This is the second installment of a discussion Randal (aka “me”) is having with atheist Ralph Jones. In this installment Randal responds to Ralph’s dismissive words against “religion” as well as Ralph’s list of seventeen objections to the existence of God. (For the first installment click here.)
Randal: Ralph, you say that “religion itself” is “the problem”. But I really don’t know what you mean when you say “religion itself.” And to be frank, I’m not sure you do either. (Not that I am particularly interested in defending “religion itself”. I’m interested in defending Christian theism.) I regret that I have to press you once again on definitions. Perhaps you will dismiss my request that you define what you mean by “religion itself” as another terminological bog. But it shouldn’t be. If you think this thing called “religion itself” is such a problem, then I assume you can give a succinct (emphasis on succinct) and clear definition of what it is you mean when you use the term.
Now to the question of God’s existence. I asked you, “can you provide some reasons why you think that God does not exist?” You went on to provide a long, scattered list of non sequiturs and tendentious claims. I’ll briefly engage the first six points you list to illustrate the general nature of the problem.
For starters, your opening points 1-4 have nothing at all to do with the question of whether God exists or not since each is an assertion about some aspect of Christian theism. (By analogy, it is as if I had asked you why you believe nobody should drive cars and you replied by arguing that Chryslers are unreliable. An interesting observation, but quite irrelevant to the question at hand.)
Nor is your fifth claim that belief in God is a result of wish fulfillment of any relevance to the question of whether God exists since even if belief in God is the result of wish fulfillment it doesn’t follow that God doesn’t exist or that we have a reason to believe God doesn’t exist. This, I would have thought, is a rather elementary logical point. What is more, as an objection it self-destructs since as Paul Vitz pointed out, you can explain the non-belief of atheists on the same basis, i.e. as a projected hope that there be no God. This would seem to be even more likely to be the case with those who self-describe as “anti-theists”. (Vitz as a psychologist completely inverts Freud’s analysis by arguing that many atheists project no heavenly father based on the absence of human fathers in their lives. And he provides several plausible examples including Bertrand Russell. Whether or not Vitz’s analysis is plausible, it certainly is no less so than the atheist’s arm chair psychologizing about theists. In other words, two can play the “wish fulfillment” game. And neither provides any reason to believe God does (or doesn’t) exist.)
In your sixth point you say that science has eroded the claims of “religion” including the claim that the world was created in six days and that the Earth is the centre of the universe. Interesting. I didn’t know “religion” taught these things. (Once again, I’d love to hear your succinct definition of religion.) It is true that some Christians today believe the world was created in six days but Christians haven’t believed that the earth is the center of the universe since the days of Louis the Sun King. As for the fact that they did believe it at one time you can blame the influence of Ptolemy’s obsolete scientific theory.
Even worse, your sixth point commits you to an extraordinarily naïve scientism. You don’t often hear people these days saying with such bravado that science will one day explain objective moral value, aesthetic value, free will, personal identity through time, teleology, consciousness, self-consciousness, rational intuition, mathematical abstract objects, and everything else. Indeed, these days the drift is quite in the opposite direction.
Just consider consciousness. The philosophical quest to link the extraordinary advances in understanding the brain with a theory of consciousness have been such an abject failure that the respected atheistic philosopher of mind Colin McGinn has adopted a mysterian position according to which he proposes that our minds may be incapable of understanding how the brain produces consciousness, but doggone it, it must anyways. McGinn’s faith is impressive, but not as impressive as the naïve devotee of scientism who continues to insist that a complete science of the mind will one day address all our questions: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then [when we have a completed science of the mind] face to face: now I know in part; but then [when we have a completed science of the mind] shall I know even as also I am known.” (Cue the pious organ music.)
At this point I’ve dealt with the first third of your rag-tag collection of “objections” by showing that the first four are (among other things) utterly irrelevant to the question at hand, the fifth self-destructs by opening the atheist’s reasoning to being deconstructed by the arm-chair psychologist, and the sixth conceals a blushingly controversial version of scientism.
The fact is that one good objection is worth more than seventeen poor ones. So could you provide one objection that is presented in the form of a logical argument with plausible premises and a conclusion that follows logically from the premises?