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Community Debates Forum / Do Atheists Believe in Fairy Tales?
« on: March 18, 2017, 07:51:29 am »
One common shoot-from-the-hip atheistic contention is that religion is a myth and “just a fairy tale”. It is not necessarily intended as a powerfully rational argument, but as a shake-them-up-to-wake-them-up jolt to help move religious people away from their “superstitious delusions”. After all, we are not deluded enough to believe in fairies, so why believe in an invisible God … in an imaginary divine friend?

And the “religion = fairy tale” argument carries significant force in Western society. For example, while many Americans still at least give a tacit nod to general cultural Theism and to Christian moral influence, they roll their eyes at Biblical claims like the virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea. “Oh … well … I believe in God (sort of) and in being a good person, but not in all those supposed miracles. Bible stories are just fables that are meant to communicate good morals, but not to be taken literally.”

Some Sort of Eternity, No Matter What
Before we evaluate the veracity of the “religion is a fairy tale” argument, we must first note that, no matter which fundamental worldview is true—Atheism or Pantheism or Theism—something absolutely has to be eternal, which I touched on in my post Objective Morality—Atheism vs. Pantheism vs. Theism.
•   If Atheism is true, the impersonal physical cosmos is eternal, ultimate and self-existent.
•   If Pantheism is true, the impersonal spiritual cosmos is eternal, ultimate and self-existent.
•   If Theism is true, then God alone is eternal, ultimate and self-existent—everything else is contingent.
To argue that the physical cosmos or the spiritual cosmos or God sprang into existence from absolute nothingness is beneath ridiculous—it is metaphysically impossible and, as a friend of mine put it, “Worse than resorting to magic.” So once again, eternity rears its head no matter which cosmology is correct.

Eternal Physical Matter and Energy, Cosmology and Evolution
So—in the case of Atheism—whether our current universe is eternal, or it is part of an infinite string of universes that continually explode into existence and then collapse upon themselves, or it is part of an ensemble of virtually innumerable alternate universes (per Stephen Hawking), Atheism fundamentally teaches the existence of eternal, infinitely interacting impersonal matter and energy. There is no way around it. And at an initial glance, this appears to be very good news for Atheism …

Firstly, the existence of eternal matter and energy would allow Atheism to escape the jaws of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, of which WLC is a leading proponent. Because the current scientific evidence seems to strongly indicate the visible universe has not been here forever, the Kalam Cosmological Argument would indicate there must therefore be a Creator to explain the universe—God. But if our current universe is part of some sort of eternal chain or ensemble of self-existent matter and energy, then God is unnecessary, and we need not concoct any “divine fairy tale” to explain our existence.

Secondly, Theists have often attacked the Theory of Evolution based upon the extreme statistical improbability of the complex biological life forms found on planet earth coming into existence apart from the help of an Intelligent Designer (a.k.a. God). The amount of seemingly intelligent engineering required to generate even a single cell is staggering, much less a chimpanzee or a whale. Even a 20-billion-year-old universe is not enough to overcome the odds against Evolution … but eternal matter and energy easily solves the problem! After all, given infinite interactions within endless time, space and material, even the most statistically improbable events will eventually occur. Voila! Any statistical problems with Evolution have been eliminated, and there is no reason the atheistic cosmos could not generate human beings. So now the need for fairy tales has been entirely eliminated … or has it?

The Unanticipated Problem with Eternal Matter and Energy
Although infinite time/material solves all statistical problems with Evolution, therein lies the rub, since it also solves all statistical problems with everything else—including fairies, unicorns, goblins, dragons and gnomes. Although God could choose to create krakens, chimeras and griffons, the Almighty is not obligated to do so. In contrast, the eternal atheistic cosmos is statistically obligated to create all possible forms of matter and energy, including Poseidon, the World Serpent, Darth Vader and Papa Smurph.

Under Atheism, the Lord of the Rings epic will play itself out an infinite number of times, with infinitely varied results. Sometimes it plays out exactly as JRR Tolkien wrote the original stories. Sometimes Sauron and the bad guys win. And sometimes Gandalf and Sauron reconcile and drink kombucha together on Mount Doom. In other words, if Atheism is true, fairy tales must also be true! So the “religion is a silly fairy tale” argument actually implodes on itself.

And What about Religious Miracles?
The historicity of the Bible is frequently dismissed by atheists because it contains miracles. And yet, given eternal matter and energy, there is absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of any of the Biblical miracles, or those of any other religion for that matter (including Wiccan superstitions, etc.). If those miracles did not happen in our universe, they must have happened in another one.

Sooner or later a young virgin named Mary will develop a hermaphroditic or asexual mutation, plus a random Y chromosome in her ovaries, so she can impregnate herself with a male child named Jesus. In our universe, Moses led the Hebrews through the Red Sea. In another universe, Jabba the Hutt led the Chinese through the Pacific. Given eternal matter and energy, it will eventually happen!

Too Old for Fairy Tales
In December of 2014 in America, some atheist organizations purchased billboards in multiple heavily religious states, in order to run an anti-religious campaign during the holiday season. The billboards depicted a nice young lady looking rather incredulous. The headliner said something to the tune of: “Dear Santa—All I want for Christmas is to not have to go to church. I’m too old for fairy tales.” But the irony of this self-defeating billboard campaign is that if Atheism is true, fairy tales are true. So apparently that young lady is too old for Atheism!

And Don’t Forget Easter, a.k.a. Resurrection Sunday!
Given infinite time and material, there will even be accidental resurrections from the dead, when the universe reconstitutes bodies that had previously been destroyed or expired on their own. If Jesus did not rise from the dead in our world, He must have risen from the dead in another world. So if Atheism is true, even the Resurrection itself cannot be ruled out. Apparently, everyone can celebrate the Resurrection each year, though of course, Biblical Christianity alone proclaims its true meaning!

In my posts Objective Morality—Atheism vs. Pantheism vs. Theism and If God Is Good, What Is Evil?, I attempted to demonstrate that (1) God’s nature is the essence of objective goodness and (2) evil is nothing more than corrupt self-righteousness—false goodness that seeks to challenge God’s true righteousness. If these two premises are correct, then the classic Moral Argument for God can be expanded into the Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone. But before presenting the formal fancy-pants philosophical argument, there are a few issues to further explore …

If Humans Are Corrupted by Evil Self-Righteousness, How Can They Become Good/Justified?
This is a crucial question for humanity. How do we become good? Can we be justified by doing lots of good works, such as giving to charity? Can we become enlightened by meditating for hours on end? Is it possible we are already 100% justified, and just do not realize it? If we are supposed to become good or enlightened through our own power and efforts, where and what is the correct formula?!

In Andy Stanley’s book How Good Is Good Enough?, he brilliantly exposes the myriad flaws with the “good people go to Heaven” theory—the idea that we must achieve a certain level of personal goodness in order to please God. Obviously, atheists do not believe in God or Heaven, but the question still remains for the atheist: how does one become justified? One of the troubling questions Stanley raises for the “good people are justified” hypothesis is that we would need some sort of objective standard to determine if humans are good enough. Even if we established what all the correct moral guidelines are (a huge debate in itself), is a “good” person someone who is 85% good, or 21% good, or 53% good … or exactly 41.29847% good (but if you’re only 41.29846% good, you’re only a “mediocre” or “bad” person)? For that matter, if we are supposed to become holy or enlightened based upon our own good works or meditations or religious devotion, why doesn’t God or the universe give us progress reports throughout our lives—so we know where we stand and, if necessary, can adopt a performance-improvement plan?

Such questions do not merely lead to nagging doubts about the popular “good people are justified” theory—they completely undermine it! Any percentage formula for righteousness we could concoct (whether it is religious or irreligious) would inevitably be arbitrary. Various religions offer different self-help formulas on how to become justified and reach Heaven or Nirvana, but how can we possibly know which method is correct? Are we supposed to keep track of our good deeds and misdeeds throughout our lives and then plug them into a formula? And does that sort of formulaic personal holiness really make logical sense? Under that scenario, we would have to imagine God or the universe potentially informing us: “I’m sorry—you’re exactly 0.00352% short of the necessary holiness to reach Heaven …”

But besides impossible-to-answer questions about percentages and formulas, there is a far deeper problem with the “good people are justified” theory. And that is that the theory teaches us to become “good people” (whatever the heck that means) through the power of our own self-holiness. In one form or another, the vast majority of humanity is counting on being justified because “I’ve done enough good things” or “I’m not as bad as my abusive neighbor”—and that entire mindset is firmly rooted in human self-justification … but human self-righteousness (evil) is the whole problem in the first place!

Does Analyzing This Problem Shed Light on Anything?
Now take another look at every faith outside of Christianity. While there are enormous differences among them, they all boil down to establishing human justification through personal goodness:
•   Satanism, Amoral Atheism and Moral Relativism: You are already 100% justified and you can do whatever you want. You are effectively omnibenevolent … your own self-contained moral Yahweh.
•   Amoral Pantheism: The world is an illusion, including your supposed “evil”. You need to become enlightened and realize the entire world is non-real, and then you will ascend beyond it.
•   Moral Atheism, Moral Pantheism and Non-Christian Theism: In order to become justified in the sight of the universe or God, you must do enough good things and avoid doing too many bad things.
Though many adherents to the above faiths are kind and well-meaning, they have staked their ultimate justification on their own ability to become good in and of themselves—and that is a grave mistake.

But Is There an Alternative to Human Self-Justification?
Yes, there is! There is only one historical religious figure who rejected the “good people are justified” theory—Jesus. Instead of offering humanity a self-help program based upon a regimen of good works or percentage of enlightenment, Jesus teaches us to totally surrender to Him through faith (John 3:15–16) and to be transformed from the inside out, not through our own frail efforts, but through His divine power (2 Corinthians 5:17). And that message is radically different from any other faith in the cosmos.

This was poignantly illustrated in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the Apostle Paul. Prior to an overwhelming encounter with Jesus, Saul was a devoted, violent religious zealot (Acts 26:5)—a Pharisee of the strictest sect of Judaism—and he was trying to please God by rigidly adhering to the Law of Moses. But after his life was transformed by Christ, he realized that, as a Pharisee, he had only been using divine law to attempt to make himself righteous. And as a Christian, he gave up his own holiness so that he might be redeemed by Jesus’s true goodness (Philippians 3:8–9).

As Ravi Zacharias once described it: “Our [humanity’s] problem is not one of degree. It is one of kind.” Zacharias’s point was that humanity is self-righteously corrupt by nature, and there is no to-do list that will cure our root problem. We need a complete change of nature, and Jesus alone offers this to us. As theologian John MacArthur once put it: “There are many different religions in this world, but there are only two gospels. First, there is the gospel of divine righteousness—that is called ‘Biblical Christianity’. And then there is the gospel of human self-righteousness—and that is called ‘everything else’.”

The Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone
Premise 1: Objective morality exists.
Premise 2: God is the true paradigm of objective goodness.
Premise 3: Evil is false righteousness that attempts to challenge God as the paradigm of true goodness.
Premise 4: All other faiths outside of Christianity are inextricably rooted in self-justification.
Premise 5: The Christian Deity alone challenges humans to surrender their self-righteousness to God.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Christian God alone exists as the true paradigm of objective goodness.

If the above logical argument is sound (and I expect to be vigorously challenged on this), then the Moral Argument is not just checkmate for theism—it is checkmate for Christian theism!

Community Debates Forum / If God Is Good, What Is Evil?
« on: May 28, 2016, 11:30:45 am »
Per my post Objective Morality—Atheism vs. Pantheism vs. Theism, I firmly hold the Moral Argument for God’s existence to be true. However, any answer about the nature of objective goodness should be followed by the question of what evil is. Defining goodness should shed light on evil …

If God Is the Essence of Goodness, What Is the Essence of Evil?
As I described in my prior post, evil is merely an inferior, parasitic attack on goodness, just as falsehood is an unnecessary contradiction of truth. Good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without goodness. But still … what exactly is evil?!

It is interesting to note that just as falsehood is nothing more than bogus truth (it claims to be factually correct, but is not), evil itself claims to be justified—but is not. Even the most ruthless human beings in history, such as Zedong, Stalin and Hitler, thought they were doing the right thing and attempted to justify their actions. And what about people who openly admit they are evil and morally wrong? The hard-core Satanist who proudly claims to be wicked really means: “I am good—liberated to do whatever I want! And it’s those uptight religious people who are the problem.” In other words, the irony of evil is that it claims to be objectively good! Evil is nothing more than false moral goodness.

But if God’s nature is ultimate goodness, what is the implication about evil? In essence, evil is corrupt self-justification raised in rivalry against God’s true righteousness—it tries to stand independent of God on its own. In terms of our world, human self-righteousness and evil are one and the same.

This is precisely the point of the often-mocked story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3. Every created free moral agent must make the decision between submitting to God’s eternal goodness (entering into a healthy relationship with God) and attempting to be independently self-justified (rejecting relationship with God). Adam and Eve tried to challenge God’s righteousness and become “like God” … “knowing good and evil” for themselves. That is the moment humanity became corrupted and fell into darkness.

Ever since the Fall, we humans have been trying to be right. There is nothing that feels quite as good as being correct all the time, whether we are debating religion, politics, economics, science or everyday relational conflicts. Humanity’s deepest desire is to be right—and since God is truth and goodness, it is not a stretch to say that humanity’s deepest desire is to be God—to be omnibenevolent—to be all good and all justified. But since only God is the definition of goodness, we are out of luck.

As WLC has demonstrated, God is the paradigm of goodness, and the paradigm is always superior to imitations—even perfect imitations. Inescapably, the imitation defines its perfection based upon the paradigm. A perfect imitation of the Mona Lisa would still be measured against the Mona Lisa. So even if a human were to somehow perfectly imitate God’s benevolent characteristics in every single way, that person’s goodness would still be subordinate and inferior to God’s ultimate goodness.

Can We Be Good without God?
In many philosophical discussions, the question is raised as to whether it is possible to be morally good without believing in God. As a former atheist, I had an extremely strong conscience prior to believing in God, adhering to many of the same morals as Christians. And many of the atheists I know, including friends of mine, are very honorable! So shouldn’t an atheist who does all the right things be able to justifiably proclaim moral independence from God? In short, the answer is no. Apart from God (the paradigm of goodness), human moral goodness has no definition, which instantaneously undermines any attempt to be independently righteous. And if our goal in being “good” is to proudly throw our supposed holiness back in God’s face, it only proves we have been warped by self-righteousness.

A few years ago, I saw a billboard along an interstate from an atheist organization. It depicted a beautiful blue sky with white, puffy clouds and read: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” But the billboard could have been more accurately written: “Are you self-righteous? Millions are.” In turn, that could be even more succinctly stated: “Are you evil? Millions are.”

Unfortunately for those who are attempting to be morally justified apart from God, it is that very self-holiness that has corrupted them and severed their relationship with God. And lest you think I am merely criticizing atheists, I am directing the same accusation at myself. In one form or another, every human on this planet (yours-truly included!) has demanded the right to be the Almighty’s moral equal, which blatantly demonstrates our lack of respect for God and our overestimation of ourselves. So it really should not come as a surprise to us that our relationship with God has suffered as a result of our “personal goodness”.

This is why Jesus uniquely invites us to surrender our self-righteousness to Him through faith (John 3:16), rather than endlessly trying to earn our way to a righteous status through our own moral accomplishments (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16). Believing in Jesus is far more than mere intellectual acknowledgement of Christian religious doctrine (Genesis 15:6, Habakkuk 2:4, Ephesians 2: 8–10)—it is an act of total surrender to God as the paradigm of goodness (1 John 1:5). In place of our fallen self-righteousness (Philippians 3:8–9), Jesus promises to infuse His true righteousness into us through His presence (2 Corinthians 5:17)—and to transform us from the inside out (Philippians 1:6). Whereas other religions offer solutions for human evil based upon our self-effort (whether through good works or meditations), the Biblical Jesus alone offers us redemption based upon divine righteousness.

And because Jesus uniquely offers to redeem and transform us through His divine goodness rather than our own inferior self-righteousness, this leads directly into The Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone.

The question of objective morality is clearly a hot topic on this forum, with some excellent logical argumentation and impressive philosophical analysis on both sides. This post approaches the Moral Argument for God’s Existence from a slightly different angle. As has been noted in multiple other debates, a common version of the Moral Argument is as follows:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
Premise 2: Objective morality does exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

Let me start with Premise 2—the idea that objective morality undeniably exists. There are those who attempt to deny this truth, but ironically, the denial of objective morality’s existence is, in itself, an attempt at creating an objective moral truth. Case in point: if there is no objective moral law that divides right from wrong, then everything is in fact justified ... which is effectively equivalent to saying that everything is objectively good, regardless of anyone’s opinions. And that is indeed a form of objective morality. So since even the attempted negation of objective morality ends up espousing objective morality, it is 100% safe to say that objective moral truth exists.

But before we start looking at the implications of objective morality’s existence for worldviews, it is important to note that the old adage of “there is no good without evil” is totally false. At first it seems ironclad—if there’s an up, there’s a down. If there’s a right, there’s a left. So doesn’t evil somehow help lend good its substance? As a necessary opposite—two sides of the same eternal coin? In a word, no.

To demonstrate why evil is not goodness’s necessary opposite, simply look at good and evil through the same lens as truth and falsehood. Truth stands true on its own, but falsehood only gains its definition by contradicting/perverting truth. The same is true of good and evil. Life can exist just fine without murder, but murder only gains its definition by attacking life. Sex can exist just fine without rape, but rape is a brutal perversion of sex. A similar duality holds for every other good thing and its evil counterpart. The good has substance in itself, whereas the evil is always parasitic on the good. Translation: there is good without evil, but there is no evil without good. Evil is inherently inferior and unnecessary.

But if objective goodness exists (distinct from inferior, unnecessary evil), there must be some sort of explanatory ultimate that defines goodness, which leads us to the three fundamental worldviews: atheism, pantheism and theism. At this point in the debate, the Euthypro Dilemma is usually invoked, first by the atheist in an attempt to knock down the necessity of God for objective morality, then countered by the theist, then countered by the atheist, and back and forth until it results in infinite regression. Once the Dilemma has run its course, the debaters are forced to turn to other logical tools, since objective morality must have a stopping point. And we are again left with our three basic worldviews:

ATHEISM: Atheism proclaims an impersonal ultimate, namely non-sentient matter and energy. So if atheism is true, any objective moral laws would be an inherent part of the eternal physical cosmos—axiomatic values akin to the laws of physics.

PANTHEISM: Pantheism also proclaims an impersonal ultimate, only it is impersonal spirit instead of physical matter and energy. Again, objective moral laws would be an inherent part of the eternal spiritual cosmos—perhaps a law of karma.

THEISM: Theism alone proclaims a personal ultimate—an eternal, sentient, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Being. Objective moral goodness would be part of God’s inherent nature. Any moral imperatives would stem directly from God’s nature.

So which ultimate explanation for the existence of objective morality is the most plausible? If more than one is potentially valid, then the Moral Argument cannot be used to support just one worldview. But on the other hand, if only one explanatory ultimate could possibly be valid, then the Moral Argument instantly narrows truth to that worldview.

Interestingly, both atheism and pantheism attempt to define objective morality through an impersonal ultimate, which would leave us with equations like:
-Impersonal Matter and Energy = Goodness/Love
-Impersonal Spirit = Goodness/Love
But the insurmountable problem for both worldviews is that concepts like goodness, love, compassion, loyalty and honesty are, without question, personal in nature. So how could personal attributes possibly find their ultimate stopping points in something completely impersonal? Asteroids do not love and cannot be the embodiment of goodness. Though pantheistic spirit is more mystical than straight-up atheism, non-sentient spirit still cannot truly be good and cannot be the embodiment of love.

In stark contrast, an ultimate personal Deity could indeed be the embodiment of both goodness and love. Of course, this is precisely the contention of the Bible in 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:16 (among other Scriptures). As such, theism is the only possible valid explanation for the existence of objective morality, which leads us straight back to Premise 1 and the resulting Conclusion—the Moral Argument for God’s Existence is correct.

For those who are interested in this topic, I look forward to a robust dialogue! My subsequent posts also expound on it further:
If God Is Good, What Is Evil?
The Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone

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