Monday, February 7, 2011

A temple on a house of cards. (Theoretical, historical and empirical objections to Christianity.)

In previous posts, we have already discussed the definition of atheism and consequently where the burden of proof lies.  Today, I'll go over a quick summary of my basic objections to Christianity; for followers of other religions, I will begin with basic theism, so hopefully I will encourage some thought on your part as well.  

Beginning with first assertion that Christianity must make, which is that there is a sentient, omnipotent, omniscient entity existing independently of the observable natural universe and the laws which govern it- I object.  In my opinion, there is no evidence for such a being.  There is no mystery observable in the universe at this time which would point to such a being; there are myriad theories one may choose from, and there exists no evidence which would justify any sort of special consideration being given to this being described above, which, having now defined it, I shall refer to as God.  Even the Cosmological Argument, which has been one of the most convincing arguments thus far in the long history of supernatural beliefs, really does not get us quite as close to God as we would hope- in no way would the duties described in the First Cause argument which are attributed to God require such things as intelligence, omnipotence, or even sentience.  I also present to you a dilemma which revealed itself to me recently as I mused over the compatibility of such a being with our natural universe and our uncertain philosophies:  If God created everything, including the laws of logic which govern our reasoning, and, indeed, our synthetic judgments, then such a being would exist independently of said laws.  If this is true, then these laws in no way apply to God.  If this is true, how can we hope to prove his existence using laws that do not apply to him?  In my opinion, this paradox makes proving God with logic rather like trying to find the square root of blue, or trying to multiply by happiness.  We are using two concepts which are incompatible with each other.  It would seem, if my logic holds, that we are reduced to falling back upon revelation by way of such documents as the Bible- and I am about to explain just how unreliable I think such a revelation is.

Let us say that I am proven errant in my analysis of theology, and I admit the hypothesis of a God is logically defensible.  Our second hurdle is how we may come to a solid conclusion concerning his wishes and his goals for us- or whether he even considers it necessary to inform us of his cosmic plan.  Christians claim the Bible is God's word, revealed to us through his son Jesus Christ, who manifested himself on earth as a physical being (namely, a man) but shares God the Father's divine nature.  But why, exactly, should we believe the Bible?  We have a collection of books written by clearly uneducated men, most likely revised, edited or even rewritten in the subsequent couple of centuries after Jesus the Christ's alleged ministry (30-33 C.E.).  Even the Gospels are estimated to have been written about fifty years after Jesus' time on Earth, in the mid-80's of the first century.  Now, we have absolutely no proof that these gospels were actually written eyewitnesses; in fact, Luke is the only one who even claims to be writing history.  These gospels contradict each other constantly in everything from geography to genealogy to theology, often offering contradicting accounts of various parts of Jesus' ministry.  To make matters worse, every unbiased, reputable historian at the time fails to make any mention of Jesus during the time of his ministry- in fact, the earliest mention we have of Jesus is a paragraph written by Tacitus, a Roman historian, in 64 C.E. where he makes a brief reference to Christ as the leader of the cult of Christianity who suffered the death penalty at the hands of Pontius Pilate.  Unfortunately, the gap of about thirty years gives Christianity more than enough time to spread by word of mouth, and any historian could easily echo what the Christians themselves were saying.  We end up with no records of the Christ within decades of his ministry, and the documents written after Christianity had gained traction in Palestine are either simply repeating Christian beliefs or they are blatantly biased, such as is the case with the Gospels.  As if this was not bad enough, then these books were selected from hundreds of Christian texts at the Nicene Council in 325 C.E. and then labeled as the Word of God.  Even if these documents were not fabrications, the odds that the Council of Nicea selected the correct books from hundreds of frauds are quite hopeless.  Once we acknowledge the fantastical content of these writings, trusting the modern Bible as anything resembling truth seems rather silly, especially when we consider the tenacity with which every word of the Bible is scrutinized in an attempt to interpret Jesus' exact teachings to the most infinitesimal detail; even the slightest misinterpretation or alteration of a key verse could alter or even destroy the scriptural foundations of significant Christian teachings.

Now, there is another justification of belief in Christianity that is not a defense of historical reliability of its teachings or its founder.  It is, I believe, most accurately summarized by a quote from the brilliant and delightful Christian author C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. "  Now, I believe that Lewis has given a wonderful analogy here, but it stands on faulty ground.  Lewis' version of Christianity very well may give him a satisfactory explanation for the nature of the universe and of reality (I make a distinction between the two here because it is quite obviously a belief of Christians that reality contains far more than this universe), but the Bible is such a messy collection of contradictory doctrines that it is quite easy for anyone to read the Bible, do a small bit of personal interpretation, and see exactly what they want to see.  This is really not the fault of the reader- I would never accuse Lewis of being the type who is easily duped- but rather the fault of the Bible itself.  In accepting one claim, one must reject another, and so on, making it quite impossible for any man to accept the whole of Biblical moral teachings as valid and divinely inspired.  

In conclusion, for one to convert me- or any sensible man, for that matter- from atheism to Christianity, one cannot simply approach me with a Bible and a head full of assumptions.  This would be rather like trying to build a house and beginning with the second floor; no man will be surprised when the bricks fall to the ground with nothing beneath them for support.  One must prove God, along with his specific attributes; then prove that God does have a plan for us and has revealed it to us, then prove that the Bible is this revelation, then somehow explain the miserable inconsistency and unreliability of the Bible and reconcile it as the unchanging, unfailing Word of God.  This, I am reasonably sure, will not happen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meaning, and the emancipation of Man from objectivity.

Meaning is a curious word.  It comes in many forms and definitions, and very often it is used as a buzzword for theists as though it in some way validates their beliefs, even while it does not present any sort of evidence for theism.  It is a feel-good argument that, when correctly examined, really shouldn't make any reasonable person feel good at all.  Let us examine the argument that all atheists hear at some point or another: "Without God, life has no meaning."  This does sound rather like an egotistical simplification, doesn't it?  To many atheists, they would hear "Only people who believe in my religion have true meaning in their lives."  That is rather what theists are getting at, but they can't help it- the definition of meaning they are employing in this case is an objective meaning.  This is to say that the kind of meaning they are referring to is a meaning that can only be given to someone independent of one's own thoughts or opinions.  This meaning that they speak of is thrust upon us regardless of what we think or how we feel.  Now, what is so desirable about being told what to live for?  This definition of "meaning"- a universal dictation of servitude- does not hold any sort of appeal for me.  Imagine, if you will, that once you reach the age of reason, you are informed by a figure of authority what your job will be, who you will marry, and what type of car you will drive.  This would sound most unpleasant to anyone with a sense of self-respect.  However, the theistic "meaning" is far worse than that- it attacks human freedom on its most basic level: thought.  We are told that not only our actions, our speech, and our laws must all serve the specific purpose of glorifying a deity, but our very thoughts.  Everything about us, according to our theistic "meaning", must express servitude above all else.  This is our purpose; it is what we must do and what we are commanded to do for all eternity.  This sounds quite unpleasant when we look closely.  However, the Christian has his explanation all ready: We are quite free indeed; God has given us a choice.  We may either accept God or reject him.  Well, what does a rejection of God entail?  Unfortunately for those who are not content with eternal servitude, the alternative for them is eternal torture in "the fire".  Giving someone a choice between eternal servitude or eternal torture is not only immoral, but it is quite far from freedom; I submit that a God who truly desires freedom for us would simply let us choose to use our lives however we may desire, to whatever end, without thrusting horrible consequences upon us in an afterlife.  I am very unimpressed with this God's attempt at giving us "freedom".

This is the "meaning" that we are offered by the theistic God.  I could continue, but I believe that the unpleasantness of this God and his doctrine are quite apparent by now.  However, take heart- there is real meaning in this life.  It is not dictated to you; it is not eternal or immutable.  It is not something to be found, but something to be created.  This is subjective meaning.  As an atheist, I am free to say that I want to make music for the rest of my life.  I am free to say I want to be a writer, a philosopher, a scientist.  I am free to say that the greatest and most beautiful thing in the world is love, not an excessively distasteful book like the Bible.  Subjectivity is not a bad thing as theists often imply.  It is the opportunity for humanity to rise to its full potential and govern itself; to be unafraid to look towards the heavens and see no God telling them how to live, what to think, or what to feel.  The purest and most profound form of meaning comes from within.