Comment Policy

Comment Policy: Comments are allowed, but please keep them focused on the topic of the post you are commenting on. Comments and/or spam not pertaining to the subject of a particular post will most likely be deleted.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Benefits of Accepting Reality

For those of you unfamiliar with PragerU (and lucky SOBs you are if that's the case), it's a... ahem... "university," dedicated to "promoting knowledge and clarity on life's biggest and most interesting topics." Well, that'd be all well and good, if it was an actual university and not just some web-series promoting conservative Christian propaganda. The site's YouTube channel has produced a plethora of lol-inducing responses from others, which I highly recommend you spend an afternoon watching. Recently a friend of mine mentioned a new video they've posted, and no surprise at all it's as cringingly-bad as I expected.

This one is presented by a Prager regular; Peter Kreeft, a Catholic apologist who has previously argued that the reason God let's so much evil exist in the world is basically because "God knows better than we do." And in this video, Kreeft wants to argue not so much that God exists (which he's done before, and failed miserably), but that belief in God gives you a much better life. And to back this up he lists off a number of points which contrast a god-reality with a godless one. This of course is a pretty common tactic used by theists, which is to play on the emotions of others and make them want to believe in God because it will make them feel better. They also want to highlight how miserable our lives would be if there was no god in it. I get particularly annoyed at this tactic, since it's just a classic "appeal to emotion" fallacy that really should have no place in discussions like these. Even granting everything Kreeft says about a godless reality is true, that doesn't change whatever the nature of reality actually is. There's no reason for us to expect whatever the ultimate truth about reality turns out to be will make us happy. But that doesn't stop it from being the truth. And I'd rather live my life believing as many true things as possible, and disbelieving as many false things as possible. But what points does Kreeft make? And do they have any merit. Turns out, no. Here's the points he brings about how a god-filled reality is just so dang better than a godless one.

If God exists, the presence of evil makes sense.

Here Kreeft roles out the usual talk about why God allows evil to exist in the world; to allow us to exercise our free will. Setting aside the fact that it isn't even established that free will exists (a point even Christians can't seem to agree on), I've never heard any rational reason why allowing us free will in an evil world would be a better option than not allowing free will in a good world. What does it benefit us to exercise our free will if that means we're going to experience so much pain and suffering in the world? Personally, if having free will 
guarantees that others will suffer so much in this life, then I'd rather not have it. But Kreeft thinks the other benefit to this is that with the existence of God also comes the existence of real justice. As he says, "God will reconcile all injustices in the end." Except that on 
Christian theism, there is no guarantee that those who have committed truly horrible 
atrocities will pay any sort of price. Jesus himself says he'll forgive any sin as long as one repents and believes in him (except apostates; e.g. Mt 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 12:9-10). On theism, the atheist who's never harmed anyone in his/her life has a better chance of ending up in hell than the serial murderer who gives their life to Christ before they die. Does that sound like justice? 

Kreeft also says that if there's no God, "life is one big crapshoot." Not at all. If there's no God, life is what we make of it and can be happy in that knowledge. But Kreeft disagrees in his following points.

If God exists, morality is a real, objective fact about the world.

We then get the talk about how God serves as the basis for real objective morality, and that without God "morality is just the rules we make up for this little game of life that we play." As opposed to the rules God himself has made up for us to play in this life. Because by "objec-tive," what Kreeft really means is "the arbitrary whims of a subjective agent who is just making us do whatever he wants us to do." Christians have long had this problem pointed out to them before; that if morality is really grounded in God, then it follows that morality is just arbitrary and entirely non-objective. The standard response has become to simply say that God's actions and commands are good because he himself is good, in accordance 
with his nature. But the problem here is, how have we concluded his nature is good? Because at the end of the day, whatever judgements we make about the actions and nature of God are, by definition, our judgements. Whether God imbues morality through his commands or through us in some telepathic way, we're always the ones reaching the conclusions about what we think about it. As Hector Avalos has put it:
If one says something is moral because God says so, then this still renders us the judge of morality, for we are the ones making the judgement that "whatever God calls good is what shall be called good." Even if one says that God planted our sense of goodness in us, we must still judge that something God planted in us is good. There is no way to escape this circle. [Hector Avalos, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, p. 351]
Of course, it's entirely possible that people like Kreeft are not making a judgment at all about God's actions and commands. He could just be accepting of God's actions no matter what he does. If so, then I think Dr. Kreeft needs to stop saying he's following God's objective morality, and just acknowledge what he's really doing; he's just following God's commands. Not moral commands, just commands. He's just doing whatever God tells him to do. And there's nothing "objective" about that. And contrary to what Kreeft asserts about morality without God just reducing to "rules we make up," the fact of the matter is the absence of God changes nothing about the objective nature of the world we currently live in. There are objective facts about what hurts us, what's good for us, and what ultimately allows us to live better lives. And a morality based on that is entirely demonstrable and objective, as objective as something can get. (See the demonstration of this in Richard Carrier, "Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)," published in The End of Christianity, ed. John Loftus, pp. 333-58, 420-29.)

If God Exists, Love is the Nature of an Eternal Reality.

Kreeft's next point is a weird one; that the existence of God apparently makes the love we feel for others more meaningful, as opposed to a godless reality where "love is just a fleeting feeling," and that it's "no more than a bunch of chemical and neurological interactions." What we see here is another example of Christians committing what is known as the modo hoc fallacy; the idea that the material makeup of something matters more than the arrangement of said material. Even if there's nothing more to love than just neurological and chemical processes in our brains, why is that a bad thing? Kreeft never says, nor have I heard any other Christian explain why either. Whether caused by purely material phenomena, or caused by the existence of some kind supernatural woo inside me, the fact that I can love at all is a wonderful thing, regardless of whatever's the cause of it. 

Furthermore, there's no explanation on Kreeft's part about why God's existence makes love any more valuable. After all, nothing about God's supposed existence seems to keep people loving each other "eternally." People fall in and out of love all the time in this life. It very much can be a "fleeting feeling," even if God does exist. And even if they somehow still end up loving each other in an afterlife, there's nothing to guarantee they will even end up together. One may end up in heaven, and one may end up in hell

If God Exists, You are of Infinite Value.

This one could pretty much sum up Kreeft's entire video; our lives are utterly pointless and insignificant if there's no God. But with God, "he knows you, as a parent knows his child." Again, Kreeft never explains how God's existence gives our lives any meaning whatsoever. How does God existing give my life value? My life's valuable because God says so? So what? How does God saying that make it so? These are questions theists simply have no answers to. What exactly does it say about my value and worth that I apparently need such things ultimately bestowed upon me by someone else? The idea that I've gone out in life and given my life meaning and value matters so much more to me. The sense of accom-plishment I feel in the knowledge that I created my own meaning and purpose, rather than having it handed down to me by someone else, fills me with a real, actual sense of value. What meaning could my life possibly have if I did nothing to make more of it, even if a God said there was meaning to it? None that I can see.

For even Kreeft must accept that meaning and purpose must eventually reduce to whatever one makes of it. After all, Christians don't seem to have a problem with the notion that God himself had no creator, yet his life has value. In other words, there are no other gods around to bestow meaning and value upon God's life, so even his worth must ultimately be self-bestowed. But if God can find meaning and purpose without having it given to him by others, then so to can humans. 

Humans are not "as insignificant as a rock on an unknown planet." We are significant to each other, because we, as social animals, have evolved brains that care about other humans, which in turn is the result of observing that things work out better for us if we do care about the others around us. Even if we ultimately end up creating our meaning and value, nothing about that renders it any less fulfilling or significant. There may not be a meaning of life, but there is meaning in life.

If God Exists, Death is Conquered.

Here we get into the talk about how we will have life even after our bodies die, and that with God "there is a reality outside of space and time." Supposing that's true, there's still the question of exactly what the nature of that reality is. Because according to Christians, one half of that reality may be an eternal bliss, but the other half is perpetual torment and despair. And as we've seen, such torment could be given to those whose greatest crime is that they didn't believe that a dead Jewish man came back to life. It may be the case that "everyone [I] love" will be "consigned to oblivion." But I would much rather my loved ones simply stopped existing and experienced nothing than have them potentially be tortured for all of eternity in a lake of fire.

Still, according to Kreeft we should really like the idea of an afterlife, since if there isn't one then "there is nothing immortal" and therefore "life is pointless." First of all, it isn't even clear to me how important Christians think the duration of our lives is in regards to how much meaning our lives have. For example, even William Lane Craig has argued that even if we could live forever, our lives would still be pointless if God didn't exist (see William Lane Craig, On Guard, pp. 32-33). For him, it seems that any value we might have ultimately rests on God's existence. Of course, like Kreeft, Craig never justifies how God's existence 
gives us any sort of ultimate meaning. 

The error committed by Kreeft is the assumption that life having only finite significance 
equates to life having no significance whatsoever. For him, it's either all or nothing. Either life has eternal significance, or it has none. There's no middle-ground. This is about as black-and-white thinking as one can get. Yes, it may be true that my life will eventually come to a permanent end, and that I will no longer exist in any relevant way. And sure, I'd love for me and my loved ones to live longer (other atheists have said as much; e.g. David 
Silverman, Fighting God, p. 1). It's a bummer that I won't get to live longer. However, nothing about that fact diminishes the value of the life that I have now. If anything, that fact makes my life even more valuable, since I know it's so limited. Ever since I became an atheist, I've valued my life far more than when I believed in God. I'm grateful for every moment I have left on earth. Kreeft and others like him may want their lives to have eternal significance, but in doing so I think they take focus away from the lives they currently have, which is the one that we can be sure actually does exist. 

Why God Doesn't Give us Proof

All of this emotional appeal would ultimately be unnecessary if God made it plainly clear that he exists. But according to Kreeft, the reason God doesn't give us absolute proof of his existence is "so that we're free to choose or not to choose to believe in him." Um, excuse me? How does that make any sense? If the point is about believing that God exists, I don't see how that really comes down to a "choice." In other words, I don't see belief as 
necessarily a matter of choice. I believe what I believe based on whatever information I'm given, not what I want to be the case. If God hasn't provided me with the necessary 
information to allow me to infer his existence, then it's really the case that I can't help but lack a belief in him. My reason for not believing in God is the same reason anyone ever has for when they don't believe something; I don't have sufficient evidence to believe. If the information's not there, there's nothing I can do about it, and that would really be God's fault and no one else's. 

Furthermore, if the point is that God withholds proof of his existence so that we were free to choose whether or not to follow him (rather than just believe in his existence), then this is no better. After all, the only way it seems anyone can ever make a rational, fully-informed decision is to be, well, fully informed. And this would have nothing to do with restricting our choices in the matter. If God made himself and his wishes plainly clear to us, we could still choose not to follow him, but would at least be aware of all the relevant information in making a decision like that. So whichever way you slice it, our being free to choose to believe in God offers no sound reason for God's apparent refusal to give us absolute proof.

Kreeft asks us if we at least "hope there is a good God." And to that, I say sure. And as I've indicated earlier, other atheists would like that too (e.g. Silverman, Fighting God, p. 1; Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 253-55). But there is an important
distinction to make, and Kreeft himself may even know what that is. Note that he is careful to add the qualifier that a "good" god is what people hope for. Yes, if there existed a god who was truly good and was the sort of person worth worshiping, you'd get no objections from me. But there's no justification that whatever gods exist are even good in the first place. Certainly even Kreeft would admit that he wouldn't want to worship a god who was actually evil. Yet atheists have been making the case for years that that's exactly the sort of god Christians appear to be worshiping. The Old Testament God certainly appears that way. And even Jesus may not have been the pillar or morality and ethics that he's usually 
championed to be. So I would ask any Christian this: if it could be demonstrated that the god you believe in actually was evil, would you still want to continue following him?

You'll Lose Nothing, and Gain Everything

In what I can only call a last-ditch effort to sway the viewer, Kreeft throws out a Pascal's Wager-style appeal to the notion that there's no downside to acting as though God exists, since "you'll lose nothing, and you gain everything." Except that this isn't even remotely true. Kreeft tries to make the case that believers are "happier, live longer, and are more 
charitable," to which I can only respond: wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no support for the assertion that believers live their lives any better than nonbelievers. Likewise, there is support for the idea that religion, by its very nature, inherently produces violence by means of constantly keeping everyone fighting over whose religion is actually true. In that sense, we very much do have things to potentially lose. 

And to finish up his presentation, Kreeft asks all the unbelievers watching to "say the skeptic's prayer," so that God may enter their lives and make real believers out of them. Setting aside the fact that many atheists and agnostics already tried this when they were believers (and no god came answering; example, example, example, example), I've always found it odd why God would need anyone to ask him to make his presence known. Why should we have to pray to God to get him to come into our lives? Even if Kreeft wants to go the route of many Christians and just assume atheists are "hard-hearted" and aren't trying to reach out to God, why should that matter? Is my will so powerful that I can even block God out of my mind? Or if God just chooses not to make himself known because of us supposedly stubborn atheists, that just makes God so absurdly petty that it really says more about him than it does us. I simply go where the evidence takes me. If it ends up taking me to God, fine. But to date it never has. And if God has the ability to make himself known to me in a direct and obvious way, then that falls on him and no one else. I have no interest in receiving "the gift of faith," as Kreeft says we'll get from God, since I have no interest in basing my worldview on belief without evidence.

In conclusion, Kreeft's presentation amounts to little more than just a marketing ploy, 
advertising how great a life with God would be compared to a life without him. But as we've seen, there's a whole lot of fine-print Kreeft leaves out, showing that even a life with God is no guarantee of a good life. And as I've said already, any supposed benefits from a 
theistic worldview says nothing about the factual accuracy of that worldview. But I say not only is a purely naturalistic worldview more likely to be correct, it is also one that can be purposeful and rewarding, filled with meaning and joy. Once we work out what the nature of reality actually is, we can work to make that reality as joyous and purposeful as we want. No god needed. 

"Without God, are we nothing? Tell that to those millions of good people... It is true there is no purpose of life. Nor should we want there to be a purpose of life. If there is a purpose of life, that cheapens life. That makes us less.... If there is a god we are subservient in the universe. We are secondary. We are children. We are slaves. If there is a god, we are truly nothing." -Dan Barker

No comments:

Post a Comment