The Answers that Atheists Hope No One Has? (Chapter 10/Final Chapter)

last time you have to look at this book cover, I promise
last time you have to look at this book cover, I promise

Introduction

Ten weeks ago when I began my review of Mark Mittelberg's The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) I didn't know what to expect. I went in blind buying the book on Kindle on a whim without knowing anything about the author or what sort of arguments he might make. The gimmick of the book is that it is meant to arm Christians with answers to some of the toughest questions Christians get asked by their non-Christian friends and family. I was hoping that I'd see something new, something clever, maybe even something somewhat convincing from Mark's book.

I've been involved in the God debate as atheist for six years and before that I was a pantheist and before that a Christian. I've seen a great many debates and heard a great deal of arguments from apologists. But I always hope I'm going to hear something new, something that makes me have to stop and think for a good long while before I can figure out what, if anything, might be flawed about the reasoning. Or I'd like to see some evidence – some piece of archaeology or science that might actually suggest something supernatural is out there.

Unfortunately what I got in Mark's book is much of the same tired shtick that other Evangelical apologists churn out. In this, the final hub of the series, I'm going to discuss some ways in which Mark might improve his chances with atheists or at least try to explain why the arguments Mark has made wouldn't stump any serious skeptic who'd done a bit of research.

I'm also going to huddle together with my fellow atheists and send them out to evangelize their atheism. Why? Because that's sort of what Mark does here in chapter ten. He recaps the gist of his arguments and throws in a few soft ball questions for his Christian audience to ask their non-believing friends. Just like with all the arguments he's made so far these questions are easily answered by someone with even a little bit of research under their belt.

Dear Mark

Fairly early on in your book Mark you suggest that most people who talk about contradictions or problems with the reliability of the Bible don't have any specific examples. Now I don't know the life experience of a professional apologist/evangelist so I'm not going to claim that you're lying. But I know that in my experience of talking to and associating with other atheists, both in real life and on the internet, that non-believers tend to have read the Bible and tend to know a lot about it especially those who engage in discussions about the subject with family and friends.

All I know is that if you send your fellow Christians out with an attitude like that they are doomed to fail quite a lot. They are going to run into a well read atheist who has dozens of contradictions and objections and end up flabbergasted. I know you can't delve into every possible contradiction because there are far too many to resolve them all but you might want to prepare your readers for the fact that there are intelligent unbelievers out there who know the Bible quite well. In fact there are many former believers, including former pastors and Bible scholars who used to be Christians as well such as Bart Ehrman.

Evolution

Your arguments against evolution are mostly red herrings. Suggesting that scientists need to figure out the origin of the Universe or the origin of the very first proto-cell before they can discover the many lines of evidence for evolution is absurd. It's like saying we have to discover where the moon came from before we can learn about the composition and nature of moon rocks. This is a fallacy known as a red herring because it is misleading and changes the subject.

Science doesn't need to have 100% of all the answers to everything to know some of the answers to some things, especially when we're dealing with something as well-established as evolution. We don't need to know the origins of the appendix before we do an appendectomy, we don't halt the surgery and go "time out, we don't even have an explanation for where this organ came from!"

The fact that science is still working on how the first lifeforms developed on the early Earth does not negate all of the multiple lines of empirical evidence that confirm the reality of biological evolution. I know science can be hard but it wouldn't kill you to learn more about these subjects before you talk about them.

As for anti-supernatural biases, nonsense, show some evidence of the supernatural intervening in biology. What demonstrable effect, that is detectable in the real natural world we live in, points to the inexplicable/supernatural? All you offered was arguments for ignorance (ie there is no explanation for this yet, maybe it's God). Maybe it is God, Mark, but science hasn't found any evidence of that yet and so you can't ask scientists and scientifically literate skeptics to accept something there is no empirical evidence for.


I Sympathize About the Da Vinci Code

Now I also know that you mentioned the Da Vinci code a few times. I know there's plenty of would-be conspiracy theorists who've probably bought into the hype surrounding Dan Brown's fictionalized version of things. On this point I totally sympathize with you.

The general public have a hard time telling the difference between sensationalized historical fiction and actual scholarship. But no serious critic of the Bible believes anything Dan Brown wrote in his books, as annoying as it may be that some people were fooled by it.

The First Cause Unpacked Briefly

As for your arguments for the existence of God they are not very good in my opinion. They are the same tired warhorses that Christian apologists and even Muslim Apologists trot out. None of the arguments gets us to a God but even if they did they would only suggest a vague deism or even a multitude of designers rather than one single one – or even a Simulated Universe.

Take the First Cause argument. If I grant you the entire argument and accept that there must be an uncaused cause why should I assume that this uncaused cause is alive? You make the claim that there was nothing prior to the Big Bang, that creation was ex nihilo, but if there was nothing how does it make sense for something to be alive within that nothingness? If there is something than there wasn't nothing, but this thing is somehow ALIVE outside of time and space?

Such a thing would violate every known definition of the word LIFE that we have. If you want us to change the definition of life we need a reason why other than special pleading. God can't simply break all the rules just because he's God, that's special pleading, and the First Cause argument doesn't prove a living being created the Universe. The same thing applies for all of the attributes of God. How can there be power when there isn't time or anything to exert power upon? How can there be benevolence when God is the only living thing? How can there be knowledge when there is nothing yet to be known? How can this being even have a thought when thoughts require the passage of time?

Occam's Razor allows us to trim way all of these unnecessary assumptions that only come into play when we introduce the modern monotheistic version of God until all we have is that there must have been some uncaused First Cause. That's all that argument can prove if I grant it as legitimate.

I recommend trying to come up with something new, something clever. There are probably a dozen different ways that I've seen atheists take down each of these arguments, pulling them apart and showing the moving parts that apologists use to work backward from their forgone conclusion.

And it's Outside of Time and Space?

The Problem of Evil

You did little to try to reconcile the Problem of Evil. It's a logical conundrum that you simply told your readers they would have to learn to live with. Here is a formulation of how the logical argument works:

You Didn't Address This

Moral Systems

I would also ask that you learn more about secular moral systems and the fact that while they cannot be absolute they can be objective in relation to certain facts about human well-being. That is to say we know enough about human well-being to know some things are objectively harmful while others are beneficial and we can use this as an objective baseline with which to move our moral systems forward.

Combining these objective facts with natural empathy (a product of human evolution) and reason (ditto) we can actually have a moral system that IMPROVES. An absolute moral system handed down from an authority that does not change can never approve or be questioned.

The Problem of Evil for Atheists?

Absolute moral systems cannot improve, but human morality can
Absolute moral systems cannot improve, but human morality can

Abortion

While I disagree with your beliefs regarding abortion it is a tough issue, far from black and white. The difference between us is that I see abortion as the lesser of the two evils. I don't want the government to be standing over the shoulder of pregnant women forcing them to carry all pregnancies to term from the moment of conception - maybe that's a libertarian streak in me to want to limit the power of the government over women's bodies.

I would also caution you from talking about the fetal stages of development. I assume that you think mentioning these strengthens your case, actually it shows how woefully incomplete a fetus is until it reaches viability, slowly adding features until it can finally survive outside the womb.

Homosexuality and Hypocrisy

Naturally I don't agree with your stance on homosexuality but I do appreciate that you reinforce Jesus' commandments to love everyone and pointed out that in your view homosexuality is a sin like any other and shouldn't be singled out by Christians.

I don't think what consenting adults of the same sex do in the privacy of their own relationships need be intruded upon anymore than what shenanigans straight couples get up to. This idea that a God who can create stellar nebulae and forge elements in the hearts of stars would care about where someone's penis goes seems utterly asinine. I would say live and let live, but something tells me Jesus vetoed that somewhere in the Bible.

As for hypocrisy, as you point out, most people and Jesus are on the same page. Unfortunately there are many things that Jesus and I do not see eye to eye on, the most obvious one being that Jesus was clearly a believer in the Jewish God and I am not. I find nothing redeeming or loving about the character of this God, although the Bible contains some fun stories, occasional good morals, and some lovely poetry I don't find it's main character at all compelling nor do I see any reason to assume he even exists.

This is one of my quotes

Hell Hath No Fury At All

Doubt is Not the Enemy

Before you send out your Christian brothers and sisters to evangelize I recommend looking at arguments from people like Robert M Price and Richard Carrier both of whom contend that Jesus may have never even existed. I don't personally buy into their views but you are an apologist, you have to prepare yourself and your people for everything. Mythicism is a growing movement, even if I don't find the arguments convincing they are definitely worth a look.

At the tail end of the book you suggest that atheists too have a burden of proof but this is only true of those who outright say, “there is no God” rather than those who merely say, “I don't believe in God”. The burden of proof works according to whoever is making the positive claim. In your example about a holocaust denier the denier has the burden because he is making a positive claim that it didn't happen. If I say, “I don't believe in God” that doesn't mean the same thing as, “God doesn't exist”. If I say, “I don't believe the Noah's Flood story” that doesn't mean the same thing as, “Noah's Flood never happened”.

Disbelief is not equal to a positive claim that a thing doesn't exist. Only when an atheist says, “there is no God” or “God doesn't exist” or “There never was a Jesus” and makes a positive claim, can the burden of proof be shifted – NOT BEFORE.

And lastly, as a former Christian, I would just say that doubt is not the enemy. Doubt is the first step on a journey toward the truth, and the truth is a conclusion only ever tentatively accepted, always ready to be displaced when new information is found that can be vetted. I know your livelihood, family and, as you see it, your immortal soul are wrapped up in Christianity but I recommend you research the atheist positions more thoroughly. If anything it will give you a better understanding of where atheists and non-Christians are coming from and allow you to prepare your Christian audience better.

Dear Atheists and Skeptics

To my fellow atheists. Never stop searching for the truth. Always ask yourself if you might be wrong whatever it is you that you accept. Always treat a claim you desire to be true with extra skepticism. Research. Research. Research. And don't be afraid to read the Bible and try to know it better than the average Christian does.

Try to attack the beliefs, not the believer. Most atheists used to be believers of one stripe or another. We're not any more or less intelligent than believers are we've just had experiences or thoughts or information that have led to a different position on the question of God. Elitism or pretending we're better than someone else doesn't get us anywhere.

Religion is a many pronged beast and at its heart are beliefs in the supernatural - beliefs that have yet to meet their burden of proof. Skepticism means that we line up our beliefs and what we claim to know as best we can with objective facts about reality. That is to say that we base our beliefs on the empirical evidence at hand and not on speculation, bad assumptions or unproven/faith-based claims. The supernatural must present some empirical evidence, if the supernatural does not manifest in natural reality than it is indistinguishable from the imaginary and potentially incoherent as a concept.

There is nothing to fear from studying religion and religious arguments and doing research into the Bible is important. What does it say? When was it written? By whom (if known)? Why do scholars hold a particular view about a particular portion of it? And so on and so forth. As I said above – Research. Research. Research.

And lastly, we can't win em all. Not everyone is going to become a skeptic and try to base their beliefs on logic and evidence – and sometimes we have to be okay with that.

Religion has a great deal of control over people, especially religions that threaten people with horrifying punishments like being burned alive and especially when these horrifying punishments are taught to children as the righteous consequences they deserve for being born wicked. Those sorts of beliefs systems, such as certain brands of Islam and Christianity that stress Hell, are anti-human at their cores striving to create obedient minds that cannot break away no matter how legitimate their emotional or intellectual doubts.

Religion both offers (false) hope and often times offer threats and both of these make doubting difficult for believers. We have to be patient with people. Often times believers who become agnostics or atheists or just more open-minded theists have to think their way out of it. Give them food for thought and even if they are angry or just upset what you said might sink in later.

Conclusion

We can't win em all but we are winning, slowly but surely those identifying as non-religious, as agnostics and atheists, are going up. Firebrand atheism, that is unapologetic and open atheism, is important. We can change the world for the better, not by making atheism bigger, but by making people THINK. Making them more critical of their beliefs, opening their mind to possibilities they never considered and getting them to consider leaving fundamentalist dogmas by the wayside. Making people think is always a good thing!

I'd like to thank Mark Mittelberg and Tyndale House Publishers for giving me this 10 week opportunity to think by deconstructing this book one chapter at a time (all rights belong to them, excerpts are used under Fair Use). And I'd like to thank anyone that stuck in there with me until the end, including this rambling half-assed, tacked on, ending. I hope you'll come back next Friday when I hope to be reviewing a movie!

More by this Author


Comments 4 comments

rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 8 months ago from Irvine

Job well done. It was a thankless mission (for the most part, I suppose) but one that had to be undertaken. We have our minor differences of opinion, but not so many as a few. While reading your deconstruction of Mark Mittelberg's book, I was forced to focus on the quandary in general and the outright antagonism between believers and atheists. This led me to write a fairly short Hub titled "Believers vs. Atheists -- An Appeasement." I make a proposition in the Hub that you may find entertaining. Self-promotion aside, I enjoyed reading this series and look forward to your next endeavor -- wherever that may go.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

I'm wondering if refuting illogical beliefs is worth it. People just don't want to give up their childhood indoctrination. I'm wondering if we ought to just keep presenting facts and logic that lead to new beliefs. Retrain the mind with new beliefs.

People tend to repeat what they learn, even when what they learned is completely wrong. I think we just need to keep introducing new beliefs and logic.

At least that is what i am going to try.

Good job on this series. At least it makes some people think!


Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 8 months ago from Michigan, USA

I must admit, I haven't read every paragraph in this series. In my busy life, I tend to start skimming after a thousand words or so (which is why I try to set that limit for my own hubs). But I believe I've got the jist of what both you and Mr. Mittelberg have to say on the subject.

If there's any fundamental lesson we can take away from this book, I'd say it's the insularity these sort of questions reveal. I still continue to be amazed by the sort of arguments I encounter from believers who genuinely appear to believe that what they're presenting is unique, logical or ultimately devastating to the atheist point of view (when it's usually something the atheist has already heard so many times he could dismantle it, flaw by flaw, practically in his sleep).

It's almost as if they've never interacted with an actual atheist. In the final analysis, I don't know if this is our fault (for not being proactive enough) or their fault, for living in an echo chamber where each and every argument -- no matter how inane or inaccurate -- is reinforced and regurgitated. Perhaps it's a little of both.

But then, that's why I appreciate forums like HubPages so much, because we CAN genuinely interact with each other -- atheist and believer -- and hopefully both learn something!


Galaxy-Gal profile image

Galaxy-Gal 8 months ago from The Universe

Nice post. You have a solid, analytical mind and I like your posts.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working