Recently the Babylon Bee (a Christian satirical website) ran a piece ridiculing atheists and their insistence on evidence for God’s existence. The headline reads, “Local Atheist Demands Evidence For God, Besides Entire Universe.” This fictional atheist (Tommy Peterson) is described as re-reading Harris’ Letter To A Christian Nation “religiously,” and is newsworthy because of a recent Facebook post in which he wants someone to show him proof of God’s existence “besides all the material things that could not have existed without an ultimate cause.” Tommy wants his friends to simply “point to one
thing…that proves there is a Creator, without talking about creation at all.” Apparently, Peterson’s summons had gone unchallenged and was “still standing” at the time of publishing. Thus ends the satirical narration.
Normally one could simply let satire be satire and not take it too seriously. Critiques of a satirical piece are often rebutted by saying, “It’s just satire. Lighten up!” But satire does have a serious point underneath the layers of mockery and exaggeration — as Merriam-Webster defines the genre: satire is a “literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.” The point of a satirical piece is to ridicule perceived vices found in the target. In this particular piece on the Bee, the target is a local atheist (Tom Peterson), and his supposed vices seem to be 1) demanding evidence to substantiate a claim about reality, and 2) a blindness to the self-evident fact of God’s existence. There are apparently “millions of blatantly obvious pieces of evidence… all around us.” If Tom Peterson is to become a virtuous person, this piece suggests he should repent of his desire for evidence, and (somehow) open his eyes to the blatant truth that is all around him.
The supposed evidence that Mr. Peterson is apparently blinded to is a version of the Cosmological Argument. It usually goes something like this:
- The Universe began to exist at the Big Bang (or some time in the past).
- Something apart from the universe caused this.
- Therefore, a creator (or first cause) exists.
There is a twofold response that can be made to this argument: First, it is an argument from ignorance. We know that the universe exists, and we assume everything that began to exist was brought into existence by something other than itself, therefore (insert the apologist’s preferred deity) is the cause. It’s that last move that is unwarranted — just because the universe was caused by something outside of itself does not mean the cause automatically equals whatever deity you want to plug in. And saying that it does is to make a fallacious argument from ignorance. We simply don’t know what brought the universe into existence, and to say that it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that did it would require a whole other batch of evidence. Second, even if we grant the conclusion, we quickly fall into what is called an infinite regress; if the universe’s existence requires explanation, why can’t we turn around and require an explanation of the creator? What special characteristics does this creator have that would preclude it from needing an explanation of its own existence, and what arguments are there to support such a claim? As Stephen Hawking puts it: “there are turtles all the way down.”
This bit of satire not only rests on the faulty Cosmological Argument, but insults atheists as being blind for not accepting it. What would the authors of this piece have atheists do? Stop demanding evidence? Stop applying reason and logical analysis to claims the religious people around us make? Satire is one of the oldest and most useful forms of communication, but it should be used to attack actual vices and follies. Requiring evidence in support of claims about reality is not a vice — it is one of the supreme virtues. And atheists who demand evidence are not blinded idiots — they are people with their eyes wide open, ready to accept claims about reality as true if that’s where the evidence leads.