Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

“When a Catholic and a Jew  . . .”

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but Ben Shapiro (a Jew) and Edward Feser (a Catholic) discuss Feser’s new book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (which by the way is a great read) on Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire “Sunday Special.”

Here is a short clip from the show in which Feser answers the question “Why Atheism is Growing?”

 

Feser provides a nice answer in regards to academia: overspecialization.  Feser means because of the hyperspecialization of academics today, they are essentially ignorant of the arguments and reasons for God’s existence.

I think Feser is right on this analysis, but another issue I want to examine is the original question itself: “Why Atheism is Growing?”

I question the question: is atheism actually growing?

Not according to Rodney Stark, a sociologist of religion.  I have discussed some of his work before: here and here.

Stark challenges the claim that atheism is growing in his book The Triumph of Faith.  It is published by ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute).   In May of 2015 the Pew Research Center released a study announcing the declining practice of religion in general and Christianity in particular.  The promotion of this new book challenges this study: “Pew says America is becoming less religious. This book proves them wrong.”

Some of the commonly held beliefs today that this The Triumph of Faith dispels include:

  • Why claims about Millennials’ lack of religion are overblown and historically ignorant
  • Why Islam is NOT overtaking Christianity
  • How 4 out of 5 people worldwide now belong to an organized religion
  • How 50 percent have attended a worship service in the past week
  • Why much-ballyhooed studies from the Pew Research Center and others get the religious landscape wrong
  • Why atheists remain few, anywhere—despite all the talk of the “New Atheism”

In fact the Institute for Studies of Religion did a presentation in November of 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. challenging the secularization myth.  Stark can be heard discussing this issue on the podcast of Institute for Studies of Religion.  Dr. Stark reveals that:

Rod lists a couple statistics to bolster this point, including 81% of the world population claiming to belong to some organized religious faith, 71% saying that religion is important in their lives, and 51% having participated in some organized form of worship in the past week.  Atheism rates remains relatively stagnant with only three countries registering more than 20% of the population as non-believers.  Attendance and affiliation remains most flaccid in Europe.  This continent registers low among individuals who attend religious services largely because Christianity was never deeply embedded in a number of these countries to begin with (particularly in Northern Europe) and monopolized state churches have little incentive to recruit and serve members, according to Prof. Stark.

He also wrote an article about the “3 Myths about ‘Irreligious’ America, Busted” in Intercollegiate Review.  He concludes that article with “Secularists have been predicting the imminent demise of religion for centuries. They have always been wrong—and their claims today are no different. It is their unshakeable faith in secularization that may be the most “irrational” of all beliefs.”

Image result for the twilight of atheism

Alister McGrath has also written on the demise of atheism in his work The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern WorldMcGrath describes the “high noon” of atheism starting with the French Revolution and Voltaire of the 18th century moving on to Feuerbach, Marx and Freud of the 19th century ending with the death of God in Friedrich Nietzsche.

The 20th century, according to McGrath, saw the unexpected resurgence of religion.  This is congruent with Stark’s thesis.  It does not seem to be the case that atheism is on the rise worldwide.

The Futures Centre has been tracking some current trajectories and implications that include:

  • In 1970, nearly 80% of the world’s population was religious. By 2010 this had risen to around 88%, and could reach almost 90% by 2020.
  • Religion will likely remain a significant component of individual, community and national identity in future, with the spread of representative governments providing an opportunity for some religions to become increasingly politically assertive.

Other studies are concurrent with the aforementioned trends:

Atheism is Down” NPR

The World is Getting More Religious” Time

According the William Lane Craig, he reports that theism is growing in Germany and Japan while atheism has been declining.

There has been a misunderstanding on some studies on how a “none” is to be understood.  The Pew Research Center, a few years back, indicated that more people are identifying as “nones” or no religious affiliation.  A “none” is not synonymous with atheist or atheism. A none is simply someone who does not affiliate with any religious organization.  They actually may believe in God, pray, even attend a religious gathering, but just choose to not associate with any officially organized religious group.

Rodney Stark wrote for the National Press Club in 2015 that the world is more religious than it has ever been stating that: “All of the great world religions are growing and contrary to uninformed accounts, Christianity is growing faster than any of the others,” Stark wrote, according to Johnson. “But the larger point is that we are now in the 21st century, contrary to [historical claims of the religion’s demise], the world is far more religious than it was a century ago, and quite possibly, it is more religious than it has ever been.”

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I come across these “objections” repeatedly online, in conversation, in debates, talk shows, and the like.  These are such silly objections against the existence of God that it is ludicrous that an answer has to be brought up.  But, since they keep appearing and reappearing, they must be dealt with.  In the interest of being fair, as well as over compensating, I double with a list of four silly arguments Christians should avoid which are graciously provided by Dr. Douglas Groothius at the bottom of this post.

1. “Believing in God is like believing in a flying spaghetti monster”

This is a real objection one can find online, and it is as silly as it sounds.  There is even a church dedicated to this objection (more of a parody than to be taken seriously) which is also called Pastafarianism.  It is a common meme found online as is seen from the “inspirational” poster here.  It has even been manufactured for car decals.  The Flying Spaghetti monster argument is meant to parody belief in God by showing that since there is no evidence for a Flying Spaghetti monster, you shouldn’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Likewise, since there is no evidence for a God, you shouldn’t believe in God.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason responds to this silly objecton:

Dr. William Lane Craig responds to this objection in his weekly Q&A:

“God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Q#33” Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig concludes by:

The real lesson to be learned from the case of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that it shows how completely out of touch our popular culture is with the great tradition of natural theology. One might as well be speaking a foreign language. That people could think that belief in God is anything like the groundless belief in a fantasy monster shows how utterly ignorant they are of the works of Anselm, Aquinas, Leibniz, Paley, Sorley, and a host of others, past and present. No doubt part of the fault lies with equally ignorant Christians who have no answer when called upon to give a reason for the hope within and who therefore give the impression of arbitrary and groundless belief. But it must also be attributed to poor education, intellectual laziness, and a lack of curiosity. Given the revival of natural theology in our day over the last half century, we have no excuse for such lame caricatures of theistic belief as belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The origins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster actually goes back to a response to Intelligent Design (ID) in 2005.  This following video provides the context as well as the Dr. Craig’s response to it as a critique to ID:

“5 Reasons The Flying Spaghetti Monster Parody Doesn’t Make Sense” by Richard Bushey | Therefore, God Exists, December 24, 2015 – A taste of this article:

In an attempt to mock and ridicule religion (as is the great commission of the atheist as prescribed by Richard Dawkins at last years’ Reason Rally), atheists will compare belief in God to something ridiculous, that anybody would regard as false, like Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or even what they call the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Flying Spaghetti Monster came as a response to the advocacy of Intelligent Design being taught in schools. The very concept is as ridiculous as teaching students about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. However I think there are at least 5 reasons the Flying Spaghetti Monster parody doesn’t make sense.

“Conclusion: Why the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ Doesn’t Fly”

  1. Sure, there is no evidence for a flying spaghetti monster, but there are plenty of arguments for the existence of God.  So this argument from a spaghetti monster does not counter any argument for God’s existence, because the spaghetti monster example is assuming that there are no arguments for God. Now, that doesn’t mean any of the arguments for God’s existence are good arguments, but that is what needs to be investigated.  Spaghetti monsters don’t provide evidence against God.
  2. The spaghetti monster is physical, temporal, and material and the concept of God is non-physical, eternal, and immaterial.  Since the spaghetti monster is a material object extended in space and time and can’t be the cause of space, time, matter, and energy.
2.We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

Richard Gervais, the comedian (who is “obviously” an authority in philosophy and religion [please read that with sarcasm]) recently proposed the “one god further” objection with Stephen Colbert (relevant information at 2:20):

This quote apparently originated with Stephen F. Roberts in 1995.  Common Sense Atheism also has utilized this argument:

What I mean is that if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either.

In short, this argument states that the only difference between a Christian and an atheist is that the atheist is just like the Christian theist, but they just believe in one less god than the Christian.  So Christians are atheists when it comes to the belief in Baal to Zeus, so they are just as atheistic as the full atheists. Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher summaries the argument:

The idea, I take it, is that all gods are on a par, and so, given that everyone is an atheist with respect to some gods, one may as well make a clean sweep and be an atheist with respect to all gods. You don’t believe in Zeus or in a celestial teapot. Then why do you believe in the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob?

one-god-futherRationalWiki even has a list of gods that Christian don’t believe in from Aabit to Zurvan for a total of 1,637 deities that Christians are atheistic towards.  This is suppose lead to the conclusion that the God of Christianity doesn’t exist either.  I am not sure how it does this, but that is the claim.  This is just a non sequitur.  Richard Dawkins has used this argument in The God Delusion:

None of us feels an obligation to disprove any of the millions of far-fetched things that a fertile or facetious imagination might dream up. I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.

Here are some responses to this objection:

Ricky Gervais Makes the Usual Atheist Mistakes” by Tom Gilson | Thinking Christian Feb 17, 2017. Tom Gilson answers almost all of Ricky Gervais points in the Colbert clip, but answers the one god objection under the heading of “The Arithmetical Argument.”

Brett Kunkl of Stand to Reason posted this entertaining video answering this silly objection:

Debunking the One God Further Objection ” by Edward Feser | Strange Notions.

Here is a quick video of Dr. Craig’s response to the “we are all atheists” objection:

Why the ‘I Just Believe in One Less God Than You’ Argument Does Not Work” by Michael Patton | Credo House April 13, 2011 – Michael Patton differentiates the important distinction between belief in other gods and the belief in the Christian God.

On the Statement That ‘We Are All Atheists’ ” by J. W. Wartick | Always Have a Reason April  4, 2011. – Wartick examines three problems with the statement “we are all atheists to other religions, we [atheists] just take it one step further.”  The problems are:

1) The statement is false

2) The statement is irrational

3) The statement–as with many false or irrational statements–proves too much (or too little).

“Conclusion: Why the ‘One God Further’ Objection Doesn’t Add Up”

  1. If one takes the argument to mean we are all atheists to multiple gods, but the skeptic is just an atheist of one more god, then the argument just confuses what is means to be an atheist.  The Christian theist (or Muslim or Jew) are NOT atheists.  Atheism is the believe that God doesn’t exist.  Theists (whether Christian, Islamic, or Jewish) or not atheists at all.
  2. This claim that it is irrational to believe in Odin, Thor, Zeus, Baal, etc. is irrational, thus belief in theism is irrational fails to grapple with the arguments for theism.  It is just an attempt to avoid the work of looking at arguments for (or against) God.

As this last point points out, both objections are just attempts to avoid looking at arguments for God’s existence, which there are plenty (kalam cosmological argument, moral argument, teleological argument, ontological argument, contingency argument, and dozens of others).  Both of these objections against theism have run their course and (unfortunately) will pop back up here and there because of the internet, but please, lets put these to rest.

______________________________

Arguments to Avoid in Defending Christianity” by Douglas Groothuis.  Dr. Groothuis calls each argument a non-starter:

Nonstarter #1: Since we do not know everything, no one can disprove the existence of God. God might be somewhere outside of our knowledge. Moreover, if we knew everything—which is the only way to disprove God—we would end up being God ourselves and, thus, atheism would be false!

Nonstarter #2 People do not die for a lie. But the apostles died for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, so they must have died for the truth.

Nonstarter #3: Evolution (meaning Darwinism) cannot be proven because it is not scientific. Science demands repeatable and empirical observation: things that can be observed through a microscope or a telescope or chemical reactions in a test tube. Therefore, evolution is unscientific and has no final claim on reality.

Nonstarter #4: You cannot argue with a changed life. A Christian’s testimony is the most powerful and irrefutable apologetic. (Some say it is the only apologetic needed.)

Grootuis is author of Christian Apologetics, Truth Decay, On Jesus, Philosophy in Seven Sentences, and others. Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary since 1993. Head of The Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree Program and Co-Director of The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture.