Marc Barnes…

deals with yet another New Atheist whose worship of his own intellect is in vast disproportion to his almost non-existent use of that intellect.  Funny, patient stuff.

Seriously, what strikes me again and again about Internet Atheist culture is how, well, dumb these guys are who constantly trumpet their immense intellectual superiority.  They can’t even get elementary facts right, much less construe the meaning of those facts.  Moreover, they are stupefyingly incurious when you point that out.  And this is in addition to the legendary lack of social and affective skills that allow normal people to navigate ordinary human interactions without looking like clueless gits.

As this pattern continues, Internet Atheism look more and more like a sort of mental virus (why, one might almost call it a “meme”) whose sole purpose is simply to mindlessly propagate the thought “I am smarter!” like the ancient mob shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” again and again.  The Internet Atheist huddles with his peer group, repeating the same cherished legends over and over, safe in a bubble of epistemic closure in which shibboleths like “Flying Spaghetti Monster!” and “Galileo!” and “Stem Cells” are repeated like old nuns telling their beads.  Nothing is allowed to intrude on the smooth worn repetition of this little mental treadmill.  No actual questions are asked, only fake questions masking dogmatic negations.  No new knowledge is sought because it is imagined that their knowledge is complete and unassailable.  And this dogmatic incuriosity these people call “Science, Reason, and Intellect”.  It’s the most barren expression of the most barren form of intellectual work in the world.  How do these people not perish from boredom? Surely sooner or later worshipping one’s intellect while keeping it safe from all use must get suffocatingly dull.

Suggestion to Internet Atheists: If not for God’s sake, then at least for your own education and for the relief of knowledgeable Catholics from the pea shooter assaults of “The Church: Enemy of SCIENCE” brigades, go here and learn *something* beyond your peer group’s parrot talk about the actual relationship of Catholic teaching to the sciences and reason.  Then ask yourself, “If I’m so incredibly smart, why can’t I think of any name but Galileo’s to illustrate the supposed War On Science conducted by the Church?”  Learn to use and not just worship your intellect.

  • http://www.chesterton.org Sean P. Dailey

    “Consultor of the Holy Office and Master of Controversial Questions.”

    Cool job titles. Cool hats. Cool fighting songs (“Non nobis Domine!”). Cool clothes. Skulls and snakes in our religious iconography. Cool “WTF” moments in history (like the Cadaver Synod). Cool Vacations (i.e., pilgrimages). Latin. Incense. Cool enemies (love ‘em or hate ‘em, Muslims make awesome enemies). Patron saints of beer & wine. What is NOT to love about the Catholic Church?

  • Your Friendly Internet Atheist

    Classic Courtier’s Reply. You don’t have to be an expert in embroidery and proper court etiquette to realize that the Emperor is, in fact, but naked, despite all the very sophisticated-sounding nonsense to the contrary.

    • Mark Shea

      Enjoy that epistemic bubble.

    • http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/ Nate Winchester

      I find it funny because “Courtier’s Reply” could be used to dismiss evolution just as easily.
      But then irony has never seemed to be PZ’s strong suit.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      In other words, “I didn’t both to do the reading, but I obviously know better.”

      • Cinlef

        The (possibly apocryphal) quote attributed to Napoleon when steamships were pitched to him as a sound military investment illustrates the peril of dismissing something without first making sure you truly understand it, and consequently why Courtier’s Reply is such an idiotic argument

        You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck…I have no time for such nonsense.” -Napoleon

        • ivan_the_mad

          To anyone else who read that quote from Napoleon but heard it in Leonard Nimoy’s voice: You have excellent taste in games.

          • Andy, Bad Person

            I was going to say the same thing!

  • Confederate Papist

    And yet we wonder what is sooooo appealing about religious websites and blogs that attracts the combox athiest? It can’t be they’re trying to evangelise us to their beliefs…

    • Jmac

      Never the interesting ones either. Well, A Philosopher is pretty smart, but the rest are just garden variety trolls.

      • Mark Shea

        Why are there so many of these guys and so few Leah Librescos? Everytime I have to read this painfully stupid intellect worship from these Jack Chicks of the Skeptic Set I find myself in the perplexing place of almost wishing she were still an atheist just so the Internet Atheist community was not so consistently represented by Fundamentalists with the intellectual depth of a spoon. The belwethers are no Leah or A Philosopher. They are abrasive dolts like Coyne, Myers, and Dawkins and their fanboys represented in such overwhelming numbers by people like “Friendly Internet Atheist”. It’s embarrassing stuff, made all the more embarrassing by the deep conviction, oozing out of their pores, of their massive intellectual superiority coupled with their high school sophomore content. It’s gotta be embarrassing for actual thoughtful atheists to have to wade through this cringeworthy junk. I wonder how many have Ed Feser’s experience of having to confront how shitty a lot of atheist rhetoric and though really is? It’s frustrating for me as a Christian to read dumb Christian apologetics. I figure it’s gotta be flesh-crawling for an atheist to hear somebody in his camp sneering, “Oh *yeah*? Well why doesn’t God heal amputees? I bet you never thought of that before!”

        Sheesh!

        • http://ohnimus.wordpress.com Christian Ohnimus

          Because all of the Leah Librescos convert.

          • beccolina

            Yup. I was having a conversation with my brother, who identifies himself as a “skeptic”, and realized that the Atheists I’ve read and enjoyed are now Catholic. This makes it harder to convince him to read their blogs.

    • Ted Seeber

      It can’t? I find most New Atheists to be extremely evangelical- to the point of using the court system and censorship as evangelical techniques.

  • Your Friendly Internet Atheist

    You want questions asked? OK, I will ask THE most important question a man can ask about God: Why won’t God heal amputees?

    • Mark Shea

      In other words, why does God permit evil? Original. It is a special mark of both epistemic closure *and* of the fetching combination of stupidity, ignorance and arrogance that is the trademark of the Internet Atheist that his pet version of the Problem of Evil is imagined by him to be THE most important question. It really does have an amazing family resemblance to Fundamentalism. As though this is the first time the question has been raised. The tendency to present questions like this as though they are fundamentally shocking *new* insights that theists have never encountered till now is part of what I mean by the tendency of New Atheists to pad their case.

      There’s this guy named St. Thomas. You might want to look him up. Specifically his reply to Objection 1. Beyond that, here are a some claims out on the Web that God has, indeed, healed amputees. Dunno if they are true or not, but then, I’m not the one “asking” the “question”. You are. If you actually want to know, then it seem to me the first thing to find out is whether your premise–that God does not heal amputees–is true. If, after pursuing the evidence, you can demonstrate that God does not, in fact, heal amputees and that every claim of a miraculous healing is false, then you can proceed to the next question: namely, “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?”

      Of course, if you refuse to investigate (a typical response from people who worship rather than use their intellects) and have no interest in whether God has healed an amputee or not, then you demonstrate your bad faith and I feel no obligation to continue the conversation.

      So: off you go. Check out those claims. While you are at it, check out all the other well-documented claims of miraculous healings. There’s lots of evidence out there. I thought it was we theists who are ignorant obscurantists who fear evidence and that it was you atheists who bravely follow the evidence wherever it leads.

  • Your Friendly Internet Atheist

    You should read the whole website (http://www.whywontgodhealamputees.com) and get back to me, Mark. No one has refuted it yet.

    • Mark Shea

      Given that I just pointed you to claims of miraculous healing of amputees and you have not refuted those claims or even investigated them, I think your fist pump of victory is a bit premature. I am under no obligation to prove those claims since I accept that God does not, in fact, always heal amputees. But you are claiming that God *never* heals amputees while ignoring claims that he does. Until you refute those claims, your challenge is based on something you have not proven. Bye! Go refute those claims! Once you’ve done that, then you can address Thomas first objection.

    • Jmac

      It’s hilarious how much like a creationist you sound right now. Replace your comment with SHOW ME AN ANIMAL TURNING INTO SOMETHING ELSE and you’ve got something equally as intellectually rigorous.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Challenge accepted: A cow was turned into a delicious steak.

        • Jmac

          Yes, but in keeping with the creationist persona I’m unwillingly channeling, that’s MICROEVOLUTION, you science-worshipping fool!

    • Ted Seeber

      Except, that’s not the whole story, it’s got a severe ignorance problem.

    • Ted Seeber
  • Ignatius

    “Why God won’t heal amputees?”. Please, educate yourself Mr. Atheist and do a little research on the “Miracle of Calanda”.

    • Ted Seeber

      Unfortunately, the fog of time makes Calanda too old to examine using modern skepticism. But there’s also this:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZx6KdCyQfc

      Such cases are rare indeed- but they *do* occur and have been verified by a proper evidence trail.

      • http://respace.wordpress.com Maggie Clark

        Hi Ted,

        The link to the purported reports (in the text under the video) no longer directs to a working site. This was the case for all the front page links on Mark’s google search; all linked to that same website which cannot be accessed. It’s rather perplexing that this kind of material isn’t found in medical journals–commonplace as extraordinary case files are among such annals. The only fully functional links on that google search were to forums filled with Catholics discussing miracles said to occur in the 17th century, 1000 years ago, and 1300 (three distinct cases in total), as well as allusions to the “cripples” described in the New Testament as being healed by Jesus Christ.

        All the anecdotal evidence for miraculous healing of any bodily ailment that I’ve read to date either has no documented history of original ailment (e.g. a person did not go to the doctor, claims X ailment, and then claims it was healed with prayer–so we have only their word about the ailment in the first place); involves recovery while facing low (but not non-existent) odds in their favour while undergoing medical treatment; or is tragically completely fake (as with tent revivalists who horrifically scam people out of their money with a bag of placebo or sleight-of-hand tricks).

        Mark is taking the black swan approach to this problem by asserting that unless atheists can prove without a doubt that no amputee has ever had their limb magically restored (and in this framework, it’s just too darn bad none of us is able to examine the evidence from 1617), they have no right asking the question “why won’t God heal amputees?”

        In so doing, he’s taking the least favourable read of that question instead of trying to understand and rebut the argument at its strongest–namely, that many Christians claim all kinds of miracle healing (cataracts, cancers in remission, back pains, headaches, etc) but amputees are not distinctly represented in this list. Why should that be? Why should there be such a disproportionate account of healing in favour of already treatable diseases over ailments decidedly outside of mankind’s purview to heal?

        Moreover, why does miracle healing seem to happen in places where modern medicine is easily accessed, and solely around elements we can treat for better today than ever before? Why is there such a clear correlation between the advent of widely disseminated and improved medicines and a reduction in our death rate, when that period of history also marks a considerable rise in secularism? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/06/22/how-we-die-in-one-chart/)

        Mark criticized “internet atheists” as poor thinkers, but it’s a pretty commonly understood principle of honest debate to address your discursive opponent’s argument in its best formulation, as opposed to treating with indignation and contempt the fact that the question has been raised in any formulation at all. Mark is welcome to shift the goalpost all he wants, but is this really the road to disseminating a better understanding of the world for all?

        Cheers, Ted; I hope this message finds you well.

        • Mark Shea

          I’m not shifting any goalposts. I’m simply pointing out that if somebody is going to pretend to want to know the answer to the question “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” he needs to first establish that God doesn’t heal amputees. If you want to shift the goalposts to “Why won’t God heal all amputees?” (while studiously ignoring claims that he has healed *some* amputees) that’s up to you. I have no need to prove he heals all amputees or any amputees. My interlocutor, however, is pretending to have a need for answer to his question, so I’m just telling him to go about addressing it methodically as I play along with his pretense of actually caring about an answer or trying to learn anything. The whole *reason* for this question, formulated as it is, is to attempt to carefully exclude all the zillion and one other accounts of miraculous healing out there. And should a credible case of amputee healing appear (I have no idea if such a thing has happened), the attempt to ignore the evidence will simply continue with the question, “Why doesn’t God heal *all* amputees?”

          And it’s all such a huge waste of time, since all it boils down to is a restatement of Thomas’ first objection (there are only two) to the existence of God. It’s a major snooze, and its characteristically incurious.

          • http://respace.wordpress.com Maggie Clark

            “while studiously ignoring claims that he has healed *some* amputees”

            Marc, did you read my comment? I followed the links on your google search; most cited the same site which cannot be accessed–so there is no evidence to be evaluated. The links that did work cited three distinct, explicit cases–the most recent being in 1617, so again, there’s no way to evaluate that evidence.

            There’s no attempt to ignore the evidence on my part; I’ve gone to testimonial pages when theistic acquaintances claim the existence of miracle healing, and I summarized my findings in the first response: anecdote without initial proof of ailment; ailment healed while non-zero survival rates were joined with modern medicine; and wholesale frauds which are devastating to watch.

            It’s the latter that particularly concerns me about these claims; people who are ill are extremely vulnerable, and often quite desperate. I would not want anyone taking advantage of someone in such a condition–either by denying them access to modern medicine and relying on prayer instead (as has led to so very many tragic deaths of children), or by selling them snake oil in one of its many guises. So I do care about whether these claims are true or not. If they were, what an incredible difference they would make! Children would never need die of treatable diseases for the simple fact that they do not have access to modern medicine; instead they’d be able to grow to an age whereby they could exercise free will on their own.

            That’s not the way the world seems to work, though–certainly those children are not being spared by any divine intervention. I linked on chart showing how our death rate has declined in relation to the advent of widely disseminated modern medicine; here’s another phenomenal story of how basic hygiene education is finally eradicating a parasite that has afflicted our species for millennia: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=last-worm-tropical-disease-near-eradication.

            I ask for concrete evidence around medical treatment because the most vulnerable of our species are involved–the very young, the very old, and those of any age made desperate by their pain and suffering. I think an honest conversation is necessarily called for around this issue, and dismissing out of turn the fact that miracle healing conveniently seems to overlap with illnesses that can be treated by modern medicine, rather than with people who cannot access modern medicine or who are afflicted by ailments modern medicine has no cure for, is no road to such a discourse.

            • Mark Shea

              I guess I’m not altogether clear why you are choosing to jump into *this* thread. I’m not making any claims here. I’m simply tweaking FNA on his obvious incuriosity and disingenuousness. What he’s really asking is “Why does God permit evil?” What you are asking is “Do miracles of healing happen?” (with correlative questions that boil down to “Why don’t they happen more often?” and “How come theyare often so resistant to experimental verification?” and “What if they are really all frauds or delusions?”

              I’m not proposing we eschew medicine or science. Nor do I recommend faith healing where God has given us our five wites to do medicine. I’m simply saying that “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” is shoddy, incurious theodicy that has no interest in the question it pretends to ask. You don’t seem to me to be asking that question exactly and strike me as much more honest.

              • http://respace.wordpress.com Maggie Clark

                “I’m simply saying that “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” is shoddy, incurious theodicy that has no interest in the question it pretends to ask.”

                Ah. This feels like a contextual disconnect; to you it must seem like a question coming out of thin air–a stand-alone justification for disbelief. In that context, absolutely, it must feel ill-formed and ignorant.

                However, among the groups of non-believers I’ve engaged with, online and in real life, this question has a different context: it’s not a stand-alone argument, but a direct response to claims of miraculous healing from theists. In this context there’s absolutely coherent justification to its presence; it’s a re-formulation of the theist’s assertion that removes a competing variable (modern medicine) to see if the claim still holds. (Thus far, I myself have encountered no compelling evidence that it does.)

                I imagine there’s quite a bit of insularity among both our discourse communities–theists bouncing arguments so often among their own, and atheists doing likewise–that when interacting with one another we often forget that the other does not necessarily share the same base premises. Cue, then, the process of having it out with one another until those foundational premises are discovered.

                But (and this is the reason I cut in in the first place) this is a process of debate that works best when one actively tries to regard opposing arguments in their best possible light, rather than simply assuming your opponent is stating something out of blatant ignorance. Perhaps it will ultimately prove to be an ignorant statement–but founded on what presuppositions?

                In the case of this post there seems to be a dangerous assumption that atheists you meet online are by and large incurious and ignorant (while I have no doubt a great many atheists similarly think of theists as incurious and ignorant, online or otherwise). If this were true, though, what would be the point of grousing about the specific arguments they make? You must think a little higher of atheists to be addressing their claims at all (I certainly don’t spend my days disproving Westboro’s claims, because they’re very clearly, proudly disinterested in honest and open conversation) so why not take the time to consider where their argument might be coming from? At least that way you’d get something out of the experience–a better understanding of the other side’s position than facile conviction that atheists are just intellectually lazy.

                Cheers Marc–and sorry for spelling your name wrong in the first post. Hope the evening finds you well.

                • Mark Shea

                  Maggie:

                  No hard feelings. No the question doesn’t seem to me to come from thin air. I’ve encountered it before. The guy who asks it, if memory serves, begins his video deploying a veneer of “curiosity”. But as he goes one, the lava of his contempt spurts out and he can’t help making clear that he is not *asking* anything. He doesn’t want to learn anything from theists because he is certain he knows all there is to know about theists and their grappling with the problem of evil. FNA quite obviously asks from a similar position incurious cocksureness, so I simply answered him accordingly. “We sang a dirge and he did not mourn. We played tune and he would not dance.” Since he was impervious to actual discussion or new information, I treated his intellectual laziness accordingly.

                  It’s not an assumption that the atheists I meet online are incurious and ignorant. It is tedious experience, most recently reconfirmed by FNA. Not all atheists are, however. You are not (I am presuming you are an atheist, though I could be wrong.) Leah wasn’t. A Philosopher isn’t. Jef doesn’t seem to be. But a wade through the sewage lagoons of the Coyne, Dawkins, and Myers sites (to name just a few) does not provide one with abundant hope that people like you are in anything like the majority on the Internet. Given that A Philosopher attests his own frustrations with this epistemic closure and among that crowd and that guys like Phil Plait have to give lectures (to rigidly hostile audiences) with titles like “Don’t be a Dick”, remind the subculture of some of its more obvious weaknesses, I don’t think its unfair to say that my experience is typical and not exceptional.

                  That said, I have no objection to a real discussion–like this one. That’s why I took the time to try to distinguish your points from FNA’s. As to my response to the basic question of why God doesn’t heal amputees, see my response to Jef. I think the Catholic tradition has a reply, but not a “solution” to this objection. The reason it doesn’t have a solution is that human suffering is a mystery bound up in the very heart of the gospel and that mystery cannot be “solved” but only lived. Why God has chosen to do things that way, I cannot say. But my muteness before the mystery is not evidence that it–and he–does not exist. It is merely evidence that God is not fully comprehensible to our minds. Plato’s parable of the cave. I can’t see him, not because he is shrouded in darkness, but because he is too blindingly bright. The complication and contradictions that inhere in denying his existence are far more incredible to me than the relatively minor difficulty of acknowledging that he cannot be grasped by my mind.

                  Best wishes.

              • http://respace.wordpress.com Maggie Clark

                …And that said, now that I look again I see I got it backwards: Mark was right in the first place. Good grief, that was silly. Well–sorry again! Definitely not on level to get someone’s name wrong in a discussion.

      • http://stevenadunn.wordpress.com Steven Dunn

        It’s an interesting story, but it needs to be verified beyond his own words. There are plenty of liars and madmen out there claiming all kinds of things. I did some simple Googling but couldn’t find anything but links back to this interview or articles about the same.

    • Mark

      Updated Atheist Argument:

      “Miracle of Calanda huh????…. Oh yeah, well why doesn’t God heal an amputee again??? “

      • http://stevenadunn.wordpress.com Steven Dunn

        I found this treatment of the story from skeptoid to be a sane response from the skeptical perspective: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4247

        • http://signsshadows.blogspot.com/ Colin Gormley

          The main point is that we have to assume the amputee is a liar, with zero evidence to support that contention. The whole skeptic claim rests on this unsupported and uncharitable claim.

          The “pro” side’s evidence might fall short, but the skeptic side has little going for it.

  • HurrDurrDurr

    Am I smart now? I can think of another name besides Galileo.

    This guy: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

    “Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600), (Latin: Iordanus Brunus Nolanus) born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.[1] He was burned at the stake by civil authorities in 1600 after the Roman Inquisition found him guilty of heresy for his pantheism and turned him over to the state, which at that time considered heresy illegal. After his death he gained considerable fame, particularly among 19th- and early 20th-century commentators who, focusing on his astronomical beliefs, regarded him as a martyr for free thought and modern scientific ideas.”

    • Mark Shea

      Nope. The issue was his pantheism, not his science. (Not to say the Church was right to burn him, of course, but this is just not about a conflict between science and faith.) Really, Galileo and Bruno are pretty pathetic evidence of a centuries long “war” on Science, doncha think? How come no war on Lemaitre, Pasteur, Mendel, Albertus Magnus, etc? Do these questions ever trouble you?

      PS. Did you go to Cascade High school?

    • Richard Bell

      Bruno was not persecuted for his beliefs that there were multiple planets with intelligent life. In fact, in 1277, the Bishop of Paris (not the pope, but what was taught in Paris was picked up by the other medieval univrsities) declared that, despite the lack of evidence of His doing so, it was anathema to teach that God could not make other worlds with other intelligences upon them. So while it is okay to doubt that there is anyone else out there, it is heresy to say that ET’s are impossible.

    • Ted Seeber

      Note he was found guilty of PANTHEISM, not ATHEISM or worse yet, for the false idea that he was killed for his science.

  • Beadgirl

    Thank you, Mark Barnes! I encountered the comic in question yesterday, and got as far as the panel on Galileo before rolling my eyes and clicking away.

    • Beadgirl

      Thank you, Marc Barnes! I encountered the comic in question yesterday, and got as far as the panel on Galileo before rolling my eyes and clicking away.

      • Beadgirl

        Curses, I thought that was an edit function!

  • http://www.aNaturalPhilosophy.com Albert Forcier

    It seems to me that you suffer from an inferiority complex. It is not fun to be left holding the bag of generations upon generations of “mind washing”, finger pointing, dictatorial good and bad, do this, don’t do that, you’re going to hell … then, someone says: hey! that stuff is not real. And you go to the deep end. Sadly, it does not take much intelligence… to stop pretending… and to reflect. But it takes a tiny bit more.

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! The Argumentum ad Imaginary Psychological History. I neglected to include that in my menagerie of brain dead fallacies for padding the case for the new atheism. Are you *sure* you are are as massively Bright as you insist you are?

      Sadly, I have no generations of mind washing legalism in my personal history, nor any religion to speak of. The big discovery for me was when somebody said, “Hey! That stuff is real!” (something that I had never take seriously growing up) and, upon investigation, I found they were right (which happened in my adult years and involved preciously little Hellfire talk). You may have made the leap from Fundamentalist Christian to Fundamentalist Atheist, but some of us have no fundamentalism in our background. Project much?

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        You nailed it Mark! That dude could be one of my raised-pentacostal cousins.

        They reject the Faith, but they don’t ever really evidence a change of heart. Or habit of Mind.

    • http://stevenadunn.wordpress.com Steven Dunn

      You realize you’re a pretentious wanker, right?

  • Soft Batch

    With respect, Mark, I don’t think the author of the comic quite deserves to be lumped with “New/Internet Atheists” and receive the scorn that (however deserved) you heap upon them here. Before this I had never considered him as such. It’s the first comic by The Oatmeal (who I at times enjoy) to so directly attack religion. Not that I’m not disappointed in it. But, who knows, the author might read a response like Barnes’ and be drawn into a meaningful dialogue on the topic. I suspect the tone of your post (however truthful it is) would push him in the opposite direction.

    • Jmac

      Hell, I love the Oatmeal (met the author at the local Comic-con and got a book signed!) But that was some really shoddy work on his part, and he does deserve to get called out on it. And considering how many people fitting the profile of “non-intellectual internet atheist” came here to make fools out of themselves, it’s clearly not getting said enough.

    • Mark Shea

      Meh. I don’t much care about the tender feelings of an arrogant and incurious bully. When people are deaf, you shout. Besides, I’m not writing for his benefit, but for the benefit of people who might actually take seriously the claim that this lazy, incurious, arrogant and intellectually sloppy subculture actually presents a serious challenge to the Western theistic tradition. Sorry, but they need to be named for the intellectual embarrassments they are. There is an honorable case to be made for atheism. The problem is, I keep having to go to former atheists like John C. Wright and Leah Libresco to hear it. These people people make me thing of Chesterton’s remark that he put down the last of Col. Ingersoll’s lectures on atheism as a young agnostic and the dawning and dreadful thought broke across his mind, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

      • Soft Batch

        Fair enough, Mark. I mainly meant to point out, and will again, that before this point the Oatmeal was not known (to me) as a New Atheist. If someone has evidence of him posting atheist rants elsewhere, I will stand corrected. This being his “first offense” might mean he deserves slightly different treatment. Or not. I dunno. I don’t really have a problem with the content of your post.

        So why am I still talking about it? I’m a regular reader of your blog, and for some reason this post just rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was what I had for dinner. Maybe it’s because you’ve expressed regret for past words in three posts in the past week and my radar’s up. Probably I’m projecting. I’m not overly concerned about the Oatmeal’s feeling either. I would appreciate not being caricatured as wringing my hands over it. That would be nice. But that’s besides the point.

        I read Barnes’ post and enjoyed a “funny, patient” response to the comic, that didn’t seek to totally slam the author. I feel as if the author of the comic just *might* enter into a meaninful dialogue after reading it. I got no such feeling from your post, or the comments. Mainly what I got was the impression of a bunch of folks patting themselves on the back for putting the Oatmeal down so effectively. Again, I’m probably projecting, because in about 100% of cases when I feel the need to respond to an attack on my religion or position on some issue, I lay all sorts of truth on the attacker, but do so in such a way that insults him needlessly while feeding my ego. But since I’m not an alien, there’s a chance that the rest of the folks commenting here share my weakness. Maybe not. Maybe. And I think that’s what’s bothering me.

        Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. No disrespect intended. I enjoy the blog – keep up the good work!

    • Jay

      Are you kidding? The webcomic author comes across as an arrogant, nihilistic, and, yes, not very bright asshole. He absolutely deserves to be lumped together with “New Atheists.”

      I’ve known thoughtful atheists. Heck, I have an agnostic streak myself — there ARE powerful arguments for doubting the existence of God. “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” is not among them; it’s puerile. I reject “suffering exists” as having any force whatsoever against the existence of a good God because I reject the premise that suffering is inherently evil. It’s just short-sighted whining. These New/Internet Atheists are an absolute embarrassment to the actual intelligent atheists out there.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        In concern for you, name these powerful arguments. There are exactly 2, as Mark alludes earlier: The Problem of Evil (of which WDGHA? is a subset) and Neccessity (we can explain existence without God, and He is therefore unneccessary.)

        Neither of these are very powerful at all at an intellectual level. They certainly can have emotional appeal.

  • Jeff

    Wow, I like you Maggie Cole.

    I notice Mark Shea never does get around to actually engaging with the merits of your very interesting remarks.

    I love Mark Shea. He is a marvelous writer and a scathing critic and most of the time he is right.

    But he can’t take serious criticism and when one touches one of Shea’s sacred cows, he simply refuses to respond to the substance of one’s argument.

    Why can’t God heal amputees? is a clumsy form of the question, Why does it seem that God won’t perform jaw dropper miracles like REALLY moving mountains or healing amputees?

    Maybe 1000 years ago, God moved a small mountain in Burma. Maybe in the 1600s, God healed an amputee.

    We see lots of claims of miracles of a kind that sometimes DO seem to happen spontaneously. And there is a fair amount of evidence for them.

    We do seem to have people “coming back to life from the dead spontaneously. And we have miraculous resurrections too. We do seem to have spontaneous cures of “incurable” diseases. And we have miraculous cures of these too.

    We DO NOT seem to have any spontaneous regeneration of limbs. Not that are around and that we can see. And we ALSO do not seem to have any miraculous regeneration of limbs.

    This raises the reasonable suspicion that miraculous healing are really spontaneous healings. And thus not proof of divine intervention at all.

    I think that’s what’s at the root of it. And it’s a darned good question. It doesn’t deserve to be treated with dismissive contempt.

    It doesn’t deserve to be treated with dismissive contempt even if it’s raised with dismissive contempt in an imperfect form. Lots of atheists, agnostics, skeptics and doubters are going to be reading and noticing the hollow defensiveness and evasiveness in the answers. That will give some grounds for their regarding religious people as dishonest hucksters. Which is a shame.

    • Jeff

      sorry, Maggie Clark, not Cole.

    • Mark Shea

      The “answer” (such as it is) is what I have repeatedly pointed to, but nobody seems to be noticing. Every question such as “why doesn’t God heal amputees?”, “Why did my mother die?” “Why do I have cancer?” etc. boils down, in the end to this (Summa Theologiae I, ii, 3):

      Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

      All FNA has done is state this objection using the illustration of a severed leg. He could use a million other examples of evil. But they are, at bottom, ringing the changes on “Shit happens, so there’s no God.”

      Thomas’ reply to this objection is this:

      Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

      You may not like this reply, but it is a reply and does, in fact, point to the roots of the Christian tradition, which does not so much provide a “solution” (thin, watery word) the so-called “problem of evil” as it presents us with the mystery of God himnself, spiked to a cross like all the rest of suffering humanity and (as Thomas says he does) bringing good even out of evil. From this, I conclude by faith that the “answer” to why God does not heal amputees centers, as all human suffering does, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen. How that plays out in the real world is, I reckon, not something that is knowable apart from the mystery of Christ’s particular relationship with each person. The “reason” one person may be permitted to suffer amputation may have absolutely no bearing on why another person will be permitted the same fate. There’s no one size fits all “answer” because Jesus is not a solution to a syllogism but a living person who is here to transform all of existence, including our sufferings. The tradition regards that as a feature, not a bug. Precisely the point of the cross is that Jesus does not (and therefore we do not) come down from the cross that we may believe in him. Sometimes, to be sure, we are spared. So was Jesus on a number of occasions. But he was spared *so that* he could endure the cross and *through* that gain triumph. The Christian theology of suffering says, “What he has done, we will imitate.”

      I don’t like that any more than you do. It means I am facing a tragedy sooner or later. The only question is what form it will take, not whether I will have to face it. Amputation might be the form, who knows? But whatever it is, God will permit it for the same reason he permitted the cross: for our good and his glory. The scary part, of course, is that it remains possible, not to refuse the suffering, but to refuse the glory. Judas did. And Jesus didn’t, so far as we can tell, stop him. That’s the big mystery to me. Not the first death, but the second one, which I can stupidly choose if I like, such is the radical nature of my freedom. God shield me from it.

      I tell you all this, not because I was “evading” anything before, but because I was getting straight to the point: FNA had no more interest learning anything than the Pharisees who kept demanding signs when Jesus had already given them plenty. He didn’t want to listen so I could be bothered talking. You, in contrast, seem to actually be interested in trying to grapple with the Tradition. So I answered.

  • UK Catholic

    Mark, I’m a former atheist and this parody of “Why won’t God heal amputees?” pretty much demolished Marshall Brain’s whole thesis. It’s from a Protestant POV but I highly recommend it to you and others interested, though I’ll forewarn everybody that Mr. Holding has a very acerbic style (probably not too much of a problem for Shea readers)!

  • Nate

    The internet can provide people with amazing formatting options. It can take silly thoughts and make them look profound when they are placed inside the text box provided for them by their blogging host interface. For those who know a thing about graphics, like this Oatmeal fellow, they can use those techniques and internet options, and give their silly thoughts an amazing look.
    It’s like the bad student who writes a terrible, incomprehensible, grammatically atrocious paper, but writes it on expensive paper, and adds on a fancy title page, and places the paper in one of those plastic sleeves.
    Teachers in here know what I’m talking about.

    Eddie Izzard has this great bit on singing the national anthem. It doesn’t matter if you get the words right. Just sing it in a way that shows authority (forgive me the use of the (cross-dressing) impure source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwpuJoIvMyA).

    Same goes with these atheist guys. Their internet formatting does a lot to give their own ideas whatever authority they have. If this Oatmeal guy would have said these same things in, say, a classroom, instead of writing them on a blog post using cool graphics, well… he’d be laughed at.
    Because…really. Look at the arguments from this Oatmeal fellow. They are breathtakingly silly. So much so that I don’t even think he believes them himself. He *has* to be bluffing. Otherwise, he’s a seriously messed up dude.

    But! He puts his ideas down in a fancy interface, and has great command of graphics and computer wizardry. And all of a sudden…his ideas look pretty interesting!

    So Marc Barnes: he’s a smart guy, and a tenacious defender of the faith. I love him to death.
    But man.
    What have we come to that we even have to engage people like this Oatmeal fellow? Is that a fight that needs to be had? Sigh. Maybe it is. Maybe it is. Dunno.

    The internet is a strange place indeed.

  • Bill

    To me the hardcore atheist is the same as the snake handler. Literal fundamentalism taken to such an extreme degree that closed mindedness is the only thing conceivable, not just possible.
    The Fundie Atheists high-five each other more than any group on earth.
    Agnostics might be decried as the pussies of the religious world by both sides, just as bisexuals are often thought of as just libertines by both straights and gays, but I respect their honesty. And friendly, non proselytizing atheists are often great people. Any fundie, be it the Protestant, the Sedevacantist, or the Atheist is often just a jerk by nature. Their belief system requires it.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “And friendly, non proselytizing atheists are often great people. Any fundie … is often just a jerk by nature.” Hear, hear. Except that I don’t even think they have to be non-proselytizing. Good, intelligent conversation is the highest form of leisure (I’ll be charged with theft by M.J. Adler), and proselytizing can be that as well, in the sense that it’s a form of persuasive speech.

    • Jmac

      I sincerely wish people like you would dominate discussions like this.

    • Chris M

      Exactly. My best friend is an atheist. We discuss things like this all the time. We’re both often disgusted at the behavior of our co-believers/disbelievers.

  • Chris

    I read this this morning and went on with my day, wondering if Mark was maybe getting a little too “tense” with the atheists again. Then I came across this response to The Oatmeal’s comic and read most of the comments (because I work so hard, of course.) http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-catholic-reply-to-how-to-suck-at-your.html.

    THIS is the face of Internet atheism. It’s beyond appalling. Some of it is vile. It’s been a while since I waded through combox shenanigans, but if this is representative of what a growing segment of society thinks of us, we may have ourselves a little problem here. Since this is a combox, yes, I’ll go there: want to know what might have gone on in the head of a Nazi camp guard? This might be a bit like that. Maybe worse.

    • Mark Shea

      Yeah. I don’t lose a lot of sleep about the whole, “You were *testy* with a rude abrasive asshole! O the humanity” complaint when I point out that the face of Internet Atheism is, by and large, ugly as a stump, dumb as a post, and vicious as a rabid dog. Did that hurt an atheist bigot’s widdle feewings? Tough shit. You want to be respected as a Seriously Bright Intellect then grow and act like it. Don’t keep *telling* me how brilliant you are, show me. I have a number of atheist readers who are capable of it (I single out A Philosopher, Maggie, and Jeff for special commendation here). But when some jackass shows up in my box acting like those people I have no compunction about chucking them in the spam file and ignoring them like the Fundamentalist Boobs with Personality Disorders that they are. (Or, alternatively, leaving their post up for all to see and laugh at as a warning to future pretentious wankers.) If one’s special boast is one’s massively superior intellect and one’s highly evolved and more human ethos you’d better be damn sure you act like you have one.


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