Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WWJTD - "Four Questions Atheists Won’t Address!"

   JT Eberhard over at What Would JT Do? has been given four "questions" -- interestingly, though, a question mark (?) is nowhere to be found -- that atheists supposedly won't address:
1. If rationality and goodness is instilled in people based on evolution, then why do people go against the very survival-striving instincts we have and behave the opposite (both as individuals and regarding humanity as a whole). I’ve yet to meet anyone who has successfully lived up to THEIR OWN standard of goodness.

2. If truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution, then truth must not be actually true but only functional. When it becomes more beneficial to believe a false idea for survival, then that idea MUST win out over what is truly true, or naturalism is false. If this is true, rationality is not reasoning to find truth but rather to survive, and truth will cease to exist when humans cease to exist.

3. Atheists and religious nut-cases read the Bible with extremely similar hermeneutics.. please explain. (ex: applying Israelite law code that to a non-Jew/Gentile follower of Jesus while totally disregarding Christ’s exposition of Old Testament law. OR taking a parable of Jesus way out of context to say we should kill people who disagree with us. Most atheists I’ve experienced handle the Bible in a more pick-and-choose way than almost any Christian I know who has studied his/her Bible.. and I agree that most claimed Christian don’t study their Bible. It seems disingenuous to tell people to not pick and choose from their religious text, but then to read the Bible in such a way that ignores any explanations to difficult texts, and they are difficult).

4. What to you is your understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ as understood by the Christian faith (you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought). If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.

   Well, I'll go ahead and take these "questions" on! Actually, I made some quick answers already in the comments section, but I want to expand/clarify what I said there.
  1.    There seems to be an assumption that evolution produces perfect rationality and goodness in this statement. It doesn't. Evolution is an imperfect process and produces imperfect rationality and goodness. Really, the "question" starts of with a conditional that is not true, so the "question" can be rejected flattly on the false conditional. However, I think the questioner was trying (but failed) to suggest that products of evolution are supposed to increase the odds of survival, so why, then, do people do things that go against survival? Even for such a question, the answer is still much the same. Evolution is an imperfect process. It is possible for characteristics to evolve that will actually decrease the odds of survival, though usually such changes will result in the failure to survive.
       Additionally, characteristics that do increase the odds of survival can have adverse side-effects. If, for example, a species lives in an area where sugar is scarce, that species may evolve a strong desire for sweets, so that when they find something with sugar, they will be sure to eat it. The consequence is that if the environment changes and sugar becomes more abundant, this species may get too much sugar in their diet, engaging in eating habits that will actually now decrease their survival ability. The key here is that the environment changed, and the species is now longer adapted for the new environment. Much can be said about humans. In fact, this is why I used the sugar example. We see people who have problems managing their cravings for sweets. Well, this is likely a result of survival instincts that evolved when sweets were sparse, but we haven't been able to fully adapt to our relatively new environment where sweets are abundant.
  2.    Another conditional. Another conditional that is false. Frankly, this reads like garbled nonsense. I'm not sure what the questioner is trying to say. Otherwise, truth is truth. Sure, it's abstract, but if all humans ceased to exist tomorrow, the earth would be just as old, plus one day, as it is today. The only difference is that no one would be around to care how old the earth is.
  3.    This one is frustrating. Not that it’s a difficult "question," but that it misses the point of why atheists "pick-and-choose" from the Bible, which is often done, in my experience, to challenge theists to explain why they pick-and-choose. Like, how do you explain an all-loving god sending 2 bears to rip 42 children into shreads in II Kings, etc? But, in actuality, I do not pick-and-choose from the Bible like the "religious nut-cases." I find that most of it is made up, and if there is any of it that is true, I’m going to "pick" the true parts based on evidence (such as archiological) from outside the Bible.
       This really isn't an answer, but I suspect the questioner is expressing his/her own frustrations with the obviously amoral parts of the Bible, and is taking those frustrations out on fundamentalists for adhering to those parts and on atheists for exposing those parts, instead of just admitting that those parts are "damning." While I'm not a psychologist, this seems to fit in with cognitive dissonance theory.
  4.    It would appear that this one is aimed more at JT specifically as opposed to atheists in general, but, yeah, it’s hard to do anything else but mock this one. Like, why would an all-loving god sacrifice himself to himself in order to satisfy himself so that he could allow people into heaven? And, yes, there was no concept of hell (or at least not officially, though apparently the concept may have been gaining ground after the exile in Babylon) in the Jewish tradition before the "good news," so it is correct of JT to point that out. Sure, it's mocking, but making a valid point in the process.
       As far as how Christians generally understand the "good news," my understanding is that Jesus Christ died so that "sinful" people could have eternal life in heaven. But, there are so many problems with the "good news" as a whole. Thus the mockery. As I pointed out, if you are a Christian that believes that Jesus is God, then God killed himself! There is a big problem here in that how does a being that is often claimed to be eternal and the creator of the universe even die? Why was a sacrifice necessary? That just seems barbaric and something that a powerful entity wouldn't need to do. The other major problem is that many Christian sects, especially Protestants, believe that all you need to do to get into heaven is believe in Jesus. The world's biggest asshole can get into heaven for believing, but the most generous guy gets hell for not. The whole idea is filled with paradoxes and amoral absurdities. The mockery it gets has been earned.

I'm now reading through JT's responses.
  1.    Holy shit! I am a mindless atheist robot! JT uses the sugar example in his response, too! But he also goes into the whole what-does-this-have-to-do-with-the-existance-of-a-god speech, which is absolutely relevant. Atheism only rejects god claims; it doesn't make any claims of it's own. But, as many atheists also just happen to be scientists (or at least understanding of science), these evolution questions often get confused with atheism, though the two are not directly related. And since I am understanding of science, I am happy to answer to the best of my ability. But even if atheists didn't have answers to such a question, and even if evolution were to someday be demonstrated to be incorrect, this does not make the god claim more probable. The theist is trying to create a false dichotomy, and it is good of JT to point this out.
  2.    JT takes a different approach to the second question. He looks more at the human pursuit for truth as opposed to truth itself. In hindsight, this may be what the questioner intended. (Though, I did say that I likely failed to even comprehend the question.) There is this argument that some theists like to bring up that basically says something like religious beliefs were beneficial for human survival, therefore religious beliefs should be preserved. In response to that, even if it were true, that doesn't mean it's necessary for our continued survival, nor does it mean that religious beliefs are inherently good, which seems to be an implication of the claim. (The idea is if something is beneficial for survival, then that something is automatically good. I disagree; I'll leave it at that.)
  3.    JT seems to find this question to be quite ridiculous, as did I. JT kicks it up a notch by pointing out the arrogance of the questioner in his/her implication that he/she knows how to interpret the Bible "correctly" when there are thousands of Christian denominations, each of which has a different interpretation. JT also breaks down the problems with translating the Bible (primarily why is this powerful god such a poor communicator?) that I didn't bother going into.
  4.    As with my response, JT discusses how horrible the "good news" actually is, only he gives a much more detailed explanation.

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