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A response to Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist”-

Someone sent me a link to this via Facebook and after spending some time addressing it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s another long (though not insanely long) post, but it addresses the “questions” of a popular apologist that is often cited in e-mails from Christians.

Zacharias’ original text is in black and my responses are in red.


Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists. Here, then are six key questions you can ask of atheists as you engage them in honest conversation about the trajectory of this worldview:

First, we need to clarify that atheism isn’t a worldview. There are no tenets, dogma or edicts because atheism isn’t an “ism”…it’s simply the label we use to identify a position on a single question; do you believe a god exists? If the answer is yes, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.

Atheism can be the result of a worldview and it is certainly consistent with a number of secular philosophical worldviews, so for the sake of this discussion I’ll address the questions without quibbling over that detail but it’s essential to point out that there’s an underlying misconception that tends to encourage theists to frame their questions in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Where did everything come from, and why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, where do we look to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within an atheistic worldview, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

The entire paragraph is an implied argument that if we haven’t yet explained the big questions (without making an appeal to the god hypothesis) that we’re then justified in accepting that a god exists. This is a thinly-veiled argument from ignorance, a classic logical fallacy.

In addition to that problem, the god hypothesis has no explanatory power. Explanations increase our understanding and we tend to explain things in terms of other things that we already understand.

Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.

How do we answer the big questions? The same way we’d answer any other question. First, we acknowledge that we don’t have an explanation and then we investigate until we do. The time to believe a proposed explanation is after it has been supported by argument and evidence – and not a moment before. Explanations are supported by evidence; they’re not supported by a failure to come up with a better response.

In the end, this question isn’t an implied argument for the existence of god; it’s an implied argument for belief as a means of placating curiosity and xenophobia. Accepting a pacifying non-answer retards progress toward discovering the real answer.

2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

The implication in this question is that if there is no transcendent, ultimate, externally imposed meaning that there can be no meaning. That’s a bit of an equivocation fallacy – conflating “meaning” and “transcendent meaning” and then spinning it into “atheistic meaninglessness”.

I have no crisis of meaning. A secular worldview doesn’t result in meaninglessness. My life has whatever meaning I attribute to it, and this would be true whether a god existed or not. Value is the result of desire and while he’d like to dismiss our “selfish interests, pleasures, or tastes” as negatives, that’s not the case. Our selfish interests can result in benefit or harm, all with respect to the things we value. He dismisses the very foundations of meaning in order to claim there is no meaning… that doesn’t sound like the “honest conversation” I’m looking for.

The broader, implied argument is that one should believe in a god because it’ll prevent you from feeling as though your life has no meaning. This is not an argument for the existence of a god; it’s an argument for belief which has no dependency on the object of that belief being true. It’s like arguing that one should believe that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket if it makes them happy.

The problem, of course, is that our beliefs inform our actions and our actions have consequences for ourselves and others. The person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket may well take actions that prove devastating when they discover they actually don’t have a winning ticket.

3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific, so how do we deal with the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? Countless millions lost their lives under these godless regimes, regimes more influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch (superman) than they were by transcendent morality.

Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

The assertion that atheism leads to horrifying atrocities is simply not true. It’s a vile, slanderous charge, rooted in ignorance and deception that isn’t the slightest bit softened by Zacharias’ stylish, questioning form.

In the case of the examples given, atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be identified as the cause of the actions taken. In truth, the atrocities were the result of belief systems which, while consistent with atheism, are not caused by atheism. You simply cannot draw a causal chain from “I do not believe a god exists” to “I’m going to destroy religious organizations and religious people” without an additional belief — and it is that belief that would be the cause of the atrocities.

To claim otherwise is to claim that atheism necessarily leads to horrifying acts (which is what he’s trying to do) and there are millions of secular people who testify to the false nature of that assertion every single day.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took actions based on beliefs that are akin to religions. They were powerful
zealots of socio-political ideologies and a belief that the opposition must be eliminated. To claim that those beliefs were caused by atheism is as much a non sequitur as claiming that they were caused by a stomach ache.

Hitler, on the other hand, gave conflicting reports about his beliefs. He publicly and privately identified as a Catholic, yet there’s also testimony that he was anti-religious or anti-Christian at times. If he had done great work, I suspect that the Christians would claim that he was opposed to organized religion, but a devoted, personal believer. Because of the atrocities he committed, they take a different tact, labeling him an atheist.

We can no more know Hitler’s true beliefs about the existence of gods than we can know the mind of any other. What we can know, though, is that even if he was an atheist, that wasn’t the cause of the actions he took. As Zacharias points out, it was the ideology of the Übermensch (among other beliefs) that encouraged those actions.

While that ideology is consistent with atheism (everything except for a belief in a god is consistent with atheism) it is not caused by atheism nor is it necessarily connected with atheism. It is not, though, consistent with modern secular humanism.

4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of it being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. There is only madness and confusion in the face of suffering and evil.

His claim is that suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, if there is no God. This is another roundabout way of saying, “Hey, you might as well believe, you’ll be no worse off” — another argument for belief with no ties to the truth of the proposition one is being asked to believe. It reminds me a bit of the people who try to claim that atheism is “just another religion” without realizing the implication of what they’ve just said.

I disagree with his assessment, though, that suffering is just as or more tragic if there is no god.

If there isn’t a god, then suffering isn’t the result of original sin or impious thoughts and it isn’t a test from God or a torment from demons and devils. If there is no god, then suffering is a natural part of reality and that means that we can equip ourselves to alleviate unnecessary suffering by learning more about reality. We can also take comfort in knowing that the unavoidable is actually unavoidable and not punishment.

If there is no god, then those who blame natural disasters on immodest women, abortionists, homosexuals and atheists are simply arrogant bigots and not the voice of a deity. That’s no small comfort and, since we’re talking about the impact of suffering, that’s a valid point.

We do not require a god for comfort, we can reach out to other people and we can reach within, to the confidence and security that is bolstered by the understanding that one is not simply a plaything of a transcendent being.

5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong — really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

This is simply false. The standard by which I critique religion and religious people is not contingent upon the existence of a god. This is a thinly-veiled claim of “no moral authority” and it’s a bit like saying that a room full of people can have no opinions or shared principles without someone outside the room telling them what those views should be.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every regard, save one; religious morality is simplistic. Secular morality requires thought and effort, religious morality is for the lazy and the thoughtless — those who would be duped into thinking that something becomes ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them, simply because of an edict attributed to some other being.

Religious people already intuitively recognize the superiority of secular morality and they’ve been adopting the moral views of the secular societies that surround them.

The Bible, for example, clearly and explicitly endorses slavery. For those who believe that the Bible is the ultimate source of moral law from the ultimate lawgiver, there is no moral justification for opposing slavery — yet that’s exactly what some of them did and what most of them continue to do. Nowhere does the Bible denounce slavery, it’s supported in Old and New Testaments; so why do Christians generally oppose slavery?

It’s because we live in a cooperative society which helps form and shift our values. While dogmatists were blindly proclaiming their god’s endorsement of slavery, freethinking people (religious and non-religious) were actually considering the subject and evaluating its impact on the health of society.

It was the application of reason that changed the moral landscape, not the God of the Bible.

6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why I am so unfulfilled or empty? Why do I hunger for the spiritual? How do we deal with these questions if nothing can exist beyond the material world? Atheists, particularly atheistic scientists go way beyond their scientific training when they depart from the “how” questions to prognosticating about the “why” questions. Even terms like “natural selection” seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligent being can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, or predictable processes out of brute chance? If all that makes us different from animals is learning and altruism, why do the brutish still widely outnumber the wise in our world?

He’s basically arguing that his desire for the transcendent can only be explained in a case where the transcendent exists. This is an obvious fallacy. If there are no aliens, why do people long for alien encounters? Does their desire only make sense if aliens are beaming messages to their brains?

More importantly, I have no longing for the transcendent and no hunger for the spiritual. If Ravi’s desire is sufficient to support the existence of the supernatural, then is my lack of desire sufficient to refute a claim of existence?

Finally, there are no “how” questions or “why” questions
— you can form the questions either way:

Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…well, maybe we can’t use every interrogative.

What he means by “why” would be better labeled “for what transcendent reason…”, but if he says that, he exposes a flaw that we can expose with another “why” question: Why do you think there must be a transcendent reason?

His answer to that question is obvious. He thinks there must be a transcendent reason because he can’t imagine that there couldn’t be and wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t a transcendent reason… yet another argument for belief or against the consequences of disbelief, with no bearing on the truth of the issue.

His claim that “natural selection” misuses words is a bit obtuse when you realize that the term is a metaphoric response to unsupported claims of supernatural mechanisms. Only someone unfamiliar with evolution or willing to misrepresent it to make a point would claim that this is a misuse. Would he object to someone claiming that something was “decided by a coin toss” since only an intelligent being can “decide”?

In the end, this is really the same as the first question: if there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered…

I think “does some god exist” qualifies as one of the big questions. If Zacharias was as interested in examining the truth of his religious beliefs as he is in defending his belief with appeals to the fictitious consequences of disbelief, he might see that.

We’ll have a hope of answering those big questions when curious thinkers, dissatisfied with appeals to mystery, question the claims of religion and investigate with any eye toward truth, rather than comfort.

Comments

  1. Afterthought_btw says

    How telling is it that one of the 'famous' apologists doesn't even know that atheism is not a world view?Nicely answered, though, Matt. :)

  2. says

    The whole meaning/purpose topic I find entirely unconvincing. It's interesting when the mind concludes, a priori, that it's a bad to not have pre-assigned meaning and purpose.I assert that it's a good thing that life doesn't have any intrinsic meaning and purpose. What would be the point if it did?Life is like a wad of clay. Clay doesn't have any meaning. It doesn't even have a purpose… that is, unless we decide to do something with it. As we navigate through life, we slowly sculpt this clay into what we want. We've now generated, on our very own, meaning to this clay. Clay would be boring if it came pre-sculpted, pre-painted, and with an instruction book that told you exactly how you are supposed to use it, which includes thanking the person who gave it to you every hour, on the hour.When I have a week or two without any particular plans or worries, I conjure up meaning and purpose for those two weeks without any real effort. I may engage in random projects, reading some books, traveling… whatever I do, the meaning and purpose came from me.It's not invalid because it wasn't assigned by some guy who has his own ideas who you can't even demonstrate exists.If it's important to you, it's important. But first, you need that wad of clay, free of meaning… so when some theist is asking me whether life has any meaning, and I say no, that's a good thing.

  3. says

    Nice post. My mother is a big fan of Ravi–this is helpful to me in responding to her when she brings up his assertions about what atheism must be like. Thanks :)

  4. says

    If I can indulge in a bit of pedantry. The 6 questions are not questions at all.They are 6 assertions. Each one followed by many questions.The title of the original article is '6 questions to ask an atheist'Its more like a gish gallop. Ask lots of questions that themselves individually take a reasonable time to refute. Leave them hanging in the air and ask another question.The article should be titled "20ish questions to ask an atheist."

  5. Martin says

    Couldn't help noticing that every single one of these questions clings to the same logical fallacy — the appeal to consequences — like a frightened child clinging to mommy's skirts. "If no God => stuff'd be bad!" Which, as you correctly point out, is irrelevant to the question of whether or not a God actually exists. Zacharias essentially reveals here that his entire belief system is rooted in fear. Very nice takedown overall!

  6. Martin says

    And it's hard for me to take Zacharias all that seriously when he hasn't gotten History 101 down. Hitler, for one, hardly considered religion "the problem." It was racial "impurity" he didn't like. And the roots of that vile ideology can be far more easily traced to religious thinkers (hello, Luther) than any secular source. And Mao, even with his famous "religion is poison" line, was no friend to humanism either.The main reason, that theists don't grasp, why atheism cannot logically lead to evil deeds is that, in not believing in a God, we also don't believe a God is a source of moral authority. And yet, to use the nonexistence of a God as an excuse for immoral deeds, one would have to believe a God was the source of moral authority. Else why would a God's existence or nonexistence matter at all in making moral decisions?Believers like Zacharias just do not think these things through.

  7. Martin says

    And even more Zacharias abuse: the most offensive implication of this nonsense is in his second "question," where he implies that atheists today aren't really "serious" about their disbelief, because we aren't wracked with existential despair. PZ has actually been discussing this very thing recently himself: a common gripe leveled at the "new" atheists is that we have this unseemly habit of being pretty much content with a godless life. How dare we not validate religious belief by reassuring Zacharias and his ilk of the meaninglessness and woe we feel every day at the horrible implications that there's no sky-daddy watching over us! Wouldn't it be better if today's atheists were more like "real" atheists such as Sartre, who was only too happy to recognize how bereft he was without my comforting superstitions?To Ravi I say, Bite me. But I will give his Bible one thing. It is a wonderful source of quotes that can be turned back upon it. If part of one's intellectual and moral maturation is "setting aside childish things," what could be more childish than clinging to the notion of a celestial parent figure watching over you, guiding you through your life and protecting you from the monster under the bed? The process Zacharias thinks should be fraught with "meaninglessness" is a process we call "growing up." It's the whine of a man not ready to stand and face the world and reality, for better or worse, on his own two feet.

  8. says

    Great response. It seems as though his Zacharias' message was, because I can't imagine how I would answer the big questions as an atheist, they can't either. What an arrogant point of view.I would also say that the person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket might take violent actions when they discover that there are others who are claiming the same thing, knowing that only one of them can be right.

  9. Wired For Sound says

    Cogently argued as usual, Matt. This inane "question" is the one that clenches my jaw:"If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?"Perhaps because a lot of atheists don't experience this "crisis" that you insist they must, and look upon the "woe is us" teeth-gnashing of the gentlemen you site (and others) as being quaint, at best. But it just gets worse!"These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes."Debatable literary criticism there, Ravi, but I would state arguendo that if this were true, as an atheist one is under no obligation to agree with their opinions. Does your theistic "world view" automatically align your ideas with those of Pat Robertson, David Koresh, and Reverend Ike? And you need to be more specific in your grammar, i.e., "These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God…" is accurately rendered as, "…in the absence of the concept of God…" UME!Oh no, there's still more!"The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing."That is their opinion, Ravi. It is not atheist doctrine as you insist. An atheist can be an atheist and never read Sartre, or read him and disagree with him.William Lane Craig makes these exact same arguments in some of his videos, quoting the exact same authors, and reaching the exact same predictable conclusions. You know what? I don't give a rat's ass what Nietzsche, Sartre, or Fred Flintstone think about "the death of God" and all attendant "meaninglessness." That's my final answer.

  10. says

    Sorry I didn't say so earlier, but great response. For as much praise as Ravi gets from Christians, I just cannot understand the appeal.

  11. says

    "Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…"do conditions allow for the sky to become blue?Who makes the sky blue? (the answer here is no one :-p )

  12. says

    Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.I think, but there's a good chance I'm wrong, that this is a bit wrong as lukeprog explains here:So if in order to offer something as a ‘best explanation’ you had to have an explanation for the explanation, then you could never explain anything, because you’d need an explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on… into infinity!http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854

  13. says

    It's been said already, but I just find it absolutely absurd that those emotional pleas are all Ravi has going for his "argument". Really? That's it? "You know, without magic man, things would really suck." Well, maybe Ravi should go join a gym or start hiking or pick up some sort of hobby that makes it easier to not mope about in self-pity at the thought of not having an eternal overlord smacking his hand every time he reaches for the cookie jar. What a tool.

  14. says

    Great post Matt. I have studied Jean-Paul Sartre, I have even taught Sartre (and de Beauvoir) and theist guy knows zilch about existentialism, or nothing beyond the cliché and false perception. What Roquentin experiences in La Nausée is not an atheistic meaninglessness, whatever that means, it is a lucid understanding of what existence is. And Roquentin DOES give meaning to his existence, just like many existentialist heroes I might add, a meaning that is not based on false hopes. It just irritates me that theist throw Sartre or Camus or indeed any atheist writer without having read any of them, or bother to reflect on the work and just assume it comforts them in their prejudice against atheism. "Look, they say life is absurd, therefore there is nothing immoral or wrong to do in the atheist's minds". Well, no you doofus, you skipped the idea that man is totally responsible for his action.

  15. says

    @Andrew Brown-Zacharias knows nothing about Sartre, or at least he is cherry picking/quote mining on a epic scale Sartre's philosophy and his writing. I did not became atheist because of Sartre or the French existentialist, but they played some part in my deconversion. It is true that Sartre thought that life had no meaning or purpose in itself, but implying like Zacharias does that such conception cheapens life or the human condition is intellectually dishonest and frankly ignorant.

  16. says

    @FoolfodderThe breaking point in the infinity loop you are noting is evidence. As Matt said, an explanation should have a predictive quality, and God does not. It cannot be confirmed or falsified, since evidence is lacking, and it has no predictive value beyond a natural world explanation. The reproducible evidence may not be explainable, but it is evidence none-the less, and a theory can be built and supported based on that evidence. That way, when questioned about the efficacy of my claim, I can point to the evidence.

  17. says

    I love #4"If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved"Wait, who, according to theists is the one who made suffering and evil possible, therfore created this so called problem you are talking about? Oh yeah, its your god.Funny how they use "the problem of suffering and evil" as an argument when they are the ones whos god invented the "problem" in the first place. Circular reasoning fail.Oh yeah, BTW asshats. Guess what, even if god exist, how exactly does that "solve" suffering and evil? As far as i know innocent children and good people die by the thousands every day. And millions of them suffer every day.This argument is not only stupid, it makes your god look like the biggest asshole ever.I'll illustrate it for you theist dummys. Your argument goes something like this:Toddlers get stabbed, burned, crushed, drowned, beaten, raped, electrocuted, suffocated….every day. But hey, problem solved, there is a reason for this. They may or may not go to heaven…and they were fallen sinners in the first place. Checkmate atheists

  18. says

    "David said… "When did the sky become blue?" Does that work?"Of course it works. For the sky to be blue the atmosphere needs to have the right types of molecules in it. If the molecules are too big the sky would be white for example (like clouds). So at some point in early earth history, before there was an atmosphere, the sky was not blue. So the question then becomes "When did the sky become blue?"

  19. says

    @Martin-It's a great book. One could argue it is a pessimistic novel, but I just find it uncompromisingly lucid. The more I read Zacharias bit about it, the more I think he is speaking bullshit and probably never ever read the atheist writers he mentions. His understanding of Jean-Paul Sartre is ridiculously off the mark. And I am not a big fan of Nietzsche, neither did I read much of him or about him, so I will say this carefully, but as far as I understand the cocnept his Ubermensch is not a national/ethnic model: Nietzsche had contempt for nationalism in general and German nationalism in particular. I remember a philosphy student who told me that an example of the Ubermensch would be… Baudelaire.

  20. Wired For Sound says

    @ Guillaume-"Zacharias knows nothing about Sartre, or at least he is cherry picking/quote mining on a epic scale Sartre's philosophy and his writing."I realized that, but for the sake of argument, one can concede Zacharias's point and still conclude in response that any and all appeals to nihilism are completely irrelevant to atheism. And that's all that matters as an answer to this "question." If certain atheist writers expressed sentiments otherwise, it's their problem, not ours. Here is the William Lane Craig video I referenced earlier, which elaborates on Zacharias's question:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJqkpI1W75c&feature=related

  21. says

    Let me take a crack at em…1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered.Maybe, maybe not. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning.Maybe, maybe not. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific.Maybe, maybe not. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved.Maybe, maybe not. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people.Maybe, maybe not. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense.Whether there is a god or not, you don't make sense. Please demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.Yeeeaaahh. I think we're done here.

  22. Wired For Sound says

    One thing that needs to be made very clear in any response to people like Zacharias is that they are attempting to make Deistic arguments for God when they are actually Theists. Accurately rephrased in light of this, Ravi Zacharias's Six Questions are as follows:1. If there is no concept of an Abrahamic God that can be inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, “the big questions” remain unanswered.2. If we reject the existence of a modern conception of an Abrahamic God inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, we are left with a crisis of meaning.3. If people don’t believe in the concept of an Abrahamic God inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, the historical results are horrific.4. If there is no concept of an Abrahamic God inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved.5. If there is no concept of an Abrahamic God inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people.6. If there is no concept of an Abrahamic God inferred from anonymously written texts deriving from superstition-drenched ancient societies, we don’t make sense.

  23. says

    Excellent job Matt!To elaborate off of "question" two. I love when theists try to argue that "the serious atheists of the past realized that without God, life was a miserable nothingness." I've oftentimes seen this line of reasoning is usually a set-up for dismissing us "new" atheists because "the atheists of old were content to wallow in the ramification of this nothingness realization and not criticize religion because they realized it had transcendence." The "serious" atheists of old had this reverence of sorts for religion, and since we don't have it we aren't "serious" or "real" atheists and therefore can be dismissed. It's a textbook ad hominem for us and ego masturbation for the religious. "Even those who are seriously against us have a reverence for us."PZ Myers has a recent post called Letting go of gods is a reason for joy…like being free of prison where he has a mind numbing interview by some chump named Father Barron who uses Zacharias's logic.

  24. says

    I'd like a try them too! (I just copied your list, Skeptical Rationalist).1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered.That may be true. So what? That just means we need to investigate more. "I don't know" is not synonymous with "God done it".2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning.No, we're not. We're fully capable of generating meaning on our own. We do it (even theists) each and every single day.3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific.Let's just go ahead and ignore all the religious/theistic driven murders, shall we? Even if it were true that all atheists were unhinged murderers, it's a complete red herring as to whether a supernatural bearded pervert in the sky exists.4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved.I don't think he understands what the "Problem of Evil" is. Yes, there are 'evil' things, and that's a problem, however, it's referring to a supposed omnipotent being who's supposedly omnibenevolent and generally super duper good, and who allows evil to exist.But yes, I agree, that evil thing wouldn't be solved without a god. It would, however, be a really good start, since all the people who defer to the sky pixie to fix things can now actually help the rest of us, actively, in making this world a better place.5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people.Uh, no. I read the more full list, and this one I couldn't quite figure what some of the sub-questions/assertions were asking.Why couldn't we critique them? We critique them on real things.6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense.Well, you certainly don't.

  25. says

    "Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.I think, but there's a good chance I'm wrong, that this is a bit wrong as lukeprog explains here:So if in order to offer something as a ‘best explanation’ you had to have an explanation for the explanation, then you could never explain anything, because you’d need an explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on… into infinity! – http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854"No the argument is explaining something you don't know the details about with something you know NO details about and CAN'T EVER KNOW is bullshit. Siting non-evidence as evidence for evidence is bull.

  26. says

    All of his "questions" belie a fundamental inability to imagine another person's point of view. They all are things that are not issues for atheists.But #4 takes the cake – he has misunderstood the whole "problem of evil." He seems to think that the "problem of evil" is that evil/suffering are a problem. That ain't it.The problem is only one for theists: evil and suffering are inconsistent with most theists' definition of their god, so reconciling the two is a giant unsolved problem. For atheists, there is no problem – bad stuff happens, but it's not something that's incompatible with the conclusion we've reached about the existence of deities.

  27. says

    Beautifully written, Matt. I just don't get why theists can't see the clear connection between smarmy snake-oil salesmen and Christian apologists. Every time I hear Zacharias speak, I can't help picturing him with a handlebar mustache and dirty old top hat.

  28. Martin says

    Ravi is smarter than you guysOh, do enlighten us then, Liviu. Please point out the smart parts of his questions.Guys…could you help me to know who C. E. M. Joad was?Are we supposed take seriously feeble wisecracks about our smarts from a clod who doesn't even know how to Google something?

  29. says

    It seems that there are many of us banging on the second question today. My addition is to note the impact of culture on the thinkers noted. Jean Paul Sartre 1905-1980 and Michel Foucault 1926-1984 both attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and lived in a time when the fashion was to be a cynic or misanthrope. They lived in an age, not unlike the current, where the idea of 'fin de siècle' orriginated, where La Belle Epoque was in full swing and the rejection of the previous order was as common as the embrace of disorder. This was a time when people figured out that the universe was expanding and were able to extrapolate out to its' eventual heat death. I believe their bleak outlook is no more than a reflection of the times these thinkers lived. As some have pointed out, they can only speak for themselves.

  30. says

    Martin: "The main reason, that theists don't grasp, why atheism cannot logically lead to evil deeds is that, in not believing in a God, we also don't believe a God is a source of moral authority. And yet, to use the nonexistence of a God as an excuse for immoral deeds, one would have to believe a God was the source of moral authority. Else why would a God's existence or nonexistence matter at all in making moral decisions?"It's a failure of the imagination, I think. Under the mindset of many Christians, humanity is depraved, fallen and sinful. It makes sense for them to think that people will naturally turn to barbarism without the influence of their God. They cannot break out from their preconceptions.

  31. says

    "Guys…could you help me to know who C. E. M. Joad was?"No, we can't. We can point you to information, education and explain things but we can't improve your thought process. If you're having trouble knowing things than it's an intrinsic issue.

  32. Wired For Sound says

    20+ years ago, somebody like Ravi Zacharias probably would not have even bothered to make and send out this list, because there was zero atheist influence in American popular culture. There was no perceived threat to Christian hegemony. So the appearance of this and similar lists today actually indicates progress.

  33. says

    Curt Cameron said: All of his "questions" belie a fundamental inability to imagine another person's point of view.That's probably because Zacharias doesn't think he needs to know some else's point of view. Simply put, in his mind, if they disagree with him they are wrong.From what I can tell in regards to his position is that Zacharias is very pre-suppostionalist. He really beleives (or at least acts like he does) that it is he who has the default position and that it is therefore up to any challenger to bear the burden of proof. At the same time he will dismiss, out of hand, anything that does not agree with his Christian worldview as false and not feel any need to explain why it is "wrong" otherwise.

  34. says

    atheism may not lead to evil actions but what does it even define evil as without using terminology that has transcendant impilications – eviland good aren't just personal opinions are they? If you say they're not transcendant (defined by some objective standard) but just a relativistic value – then you can't say logically that any action is "really" immoral can you?

  35. says

    Equivocation fallacy. What we mean by "good" and "evil" is not necessarily what theists mean by those words either. We don't capitalize them, if you will.Secular morality is based on shared values such as "suffering is bad," "don't do to others what you don't want done to you, etc." Within that context, yes, you can say things are "good" or "evil" based on their intentions and outcomes without making the words dependent on a bodiless immortal who makes all the rules. I try and stick to the terms "pro-social" and "antisocial" when discussing morality with theists, precisely to avoid this equivocation fallacy.All that said, I just love it when theists play the "objective morality" card. It's so cute when they fail to realize the undemonstrable existence of the basis of their ostensibly "objective" morality makes it a very oblique "tu quoque" argument.

  36. says

    If you are worried about realtivism in morality, then belief in a god hardly helps. A simple look at the history of god belief will show that, no matter how much theists insist otherwise, gods are quite mutable according to the believers needs at the time. This includes, if it is not specific to, morality. It becomes even less helpful when you factor in that the only apparent methods useable by gods to communicate with its followers are via emotions or "signs", which are anything but objective.

  37. says

    Secular morality being based on shared values – yes I agree – you don't haveto acknowlege there is a transcendant being to have a moral compass but wheredoes the moral compass come from? The fact that they are shared with othersbegs the question (at least for me) – why do we all agree on the same basicprinciples of morality? – if you say we base the definition of good and evilbased on the outcome, I'd ask how do you define or recognize a "good" versus an"evil" outcome? In reference to mutable gods – I'd agree there too – in fact if you wanted to validate your own relative morals – believing in a mutable god would probablymake you "feel" better but the only way you could argue against saysomebody sacrificing a baby would be if that action is objectively wrongbased on an immutable moral standard that actually exists, otherwise all I cando is shrug my shoulders and say – Oh well to each his own – some sacrafice babiessome don't.

  38. says

    Is that you, Schaertel?The fact that they are shared with others begs the question (at least for me) – why do we all agree on the same basic principles of morality? I'm not usually this pedantic, but in this crowd, I'll go there: "begs the question" is a logical fallacy in which your conclusion is an unstated premise of your argument. What you mean is "raises the question." The short answer is "Evolution." We are social animals, and we exhibit behaviors which have adaptive significance within that environment–this does get into some problematic philosophical territory with the is/ought distinction, Naturalistic Fallacies, etc., but we're still in that neighborhood.if you say we base the definition of good and evil based on the outcome, I'd ask how do you define or recognize a "good" versus an "evil" outcome?By how well they fulfill the shared standard, whatever that may be. Some societies prize low crime rates, prosperity, domestic tranquility, freedom of expression, some societies prize dedication to a religious ideal–there are innumerable factors. By my own measure, censorship would be "evil." As would "theft," and "murder." But circumstances could make those actions necessary to serve a greater good, so one has to evaluate one's choices based on what you believe and what you value.the only way you could argue against say somebody sacrificing a baby would be if that action is objectively wrong based on an immutable moral standard that actually exists, otherwise all I cando is shrug my shoulders and say – Oh well to each his own – some sacrafice babies some don't. BULLSHIT. This is the point where you've tipped your hand and are begging the question that any such "objective" morality exists. Good and Evil are words we apply to actions which either support or defy our shared values. If we value the continued existence of our society, we will protect its youngest and most vulnerable members from harm. Some societies do sacrifice babies–China's one-child policy comes to mind, and it's a great "evil" because the confluence of their society's gender and family roles, overpopulation, and oppressive government have created a set of circumstances in which female infants are so much less desirable that they are discarded–to international adoption agencies if they're lucky, to a weighted sack if they're not. This is harming their society–it's corroding the demographics of the younger generations, such that young men now of marriageable age have often difficulty in finding a spouse, in order to have children of their own. It's harming their ability to provide for their older generations, because the care of those elderly rests on the shoulders of fewer working adults. This is ironic, because it is the ability to be cared for in old age which traditionally falls to male children, which is why males are prized over females in the first place.We call this sacrifice of children "evil." I actually don't care for the label, because the words "good and evil" are rooted in a religious moral tradition that begs the question that any such objective morality actually exists. It's immoral, stupid, antisocial and harmful, based on the basic goal of having a stable society with a viable future. If that's not something you prize in your chosen society, all I can say is see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya.

  39. says

    Tim said: In reference to mutable gods – I'd agree there too – in fact if you wanted to validate your own relative morals – believing in a mutable god would probablymake you "feel" better but the only way you could argue against saysomebody sacrificing a baby would be if that action is objectively wrongbased on an immutable moral standard that actually exists, otherwise all I cando is shrug my shoulders and say – Oh well to each his own – some sacrafice babiessome don't. Actually, you could argue against sacrificing babies by pointing out its complete uselessness in any endeavor except in killing babies. Beyond that, you missed the point of my post to the extent that it must have been intentional. If you are worried about rampant moral relativism, belief in a god or gods does not help. The consistent mutablity of all gods* render their function in regards to morality only as an authoritative mouthpiece for those looking to impose their judgements on society without getting mired in trifles like critical examination, facts or reality.* This means every god that has been claimed to exist throughout history, not just a few of them. This includes even those that are believed in today.

  40. says

    Skeptical Rationalist said: "Its immoral stupid …." – but its not an objective truth? So how can you say somebody is stupid for believing otherwise (i don't btw but my reason other than an inner feeling is that it is also objectively true) – if its relative – its relative – one could say you are just seeing it from your relative frame of reference – go to another frame of reference and you'll see it another way. Give any reasons you want – antisocial, harmful, shared whatever but if its relative those very reasons are all based on ones relative position. (btw I'm not defending relativism I'm just saying this is the logical conclusion of it).

  41. says

    You seem to have confused "grasping my point" with "making a counterargument." I'll explain, and I'll use small words so you'll be sure to understand.1. Because I do not believe that their god does not exist, I also do not believe that the objective morality which theists appeal to exists either.2. Any moral system is relative to the values it takes as its first principles. Those first principles are necessarily a matter of opinion. If you want to call that moral relativism, I can't stop you.3. I was not calling you immoral, stupid, antisocial or harmful. I was using those words as an alternative to "evil," which is a loaded term with religious overtones. To wit: if you have a goal of societal health, well-being, and posterity, the one-child policies of China are immoral, for the reasons I stated. They are antisocial. They are harmful. They are in the final analysis stupid because they undermine the shared values of long-term societal health.

  42. says

    Thanks – small words work well for me – So based on the "relative" reference in your point #2 and applying it ot point #3 – to the one who doesn't share in the "shared values" (ie. "first principles") of long term societal health" – (say China's policy makers) – the one child policy wouldn't be immoral, its only immoral to those who embrace those shared values?

  43. says

    to the one who doesn't share in the "shared values" of long term societal health" the one child policy wouldn't be immoral, it's only immoral to those who embrace those shared values?Was there ever a doubt in your mind? Nobody ever thinks themself a villain, no matter how "evil" others might view them as. I'm not necessarily saying that's a good thing. If people didn't have their own standards of what they were and were not willing to do, we wouldn't need laws or a justice system.To argue that, without a god, there is not absolute morality is an argument from consequences fallacy. In antiquity, there was no distinction between religious rule and judicial practice–it's why the Torah was called The Law.Now we make our own laws, based on what we collectively decide should and should not be allowed. We disagree, we have knock-down, smash-mouth fights about what the law should be, we vote people in to represent us and throw them out just as frequently. You ask whether morality is a matter of opinion, I wonder how anyone could fail to realize that.

  44. says

    Skeptical Rationalist said: You ask whether morality is a matter of opinion. I wonder how anyone could fail to realize that….Good point, but on what basis should a moral opinion be formed – or does it matter if personal opinion plus majority consensus is the ultimate standard? Is a moral opinion based on self pleasure just as valid as one based on unselfishness as long as the majority of people would agree with that, it just so happens that they don't? There was a time in England (and places currently today) that the majority of society thought slavery was acceptable morally – so was slavery at one time moral since the majority accepted it? Consequences fallacy…Are you saying that there is such a thing as "absolute morality" just no God behind it?

  45. says

    There was a time in England (and places currently today) that the majority of society thought slavery was acceptable morally – so was slavery at one time moral since the majority accepted it? wtf man. How can someone write the above as an argument for absolute morality and not see the absurdity. You said it yourself, slavery was perfectly normal and accepted once… But IT CHANGED.Even if you travel the world today, what you will see is obvious. different cultures have different values and different moral codes.

  46. says

    You're asking questions that have already been answered. Reread the thread.Consequences fallacy…Are you saying that there is such a thing as "absolute morality" just no God behind it?I am not your Google. "Argument from Consequences." Look it up.

  47. says

    I wasn't asking for a definition of the "consquences fallacy" – i was just asking you a question in light of your conclusion – that its a fallacy that Not believing in God results in a consequence of there being no absolute morality.Is that your conclusion?If that is your conclusion -you're implying that there is such a thing as absolute morality and that it exists whether you believe in God or not.Is that what your saying?

  48. says

    No, I'm saying you're an idiot who doesn't understand the Argument ad Consequentiam fallacy, and has repeatedly missed the point.The fallacy, in this instance, goes like this: 1. If god does not exist, then absolute objective morality does not exist. (your view.)2. This is a bad thing.3. Therefore god must exist.Whether a statement would have good or bad effects is completely unrelated to the truth value of that statement.So, when you whine about:"you can't say logically that any action is really immoral" and "the only way you could argue against somebody sacrificing a baby would be if that action is objectively wrong based on an immutable moral standard,"you are engaging in bogus reasoning.Just because one can argue that a supposedly objective, universal morality might be a good thing to have (and I'm far from convinced that any God I've ever seen described would qualify) it has absolutely zero relevance to the question of that deity's existence or nonexistence.Positing this or that moral dilemma–slavery, baby sacrificing, etc. doesn't do anything except make you look like a fool with no good argument to bring to the discussion.It also shows you can't read the original goddamned post where Matt addressed this very point, saying:Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

  49. says

    And this is you're argument that objective, universal morality (ie. an objective standard of good and bad morals) doesn't exist? – that the statement is based on whether it has good effects morally? – How would one know if it does without defining what good and bad morals are – which is the basis of the argument (ie. that there is such objective absolutes – good morals and bad morals)? You are implying there is such an thing as "good morals" (ie. an objective standard) to which I am measuring the statement about objective morality to.I see your argument against it is likewise based on a consequence and it is as follows:Objective morality results in the consequence of an objective moral law giver. I don't believe in an objective law giver exists.Thus objective morality doesn't exist. How would you defend this argument about your logic?

  50. says

    And this is you're argument that objective, universal morality (ie. an objective standard of good and bad morals) doesn't exist? – that the statement is based on whether it has good effects morally?Ah, I see the problem. I'm not trying to prove that Theistically Objective Morality (TOM) doesn't exist–I'm trying to answer the question that "If TOM doesn't exist, where do we get morals from?" Your confusion over the Argument From Consequences fallacy arises because you're lumping together two different definitions of "good and bad": the Moral definition, and the definition that covers what one would or wouldn't desire. Let me rephrase and see if this helps you. (Or you could GOOGLE IT and actually educate yourself, but, that would never happen.)1. If God does not exist, then TOM does not exist. (The consequence of the statement)2. I don't want to live in a world where TOM does not exist. (the desire)3. Therefore God exists.Do you see the problem? What one wants doesn't enter into it. Like Austin Powers said to Ivana Humpalott, "and I want a solid gold toilet, but it's just not in the cards, baby."I see your argument against it is likewise based on a consequence and it is as follows:1. Objective morality results in the consequence of an objective moral law giver.2. I don't believe in an objective law giver exists.3. Thus objective morality doesn't exist. How would you defend this argument about your logic?I'd say that you've shoehorned your bogus perception of my argument into your bogus perception of the Argument from Consequences. The sole purpose is to say "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?" The fact that you couldn't possibly be more wrong about it is almost not worth pointing out, simply because being attacked by an argument that isn't legit past the 2nd Grade doesn't deserve a response.

  51. says

    There seem to be a lot of comments here along the lines of "I find this unconvincing". It seems to me that it wasn't Zacharias' goal with these assertions/questions to convince anybody of anything. They seem purely existential, primarily intended to provoke thought at the level of "can I really live with this? what gut reaction does this actually cause?" Rather than "where does the evidence point?"Whether this actually helps his cause is a question I leave to the reader, but it may be a bit hasty to dismiss his questions as not proving anything, given that proving things doesn't seem to be his primary concern. None of the classic philosophical "proofs" of theism are not even mentioned, let alone argued.Though I am a christian (and generally a fan of Zacharias), I agree completely that his "6 questions" article is mostly logically fallacious. In essence, it is an appeal to emotion. But Zacharias is a doctor of philosophy, so one would have to assume he is intimately familiar with formal logical fallacies. My guess is that an appeal to emotion rather than reason is exactly his intent here. The dismissive attitude of many posters seems then like attacking a straw man, accusing Zacharias of not understanding logic rather than dealing with the issue he is actually trying to get at (that being existentialism).

  52. says

    There seem to be a lot of comments here along the lines of "I find this unconvincing". It seems to me that it wasn't Zacharias' goal with these assertions/questions to convince anybody of anything. You're right in that the questions are not meant to convince, at least not directly. Instead they are meant to distract and sidetrack the atheist from asking questions that will likely get the theist to question the existence of their god. In fact, Zacharias is pretty straight- forward about that in the opening paragraph. Well, as straight- forward as Zacharias can be.None of the classic philosophical "proofs" of theism are not even mentioned, let alone argued.I don't know if they are classic philosophical "proofs" but every one of the 6 questions are trotted out by theists, in one form or another, almost every time they talk to an atheist. Could you give us an example of one of these classic philosophical "proofs"?But Zacharias is a doctor of philosophy, so one would have to assume he is intimately familiar with formal logical fallacies.Jonathon Wells has a PHD in biology but that doesn't stop him from spouting tired creationist nonsense that has been refuted a thousand times over. In other words, not necessarily. Having seen Zacharias in action on many occasions, I would have to say his only familiarity with logical fallicies is in consistently making them.My guess is that an appeal to emotion rather than reason is exactly his intent here.No need to guess. An appeal to emotion is precisely what Zachariaas is doing because that is ultimately all he has. Which makes the phrase "as you engage them in honest conversation" very mendacious since he is about to tell the reader how to engage in intellectual dishonesty.The dismissive attitude of many posters seems then like attacking a straw man, accusing Zacharias of not understanding logic rather than dealing with the issue he is actually trying to get at (that being existentialism).Not at all. Zacharias' intent may be one thing but we are not obligated to go cheerily bounding down any path he wants to take us. His bag is very presuppositionalist and these 6 questions are a demonstration of that. Addressing that issue is hardly attacking a strawman. As for existentialism, if addressing that was Zacharias' intent behind the 6 questions, others (Guillaume at least has) in this thread have addressed that his apparent understanding of it was found to be lacking, at best. That you did not acknowledge this means that you have either not actually read the posts in this thread or have simply dismissed them. This means that your post is very probably a strawman.

  53. says

    That you did not acknowledge this means that you have either not actually read the posts in this thread or have simply dismissed them. This means that your post is very probably a strawman.Where is it written that one MUST read every word in a thread before commenting on the original post? Give him a break.

  54. says

    Skeptical Rationalist- I did give him a break by qualifying it with "very probably". If he is going to accuse us of attacking a strawman, he might want to find out what has actually been said.

  55. says

    This is in response to Skeptical Atheist. You end each response by saying, “Please prove that a god of any kind exists.” However, according to you own standard you would have to reject atheism first and foremost because atheism cannot be proven either. Remember, whatever position we postulate in an argument we must be willing to live up to that same standard as well. For example, if a Christian “proves” that Islam is false it still does not “prove” Christianity correct. Even if you succeed in showing that theism, and Christianity in particular, is wrong you still have not proven atheism correct. When it comes to making absolute statements concerning the same reality, “there is no god” “there is a god”, you are stating opposites indeed but not of the same nature that can be applied to other things. For example, I can state a belief about reality that may stand in opposition to your view. While we both can be wrong we both cannot be right. When it come to the existence of god, the theist is merely stating that he or she believes that a god exists among everything that exists. However, for the atheist he or she is stating in absolute terms that a god does not exist. A most powerful statement indeed because it cannot be proven under any circumstances because no one possesses complete knowledge of all things in all times and in all dimensions to make such a statement that a god does not exist. Your only hope is to show that god does not exist by definition; that is, it is like showing that there are no square circles or round squares. Nevertheless, please show me that a god does not exist and thus prove your position from the positive rather than the negative. Again, even if you show that theism in some form is incorrect it still does not prove your position to be the correct one.

  56. says

    Actually, Schnoodle is accusing me of shifting the burden of proof, and he does it by mischaracterizing my position as "stating in absolute terms that a god does not exist."YOU COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE MORE WRONG. I know Christians like to define atheism as that, but you're on our turf, so we get to define the terms.I do not, and have never, and never could state outright that no gods exist. But that is not the same thing as not believing in theistic claims that God exists. They've used this on the show several times: The prosecution in a courtroom asserts that the defendant is "guilty." If I don't believe them, I vote "not guilty." It doesn't matter whether or not he has been proven "innocent," because the person who is making the claim has the burden of proof.–I would never say I know no gods exist.–I doubt that gods exist. –I am skeptical of the claims I've seen. –I believe it's likely that we live in a nontheistic universe, but I don't claim to know. All that's necessary to be an atheist is, when some Christian argues that god exists, is to say "I don't believe you." It has nothing to do with making any kind of counterclaim.

  57. says

    Zacharias gets all that hype from Christians because he preaches to the choir. The problem is, pandering to their prejudices and ignorance is hardly going to impress the thinking population.

  58. says

    Can someone who commented on this post, including you Matt, please lay out a degree list longer that Ravi's…It seems pretty arrogant that anyone can make such passing comments about someone so educated. I wonder if you would say your responses to Ravi in person? Matt, without tooting my own educational horn, you miss so much of what Ravi is saying, not to mention what other SCHOLARLY people say about the Christian faith. Its because you really dont want to know…Use your desire for truth and reason to contemplate how there can be so many WELL educated Christians out there who are just all "delusional". You can actually say with all honesty that the "truth" claims of their faith are all false without ever trying to see it from their side? I think you need to reconsider your hard-line of Christian truth and honestly search for the real truth, and if it leads you back to atheism then so be it. Anthony Flew, C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias etc… they did.

  59. Martin says

    will: Martin here. For my part, I would answer Zacharias in person exactly the same way. And I'm sure Matt, who studied to become a Christian minister earlier in his life, and who has since formally debated clergymen, would as well. Why wouldn't we? Despite what you might think, possession of academic degrees is not a form of magical inoculation against irrational beliefs. And to imply that it is — in addition to name-dropping guys like Flew and Lewis — is nothing more than the argument from authority fallacy.You missed a salient detail: These were Matt's responses to Zacharias's "Six Questions to Ask an Atheist." In other words, he's coming to us with these, and nowhere in these questions does he insist that only atheists with a wall full of diplomas answer him.You also imply rather strongly that Matt's responses to Zacharias are dishonest, and to this I must take strong exception. Did you even read the post in detail? Do you think his answers are really shallow and trivial, reflecting a desire not to know? Or are you willing to at least concede that Matt did in fact put a great deal of thought into them? Did he make gross factual errors? If so, where? In your whole comment, you protest that his responses are somehow insincere, but you offer no specific criticisms of anything he actually wrote. You merely insist that we kowtow to academic credentials and treat those who have lots of them as more enlightened, if not outright infallible.I would suggest you are the dishonest one, that you did not read Matt's post in detail, and that your accusations of arrogance and dishonesty on his part are simply the routine rhetorical defense mechanisms we often hear believers fall back on when confronted by an atheist who responds to Christian claims with effective rebuttals.You would do much better in defense of your "Christian truth" if you actually provided some evidence for it, rather than insisting that academic authorities must be genuflected to and revered as oracles from on high. So far, it's woefully obvious you're just hand-waving in order to avoid addressing Matt's actual points.

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