Even More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think . . .


The other day I posted a response to an article written by John W. Loftus, the author of several books on atheism and the incendiary blog Debunking Christianity.  To my surprise, he was very quick to reply to my post, leaving several comments, and eventually writing a full length response on his blog entitled More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think.  The evidence, of course, being me.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to participate in a meaningful dialog with someone he disagrees with.  My hope is that, through this conversation, John and I (as well as our readers) might develop a better understanding of our respective positions.  So, with that in mind, the following is  my response . . .

To begin with, I noticed that Mr. Loftus, neither in his original comments nor his blog post, addressed my concluding paragraph which reads as follows:

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.”

I would be interested to hear why Mr. Loftus finds creaturely pain and suffering morally appalling.  More precisely, I’d like to know if he believes pain and suffering are intrinsic or objective evils?  If so, I’d like to understand how, on Atheism, he justifies this belief?  As of now, he has failed to comment on this rather important piece of the puzzle.

I argued that Christians, unlike Atheists, have a reason to believe death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and the restoration of all things.  I’d like to take a moment to expound upon this.  It is because Christians believe human beings are made in the image and likeness of God that we are justified in our belief that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It is because Christians believe everything which has being (or existence) is good, in virtue of the fact that God made it, that we have grounds for believing that movement towards non-existence or non-being (i.e. physical death) is a great evil.  It is precisely because Christians believe  in the resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, that Christians have hope.  Sadly, none of this can be said for the Atheist.

If God is dead, then human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  The pain and suffering we regularly experience is normal and amoral.  The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (that is because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics).  Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.

Do you get this?  Mr. Loftus claims I, and all Christians, “dismiss the pain and death of millions,” while touting a worldview which ultimately teaches us that the pain and death of millions is a normal, amoral, meaningless, physical event and that human life is not intrinsically valuable.

Mr. Loftus states that, “Christians just do not care that people die when their faith is at stake,” but I wonder why it is that he cares that people die?  I care because people are inherently valuable (being made in the image of God), and were made to exist and flourish.  Death, therefore, is a terrible evil.  He cares because . . . well, I’m hoping he’ll tell me why.

Now, there are a host of other interesting things in his article we could talk about.  For instance, Mr. Loftus seems to have a limited view of the atonement–assuming that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the only valid interpretation.  Accordingly, he fails to understand why the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are so important in this discussion.  At present, however, I think it best to focus on the above topic.  Before we can move any further in this conversation, we need to understand why, on Atheism, anyone should be concerned about the pain, suffering, and death of others?

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12 thoughts on “Even More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think . . .

  1. “I would be interested to hear why Mr. Loftus finds creaturely pain and suffering morally appalling.”

    Empathy.

    We can’t control that we have empathy. It seems to be a trait of most social mammals, and we got a big dose. What it means is that we can recognize pain in others (most of us can do this) and relate that pain to something close we may have felt ourselves.

    If one could not do that, I would see no reason to view the pain and suffering of others to be particularly appalling. Our inability to understand if certain other animals experience pain and suffering the same way we do is part of the reason we’re relatively comfortable with slaughtering some for food. (I’m a proud meat-eater, btw.))

    But the simple fact that we can relate to other people on an emotional level has led most of us to feel sympathy towards the pain of others, which is the reasoning (I think, anyway) behind finding pain and suffering morally abhorrent. Is that ‘totally subjective’? I don’t know. It might be. Whether it is or isn’t, it still seems like a good idea.

    “If God is dead, then human beings are meaningless”

    Meaningless to whom?

    You seem to have the concept of ‘meaningfulness’ locked up with some sort of other, outside force. It need not be that way. Human beings are not meaningless to themselves or to other human beings. You, while I don’t know you, are not meaningless to me.

    True, we are meaningless to a god. But as I don’t believe one exists, that is about as devastating as being meaningless to Gandalf the Grey.

    “Before we can move any further in this conversation, we need to understand why, on Atheism, anyone should be concerned about the pain, suffering, and death of others?”

    Empathy. Love. Self-interest. Pragmatism. All these things to varying degrees depending on the person and situation.

    1. But empathy is a feeling, and we cannot base morality on a feeling or on the feelings of the majority.

      We cannot base morality on feelings because we know that feelings can change; they are subjective. People once felt that slavery was acceptable, but the fact that people felt that it was okay did not/does not make it right.

      We cannot base morality on majority rule either, because in doing so, we may be stripping individuals of their rights. Again, look at the example of slavery.

      Think of a high-school singing contest where classmates are asked to vote for the member of the class who gives the best performance. One of the competitors has a nice voice and is very popular. The other competitor has an excellent voice but is not very popular. Which performer is likely to win the competition? The likely winner is the popular girl, because her classmates are not likely to be objective in their assessment of talent, and if they were, the girl with the excellent voice would be the clear winner.

      See what I’m getting at?

  2. But empathy is a feeling, and we cannot base morality on a feeling or on the feelings of the majority.

    We cannot base morality on feelings because we know that feelings can change; they are subjective. People once felt that slavery was acceptable, but the fact that people felt that it was okay did not/does not make it right.

    We cannot base morality on majority rule either, because in doing so, we may be stripping individuals of their rights. Again, look at the example of slavery.

    Think of a high-school singing contest where classmates are asked to vote for the member of the class who gives the best performance. One of the competitors has a nice voice and is very popular. The other competitor has an excellent voice but is not very popular. Which performer is likely to win the competition? The likely winner is the popular girl, because her classmates are not likely to be objective in their assessment of talent, and if they were, the girl with the excellent voice would be the clear winner.

    See what I’m getting at?

  3. Empathy is where we start. Reason takes us the next step. It was reason that brought us to understand that slavery was wrong. Reason to realize that blacks were humans as much as anyone else and empathy towards them once we realized that. It certainly wasn’t any religion that got rid of slavery. People were using it to condone it as much as they used it to discourage it.

    1. The problem is that empathy is a learned trait and not a natural one. Since that is the case, our society can and will dictate who we empathize with. The majority of Americans don’t empathize with terrorists or those they perceive to be terrorists, which is why many simply do not care that America drops bombs on them and kills innocent civilians; after all, the civilians are around terrorists, so they must be terrorists. Without objective moral grounding, I could easily justify and rationalize such bombings (this, in fact, is what our government has done).

      Thus, empathy as a learned trait is not enough, even when coupled with reason.

    2. You are contradicting yourself. Are you saying that feelings are at the base of reason, or not?

      And as far as religion condoning slavery, here is another clear example of when peoples feelings do not dictate the objective truth, being that the Christian faith in no way condones or ever did condone slavery.

      1. “You are contradicting yourself. Are you saying that feelings are at the base of reason, or not?”

        I don’t believe I ever said that.

        We use empathy AND reason.

        “being that the Christian faith in no way condones or ever did condone slavery.”

        The vast majority of Southern slave owners pre Civil War would disagree with you. As would the Old Testament, which told how to keep your slaves. And Jesus, who said that slaves should obey their masters.

        “The problem is that empathy is a learned trait and not a natural one. ”

        No. Empathy is a natural trait. Who we view of as ‘human’ or ‘persons’ is a learned trait.

  4. Have you heard of William Wilberforce, NotAScientist?

    And… does it matter if empathy is learned or not, if “what we view of as humans or persons is a learned trait”? That is sort of a dodge. Ok so we naturally empathize, but not with Iraqi civilians since the government doesn’t want us to. The German people during WW2 empathized with others, but not Russians, since the government didn’t want them to. (There are exceptions of course but I’m talking about the majority) People may empathize with others in the same income bracket, but not with the homeless if they think they are worthless lazy scum. All this is subjective, and cannot be used to base a moral system on. Depending on reason is faulty as well. How does reason convince someone to care for the homeless?

    I mean I’m still half asleep so I might be wrong, but I’m curious what you say to that.

  5. “Ok so we naturally empathize”

    We naturally empathize with those we view of as ‘people’. That category has been constantly growing. It started with just our family and in-groups. And then just our tribe. And then just our race. And then just our country. For some of us, it includes everyone in the world. For others, only the people that are like them.

    Not necessarily because the government doesn’t want us to. But because many of us as people don’t, and the government is made up of people.

    “All this is subjective, and cannot be used to base a moral system on.”

    All this is pretty subjective, and it is exactly what humans have always based their moral systems on.

    It’s how the world is. Not exactly a great set of circumstances, but at least we have the capability to learn and get better.

    “How does reason convince someone to care for the homeless?”

    Do you think it isn’t possible? Or only possible if you say ‘god says so’?

    I care for the homeless because I understand that I might end up like that some day, and would hope others would care for me in that situation. A bit pragmatic, sure, but not in a bad way as far as I can see.

    As for Wilberforce, I never denied that religious people were against slavery. But there are plenty of religious Christians who were for it, and pointed to the Bible to back them up.

  6. To: NOTASCIENTIST,

    Without going too much further, I want to at least say that it was wrong of me to make the generalization “That the Christian faith in no way condones or ever did condone slavery.” However, when interpreting Scripture, it is crucial that we do not take any one passage out of context. At least in the Catholic sense, Scripture is most accurately interpreted within the tradition of the Church, referencing all of Revelation, as it has been handed down to us through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and with the guidance of the Magisterium, in turn under the guidance of the Holy Spirit . Revelation happened gradually and culminated in with the Words and Deeds of Jesus, and with the aid of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we continually grow in understanding of Revelation (Catechism of The Catholic Church 75-100).

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