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Pointless Parables

I like some of the parables in the New Testament.  The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, for example, give good examples of the right path and add to the moral vocabulary of the West.

Lately, however, I’ve come across a few modern apologetic parables that fall far short of those in the Bible.  Let me start with “The Blind Faith of Atheism” a tediously long story making a very small point.  (I’ve abbreviated all the parables here.  You’re welcome!)

An atheist professor was harassing his Christian students about their God belief, so they challenge him to a debate.  The arrogant professor agrees, thinking he could shut down this God thing once and for all.

The atheist’s opening remark likens God belief to Santa Claus belief.  We give up one when we grow up; why not both? 

The Christian then goes through a long process of arguing that the atheist doesn’t know everything, to which the atheist agrees.  And now he releases the snare: isn’t it possible that evidence of God could exist in that huge fraction of all knowledge that the atheist doesn’t understand?  “Have you been to South Yemen?” the Christian asks.  “Maybe God is in South Yemen.”

The debate isn’t going his way, so the atheist complains that the debate isn’t fair.

The Christian pushes his point and gets the atheist, now meek and whiney, to admit that the claim “There is no God” is indefensible and that the atheist’s claim is actually a faith position.  A little more back and forth, and the atheist slinks away, publicly humiliated.

This is rather like the Chick tract in which the nasty Biology professor gets shredded and then converted by a calm and polite Christian.

Chick tract that argues that God doesn't exist

So the moral is: don’t say, “God absolutely, for sure doesn’t exist.”  Okay, but I already knew that.

In the first place, very few atheists are certain that there is no God.  They would say instead that they have no God belief, just like the Christian has no Poseidon belief.

Second, “there is no God” is a faith position just like “there are no unicorns” is—that is, not at all.  Could unicorns exist?  It’s possible, but the evidence strongly argues that they don’t.  We don’t have faith that unicorns don’t exist; we trust that they don’t because we have evidence that they don’t.  In the same way, belief in God is a faith position, but following the facts where they point (and tentatively concluding that God is in the same bin as Zeus, Shiva, and the other gods from history) is a trust position.

Next up, the story of a man and his barber.

As the barber trims the man’s hair, he says that he doesn’t believe in God.  He points to the problem of evil—why would there be so much pain and suffering in the world if God existed?

Wanting to avoid antagonizing the man who had his coiffure in his hands, the Christian customer doesn’t engage in the argument, but after leaving the shop, he sees a man with a scruffy beard and long unkempt hair.  He returns to the barber shop and says, “I just realized something—barbers don’t exist either.”

“But I just cut your hair!” the barber replies.

“If barbers existed, there would be no one with long hair, like the man I just saw.”

“Don’t blame me if they don’t come to me.”

“Exactly!” the Christian replies.  “And we can’t blame God if we don’t go to him.  He exists; the problem with pain and suffering is that people don’t seek God.”

Huh?  But Christians do go to God.  How does that help the pain and suffering in the world?  How does that remove pain and suffering from just the lives of Christians?  How does that undo the damage from tornadoes or tsunamis?  Praying to a God, even one who’s not there, can bring comfort, I’ll admit, but that’s hardly what the Christian in this story is claiming.

Finally, a well-made video from the Macedonian Ministry of Education and Science.

The video opens with a schoolboy running into school.  The time period looks to be about 1900.

The teacher at the front of the room speaks in German, with English subtitles.  He declares that if God exists then he is evil.  If he created everything, then he created evil, right?

Our schoolboy protagonist stands to challenge this: “Professor, does cold exist?”

“Of course it does.”

“No, sir, cold doesn’t exist.  Heat exists, and cold is merely the absence of heat.  Professor, does darkness exist?”

“Of course.”

“No, sir.  Darkness doesn’t exist.  It is merely the absence of light.  In the same way, evil doesn’t exist.  Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love in his heart.”

At the end, we see the name of this precocious schoolboy: Albert Einstein.  We’re left with the tagline: “Religion is knowledge too.  Bring religion back to school.”

With a tagline like that on a government video, I guess there’s not much separation of church and state here.  And a Macedonian ministry puts together a German video with English subtitles?  Why not Macedonian subtitles?  What possible goal of theirs could this serve?

Putting aside this mystery, this isn’t an honest portrayal of Einstein’s religious beliefs, at least not in his later life.  And we can quibble about whether evil is something or the absence of something, but the final statement (that evil is the result of not having God’s love) is simply an assertion without evidence.  Unconvincing.

Is it me, or have Christian parables gone downhill?

(And if you hear of any more, let me know!)

Photo credit: Rafael Lopez

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Bob Calvan

    Atheism is a position based on there is no evidence of a God. But a lack of a belief is not a position. So how can Athesism mean I lack a belief?
    A lack of belief can not be the definition of Athesism. Because Atheism is a position.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Atheism is the lack of a position. Most atheists that I know define atheism as the lack of a god belief. Seems like a pretty workable definition to me.

      As long as we’re using the same definition, we can communicate. That’s all we need, right?

  • Bob Calvan

    So, your belief (position) is there is no evidence for a God?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Correct. That usually falls out of (but is not obligatory from) one being an atheist.

      One key point here is that the atheist doesn’t have to make a claim, while the Christian does. This means that the Christian has the burden of proof.

  • Pingback: More Pointless Parables | Cross Examined

  • http://REVESSIE.COM ESTHER SCOTT

    ATHEISTS ARE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER RECOGNIZED THE POWER OF GOD IN THEIR LIVES. A BELIEVER IS MORE SELFLESS AND APPRECIATIVE OF THE HELP THAT THE HAND OF GOD GIVES US IN VARYING CONDITIONS. WE RECOGNIZE THAT WE CANNOT HANDLE LIFE ON OUR OWN WITHOUT GOD’S INTERVENTION. WE’VE HAD PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH HIM. HE IS NOT JUST A SUBJECT TO US.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Esther: Thanks for the comment.

      By “God” I assume you mean the Christian god? Most people in the world haven’t recognized the power of the Christian god in their lives, otherwise they’d be Christians.

      Yes, you’re right that believers appreciate God’s help because they’re they only ones who imagine that they see it. That doesn’t mean that God actually exists. All the other gods are fiction, aren’t they? Why imagine that the Christian god is any different?

      The mind is a tricky thing. The “personal experiences” that you imagine may be just that–imaginings. We agree that they are in the other guy’s religion; why is Christianity exempt?

  • http://www.humblewonderful.com Tony

    I find the idea that atheism is a lack of belief to be trite.
    I’m an atheist – though I prefer the term non-theist. I don’t believe that the universe has a central organising principle with a will/morality/identity (how I define theos). I believe that the universe is organised from multiple points by competing and co-operative wills. Basically a virus has its own goals and is not subject to a single “divine” teleology. This is my metaphysics. Its what I see in the world.
    Other peoples atheisms might actually have other metaphysics – there are many who don’t like the word “will” and for good reason. For them they are claiming everything is cause and effect. I like hearing their well argued positions when they come up. It is a position with too many problems for me but some of those problems do have solutions.
    But if your atheism truly contains no metaphysics at all then you probably shouldn’t call yourself an atheist. Because atheist is a metaphysical statement – to my mind.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      This is my metaphysics. Its what I see in the world.

      Is there any evidence for this view? Or are you simply saying that there’s no evidence that proves it wrong?

      You could go the latter route, but many other philosophies can make the weak claim, “Yeah, but you can’t prove me wrong.” Agreed, but that’s not much of a reason to adopt that viewpoint.

      But if your atheism truly contains no metaphysics at all then you probably shouldn’t call yourself an atheist. Because atheist is a metaphysical statement – to my mind.

      Someone with no god belief isn’t an “atheist”? That sounds odd. What label would you prefer?

      Isn’t someone with a god belief a “theist”?

      • http://www.humblewonderful.com Tony

        You raise an interesting question re: what evidence is there for a metaphysical perspective. It is difficult to know if our perspective precedes our evidence gathering or follows it for such things. I tend to think people like Wittgenstein, and M. Polyani who suggest more organic and back and forth connections between the two make good points. We “see” what conforms to our language of “seeing” but then our language is developing to maximise effectiveness in describing what we “see”.
        You convert my word metaphysics to your phrase “god-belief”. I’m not sure if in doing so we remain talking about the same thing. Metaphysics is much broader than god-belief, unless by god you include concepts that are much broader than the usual suspects. Someone with a metaphysics is not necessarily a theist.
        Eg. Why do people get sick? Because of viruses operating without moral direction in order to propogate themself would be my opinion. If you agree then you would probably have a similar metaphyiscs (you believe in extrinsic not intrinsic morality and multiple will like functions driving behaviour).
        Someone with no metaphysics at all is not an atheist.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tony:

          You convert my word metaphysics to your phrase “god-belief”.

          I have no god belief–that’s the fact we’re stuck with. Now, what do I label myself?

          Metaphysics is much broader than god-belief

          Which is why I object to your bringing it up. This idea seems to just muddy the waters IMO.

        • http://www.humblewonderful.com Tony

          “Atheism is the lack of a position.” – B. Seidensticker
          This was the comment I was responding to. I think its a nonsensical statement.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Then tell me what someone who has no god belief should call himself.

  • http://www.humblewonderful.com Tony

    Bob, I think there is simply confusion about semantics.
    Do you mean you have no beliefs that reference God at all? That would mean you take no position either way or in any direction on the plausability of an omnipotent being. (Shall we define God as an omnipotent being for the sake of this? I think you can go broader than that but its a common definiton) That would make you an agnostic IMO.
    If however you are saying that you have opinions about the plausability of all God-ideas, about the very idea of an omnipotent being then like me you would have a god-belief and a position and a metaphysics – and you would be possibly, atheist (I prefer non-theist) or theist.
    Of course many spiritual traditions (buddhism for example) don’t consider the question of a theos to be particularly important. The Buddha, rather than deny the Gods, simply said they were not pertinent to our enlightenment. So perhaps you come from that angle?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Do you mean you have no beliefs that reference God at all?

      No. I have no beliefs in supernatural things.

      And, yes, I’m also an agnostic. I don’t know either way.

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