Monday, February 11, 2013

FacePlant of the Day - Debunking Christianity: Christianity and the Virtue of Unreason

I'm simply amazed that many Atheists can't seem grasp the point that God does not expect or condone mindlessly accepting anything. I found this interesting post on Debunking Christianity where J.M. Green attempts to explain that the Bible teaches you to turn your brain off. In this article I see very little understanding of what "Faith" is and what we should remember  is that if you see the Bible saying two different things, then instead of stopping at crying "Contradiction" and conclude that the Bible is nonsense you should at least consider the possibility that you don't understand one or both of those passages.

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's not use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Alice in Wonderland
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29 (ESV)
The article starts off attempting that Jesus was telling us that it's okay to hold conflicting things as true like the "advice" Alice was getting in Wonderland. Jesus was not talking about believing something despite conflicting evidence therefore this comparison is a straw man at best and a lie at worst. 

Recently I was talking with a friend about her experience as an atheist who has relocated to (according to the Pew Research Center) the 3rd most religious state in the U.S. – South Carolina. She said the thing that struck her was how much pride religious people seem to have in taking things on faith. “It’s like the less evidence that exists for a certain belief--the greater their triumph for still managing to believe it.” She said. “It seriously amazes me. The less you think, the more virtuous you are.”

I agree that  there are Christians who do not reason about their faith. They don't think critically and don't know what they believe and haven't a clue about what they believe and why they should believe it. This is not how it should be. The Bible does not tell us you are more virtuous if you don't think.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Act 17:11

So look the church in Berea was honored for thinking critically. They were honored because they checked Paul's preaching and teaching against the Jewish Scriptures. Now I am sure people will argue that there isn't a way to vet the standard they were using but that ignores the fact that had Paul preached teachings that conflicted with the Hebrew scriptures, the Bereans would automatically know Paul was wrong. It was evidence.

Even though it is somewhat shocking when we encounter someone who blatantly rejects reason and evidence, in favor of a subjective belief, fundamentalist Christianity does much to foster this mentality.

Let's see if Green can back this up. He is claiming that in order to be a Christian, you have to reject reason and evidence. This is simply not true.

The John 20:29 quote above, has Jesus placing a higher value on those who believe without evidence, than those who are able to verify by sensory evidence.

Let’s state plainly what Jesus was saying: “To believe based on what you can personally verify is ok, but if you make a leap of faith and believe based on hearsay, then you are truly blessed.” This is some of the worst advice that one could give, seeing as how all sorts of nonsense from bogus cancer cures, to Nigerian email scams, rely on people’s unquestioning acceptance of claims without proof. Essentially, Jesus is placing a spiritual premium on being gullible and naïve. Credulous acceptance of any and all claims is a virtue. Mindlessness is next to godliness. P. T. Barnum’s sucker-born-ever-minute had just been granted sainthood.

That does not plainly nor accurately represent Jesus' words.  Jesus was talking to one of his Apostles, Thomas -  who walked with Jesus, knew Jesus died, and was talking to Jesus after the Resurrection. That really changes the context of Jesus' words. Here we have a man who predicted his own death and Resurrection. Thomas and those first generation Christians all had a lot of extraordinary evidence. However Jesus is not telling us that those who will believe and not have had the opportunity to put our fingers in our his wounds will not have other evidence to draw on.

The Old Testament also promotes this attitude, as evidenced in this popular Bible verse:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)
The Old Testament is not promoting an attitude against critical thinking but instead regarding how unreliable our own senses and reasoning powers - something that many atheists would readily admit. 

But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. - Proverbs 4:19

Everyone is wicked. Without God we are all in darkness. We stumble around in that darkness. That is why it is a bad idea to lean on your own understanding.  It does not say "Don't lean on evidence."

In the New Testament, the writers of the Gospels shrewdly muddy the waters by claiming that people refused to believe despite witnessing Jesus performing miracles. This of course, goes hand in hand with the Christian refrain that atheists know God exists, but simply choose to deny this. Why provide evidence if some people aren’t going to believe anyway?

The miracles are indeed evidence. Even Jews who hated Jesus admitted that Jesus performed miracles. They tried to explain them away. I'm not just talking about Jesus' contemporaries but also the writers of the Talmud in the medieval times and other secular ancient sources. The evidence is the there. In Romans, Paul does tell us that atheist suppress the knowledge that God exists but also why  the rest of the Gospel that distinguishes Christianity from other religions is rejected is told to us by Jesus.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. - John 3:16-21

In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who ends up in the torments of Hell and begs Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers so they don’t end up there too.

Abraham replies that the man’s brothers have the writings of Moses and the prophets, and that should be enough. The rich man, recognizing the value of evidence in persuading people, insists that if someone is raised from the dead that will make his brothers take notice. Abraham replies that even then, the brothers would still not be swayed. In other words, why give them evidence, if they won’t believe anyway.

The writings of Moses and the prophets are evidence. It's just so bright that the rich man's brothers would cower away - like Green does. Abraham's words in the parable are proven true every  time someone rejects Christs - after all Jesus returned from the dead and they refuse to listen.

Of course Abraham’s assertion that a book is all the evidence needed is ridiculous, but this is how it works in the fantasyland of Christianity. Christians have a Bible filled with miraculous, unprovable claims and they believe those claims, simply because they are found between the covers of that book.

There are plenty of provable claims in the Bible.  For example the Bible makes claims about people, places, and events that can be shown to really have existed. Had nothing ever been shown to be true, then Green and others might have something. Truth is saying that there is no evidence of the Bible being true is a lie

The Apostle Paul does his part to promote evidence-free belief:
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)
Actually Paul is quoting the Old Testament and he is not saying  that faith mean belief with absence of evidence.

And, let us not forget the unnamed author of Hebrews who devotes the whole of chapter 11 to the praise of mindless belief.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
Who needs evidence when belief itself becomes the proof?

Green is suggesting that something can only be real if you can see it and has just thrown science under the bus.  Ever seen a proton?  Electron? What color are they? How do they smell? What texture do they have? According to Green's "logic" nothing that you can't answer these questions about exists for real. I'm not willing to do that. I want to know how many people are going to comment that Green does not know what "proof" means like they do whenever a theist has the audacity to speak?

In a revealing admission, after enumerating the assorted exploits of the heroes of the Jewish faith, the author of Hebrews says:
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
Hebrews 11:39 (ESV)

Get that folks? All these people died (some of them in horrible ways) without ever seeing the result of what their faith promised them. The golden carrot on the stick dangled just on the other side of death, as it still does. And, since Father Abraham doesn’t like the idea of sending anyone back from the dead to verify the state of the afterlife for us, you just have to devote your life to your religion and its invisible god, in the hope – or should I say in ‘faith’ that there will be a life after death, and that heavenly carrot will be waiting for you.

I wonder why Green didn't quote the whole passage in context.

 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. - Hebrews 11:39,40 (NIV)

So the reason why the Old Testament saints didn't yet receive the promise is because of those of us who have come after them. It is God's intention that we get it all together. Also look at the the translation Green uses to make it seem like the Old Testament saints get nothing.  Look at what comes after in the passage. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. - Hebrews 12:1-3

In the Christian faith, mindlessness is next to godliness. To trust reason and require evidence is to imperil your very soul. Blind belief becomes a feat of spiritual strength to be admired and emulated. Strap a Bible to your head and send your brain on a suicide mission for Jesus; become a mind-martyr for the cause.

Now that is just a lie. No where does the Bible tells us to do that.

I have both seen and experienced how Christianity encourages people not to ask too many questions and not think too deeply. There are certain invisible boundaries and if you stray beyond them, you will reap the negative social consequences. Faith provides pseudo-certainty and doubt is a disease. Voice your doubts aloud and you soon will become a leper to be avoided in the city of faith.

I keep hearing people saying that is what Christianity is, but that is not my experience. I wasn't raised that way. Some people teach that way although the Bible does not talk that way.

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. - Isaiah 1:16-20
 The fundamentalist believer is happy to make use of reason, and science selectively in service of promoting their religion, but the moment these tools reveal flaws in their belief system, they slash the ties and float free, soaring on the wings of faith, unencumbered by rationality.

 I would like to see Green prove that. The burden of proof  is on him. Where is the mind of the skeptic? How does he know he is right about that?

Critical thinking does not always provide easy answers, let alone soothing ones. For the believer, the retreat into dogmatic belief is like a warm, soft security blanket they can wrap themselves in when facts and reason provide cold comfort. Doubt is disparaged and demonized by religion, but doubt is actually a valuable tool, guarding against self-deception and delusion.

There is no evidence that the Bible teaches us to not to critically think. What critical thinking should do is lead you to the conclusion that doubting God is stupid. If you don't come to that conclusion how do you know you have come to the right one? The Bible tells us that you have fallen into self-deception and delusion.  You have nothing to go on to prove that the Bible is false. 

Recently, I was discussing with a family member, the tendency of the Bible’s god to kill children for their parents’ ‘sin’, “Do you think it is ever right to kill a child because you are angry at their parents?” I asked

“Well, uh, ummm… God knows what is best, and I trust him,” was the response.

That is a bad answer. Green's question is predicated on a false presupposition. First  Green does not understand how bad sin is and further Green conveniently attempts to make an emotional case out of it. For example, he seems to be suggesting some adults sinned so God just killed their children. This is not what happened. The whole nation was destroyed according to scripture. And what about the 400 years God gave them to stop sinning before He sent Israel in to destroy them? Sounds like mercy to me. Ultimately Green doesn't want an answer. He really only wants to rationalize his rebellion against God.

Later, another family member wondered aloud why humans have body hair. I gave a science-based reply. Their response? “That’s not the answer I was wanting to hear.”

To me, that was very telling. Fundamentalist dogma has decreed what truth is and the mind must be subjugated to this dogma. Alternative evidence and answers must be rejected, using the ‘shield of faith.’ You see, faith is the immune system that protects the God virus from potential threats which might cause it to weaken and die. Despite all the technological and scientific advances in our world, it would seem that the Queen of Unreason is still the tyrant who rules supreme in the Wonderland of religion.

The only dogma I think Green has managed to demonstrate is that the Bible Bible teach one to believe things without evidence or against evidence. What he has managed to demonstrate is to show that he does not know what "faith" is.  He isn't the only one. I'm amazed that people who bring up this argument and even try to base it on Hebrews 11 always invariably fail to recognize that not one of them had blind faith. Each and everyone one of them had an encounter and a relationship with God. Let's just pick one of them:  Gideon.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, - Hebrews 11:32

Gideon was a man who wanted evidence that God had called him to do the work he was called to do - defeat the Midianites. God did not get mad, but gave him what he needed.  Read his story - Judges 6,7,8

Written by J. M. Green

Another one to add to the prayer list.

Debunking Christianity: Christianity and the Virtue of Unreason