VICTOR STENGER A Christian Response to His Atheist Primer 2

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Continuing with my response to his atheist primer we look at the rest of Victors Stenger’s comments to Christian objections to Atheism.

Atheists claim that the universe just “popped” into existence. I can’t believe this. It’s preposterous.

Some of these statements which Dr. Stenger lays at the Christians feet and expects them to own them are difficult. Its not that Dr. Stenger is wrong in attributing this to Christians, its that unfortunately Christians offer some pretty poor objections. This is one of them.

Dr. Stenger rightly calls the Christian on this one and if this were the case in which a Christian ‘refused to believe’ based on nothing more than an emotional rejection, or at best what strikes the Christian as preposterous proves nothing and offers no real attack on atheism. When Atheism does this to Christianity while flavoring it with ‘myth-god’ names etc. its an empty statement.

Where did the laws of physics come from?

Dr. Stenger’s answer here is a dismissal, he offers no answer only a corrective on ‘laws’ being principles that scientists build into models to describe their observations. In short, axioms to describe repetition. The Christian Apologist could go down this road to insist that Physics, Mathematics, Logic are all intuitive abstractions that beg to exist outside of the mind. In short they cannot be mental constructs alone, otherwise they lose their objective value. Logic, math or physics that changes from mind to mind is as worthless as opinions on what the weather will be standing right here 10 years from now. This raises the question that Dr. Stenger didn’t want to answer, if Physics cannot rightly be a mental construct locked in natural explanation; where is its origin? Why is it like math and logic whereby they are universally understood by all people in its simplest descriptions? Naturalistic explanations are an epic fail when trying to dismiss the existential place of physics in concept. Someone the other day attempted to describe a snowflake according to the freezing of water vapor after the manner of the physical properties of water, air etc. But when it was all done the point of the snowflake was missed entirely…What point? Why are they beautiful to us? Explanations of a snowflake that sound like an automotive manual don’t scratch the surface of explaining beauty.

If the constants of physics were just slightly different, life would have been impossible. The probability that this happened by accident is infinitesimally small. Therefore they had to be fine-tuned by God.

The argument for fine-tuning was like other arguments for Dr. Stenger, best to side-step than to deal with it head-on. The Christian was not making an argument for ‘any kind’ of life but the plant and animal life we have on our planet now. So, telling us that ‘some kind’ of life might originate from another kind of ‘tuning’ doesn’t answer the question at all, in fact it generates more questions. Dr. Stenger then attempts to turn ‘statistics’ around on the Christian and argue that many things that happen may have very low probability but do happen. This of course only serves the soften the necessary fine-turning for life as we know it. The problem though, for the atheist that offers this argument is, he still must deal with the details of the fine tuning that are germane to the importance of looking at the ‘how’ of fine tuning. Such difficult interaction between, chemical, physical, gravitational, light etc repel chaotic indeterminate chance at every turn. Its the science behind the fine-tuning that mitigates against the Theory of Evolution and calls for re-thinking a theory that will not accept scientific finds that contradict it.

Dr. Stenger then goes on a rant about the probability of God where he ends up implying the Euthyphro dilemma. This is no answer to the fine-tuning objection, but Dr. Stenger is setting up for the Moral argument where he believes he can ‘make points’ .

God gave humans free will so he cannot control suffering.

This is another terrible argument that most Christians would not agree with and surely not me. Defending it against Dr. Stenger is not necessary for me. But we will move on to the heart of the issues in the next statements.

How can there be objective morality without God?

Dr. Stenger now brings up Euthyphro Dilemma. I will allow Matt Slick from Christian Apologetic and Research Ministries to answer this. The main idea for Dr. Stenger is to equalize the morality between Christian and atheist saying both are objectively moral. 

Plato didn’t know about the third option and maybe Dr. Stenger and other atheists don’t read much about these things either. Here’s Matt’s answer.

The Euthyphro dilemma comes from Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, which has had different forms over the centuries.  Basically, it is “Are moral acts willed by God because they are good, or are they good because they are willed by God?”  Another way of saying it is, does God say that things are moral because they are by nature moral, or do they become moral because God declares them to be?

The dilemma is that if the acts are morally good because they are good by nature, then they are independent of God.  These acts would already be good in themselves and God would have to appeal to them to “find out” what is good.  On the other hand, if something is good because God commands that it is good, then goodness is arbitrary and God could have called murder good and honesty not good.
The Euthyphro dilemma is actually a false dichotomy.  That is, it proposes only two options when another is possible.  The third option is that good is based on God’s nature.  God appeals to nothing other than his own character for the standard of what is good, and then reveals what is good to us.  It is wrong to lie because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), not because God had to discover lying was wrong or that he arbitrarily declared it to be wrong. This means that God does not arbitrarily declare something to be good (ignoring his own nature) or say that something is good by nature (recognizing a standard outside of himself).  Both of these situations ignore the biblical option that good is a revelation of God’s nature.  In other words, God is good by nature and he reveals that nature to us. Therefore, for the Christian, there is no dilemma since neither position in Euthyphro’s dilemma represents Christian theology

Dr. Stenger’s attempt to equalize moral conditions between the Christian and atheist fails here badly. If it is true that God determines what is moral according to his own nature, then a pretended objective morality claimed by the atheist cannot be equal to the Christian claiming his morality and spirituality are derived from God’s word. The Atheist may deny God and the authority of His word, but they cannot offer anything but popular opinion either in ethics or morality to upset the Christians claims.

Don’t atheists believe that morals are relative, depending on the situation?

Dr. Stenger answers this one as I spelled out earlier; atheism is nuanced by the individual therefore its not dogmatic whether one chooses relativism or not. His assertion that atheists are equally as moral as Christians is an impossibility if the morality for man originates with God. Because if God determines the moral criteria, unbelief and a-theism would categorize the atheist in an immoral state and in perpetual rebellion to true morality. The pretense of atheism is that if they are nice to their fellow humans or they give to causes, or other various good things, this good-action-person cannot be distinguished from Christianity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Christianity requires an integrity in thought word and deed, whereby the whole of God’s word is integrated into the Christians way of life. The moralism of atheism is like a fad diet, making temporal improvements to the external while internally the person is craving a return to the former diet.

What about all the millions of people murdered by atheists: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot?

Dr. Stenger answers this one with a deflection, a side-stepping and in fact such a obvious error regarding the history of atheism in power its laughable. If you attempt this publicly, be prepared to lose a good part of the audience. Atheism was the driving philosophy behind Stalinism, Marxism and Communism. Hitler was a Mosaic of philosophies

Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are also identified as the “philosophical triumvirate of national Socialism” (21). Sherratt shows that Hitler worked hard to display his philosophical knowledge and promote his image as philosopher-leader. From his claim of carrying Schopenhauer with him in the trenches of World War I, to the walking stick he received as a gift from Nietzsche’s sister, Sherratt shows that, “Hitler was a mosaic of influences” Taken from a review of Yvonne Sherratt’s book Hitlers Philosophers

              http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/786

 Hitler’s influences were not orthodox Christian but like Marx and Nietzsche were atheistic. Dr. Stenger needs to own his predecessors warts and all. If ever the subject of the failings of the Church is raised…so be it. But to deny these men did not act in accordance with the philosophies of atheism is false.

Allow me to quote this article.

Just How Many People Has Religion Killed?
Kirk Durston, National Director, New Scholars Society 

A popular urban legend that I’ve often heard is that religion has killed more people than anything else, so the world would be a lot more peaceful place were it not for religion. The top three largest examples are thought to be the Crusades of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and the burning of witches. Scholars estimate that the Crusades of the middle ages cost from 58,000 to 133,000 lives. The most realistic figure for the Spanish Inquisition puts the total killed from AD1480 to AD1808 at up to 31,912. Finally, records indicate that the number of witches killed may be over 30,000. Some argue that records don’t tell everything and suggest that maybe even 100,000 were killed. These three events, totaling over 264,000 killed, are thought to be the largest atrocities perpetrated by one or another form of Christendom. As we shall shortly see, however, they pale into insignificance in comparison to the consequences of atheism.

It must be horrifying to read such numbers and the multitudes of people killed as a result of some form of religious policy. But, before we walk away, lets read the rest of the story.

Kirk Dunston goes on to say.

There are two points to make by way of response. The first point can be made by asking the question, “Are these activities consistent with what Jesus taught?” Most people with even an elementary knowledge of Christ will admit that such killing is inconsistent with His teachings. People often try to justify their hatred, actions, and even killing by appealing to whatever is held in high regard by the population. It follows that if Christianity is or was held in high regard by populations, that certain people with the power to carry out atrocities would attempt to justify them in the name of Christianity. It is a simple-minded person indeed who reasons, “Joe claims he is a Christian–Joe committed an atrocity in the name of Christianity–therefore Christianity promotes atrocities.” The Bible states that the person who says he loves God, but hates his brother, is a liar. There are many people through history that have done horrible things in the name of Christianity, but Jesus’ words, “you will know them by their fruit” tell the real story regarding their love for God and whether they follow the commands of Jesus Christ.

Let us consider these numbers.

The second point to make is that, yes, people who claim to love God do kill, but nowhere near to the extent that the lack of religion does. According to University of Hawaii political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel,[1] <#_ftn1> the total number killed in all of human history is estimated to be about 284,638,000. Of that number, 151,491,000 were killed during the past 100 years. The single largest killer in all of human history is, by far, atheistic Communism with a total of 110,000,000 … over 1/3 of all people ever killed! If we add to that number just two other regimes where religion of any sort was strongly discouraged, Nazi Germany and Nationalist China, the number rises to 141,160,000. Almost 50% of all the killings in human history were committed in the past 100 years by regimes that either actively promoted atheism or strongly discouraged religion. We have not considered the over one billion abortions, where Christianity seems to be particularly unwelcome. When the murders of history are tallied up, it is very clear that atheism is the most dangerous philosophy ever embraced by humanity. The most effective restraint on mankind’s inherently evil tendencies is faith in God through Jesus Christ, a faith that actually follows the teachings and commands of Jesus Christ as a daily way of life.

If we decide to use statistics concerning the claims of Dr. Stenger he simply recites the myth of ‘religion has killed more people’. The truth is far more alarming where we can see the hands of atheism is red with the blood of its victims.

There is convincing evidence that Jesus was a historical figure who performed miracles and rose from the dead.

The life of Jesus is documented so well, its a strange and interesting effect that atheism is having upon Dr. Stenger. The New Testament has so many copies to represent itself and has had so much impact upon history, the cumulative evidence for not only the life of Jesus and his resurrection, but the whole of Christianity; additionally, the changes that the New Testament wrought are everywhere to be seen. Roman historians mention Jesus, but their mention is trifling compared to the New Testament. Dr. Stenger wants us to engage in the Jesus myth and pass it off as a credible fact. There is less evidence for Plato and Socrates than for Jesus. Josephus and Tacitus mentions are not forgeries, but it seems anything that helps his case is as good as gold.

What about Josephus and Tacitus?

Christians a death cult? We as Christians understand we are dead to sin and alive to Christ, baptism being representative of dying to our old self and being raised again in newness of life through the power of Christ. Strange how Dr. Stenger disconnects Jesus from Christianity, the evidences is in and Dr. Stenger has decided that historical revision suits his atheism better than historical fact. The truth is, Josephus and Tacitus offer nothing to the Christian faith it doesn’t already have by the truck load in eyewitness testimonies and the effect their lives had on the Roman Culture around them. In fact the world was never the same again. I do not believe for a moment that Dr. Stenger actually believes Jesus was a myth, its just happens to be a tool in the atheist tool box to perpetuate unbelief even if that tool is unusable for nothing else than providing the shallow-thinking atheist with propaganda.

 There is just as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as for Socrates.

The authors of the New Testament John, Matthew, were both eyewitnesses. Peter is said to have given Mark his information. But the reality is, there were tens of thousands of eye witnesses to Jesus Christ. A great many listened to him speak, others watched him carry the cross, others attended the crucifixion. Others witnessed him after his resurrection. Simply tossing out the New Testament as though its of no historical value to the claims of Christianity is equivalent to tossing out every thing Dr. Stenger has written simply because some folks in the future didn’t like Dr. Stenger and they believed he was false and probably non-existent. The facts are stacked like stones on a pyramid for everyone to recognize and use. Dr. Stenger is offering his atheist debaters more myth and atheist propaganda that has no credibility and surely no truth in it.

Jesus was a great moral teacher whose teachings superseded those of the Old Testament and brought a new code of morality to humanity.

Dr. Stenger appeals to some supposed bible contradictions that support his case. These quoted texts do no pose the slightest contradiction, nor do they support his idea that Jesus was simply some kind of plagiarist. What Dr. Stenger fails to recognize is that Jesus being God gave those laws and judgments to Moses before he became incarnate. For the Christian this is exactly what we believe because the scripture presents a God that is from everlasting to everlasting. The atheist does not believe that claim, but that does not undermine our claim, nor undermine the power and authority of scripture. When Christ brought in the New Covenant, those laws that were a part of a human priesthood, temple service, economy and Hebrew society were removed to make way for the inclusion of the gentiles and the priesthood of all believers. In short, Dr. Stenger doesn’t give the atheist debater anything other than dissenting opinion about scripture he obviously doesn’t understand. Dr. Stenger should have taken his own advice and stayed away from taking on a theologian in his own backyard.

As to the Jews moving from one torment to another. That is a cruel way of saying he thinks God’s judgment to be wrong. Yet, upon what basis can Dr. Stenger make that judgment if God does not exist? There would be no objective morality, nothing but Dr. Stenger’s own criteria for right and wrong…and it holds no more weight than anyone else’s opinion. You must actually presuppose God to indict him on charges of immorality; its the assertion of the Apostle Paul and of reformed apologists like myself that he is merely suppressing his knowledge of God and using arguments to conceal his knowledge.

Atheists believe the only reality is matter. Yet we have many examples of immaterial things such as thoughts, emotions, information, logic, and mathematics. How can that be reconciled with a purely material world?

Dr. Stenger’s answer to this question shows an incredibly weak ability to own what he believes. His epistemic source wont carry his wood for him to the fire place. So, deflection and nuance is the way to answer. To claim some atheists do not hold this view answers nothing for those who do hold that view. Then Dr. Stenger vainly attempts to save himself by offering a materialist answer to the metaphysical. This is the standard answer for a metaphysical naturalist…that the material creates the illusion of the transcendent. The problem lay in that it begs the question. Logical fallacy which is the bane of good argument raises its head here. What Dr. Stenger, Dawkins, Dennett and others have never done is “prove” the impersonal can give rise to the personal. Now, they may say it can and does, but they have no way of proving that. In reading Dr. Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell he goes to great lengths to speculate just how that happens. Yet in the end, we don’t have anything more than speculation over-layed with anecdote and more theory. The Christian apologist might very well respond with asking the atheist debater to explain how the “is” of brain-neurons etc give rise to the “ought” of logic that cannot be proven by anything but itself, so also with math.

If there is no God, how can there be meaning and purpose in life?

Dr. Stenger answers this question by simply ignoring the elephant in the room. Manufacturing your own meaning for life and injecting your own purpose works fine as long as you don’t have to co-exist in harmony with another human being. Otherwise its just short ventures into pleasure seeking that never satisfy to the level Dr. Stenger claims, nor does pleasure anymore than pain carry with it meaningfulness. I call this atheism feeding in the Christians’ pasture. When God has made a comfortable pasture for the people of God, atheism arises at times and says all of this goodness can of itself provide meaning, because the goodness of this life carries with it the value’s and essentially the hope of continued purpose. That purpose being nothing more than the desire to consume the goodness offered in the Christian’s pasture.

Take atheism out of the Christian’s pasture and put him into his own pasture; stark, empty of meaning, materialistically reductionist so that what is beauty can only truthfully be assigned to organized atomic structure. Maybe peacefulness, harmony and joys are banned, maybe the atheist society calls for stoic harshness, cruelty is to be admired, violence to be imitated, survival is not an option nor the theory in some text book but the basic philosophy of human coexistence.

Since there is no God in the atheist mind, the Christians ideas of harmony, peaceful coexistence, joys, love, altruism, benevolence, giving are considered traces of ancient religious oppression. Think for a moment what better way to control the masses but by offering them the hope of peaceful existence. Nietzsche was consistent when he wrote that to remove Christianity is to remove all of it, especially those moral dictates that hinder a society built upon no-god thinking.

The atheist feeding happily in the pasture of Christian-based society may speak bravely how he can live with self-manufactured meaning and purpose, but remove that Christian-based society and look at Communist Russia and Communist China, Communist North Korea and tell me just how many atheists are trying to gain citizenship there? Would Dr. Stenger be able to write his books and live so freely if he were to reject Christian pastureland?

Many people, including myself, have had personal religious experiences where they have had direct contact with God or visited heaven (near-death experiences). Those are empirical facts too.

I dislike these arguments because they only lead to stalemates. Its not that experiences of a religious or spiritual nature are not valid its just that they are as subjective as the atheist’s non-experience. The impossibility of validation between one or the other takes us out of scripture and places us into the realm of judging things according to human autonomy…which as the Christian knows is corrupted by sin. When the Christian apologist surrenders the ground of scripture presupposition and gives entry to human autonomy, the only point of view can be skepticism. But, even that is dangerous. Remember we can be skeptical about skepticism. Its a tail chase.

 

Dr. Stenger’s argument about hallucinations is a sword that can be used to cut away his arguments as fast as he cuts away at the Christians. Examples along these lines pointing one way or the other are fine as far as they go, but they do not objectively prove God, they subjectively do and that is a different category in which to approach this topic.

There is every reason to believe in God and no good reason not to. If you do, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. (Pascal’s Wager)

Here, we don’t get an answer, we only find ourselves being judged by a back-handed version of Dr. Stenger’s idea that the honest atheist should be in heaven before the deceptive Christian. Again, this is no answer its a deflection. Dr. Stenger does not address the real wager. This is to the Christian apologists advantage, he can show that the atheist debater is no longer answering the Christians objections but deflecting them with opinion.

Many billions of people have a hunger for God. We have a “god-shaped hole” in out hearts. If there was no food, we would have nothing to be hungry about.

It appears Dr. Stenger is trying to draw his own article to a close and offering one liners to answer, which just like the last few questions have not been answered, this one is no different.

The atheist debater should have said this god-shaped-hole is just a mental construct and has no existence outside the mind. But, Dr. Stenger betraying his own philosophy again, we see he must offer the opinion that billions don’t feel that hunger, yet just what kind of questions are going to be asked for science to arrive at a solution that is empirically verifiable? Again, this is another place where the scientist stops talking science and answers with philosophy. He does nothing to help his atheist debater and in fact enmeshes him in existential ideas that are the backyard for the Christian apologist and contrary-wise might as well be Pluto for the atheist. Dr. Dennett tries to answer this and maybe it wasn’t good enough for Dr. Stenger to know or remember. I share that sentiment.

The last three questions. 

They are poor questions designed to attack atheist sentiment rather than strike down anything substantial. Truth is, Christians can be converted and due to their political surroundings plunge themselves into horrible conditions. This is common the world over…its called persecution. Finally when Dr. Stenger marshals out the apostates that condemn the Church and Scripture, its no surprise to the Christian. Jesus said that would happen and it did. We have enemies from within as well as from without. Those enemies do not invalidate the scriptures or the Church by their words and actions, they only damn themselves irreparably and reveal that God can and does make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor.

Conclusion

I hope my readers can see that the atheist debater is not at all helped by Dr. Stenger’s advice. Not only that, but the good Dr. has shown that the Christian apologist need not try very hard to show his atheist debater how ill prepared he will be if armed with Dr. Stenger’s responses. Canning these responses to use against the Christian Apologist will meet with prolonged embarrassment for the atheist and offer a demonstration that atheism is ill-equipped to tackle Christianity when truth and facts are available to both the debaters and the listeners.

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