentially support atheism as a conclusion.’ But atheism is simply the conclusion that no belief is warranted, and is therefore the default position of any and all minds until religion is taught. So the very fact that no religion has yet to prove their version of god to be demonstrable, absolutely leads to atheism as a valid conclusion. If it doesn’t, which god is the ‘obvious’ one? If there is no obvious one, a lack of belief is the default.”

We reply:
We know, and we agreed about that at the very beginning. In the broader “theism vs. atheism debate”, the burden of proof is on the theist. But when someone gives “reasons” for a particular conclusion beyond simply relying on the burden of proof being the other guy’s responsibility, then those reasons are subject to scrutiny to see whether or not they are any good. Now, that is what we are doing here. We are looking at David’s reasons to see if they are what he thinks they are.

REASON #1
David writes:
“New Apologetics claims that men being deceived by the ‘Evil One’ is why we see so many inconsistent ‘truths’ about who the ultimate creator actually is.”

We reply:
Not at all. In this debate, we don’t attempt an explanation about “why” there is such confusion in religious matters. We do have an explanation, and we think it is a convincing one. We can talk about it in a different context if David is interested, but the explanation is not what is at issue here. Instead of offering an explanation superfluous to the debate topic, we simply listed two quotes from documents essential to the Catholic faith. Why? We did it to show that we should *expect* there to be religious confusion IF Catholicism is true.

Since there is this expectation, religious confusion cannot be used as evidence for atheism if it is also something that is equally predicted if Catholicism is true. If the same data is compatible with two mutually exclusive conclusions, then it is not evidence for either of those conclusions.

We then gave a deductive argument to this effect which was entirely ignored. We restate it here and encourage David to engage it. The argument establishes that David’s Reason #1 is not a cogent reason for atheism:

1) If the existence of religious confusion is a good reason to conclude to atheism, then the existence of such confusion is either logically incompatible with Catholicism being true, or it is at least contrary to what one should reasonably expect if Catholicism is true. [This premise is certain because, necessarily, all reasoned conclusions proceed from either a deductive or inductive inference.]

2) It is not the case that the existence of religious confusion is logically incompatible with Catholicism being true, nor is it reasonably contrary to what one should expect if Catholicism is true. [The quotes show that we should invariably expect there to be religious confusion if Catholicism is true.]

3) It is not the case that religious confusion is a good reason to conclude to atheism. [From 1 and 2]

REASON #2
David writes:

“New Apologetics states that because the Catechism teaches that helping one another is a good way to live, my reasons for secular humanism don’t support a logical conclusion to atheism. I would agree, if that portion of the Catechism were the first words ever recorded in human history, and started at the beginning of time itself. But how did people live morally for thousands of years before the Catechism existed?”

We reply:
We quoted from an authoritative Catholic document, not to argue that Catholicism is true, but to show that David’s moral beliefs with reference to Reason #2 are not unique to atheism, but are actually just as much a part of Catholicism, which is a theistic worldview. The Catholic faith requires that we agree with David on the moral idea behind Reason #2. Therefore, being equally compatible with Catholic teaching, Reason #2 cannot be a reason for atheism. If it were, it would have to be something other than an indispensable belief of the Catholic faith.

David brings up an unrelated point about the source of morality. But we are not in any way arguing about the source of morality. We don’t defend the position that morals are only known through the Bible or through the Catechism. We aren’t even defending the position that morals are dependent on theism being true. We, as Catholics, believe that a great deal of moral truth is accessible through reason and through a direct experience of human nature and conscience.

David writes:
“Aren’t there moral Jews? Aren’t there moral Muslims? Aren’t there moral Mormons? Of course there are – but how could that be when they haven’t read the Catechism? Saying that morality came from any religious doctrine is like saying words came from a dictionary.”

We reply:
But we aren’t saying any of that. It would be contrary to the Catholic faith to say that morality comes from a religious doctrine, and (as David writes) it would be contrary to reason to say that, too. David’s rhetoric on the matter is not something we disagree with at all, and brings him no closer to defending against our point that Catholic teaching subsumes the essence of the moral intuition he articulated in Reason #2. Thus, the moral truth expressed in Reason #2 cannot support atheism if it is equally compatible with the theism believed by Catholics. It is a proposition shared by both worldviews, and it cannot be legitimately claimed that believing such a proposition leads one to either of those worldviews. In itself, Reason #2 supports neither view.

David continues:
“Once again, no god has been proven to be the absolute source for any morality, and we see morality exist in those who have no religion, and we see those with belief in religions act immorally;”

We reply:
We believe as Catholics that the moral law is an extension of reason itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties:
For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense . . . . To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1956)

We believe that God is the author of human nature, and thereby God’s determines what is good for us. However, man need not be religious in order to have access to universal moral principles. They are accessible to reason and do not presuppose religious belief. We believe that divine revelation clarifies and illumines moral principles which, while accessible to reason, may not be perceived by everyone clearly and immediately. But this view is entirely different from saying that without religion, we can have no idea of right and wrong.

David concludes his defense of Reason #2 by reiterating the irrelevant “atheism as the default position” stance for which we already voiced our agreement. He writes:

“Therefore there is no direct logical link between the existence of any god and morality, which means atheism is the default logical conclusion until proven otherwise.”

We reply:
It is true that atheism is the default position until proven otherwise, but Reason #2 does not offer any rational support for atheism since it is also an essential aspect of the theism believed by Catholics.

REASON #3
In our first rebuttal we wrote that we reject the faulty logic David rejects, and we do so on the same grounds. From our first response:

“Theism posits an uncreated, metaphysically necessary source for all contingently existing things, but does not assert that something already *known* to be contingent is a possible candidate for that ultimate metaphysical source. We therefore agree with the essence of Reason 3 (which is that no contingent thing, like the moon, can possibly be a candidate for the creator and sustainer of all contingent being). However, since this principle is common ground between theists and atheists, we conclude that that it is not a means to argue for atheism.”

Our response was that illegitimately labeling known-to-be contingent things as being “the boss” is not a good method, and is something we agree with David on.

We share David’s standard on the matter, and we are theists. Therefore, Reason #3 is not a reason to conclude atheism on any way of looking at it.

But David writes:
“I’m afraid New Apologetics has missed the point. The purpose in rejecting the logic of my daughter who was 4 yrs old at the time, was to say that giving up by saying one thing had no creator because it was the “boss,” and therefore it created everything, is more fantasy than science.”

We reply:
But this really has nothing to do with the question of whether theism or atheism is true. At best, it only says that certain ways of concluding to theism are not valid. We tend to agree.We reject most cosmological arguments – especially the ones used famously in modern debates and ceaselessly imitated in various discussion forums. These arguments are usually unabashed non-sequiturs; the conclusion of theism doesn’t follow from the premises even if those premises are granted without modification. David’s stance against such “God of the gaps” reasoning is therefore not a reason for atheism, but is merely a kind of intellectual hygiene concerning unsound arguments for theism.

His daughter’s intuition that there is something with aseity (that is, something without dependency on anything else) does not lead to theism anyway. The question remains open as to what the nature of that “uncaused cause” is. Smalley could keep his atheism intact, and even accept a metaphysically non-contingent reality that *is* the source of all continent things. It may be that it exists with aseity, but has nothing to do with the theistic concept of God.

David goes on to argue that our stance somehow rejects science:

“The proper scientific approach would be to keep testing, studying, and looking for answers as to the origin of our universe, which is what atheism typically suggests, rather than assuming you have a complete understanding of all creation by way of your direct communication with the most powerful creator in the universe, and assuming magic is the answer, therefore science fails.”

We reply:
We don’t assume science fails, and we don’t assume we understand all of creation. Science is far from complete, and should be allowed to be itself without any weight of religious preconception.

As Catholics, we accept scientific method in approaching questions in that area of inquiry. We don’t believe that the Bible teaches science such as to help us to understand creation on that level, or that “magic” is the answer for whatever science cannot yet explain.

Science, when correctly understood as the “use of scientific method”, cannot say anything one way or the other about the question of God’s existence. That may seem like a cop-out in the minds of some, but the conclusion follows from correctly understanding scientific method on its own terms:

In order for a conclusion to come under the purview of science, there must be some standard for potentially falsifying or disproving that conclusion by evidentiary means. However, IF God exists, then the existence of God (being the ultimate source of all contingent reality) is compatible with literally ANY observable data that science could potentially encounter. Since God’s existence is fully compatible with all possibly observable data, there is no possible basis for either supporting theism or refuting it by means of any use of the scientific method.

It then follows inescapably that any debate concerning scientific evidence for or against the existence of God reduces to a methodological mistake and a misunderstanding of the nature of science. Catholics can fully accept what David has written here about science not being subject to religious ideas, and we can agree about the need for theists to stop jumping all over gaps in scientific knowledge as evidence for theism.

Since there can be agreement between theists and atheists on this question, it therefore follows that Reason #3 is not a reason for atheism.

REASON #4
David writes:

“New Apologetics has given a very ambiguous answer – and with all due respect, has completely avoided the challenge this reason poses to all religious beliefs.”

We reply:
Let’s review Reason 4; it reads as follows:

“Demeter, Jesus, Apollo, Horus, Zeus, Mithra, Yahweh, Tammuz, Ganesha, and Allah are only 10 of the thousands of gods recorded in history. An Atheist is not one that refuses to read religious doctrine; but is often one who reads too many.”

It is difficult to know what David is saying here as there is no argument for atheism offered. We responded that there are very good reasons to conclude the non-existence of various proposed deities, but that “In our broad experience, we have observed that all of the known atheological arguments are entirely inapplicable to the Catholic concept of God either because they fail to critique the idea of God actually taught by the Catholic Church or because the arguments are otherwise provably unsound.”
.

David continues:
“My point in that reason was to show that studying multiple religions and learning about thousands of religious claims, along with parallels drawn with Christianity, and showing that many of the miracles told in Christian doctrine are not original, but often copied from other sources, and getting to the bottom of the historical evidence showing the political motivation of the canonization of the Bible, is exactly why many Christians become atheists in the first place.”

We reply:
Let’s assume (just for the sake of argument) that David is correct in his criticisms here (and he is not factually correct), but granting his assertions at face-value it would not in any way follow that this is a reason for atheism. Even if every religion were known to be false, metaphysical theism (in a general sense of the term) may yet be true. It may be that God exists, but has not revealed himself to humanity according to any of the ways claimed by any of the known religions.

David’s opinion of the supposed failure of various religious doctrines says nothing about the truth or falsity of theism. Indeed, in one of his discussions on the Dogma Debate show, David argued that if God were to exist, then God would not choose to reveal himself to pre-scientific people who could not receive the types of scientific knowledge that, in David’s view, would be fitting for God to reveal. Rather, David thinks that IF God exists, then all religions are false, and the divine revelation has yet to come. David argued:

“What sense does it make that the one big revelation that came from the most powerful creator of the universe… He came to them… to ancient, archaic, uneducated, culturally retarded humans that were trying to be mysogynistic, make us move backwards… In that aspect, why would he pick those archaic, ridiculously uneducated, anti-scientific, misogynist slave owners and go “Here’s the wonderful revelation of how the entire earth was created and all of humanity…” And then WE as we become more intelligent and understanding of science have to decode this crazy message that he brought down to these complete idiots… Why not 2000 years from now, when we’re super, super, super advanced and can get it all…. That’s part of the problem, God knows that we were going to be reading this in 2013, and it seems like every year that passes and every new generation, there are technological advances, if he had written this book, if he was a timeless being, he would have inspired it to also be timeless, not make it harder and harder to grasp and comprehend as time went on… It seems like he set himself up for failure to lose believers as more scientific discoveries came along.” (Dogma Debate #71, 37:50-39:38)

Using David’s own reasoning on what he would expect God to do if theism were true, we see that Reason #4 (even if granted on its own terms) says nothing about whether theism is true or false metaphysically, but is only an argument that the religions conceived thus far are human inventions. It may be that all religions are false, but theism is still true. Even on the most charitable interpretation, Reason #4 is not a reason for atheism, but is compatible with theism according to David’s own thought.

David’s closing sentences on Reason #4 show a mistaken identification of atheism to be the position that no religions are proven:

“Atheists are often accused of not believing simply because we haven’t read into it – and that’s just not the case in most situations. Religions are more like languages than facts. They depend on where you’re from, when you’re born, and the things your parents say. Atheism is the realization that none of them actually have proof.”

We reply:
It is unclear why David has associated theism with the belief that some particular religion is true. It is also unclear why he makes the mistake of writing that atheism is “realization that none of them [religions] actually have proof.”

It is beyond dispute that the question of metaphysical theism being true is logically independent of any religion being true or false.

For the record, we take the position that the existence of God can be proven with certainty and that the Catholic faith can be shown to be the true religion by means of some very rigorous arguments. These considerations are not part of the topic of this debate, but we are happy to answer David’s questions in this area fully in a different context.

REASON #5
David writes:

“My reason was that a non-believer is in the same spiritual position as a believer who dies before having time to repent . New Apologetics responded by talking about how non-Christians can still go to heaven if their unbelief was no fault of their own. That doesn’t address my reason.”

We reply:
The possibility of people of goodwill being saved by Christ though they happen to be non-Christians directly refutes David’s assertion that “a non-believer is in the same spiritual position as a believer who dies before having time to repent”. We Catholics don’t believe that the two are in the same position at all.

There is nothing offered by David in his response that suggests that Reason #5 supports atheism even remotely. Reason #5 only supports the idea that it is unjust for God to hold honest unbelief against a person who has had a lack of correct information or has been influenced by the bad example of believers. But, as we argued, it is an essential aspect of the Catholic faith that God doesn’t let honest atheism stand in the way of grace or the possibility of salvation through Christ. In fact, it is taught that some non-believers are closer to God than many professed Christians without knowing it. The following very brief press release puts the question to rest: http://pressreleases.religionnews.com/2013/05/29/pope-francis-statement-on-atheists-whats-the-big-deal/

REASON #6
David writes:
“New Apologetic’s states ‘The view of the Catholic Church on original sin is the polar opposite of the view David uses as the basis for Reason 6.’ If that’s the case, the view of the Catholic Church on original sin is also the polar opposite of God’s word in the Bible. Psalm 51:5 states ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’ Is that God’s word? Romans 5:12 tells us ‘Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.’ Is that God’s word? Ephesians 2:1 says we are ‘dead in transgressions and sins’ and Romans 3:23 says ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’”

We reply:
We accept all of the biblical passages David cites, but interpret them in light of Sacred Tradition and Magisterial teaching. Biblical literalism, especially “proof texting”, gets people into lots of trouble, and David’s revulsion towards theism in general seems to have a lot to do with protesting a runaway biblical literalism which disregards justice, ignores common sense, and hurts people in serious ways. We affirm that there is nothing in the cited biblical quotes entailing the idea that God creates human beings as sinners. Rather, God creates us “good”, and our tendency towards sin is caused by us being made for justice, but born into a disordered world which has been damaged by sin.

In explanation of the Catholic position, we cited a lengthy quote from Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI), and David seems to have disregarded it. We re-present a fragment from that quote, and encourage David to go back and reread the whole quote:

“…sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning)

Nothing David argues in his defense of Reason 6 in any way supports his idea that God creates us “sinful”.

And here is the important part: Even if David were correct about the above points, there would be no rational support for atheism gained thereby. Reason #6 ultimately only serves to argue that a “just” God does not “create us sick and command us to be well.”

“Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.” (Christopher Hitchens, “Moore’s Law”, Slate, ’03)

We agree with Hitchens, and continue a little further to say that it is tragic that such a dreadful figment has any sway over the minds and hearts of good people who deserve to know the truth.

From Patrick, our atheist commentator:

“NA’s response does not necessarily contradict what is written in the Bible passages David cites. If we were to believe that any human being is willed by God then the human being as such must be good, since God, according to the Catholic definition, cannot will anything but good. Original sin and its implications for mankind is a vast topic but the concept of Original Sin understood in the Catholic sense seems to point at the fact that it is not the human being that is not good, it is the corrupted state of our existence which is unworthy of us. If this is true, then it would of course benefit any human being to be ‘put right’ by whatever means are necessary (baptism).”

In discussing Reason #6, David further adds two questions which do not have direct relevance to the content of the debate. To avoid unnecessary digression, we answer those questions in a separate post at the end of our response. We are happy to answer any number of David’s questions outside the context of this debate.

REASON #7
We offered a deductive argument proving that no type of argument from evil can possibly offer evidence against the God of Christian theism. It is found in “Article II” of the Tractatus:

http://newapologetics.com/the-tractatus

This argument is designed to account for all past and present versions of the argument from evil as well as any future versions that might be developed. David did not respond to the argument at all, but simply asserted his belief that Epicurus’ questions concerning God and evil render the existence of the Christian God impossible. David writes:

“I quote Epicurus in this reason to show the impossibility of the Christian idea of God.”

David’s research in this area is lacking because it is universally recognized among contemporary atheist philosophers that the simple deductive version of the argument (which tries to establish an incompatibility between the divine attributes and the existence of evil) is unsuccessful. This fact is widely known at almost all levels in the field of philosophy of religion.

For example, Nick Tattersall, an atheist writing for Infidels.org summarizes:

The logical argument from evil is thousands of years old. It has come down the centuries from Epicurus, and has more recently been defended by the late John Mackie. Essentially, the problem is why an omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good God would allow the extreme suffering we see in the world. By simply analysing the definition of God given above and stating a few uncontroversial premises, it was thought to have been shown that such a being would have the knowledge, ability and desire to prevent the intense suffering and premature death of sentient creatures. Consequently it was thought that the theistic God was logically incompatible with universally accepted facts about the world. Such an argument is now widely accepted as being inadequate. This is because it not true that, by definition, God is incompatible with evil. God would not exclude all evil if He had morally sufficient reason for allowing some. For example, some evil may be necessary for the realisation of a greater good, known or unknown to us. Philosophers nowadays concern themselves with evidential arguments from evil.” (Nicholas Tattersall, The Evidential Argument from Evil) http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nicholas_tattersall/evil.html

Daniel Howard Snyder (Editor of the anthology, The Evidential Argument from Evil) writes:

“Nearly forty years have passed since Mackie published his famous “logical problem” of evil, as he called it… Like logical positivism, Mackie’s argument has found its way to the dustbin of philosophical fashions. Why? Mackie claimed that it was impossible for

G. God is omnipotent and God is wholly good,and

E. Evil exists

both to be true. …However, nothing we know rules out the possibility that there is a morally justifying reason for a wholly good thing to permit evil she could prevent… Thus, for all we know G and E are compatible even if we cannot think of a morally justifying reason for God to permit evil.” (Daniel Howard Snyder, The Evidential Argument from Evil)

And giving a broad summary of the field, Jeffrey Jay Lowder, co-founder of Infidels.org writes:

“Ever since Alvin Plantinga refuted J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil, the majority of contemporary philosophers of religion have come to believe that logical arguments from evil are unsuccessful. This opinion is not unanimous, however. Philosophers Richard Gale, Quentin Smith, and Howard Jordan Sobel challenge the conventional view regarding the prospects for logical arguments from evil. Indeed, Smith has formulated a new version of the logical argument from evil to avoid the pitfalls of Mackie’s argument. Nevertheless, many philosophers remain highly skeptical regarding logical arguments from evil.”

The versions of the argument presented by contemporary atheist philosophers are much more sophisticated than what David cites, and the reason for that has to do with the known failure of the naive version used in this debate. Modern attempts are specifically engineered to work around the known weaknesses in Epicurus’ and Mackie’s formulations.

In order to resuscitate the effort, David would at least have to account for the fact that the version of the argument he presents has been famously refuted and is no longer taken seriously by informed atheist thinkers.

Next, it would be needful for him to refute the defense against all potential arguments from evil given in Article II of the Tractatus.

Apart from accomplishing those goals, Reason #7 cannot be considered a successful means to argue atheism.

[Note: Some further interesting points about the relationship between God and evil are brought out in our response to Reason #10 below.]

REASONS #8 and #9

For Reasons #8 and #9, David acknowledges that there is no disagreement, which means that these are not reasons for atheism.


REASON #10

David writes:
“I’m not clear on what New Apologetic’s means about Christopher Hitchens meeting a god “much like himself” upon his death. Please clarify.”

We reply:
The following is a quote taken from our dialogue with Patrick Speckamp from quite a while ago on the same topic:

New Apologetics:
“We’re actually very big Christopher Hitchens fans here. Not just because he was a great orator, but we think he was right about most of what he said. The concepts of God he attacked were eminently worthy of being vandalized. All of them were of a deity who somehow loved evil. But Christopher believed in justice and in the defense of the innocent, and he wasn’t going to give that up for any threat of hell. Though many will disagree, we see him as something of a martyr for the true God. He wouldn’t settle for an idol as so many of us have.”

Patrick Speckamp:
“Wow, now that’s a comment that surprises me…I know [Hitchens] to a great degree addressed the literal bible-abiding faith of the evangelicals but he was also an outspoken opponent of the Catholic Church. Creationists aside, but he still raised questions about the moral concept of a God punishing you for thinking differently… I’d be more than keen to hear your opinion….but again, interesting that you appreciate his input…I just want to add a question: you said he was a “martyr” for the true god…this is apparently a statement that follows from the fact that all the gods he criticized were not consistent with the god you set out to promote. Where then is the difference between the god [Hitchens] criticized and the god that he didn’t criticize and who happens to be the god that you support?”

New Apologetics:
“You mention the moral concept of a God who punishes you for thinking differently, but that is self-evidently a property unworthy of God. It is also the teaching of the Church that all people of goodwill can be saved. They are saved through Christ though they do not know him by name. God has to be at least as good as the best man…

Hitchens says he’s glad theism is not true. On the model of theism he is objecting to, we are just as glad that it’s not true. If it were true, people who had any regard for justice would have a moral obligation to rebel in the hope that there was a just God over and against the impostor deity that happens to be in the way. The tragedy is that very many people have chosen to embrace the image of the unjust god that Hitchens is rightly trashing.

Let’s take the different purported aspects of theism that Hitchens brings up, and briefly compare them with the Catholic understanding:

1) Theism as a totalitarian system – On the contrary, God has given away every power that can be given away, and has offered us to partake in his own glory. On the Catholic viewpoint, the one desire of God is to exalt the individual soul as if that soul were God and God were her slave. This is neither an exaggeration nor an aberrant modality of Catholicism, but is the teaching of the Church on the meaning of why we exist. God wants to glorify us gratuitously.

2) Wishing to be a slave – While this psychological motive prevails in many, God wants to elevate and exalt the individual infinitely. This is the core message of the Gospel: God has intervened to elevate the lowly. We are given a destiny of glory so high that every good thing that God has ever done or will do, he does through us for every other creature. A lot more needs to be added here…

3) Convicting us of thought crime – God isn’t interested in holding our sins against us. There are good reasons why we do the things we do, and he knows it. We are only trying to make ourselves feel a little better in a totally unfair world. God wants to save us from all of the diminishment caused by our sins because that diminishment is incompatible with our perfect joy. We are made in the image of God, and cannot accept ourselves fully while we are aware of our faults. God wants to transform those faults so as to have no power to harm us. He goes so far as to make all of our sins and sufferings necessary for the eternal happiness of every other person.

4) Total surveillance around the clock – See above.

5) A celestial North Korea – See above.

Who wants the theism he’s attacking to be true? If it’s true, it attacks us in our deepest, most essential integrity. It is an insult to humanity and the possible hope in a just God. We affirm that Christopher Hitchens and God see things in a very similar way – with God being an infinitely amplified version of Hitchens.

Additionally, Hitchens’ views on the injustice of the suffering of the innocent and on the repugnant nature of typical construals of original sin and redemption theory are also exactly right from the standpoint of Catholicism.

In order to clearly see why Hitchens’ view is the right one (pace most Christian apologists) we have to keep in mind God’s infinite opposition to human suffering and realize that the redemption is his infinite response against every evil to defeat every injustice perfectly. There is very good reason why this intervention appears on the surface to be a total failure. In reality, it is the most extreme counterstrike and discomfiture of evil that can possibly be conceived.”

We understand that David might balk at that last paragraph. We invite him to stick around and ask questions about why we would say something like that.

Concerning Reason #10, David states:
“Also, New Apologetic’s didn’t really respond to my actual challenge. That life, if truly created and developed to run this way by a god, was done so in a manner which seems to be a nearly impossible game of guessing, with horrific results for the wrong choice.”

We reply:
Our point is that the view David is attacking is a false view. We and the Catholic Church reject it outright. It is not only unworthy of belief, but it is unworthy of any serious reflection. Because we are theists sharing David’s view on the injustice of a deity judging us for having the wrong ideas, we must conclude that Reason 10 is not a reason supporting atheism.

REASON #11
David writes:
“In my final reason, I explicitly stated that we can’t choose our belief, but we could only pretend, but not force ourselves to believe something… My challenge of not being able to choose one’s belief, and therefore, one should not be held accountable if something appears false to him or her, was not addressed in the slightest.”

We reply:
David doesn’t yet realize that we agree with him. We know that it is not possible to honestly choose our beliefs. We also say that God does not hold us accountable for our beliefs.

We cited quotations from the Second Vatican Council and from Benedict XVI in confirmation of our position. We cite those quotes again because it appears that David did not read them:

“Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium)

[And the quote from Benedict XVI (abridged from our last statement)]

“Agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is ‘routine’ and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts.”

So, if we and the Catholic Church agree with David that God does not judge us for honest unbelief, then how can Reason #11 support atheism?

And we close with Patrick’s remarks:

“NA have repeatedly stated that there is no real disconnect. The challenge provided in reason 11 is not really a challenge if truth is seen as something good. If people are honest to themselves as described in the scenario of David’s reason 11 then this is ostensibly not condemned by the Catholic Church. David apparently missed NA’s statement which affirms that they (and the Catholic Church) are in the same boat with him.”

 

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