Shane Hayes’ Questions We Can’t Escape

Shane Hayes’ Questions We Can’t Escape October 4, 2014

Hi and welcome back. Today we’re going to return to Shane Hayes’ new apologetics book, The End of Unbelief, as we examine what he thinks are inescapable questions–and demonstrate that they’re pretty escapable after all.

It’s important to note that he phrases these questions in terms of them being humanity’s inescapable questions, when in reality they are simply his. We see this sort of projection often among Christians, especially the sort who like to make truth claims. If you recall that famous Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate from earlier this year, we saw 22 Creationists asking questions they all thought were equally inescapable–and you will recall that every one of those questions was either irrelevant, fully answered already by humanity, or else simply trying to shame and terrorize those who hold to reality rather than mythology for their scientific answers.

Unfortunately, Shane Hayes’ questions in his first chapter are along those lines. Here are the questions he thinks “keep coming at us,” and I am mostly paraphrasing here:

1. Is “supernatural help available or not” to humans?

2. Do we really die utterly or is there an afterlife?

3. OMG WHAT IF CHRISTIANITY REALLY IS TRUE YOU GUIZE AND HELL EXISTS?

He also asserts that (emphasis his) “if there is a god, that reality makes a huge difference in the character of the universe and of human life.” So we can add that to the list of things he thinks are inescapable.

So let’s run through these right quick.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) ...
The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch. Oil on wood triptych, 220 cm x 389 cm, now in the Museo del Prado. High-resolution version from The Prado in Google Earth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Prove it.

1. There’s no evidence suggesting that supernatural help exists. It’s on him, if he is making the claim that it does, to demonstrate in a credible manner that it does. He might as well ask if unicorns bless people or not. It’s not an inescapable question–just a long-running one. The idea of supernatural help has been a comfort to ignorant people since our earliest existence as a species. But that doesn’t mean there is such help. Studies repeatedly show that prayer doesn’t do jack. No miracle has ever been demonstrated to have really happened. Speaking in tongues isn’t real languages. Divine prophecies only come true if they were going to anyway. There is absolutely no proof whatsoever that a supernatural realm even exists, much less that it is inhabited by sentient beings, much less that those beings can even communicate with us, much less that they can interfere with our reality in any way. So he’s got a big long chain of questions he has to answer before he even gets into the question of whether or not “supernatural help” exists for believers.

Then of course we have to wonder why his god’s such a jackass that he still lets people suffer even though he could help them, but before we even worry ourselves overmuch about that moral problem he’s got to demonstrate that all that other stuff is real. (We’re not even getting into why this god can’t help non-believers–isn’t he supposed to be kind of powerful? Is he really that kind of jerk? And I have often heard Christians tell me that their god is meddling with me and influencing me even though I’m decidedly not Christian. I’d be curious about why Shane Hayes thinks that this help he thinks his god provides is only available to believers.)

English: Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Pas...
English: Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Passaic, New Jersey Edited version of Image:PurportedUFO NewJersey 1952 07 31.gif. By Bach01. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). PROOF PROOF PROOF!

2. As Louis CK has said: Actually a lot of things happen when you die. It’s just that none of them include you. Given the vast number of afterlife fantasies in the human experience, given the vast variety in those afterlife myths, given the sheer number of them all, it is simply amazing that not a single one of those myths and fantasies has been demonstrated to be credible. He has a lot to explain and demonstrate before he even gets to the afterlife, though. He’s making a distinction here between mind and body, which many people of faith do as well. He thinks that when the body dies, some part of it continues on after death–this part which you might term a soul.

But nobody’s ever even demonstrated that there’s some part of our consciousness that operates entirely independently of our brains and bodies. There’s not a single facet of human personality that can’t change in a heartbeat when organic damage occurs to our bodies. Heck, there’s not even a single facet of human perception that can’t be destroyed by such damage. The scientific literature is replete with folks who “mistake their wife for a hat” and the like; our ability to recognize faces, to differentiate our hand from the glove atop it and the keyboard below it, to remember names and events, it all depends on the smooth functioning of our physical brain. So for me to waste time wondering about the afterlife, I’d need to know first that a supernatural realm existed, and that secondly people could actually go there. Then we could talk about just what part of a human being continues to exist after death–and how. If he can’t demonstrate those things, then I’m under no obligation to give him my attention any more than I am to any other kook talking about UFOs building the Pyramids.

3. Simple fearmongering. He’s playing upon human fears of the unknown here and making another veiled threat to dissenters for their recalcitrant disobedience. Again, he hasn’t actually given any reason to think that our existence can continue after death or that there’s another supernatural world beyond this world or that people can go there after they die. We can dismiss this question entirely–except to say shame on Shane Hayes for trying this sad, tired tactic in lieu of providing evidence for his claims.

Worst of all, most ex-Christians and atheists have at one time been Christians, and we know exactly how hollow this “supernatural help” is that he thinks is sooooooo amazing and helpful. I’ve got friends with lifelong chronic conditions that put them into enormous pain–who prayed and prayed for healing, using the promises in the Bible, claiming their answers in victory, and who got nothing. I know people who skipped doctor visits because they thought Jesus would heal them. I’ve seen dear friends and sometimes even family–and sometimes even me, when I was Christian–do ridiculously self-sabotaging things because they were sure that a deity was watching out for them and wouldn’t let them fail or fall. And of course I watched my own very Christian mother waste away and die a miserable, terrifying, pain-filled, hideous death from a gruesome disease. If this god really is providing help to anybody, then I’ve got to ask who exactly, and why, and moreover: exactly how come the people who got that help got it when these others did not.

So these questions don’t sound very inescapable to me. To him, maybe. But not to me. Not to belabor the point, but he could have written these “inescapable questions” about unicorns and it would have made just as much sense and had just as much justification.

To Shane Hayes, it seems, his god is an ATM and his ticket out of this dump. It’s the angle he uses to get one up on non-believers. As he himself writes in chapter 1 of his book, “If supernatural help is available only to those who reach out for it in faith, (atheists) won’t get that help.” Not that he ever demonstrates that Christians will either, but we’re meant to ignore that part, I suspect. He goes on to claim, equally without evidence, a bunch of other benefits that believers will get that non-believers will not. We’ll run through that list here too:

* The happiness of feeling as if a deity were present in one’s life.

* Comfort when considering the utter annihilation of death–our own and those of people we love.

* Future hardship in the afterlife if we childishly refuse to consciously, deliberately choose the “lush Capri” of belief.

I read that list and all I hear is a guy shouting DAMN IT WHY WON’T YOU BELIEVE WHY WHY WHY WHY??? And I can understand why he’d sound a little frustrated–if that list actually reflected reality instead of a feel-good emotional experience that is neither assured nor guaranteed to all believers.

If you read the preview I linked up there at the start of this post, I’m sure you’ll immediately notice, as I did, that not a single one of these assertions is accompanied by proof. They’re just false euphoria, and if he himself gets an emotional high out of imagining that he’s got an invisible friend walking beside him all the time and that he’ll see and hug his mother again one day if he tries really hard to behave himself and think just the right things and none of the wrong things, then I guess that’s fine; that’s what gets him through his days. But the really inescapable truth here is one he never really tries to engage:

Lots of people who used to be Christian could have easily told him, if he’d just listened, that Christianity did not in fact give us a magical leg up on anything. It did not give us any material help at all or some kind of help out of trouble or disasters. The wishy-washy emotional stuff he sees as a “radiant” benefit to belief was simply a euphoric high without any real impact on our situations–and even that was denied us for the most part.

Like most rational folks, when I need help, I find it in the real world, using real tools and techniques to get what I need. Christians do it to, to a great extent. Just as societies tend to get less religious as they grow more secure and prosperous, people tend to move away from the flippy-dippy, squint-and-maybe-then-you’ll-see-the-sailboat-in-the-Magic-Eye-picture imaginary help that religion offers as they find stability and security that actually is real. When I’m sick, I have health insurance so I can go to a doctor without bankrupting myself; I don’t need to pray for healing. But a very poor person who can’t afford that same medical help may well pray–at least it’s something, they’d think. Same for society. People cling to whatever they think can help them–and if there is absolutely nothing else, they’ll settle for imaginary help over having no help at all. What’s really sad is when people who have a real choice to obtain actual help rely on imaginary help, but most folks don’t go that route.

A false hope is still false. That intermittent euphoria wears off. And when it does and we realize just what a false illusion we held dear, we’re left with the incredible barbarity, misogyny, unfairness, and immorality of the Christian religion, staring stonily at us through the dissipating dust of hope and wishful thinking. Shane Hayes doesn’t seem to engage much with that end of it. Everybody else and all those moral quandaries can just bugger right off, because he feels good being a believer. Isn’t that convenient. For him and the clock.

The really awesomely hilarious part of his “inescapable questions” schtick is that he goes on to insinuate the standard Pascal’s Wager threat with considerable obvious smugness: “atheists have decided that there is no supernatural help and death ends all. Fine, but that belief has consequences.”

Does it? Is he sure? How does he know that? Can he prove that it does, making his threats at least credible although rather hateful?

No, he can’t prove anything he’s asserted. Not at all. Not even a little. He just really hopes it’s true and would like to think that it’s true–and because he’s conveniently either not seen evidence refuting his claims or else has turned his face away from it, it makes sense to him to believe this way. And he feels perfectly free to hint at threats to non-believers on behalf of his imaginary friend–which doesn’t strike me as loving. “Fine?” He’s “fine” with people facing “consequences” at the hand of his loving, Capri-island god? Because that kind of insouciance makes him sound kind of, um, sociopathic–and that goes double for his god. I’m not “fine” with people getting hurt and tortured just for believing the wrong things. I’ll never be “fine” with that. I’m too moral to just shrug that barbarity away or blame people who are trying their best to live good lives and believe only true things for the trouble Shane Hayes hints is coming their way for doing so.

And is he sure atheists have actually decided anything?

Because from where I’m sitting, atheism looks less like a decision and more like a conclusion.

Because Shane Hayes doesn’t understand that basic distinction in terminology, because everything he’s saying is based on this idea he has of belief being just a choice someone can just make rather than a conclusion drawn from either wishful thinking or what we believe is credible evidence, the whole rest of his argument falls flat.

The funny thing is that I think he’s absolutely correct, 100%, in asserting that if a god exists fitting the description he imagines, then its reality really should show up somewhere in our universe. We’d be able to tell that this being exists. I completely agree. The tragic thing though is that he doesn’t follow that assertion up by wondering why not a single hint of that being’s existence seems even whispered by anything in our entire cosmos. Our universe doesn’t require a god. Not a bit of it needs divine intervention to run. It operates by laws we can test and measure, and nothing we’ve ever tested or measured indicates the existence of a supernatural realm owned and operated by a hugely powerful sentience that cares very very much if the animated specks on a tiny rock of a planet on the outskirts of a disreputable galactic neighborhood adequately mouth platitudes at him and passionately kowtow to him. For a being who can meddle that definitively in this world and in people’s lives, for a being whose source material makes him sound like the world’s biggest bully, showoff, and grandstander, this god got very coy somewhere along the line.

So… Shane Hayes tried to shift burden of proof, issued vague wheedling threats, played on humankind’s biggest fears, made up lots of straw atheists to tear apart, didn’t actually demonstrate why his argument leads logically only to Christianity and not to some other religion, and totally avoided showing actual evidence for his claims. I’m really not sure why he thinks his book constitutes “a new approach to the question of God.” Anyone could see that exact strategy in action on any Christian bulletin-board forum in the English-speaking world.


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