Why I Am Not A Christian

Rosary

As an Irishman I am surrounded by Christianity and Catholicism in particular. My family is Catholic as are my friends, relatives, neighbours and pretty much everyone I come across. In fact, throughout our history being Irish and being Catholic were considered the same. The Church traditionally had a major influence on the country and still exerts control over schools and hospitals. I was raised Catholic, was an altar boy and even used to say a decade of the rosary every night.  So why I am no longer a Christian?

The first and most obvious point is that Christianity doesn’t make any sense. This is a point that most Catholics will admit and try not to think about. How exactly is Communion the same as eating the literal flesh of Jesus and why would you want to do it? Can anyone truly state with a straight face that the Pope is infallible? I think we (fundamentalists aside) can all admit that the Bible is not literally true, the Garden of Eden is not a real place, Noah’s Ark is just a children’s story and people don’t live inside whales. There are many parts of Jesus’ story that seemed a bit strange to say the least. Virgins giving birth, the dead coming back to life, walking on water, all these things that you can go along with so as you don’t think about them, all start to crumble once you examine them with an open mind.

Then there is God himself. Have you ever noticed how strange it is that so many people believe in something they cannot see, hear, touch or detect in anyway shape or form. What if there is just nothing there? If there was a God why would he hide? Why would he deny us any proof but compel us to believe anyway? Why would he not set out clearly what he wants from us instead of letting a wide variety of religions fight it out among themselves? If God really loves us why would he create Hell? How can anyone with a conscience be comfortable with the idea of eternal torture in the fires of Hell? Sure we would all like to believe in Heaven, but what is it actually like? Where is it and how does it work? We all picture it as a place where all our dreams come true and we get everything we ever wanted, but there must be a difference from our fantasies and reality.

The single argument that shook my belief the most was The Problem Of Evil. If there is an all-powerful God who loves us all, why is there so much evil in the world? What sort of God would stand idly by and ignore the pleas of his people in the Holocaust? How can anyone look at the world history of massacre, genocide, rape and cruelty and still claim that God will help us when we need him? What about those who died from natural causes and famines? Why did God not save them? As states by Epicurus, I could only find 3 explanations. Either God is not all-powerful (in which case we are wasting our time asking him to help us) or he does not love us (same as above but only more worrying) or he does not exist. Either way, there is no point in being a Christian.

If there was a God surely he would choose better representatives than the Church? For decades the Catholic Church’s will was law in Ireland and instead of this resulting in God’s paradise, it was the pits of narrow mindedness. We were a petty, sectarian and cold nation. There was no compassion for the poor or love for the downtrodden but rather a rigid and stagnant dogma. Books and ideas that did not agree with the Church were censored, divorce banned and homosexuality made illegal (these are not ancient examples, but rather laws that were not changed until the 1990s). Women who did not conform to the Church’s view were sent to Magdalene Laundries where they were treated horribly and forced to work without pay.

It is the treatment of children that really drove me from the Church. Even if you believe in God, there is no way you can remain a member of the Catholic Church knowing what crimes priests committed. Children were regularly beaten and abused, physically and verbally. God representatives on Earth treated vulnerable children with nothing but vicious cruelty. The abuse and rape of little children was not an isolated case but rather a systematic problem. The hierarchy’s reaction was nothing short of disgraceful as its priority was to cover the abuse up in order to protect its own reputation and to this day has stalled on paying compensation to survivors. What sort of God turns a blind eye to child abuse and is silent when the perpetrators claim to act in his name?

So it was for a mixture of reasons that I grew disillusioned with Christianity. The scandals and general rigid dogma of the Church drove me away from Mass. There was also the fact that Mass in general is incredibly boring where nothing about anything seems to be said. The hypocrisy of a Church filled with gold lecturing the rest of us on the importance of charity or perpetrators of child abuse lecturing us on the morals of sex made me stop listening to the priests. If the Church really cared about the poor it would sell the Vatican and at a stroke help millions. I looked at other religions but they all seemed the same mixture of hypocrisy mixed with superstition. None of them had any answers and instead relied on “faith” (that is to say they preferred if people stopped asking questions and just accepted what they were told.) I gradually realised that my problem was more than just with the Church and that’s how I became an Atheist.

About Guest Contributor

Robert NielsenRobert Nielsen blogs at Robert Nielsen, a blog dedicated to explore issues in economics, politics and religion. Robert was raised a Catholic, but in 2012 he lost the last of his faith and is now an Atheist (See Robert’s Story: How I Became An Atheist). I(Prayson Daniel) am being edified and challenged through reading Robert’s blog. Robert’s blog offers a ground for debating and discussing, in gentleness and respect, ideas and ideologies that are not similar to mine.

Robert’s worth reading articles: 10 Questions For Christians &

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Atheism: Insufficient Evidence For Belief in God?

Andrew David's Russell

A belief that atheism is true because of insufficient evidence for belief in God is feeble and unwarranted. Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher, correctly explained that “[t]o show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false”(Nielsen 1971: 143-4).

Even if an atheist succeed in showing that the theist’s case for existence of God is a failure, this by itself does not confirm the truthfulness of atheism. “All the proofs of God’s existence may fail,” explained Nielsen, “but it still may be the case that God exists”(ibid)

If all proofs of God’s existence fail, and there are no evidence for the belief in God, then agnosticism, not atheism, is a warranted position unless a successive case is give against the existence of God.

The sum total of the probability that God does exist, P(T) with that of God does not exist, P(not-T) must equal 1.  An agnostic gives both P(T) and P(not-T) the values .5. When theist C offer evidences for the existence of God, C increases the value of P(T) thus, decreasing  P(not-T). So if say, the probability that God exists given background information viz., cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral and resurrection of Jesus  argument is .7, (thus P(not-T) = .3), and an atheist A succeed in showing that all C arguments for P(T) fails, then A reduced P(T) back to .5. A needs to offer a case against the existence of God to increase P(not-T), which will decrease P(T), to be justified in believing that God does not exist.

Redefining atheism as “lack of belief in God” fails, I believe, because “lack of belief in God”, by itself, only shows a psychological state of a subject and not the reality of outside world. It does not show whether God exist or not. This redefinition fails because it shifts the discussion’s focus away from ontology of an object(i.e. God) to epistemology of a subject.(i.e an atheist). Example: John Doe may have a lack of belief that Jane Doe is having an affair, but that does not show if Jane Doe is having an affair or not. She may be having an affair even though John Does lacks a belief that she is having an affair.

Question: When is absence of evidence evidence of absence?

Bibliography:

Nielsen Kai (1971) Reason and Practice. New York: Harper & Row

Cover photo-credit: Andrew David

Eternal Cosmos Is Dead, Don’t Tell Stenger

Andrew David's Russell

A retired elementary particle physicist Victor J. Stenger, contrary to contemporary cosmology, still stands firm in a possibility of eternal universe.

In his talk given on November 7th 2012 at the Boulder Socrates Café, “How Can Something Come From Nothing?”, Stenger echoed Bertrand Russell’s 1948’s objection rose in a debate with Frederick C. Copleston while discussing the cosmological argument. Stenger contended,

A common question I get from religious believers is “How can something come from nothing?” They seem to think it’s the final clincher proving the existence of God—or at least some form of supernatural creation. Of course, they don’t say how God came from nothing. Or, if they do, they claim God always existed and so did not have to come from anything. But then, why couldn’t the universe have always existed? In fact, modern cosmology suggests that it did—that the universe is eternal. (Stenger 2012: n.p underline original)

After taking a similar Lawrence Krauss’ route on “nothing” and contending for multiverses, Stenger concluded his talk,

“So, how can the multiverse have come From Nothing? Since the multiverse always existed, it didn’t have to come from anything.”(ibid)

On March 17th of 2012 in New Scientist, a magazine with the aim of keeping us up to date with science and technology news, Stenger explained that we should have found evidence from astronomy and physics if God were its creator, but we don’t he wrote. He went further to  inform us that “modern cosmology suggests an eternal ‘multiverse’ in which many other universes comes and go”(Stenger 2012: 47)

NewScientist 2012

Should we tell Stenger that a month earlier,  14th of January, in the same magazine, Lisa Grossman reported that “Death of eternal cosmos: From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverses every model of the universe has a beginning”? Should we tell Stenger that on 1st December 2012, New Scientist magazine cover story states that “Before The Big Bang: Three Reasons Why The Universe Can’t Have Existed Forever”? No. Don’t tell Stenger.

Grossman And  Chown: What We Should Not Tell Stenger

Back in January 14th, in New Scientist magazine featuring Hawking’s 70th birthday, Grossman’s article, Death of the eternal cosmos: From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning, ironically began,

YOU could call them the worst birthday presents ever. At the meeting of minds convened last week to honour Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday – loftily titled “State of the Universe”’ two bold proposals posed serious threats to our existing understanding of the cosmos”

Grossman reported that cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston went through different models and concluded that  space-time can’t possibly be eternal in the past and that all the evidence that modern cosmologist have say that the universe had a beginning.(Grossman 2012: 6-7)

Truth never sleeps. Just in case Stenger missed that issue nor follows updates in  modern cosmology anymore, New Scientist’s cover story of 1st December 2012 went deeper than Grossman, giving three reasons why the universe can’t have existed forever.

Chown’s article, In The Beginning: Has the cosmos existed forever, or did something bring it into existence? explained that “until recently an answer[to settle the question whether the universe has away been here] seemed as distant as ever”(Chown 2012: 33). He went further,

However, earlier this year, cosmologists Alex Vilenkin and Audrey Mithani claimed to have settled the debate. They have uncovered reasons why the universe cannot have existed forever.”(ibid)

Chown reported that Vilenkin went through singularity theorems/eternal inflation; “[u]niverses have always been inflating from the vacuum and always will”], cyclic universe; “4D universes repeatedly collide together in a fifth dimension crating a big bang events” and emergent universe; “[t]ing universe has existed forever but blew up to its present size”, and showed the flaws in forever.(Chown 2012: 34-35)

So, should we update Stenger on what modern cosmology says on this issue? Should we tell him eternal cosmos is dead? You decide.

Question: Would I be wrong in thinking that Stenger’s faith in eternal universe has nothing to do with science but with religion?

Bibliography:

Chown, Marcus (2012) “In The Beginnning: Has the cosmos existed forever, or did something bring it into existence?” in New Scientist of 1 December 2012:  2893

Grossman, Lisa (2012) “Death of the eternal cosmos. From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning” in New Scientist of 14th January 2012: 2847

Stenger, Victor J. (2012) “The God Hypothesis” in New Scientist of 17th March 2012: 2856

___________________ (2012) “How Can Something Comes From Nothing?” November 7th 2012 Talk at  the Boulder Socrates Cafe.

Coverphoto: New Scientist 1 December 2012, Before big bang: New Scientist 14th January 2012 & Andrew David’s Bertrand Russell

Book Review: Palmer’s The Atheist’s Primer

“Resurgence of classical atheism” is my four words review of Michael Palmer’s 170-paged The Lutterworth Press published book The Atheist’s Primer (Nov. 2012). Palmer explorations and commentary on classical atheists, returned the thrust of philosophically engagement of atheism that is often absent in “New Atheism”.

Singling out Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and Freud’s, Palmer’s chief intent in The Atheist’s Primer, a revised, abridged version of his student-edition The Atheist’s Creed (2010), is to bring out “important philosophical arguments to the force, and to provide a selective overview of the extraordinary richness of the atheistic literature, which extends from the time of the Greeks down to our own day.”(p.11)

In his introduction, Palmer introduced his readers to a “well-worn debate between science and religion”. He explained the charges directed against the later “is that faith never places itself within the cold light of empirical conformation”, and the former, “ is limitation of knowledge to only that which may be observed and verified”.

From that, I suppose, Palmer’s “The Atheist’s Creed” on page 5 would be grouped as a kind of “religious faith”, since what he believes, namely (i)“the cosmos is all that is or ever was and ever will be, (ii) no other reality, divine or otherwise exists”, (iii), human life has no meaning apart from itself; there is purpose in life but no purpose to life, et cetera, cannot be placed within the cold light of empirical conformation.

If science is defined as an objective(and not strictly naturalistic) examination of the facts, and faith (narrowing to Christianity because of Darwin, Galileo, and Newton) as knowledge based on evidence, as Galileo and Newton understood, then there was no conflict between science and religion. James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers (2010) showed that the conflict was between bad science and good science. Oddly, a modern example would be “the cosmos is all that is or ever was and ever will be”(p.5) conflicting with “[a]ll the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning”(Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, Tufts University, Boston (USA), January 2012)

Palmer covered the meaning and origins of atheism in chapter one and two. He wrote that the meaning of atheism, viz., “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God’, “is not as straight forward as it appears”(13) Palmer brilliantly explained the difference between negative/implicit atheism and positive/explicit atheism. He also clarified the correlation between atheism and agnosticism before diving into spectacular origins of atheism.

A brief introduction to Anselm’s version of ontological argument followed by Immanuel Kant’s critique, is squeezed in one and a half page (p.33-34). Arguments from cosmology as presented by Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas and argument from design by William Paley (34-39), followed by a robust Hume’s responses, mostly on the former (45-50), and Darwin’s critique on later (50-54) are also covered in chapter three.

The problem of evil, I believe, is the only rock-solid argument presented as a positive case for atheism in The Atheist’s Primer covers the whole chapter four. I judged this chapter to be the strongest and challenging side of Palmer’s awesome contributing.

After brilliantly reviewing J. I. Mackie and Alvin Plantinga’s contributions to the logical argument from evil, and concluding that “whether or not we accept that Plantinga has provided a successive reply to Mackie, most philosopher now hold that the logical argument from evil is redundant””(p.66), Palmer showed that contemporary philosophers have shifted their guns towards an evidential problem of evil. Instead of arguing it’s impossible for God and suffering to co-exist (logical problem of evil), defenders of evidential problem of evil argue, it’s improbable that God would exist given the existence of intense suffering.

Palmer is very correct in observing that Plantinga’s defense alone is useless. Merely by showing that existence of God and evil is possible does nothing to show that it probable.

The thrust of evidential problem evil already appeared in Palmer’s introduction. The paradigm of Darwinian evolution, namely “unparalleled barbarity, impersonal and haphazard in form and subject only to the vagaries of environment” according to neo-Darwinians, “is totally at variance with any notion of an omnipotent, benevolent and purposive deity, of a loving God who cares for his creatures but is yet quite prepared to subject them to a life of unremitting brutality and hardship”(p.10)

According to Palmer, “if Darwin is right, then it would appear that we have here an irreducible incompatibility between scientific evidence and religious belief which no amount of theological ingenuity can resolve”(ibid). He introduced William Rowe’s, a leading defender of this view, case:

  1. There exist instance of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby preventing the occurrence of some greater good.
  3. [Therefore] There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.(p.66)

Palmer explored some of classical attempts to resolve this evidential problem of evil(“theodicies”), and commented on there weaknesses and flaws. The unwarranted pain inflicted upon creatures “obliterating any possibility that an omnipotent and benevolent God exists”(p.74). “The presence of evil testifies to the absence of God; or, if not to his absence, then to his presence as an incompetent villain of sadistic temper.”(p .67)

A weakness in evidential problem of evil, to which Palmer did not resolve, is how do we know that creatures experience intense suffering. I totally agree with Palmer that if there were a God, there would be no gratuitous evils. But how do atheologian know gratuitous evil exist without appealing to ignorance, namely “since I see no good reasons for x, then there is no good reasons for x”?

Palmer presented, comments and criticized the moral argument in chapter five, miracles in chapter six and finally the motivations of belief in chapter seven, to which I, because of space, will address in my second re-review. I will also go back to chapter three of The Atheist’s Primer to explore Palmer’s comments and critiques of arguments from ontology, cosmology, and teleology.

Strength of Palmer’s The Atheist’s Primer

Palmer appropriately returns us to the classical philosophical atheistic challenges against theism. His work is beyond praise and I believe greatly needed in time when “New Atheism” is endanger of eliminating the thrust of classical atheism, which squarely and fairly focused on arguments for and against existence of God.

Weakness of Palmer’s The Atheist’s Primer

Palmer did not present Plantinga’s resurrection of ontological argument as Plantinga succeeded, I believe, to formulate a version that is not affected by Kant’s criticism. He also left out Muhammad Al-Ghazali (ca.1058–1111) cosmological argument; “Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.” (Bulletin de l’Institut Francais d’Archaeologie Orientale 46 1947: 203) which I believe finds favor in modern cosmology.

I would have love for Palmer to included and deal also with Rene Descartes “causa dei” theodicy, which is reinforced in neo-Cartesian theory in chapter four.

Conclusion, Endorsement And Gratitude

I would recommend The Atheist’s Primer to all Christians and atheists who love pondering the case for and against existence of God and are worn-out by New-Atheism’s shortage of philosophical engagement in this most important subject.

Thank you Fiona Christie at James Clarke & Co. Ltd, The Lutterworth Press for providing me uncorrected proof copy of The Atheist’s Primer for review purposes only.

Atheism: One Belief System Among Many?

 
In “Risky business: The world is out of control, sociologist Ulrich Beck tells Stuart Jeffries” (Feb. 11, 2006), Jeffries, the Guardian’s feature writer and columnist, published his interview with Beck, a professor for sociology at the University of Munich whose lectures converges on sociology of risk, social inequalities, modernization theory and transformation of work. This 6 years old interview caught my attention and made me ponder if Beck is correct in thinking that atheism is one belief system among many.

Jeffries wrote:

On the controversial cartoons depicting Muhummad, Beck invoked the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’s distinction between secular and post-secular societies. “The basic assumption of the secular society is that modernity overcomes religion. In this sense most continental European countries seem to exist as secular states, while Britain and America seem to be post-secular – they see atheism is only one of the belief systems and that religion still is an important voice of humanity.”

The dialogue that followed, which I re-edit to capture the interview, left me pondering if atheism could be considered a belief system.

Jeffries: Would you have published the cartoons?

Beck: “No. It’s important to fight for freedom of speech, but it has to be related to principle. You can’t play with these freedoms. You have to be very careful not to hurt religious feelings.”

Jeffries: Are you religious?

Beck: “Not at all. Max Weber [the German sociologist] said he was unmusical when it comes to religion. I’m like that, too. But it’s important to understand that not everybody is going to be an atheist.”

Jeffries: Was that assumption ever plausible?

Beck: “It was the assumption of most social theory. All theory of modernity in sociology suggests that the more modernity there is, the less religion. In my theory we can realise that this is wrong: atheism is only one belief system among many.”

Question: Is Beck correct in viewing atheism as one belief system among many? Give reasons

Mackie + Plantinga: Solving The Logical Problem Of Evil

J. L. Mackie: “In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of the most theological positions; the theologian, it seems at once, must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three.” (Mackie 1971: p. 92-3)

Alvin Plantinga: Theologian can consistently adhere to all three, Mackie, by adding a premise which does not have to be necessary true or even believed, but simply logically possible.

1. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.
2. God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so.(Plantinga 1974: 26)

Or

3. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.

4. It was not within God’s power to create a world containing moral good without creating one containing moral evil.

5. God created a world containing moral good.

6. Therefore, evil exists.(ibid p. 54-5)

Mackie, are (2) and (4) possibly true?

Mackie: “[P]roblem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another […God] might not eliminate evils, even though it was logically possible to do so and though he was able to do whatever is logically possible, and was limited only by the logical impossibility of having the second-order good without the first-order evil ”(Mackie 1982: 145)

Note: I added  words to capture the brilliant works of Mackie and Plantinga.

Bibliography:

Mackie, J. L (1971) “Evil and Omnipotence” in The Philosophy of Religion, ed. Basil Mitchell. London: Oxford University Press.

_____________ (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Plantinga, Alvin (1974) God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Photo Credit: Christ Koelle illustraiton in John Piper’s  poem: Job  and The Sister Disciples of the Divine Master

Richard Dawkins’ Generous Absurdity

“The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist” said Michael Ruse, a philosopher of biology at Florida State University.

As Ruse once pointed out, “Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing.”(Ruse 2010: int) I believe Dawkins, a brilliant Zoologist, failed again in his recent guest-voice post at The Washington Post: Dawkins: Don’t need God to be good … or generous.

Contending for a conclusion: “atheists and freethinkers are full human beings whose generous impulses are at least as sincere as those of the religious”, Dawkins expounded:

One reason for our[freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists – whatever name non-believers go under] unpopularity is the widespread belief that you need God in order to be good. Going along with that misconception is further belief that atheists are less generous than religious people, less philanthropic, less likely to donate to charity. Even if that were the case it would, of course, have no bearing on the truth of religious beliefs.(Dawkins 2012: post)

When theist and atheist philosophers argues that with the death of God, comes the death of objective moral values and duties, they mean that God’s existence, not belief in God, is the ontological ground for objective morality. Since if God does not exist, good and evil is illusory. Theists, atheists and freethinkers are good not because of their belief or lack of belief in God, but because of the existence of God.

It seems that Dawkins himself believes in this widespread belief that you need God in order to be good, since he wrote if there is no designer then “at bottom,[there is] no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(Dawkins 1995: 85). He explained:

“This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

In The God Delusion, Dawkins explained “[i]t is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones.”(Dawkins 2006: 232) It seems Ruse was accurate in asserting that “People forget that it is possible to be intensely religious in the entire absence of theological belief.” (Ruse 2003: 335). I am beginning to believe that Dawkins is intensely religious. Well, I could be very wrong.

Bibliography:

Washington Post Logo Vector – Creative Commons License

Dawkins, Richard (1995). “God’s Utility Function”, in Scientific American, November 1995

___________________ (2006) The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press

Ruse, Michael (2003)Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? Harvard University Press.

_____________ (2010) Interviewed: Centre for Public Christianity