Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The World As Seen Through an Atheist's (Irreducibly Complex) Eyes


"The architect is a true visionary!"


"What a remarkable feat of engineering!"


"An awesome achievement of brilliant scientific minds!"


"Such intricate design is obviously the work of a very talented artist!"



"There is no God!"

10 comments:

Eric said...

Lee,

This was excellent!

It is amazing how far atheists will go into absurdity in order to believe that there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

Penn Tomassetti said...

Very powerful message using pictures. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Just because you don't have time to give valid explanations to things does not mean they do not have valid explanations. If you spent less time reading a bible and more time learning about the world you live in, you could start to understand some of these explanations.

Quintin said...

This is a great post!

Maybe if we spent more time analysing those images we would find that there is no architect, no painter, or even no moon!

@ anonymous:
You're very bold when you can hide behind anonymity. Revelation 21:8 - Cowards are the first in the fire.

Chris Wilde said...

A funny, incisive post...at least if you're preaching to the choir. I suspect a lot of "atheists" would actually say, though, that it's not that they know there is no god. Rather, they don't know of a particular god. Perhaps that's really agnosticism, and it's all a matter of semantics, but I think believers tend to attack a straw man when they imagine what an atheist must think. Just like atheists never seem to quite get what Christians think. Believers and atheists alike would probably find their arguments getting a whole lot more complicated than this if they really made some attempt at getting in each other's heads. For instance, in the case of this post, you would have to start accounting for the fact that human architects, engineers, scientists, and artists are all easily and definitively known without any need for blind faith, and having to presume the inerrancy of a particular sacred text before you even get started at understanding their work. Once you get over the "preach it brother" impulse, and really think about this post's comparisons, it's apples and oranges.

Lee Shelton IV said...

Forgive me, Anonymous, but rather than just assume your post appeared as a result of random chance, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that someone wrote it. Call it "blind faith" or whatever you want. That's just how I roll.

As to the content of your post, I think you atheists had better start coming up with explanations if you want to be taken seriously. For example, how did life begin in the first place? Science has already proven that spontaneous generation cannot happen, and that really is the only alternative to Creation. Perhaps you're the one who needs to spend time learning about the world in which you live.

Lee Shelton IV said...

Chris, while there is a difference between atheism and agnosticism, the essential arguments are the same. Both fail to acknowledge the God of the Bible or give glory where glory is due.

You may think this is an apples to oranges comparison (I prefer oranges, by the way), but I don't think so. Anyone who looks at a bridge or a painting knows immediately that someone created it. There is no question about it. We don't have to know the engineer or the artist to reach that conclusion. We may, however, want to learn more about them if we admire their handiwork.

Archaeologists do that all the time. When they discover an ancient ruins, for example, the are compelled to learn more about who lived there, what they did, and where they went.

I believe the same goes for creation. When we see the beauty and complexity found in nature, we should want to learn more about the who and why. And just as we can track down the architect of a particular building, I think the resources are there for us to learn about the Creator of the universe.

Chris Wilde said...

...the essential arguments are the same. Both fail to acknowledge the God of the Bible or give glory where glory is due.

I agree that the essential logical arguments are much the same, being based in empiricism. But, outside the confines of your own beliefs, what you say about refusal to glorify God is a non-sequitur. It's an example of how Christians, and the Bible they believe in, find it far easier to pass summary judgment on the unbeliever than to deal with genuine conscientious disagreement with Christianity's core assumptions. I don't get up in the morning thinking, "I'm going to refuse God again today, &@^# it!" Rather, what I refuse is to wear the blinders of logically unfounded and experientially and empirically unverifiable religious doctrine.

As for the rest of your response, you say nothing more than what you've already clearly implied: that the observation of our world causes wonder, and a desire to know more about how it came to be. That is hardly exclusive to Christians. You still make too easy of a comparison between the simple discovery of the identity of a human architect, vs. the verification of an invisible supernatural creator. And there are yet more aspects in which your pictorial analogy falls apart. For instance, each work of man you illustrate was an individual and easily-observable act of intelligent creation. We not only know WHO did it, we also know how, when, and what their intentions were. All comparatively straightforward conclusions. That's a lot easier than explaining the ancient cosmic origins of life and natural systems that are presently self-perpetuating; with no unique design process--and certainly no magical puff of smoke--every time a cell divides.

Atheism and agnosticism are not a refusal of wonder or desire for understanding. But, they are a refusal to use illogical methodology and religious shortcuts to expedient emotional comfort zones and tidy intellectual boxes with which to explain life's mysteries. Sadly, I have to simply disagree that there are sufficient resources available to us to know for certain that God exists, much less know anything in particular about Him, Her, or It. "General revelation" only gets one to an uncertain Deism. The logically-weak apologetics with which Christians try to defend their claims of "specific revelation" are only useful for after-the-fact rationalization of preconceived blind faith in a book. It's leap of faith that many thoughtful atheists and agnostics cannot follow in good conscience, no matter how you might ridicule them for their "foolishness".

Lee Shelton IV said...

Chris, would you agree that the atheist/agnostic does not get up in the morning thinking, "I'm going to glorify God today"? Would you agree that even acknowledging God isn't exactly high on his list of priorities? The issue may be a non-sequitur outside the confines of my own beliefs, but why would I venture outside the confines of my own beliefs? Why would anyone?

Truth is, no one does. Each person holds a particular worldview, and everything they experience is interpreted through that worldview. That is essentially the point behind posts like this. One way to get a point across is to demonstrate just how shaky a particular worldview really is. Atheists and agnostics do it to Christians all the time, saying that what we believe is based on irrational thought and blind faith in a fictional book. Those who may have at one time adhered to Christian beliefs didn't see those beliefs change until their worldview began to break down. It's not like they saw something appealing in atheism or agnosticism and said, "Man, I gotta have that!"

It's interesting that Christians are always seen as the ones ridiculing, passing judgment, or being just plain arrogant. Does that happen? Yes, but we can hardly be accused of cornering the market on such behavior. The implication we hear all the time is that we are idiots for having blind faith in some invisible fairy just so we can cope with life's hardships, and since misery loves company, we want as many people as possible to think the way we do. Even the most loving and generous of atheists/agnostics think that we're just plain ignorant and can't quite get a grip on reality.

I contend that Christianity is firmly rooted in reality, and that our faith is as grounded in empirical evidence as any claim made by atheists/agnostics. Consider the example of the Sistine Chapel in my post. If I were to claim that no one can know for sure who painted the ceiling, people would call me crazy. But why? After all, there is no definitive proof. No photographic evidence. No video footage. There are no living eyewitnesses to be interviewed. Yet I know for certain that Michelangelo painted it. How? For one thing, there are biographies about the artist, written by different people who lived around the same time. Therefore, based on what was written by eyewitnesses, I can claim with confidence that I believe Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- and no one would dare accuse me of having blind faith.

But isn't it interesting that when it comes to the Bible, we're suddenly expected to be "rational" and not make the mistake of thinking of it as a reliable source of information. Consider this: The Bible was written by about 40 different authors from vastly different backgrounds over the course of about 1,500 years, and yet remains internally consistent. When compared to other ancient writings, the manuscript evidence alone makes the Bible the most well-preserved literary work in all of history. The eyewitness accounts it contains were written during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. Hundreds of prophecies about Christ were fulfilled. Not a single archaeological or scientific discovery has disproved anything in the Bible. In fact, numerous discoveries (Hittite civilization, Dead Sea scrolls, Sumerian King List, House of David Inscription, King Sargon of Assyria, etc., etc., etc.) have only served to reinforce the Bible as a historically accurate document. You can say that we're using "illogical methodology and religious shortcuts to expedient emotional comfort zones and tidy intellectual boxes with which to explain life's mysteries," but I just don't see how much more reliable scripture could be.

Chris Wilde said...

Lee,

You have one point. You were indeed talking about "failing to give glory to God", and not "rejecting God". So, yes, as an act of omission, atheists and agnostics do "fail" to give glory to who you believe God to be.

One might find it necessary to venture outside the confines of their own beliefs when--just as you say in another paragraph--they find their worldview begins to break down. They realize that the beliefs they once held were held on the basis of false premises, mythology, fear, and just plain repetition of dogma over and over again (much of that being willful self-programming of the mind). I totally agree that there's nothing appealing about atheism and agnosticism that I just gotta have. They're just what's left when you find that personal appeal has nothing to do with truth.

Does nobody ever step outside the bounds of their worldview? I did. But it was hard! It was a very painful and fearful process. While I was in the midst of it, I feared for my eternal soul. It took a long time to get through this, as I tried to multiple times to revert back to the Bible, to prayer, to faith and devotion to God, out of desperation and despondency at the thought of living life without a knowable and knowing God. Ultimately, though, logic won out. Most people don't do this, and, in hindsight, I can see why. I think many--perhaps most--people can't. Many don't think clearly enough to begin with. Many more allow emotion and fear to get impede their clarity of thought. Of the people who do leave the Christian faith, many do so because of some traumatic life experience that "breaks" their faith in God, and the resulting worldview ends up being an equally emotion-driven thing. For that reason, there are not a lot of people who ever step from one worldview to another for relatively dispassionate reasons, but there are a few. I'm not saying whether any of that is good or bad, or whether my process of de-conversion should be a matter of pride, shame, or indifference. It just is what it is.

I don't believe Christians are judgmental, arrogant, and ignorant. I believe people are judgmental, arrogant, and ignorant. I believe that Christians are just people, and that Christianity does not help them be any less judgmental, arrogant, and ignorant than the rest of the world. Atheists and agnostics are also judgmental and arrogant, and, in that they willfully restrict what they "know" to that which they can empirically observe, they are as ignorant as the human race is ignorant. In the end, our pride in what we think we know and our derision of what we think others ignore has nothing to do with what actually is.

As for your comments on the reliability of the Bible, you're getting back to apples and oranges again. Yes, the Bible is a historical document, written by real people who lived through historical events and civilizations that can indeed be collaborated through other historical research. But the Bible's most important claims are not mere history. They are fantastic. They are supernatural. They are miraculous. They are hopeful. They are desirable. They are compelling. They are false. A beautiful myth is a myth nonetheless. Just the gospels by themselves make fantastic claims about a guy who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, performed miracles, and rose from the dead. In any other context outside Christian dogma, claims that remarkable bear a great burden of proof. In your example of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, we believe he painted it not just because of contemporary accounts that say he did so. We believe it because we find those accounts to be believable. It also helps that we can go to the Vatican and empirically see the result. If an account of Michelangelo claimed that as a baby he descended to earth in a cloud, painted with dyes given him by the angel Gabriel, and is resurrected as an anonymous graffiti artist, we would impose a considerable burden of proof on that account. There would be no "burden of disproof", because such claims would be too far into the realm of the fantastic to actually be disprovable.

So, logically, I can't maintain faith just because the Bible hasn't been "disproved" (though, actually, it's my opinion that there is sufficient scientific evidence to debunk several biblical claims, and that's at least enough knock it out of the running for inerrancy). You say the Bible is internally consistent, but, in fact, this very blog exists because it's not, and considerable effort is needed to make it seem so. Calvinists and Arminians spend an incredible amount of energy in first rationalizing a construct that makes the Bible seem "consistent" in their own eyes, then in trying to win over the opposition who somehow manages to see the same fundamental things with completely different eyes. The Bible is only consistent because you want to see it as so. The fulfillment of prophecy within the Bible is esoteric at best. At worst, prophecy from Hosea to Jack Van Impe is the haunt of some of the biggest crackpots in Judeo-Christian history. The most moderate thing I can say on that topic is that Christians accept a whole lot of things about what's "prophecy" and what's "fulfillment" in the Bible that just ain't necessarily so. Reading them for myself, I don't even find the messianic prophesies of Isaiah to be particularly conclusive, much less the eschatology that people drag out of Daniel and Revelation.

My faith left me because I was finally compelled to cut through the fear, emotion, and circular apologetics and see that nothing in observable Christian experience resembles the miraculous claims of the Bible. Though there exist some reasonable arguments for deism, nothing in the observable world gels with the fundamental things the Bible uniquely says about who God is or how He works. Christians think they are seeing and experiencing those things, but they're really not. They wishfully interpret naturally-occurring circumstances as acts of God. They wishfully interpret the thoughts and feelings they get from worship and devotion as the voice of God. When life works out in a way that fits serendipitously with Christian hope, that qualifies as a "miracle". When it doesn't, that's "sovereignty". In all my years as a Christian, and observing other Christians, I've found nothing that exceeds that dynamic. I've seen nothing that makes reliable the key claims of the Bible; claims that you must realize are fantastic and highly anomalous compared to run-of-the-mill historical documents.

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