Friday, January 01, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Atheism

I was watching a documentary on NetFlix the other day entitled "The Atheism Tapes." The documentary involved a series of interviews with famous intellectual atheists who were asked to comment on their objections to religion. There are several interesting atheist arguments. Here are a few thoughts I had as I watched this BBC documentary from my LDS perspective.

1. Christianity like all religion drives people to kill
A. A small minority of Christians inappropriately used religion as a justification to kill. However, if you look at the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the fight is not over religion, but land and power. No one on either side is forcing the other to deny their God or die. Also, according to Edward Peter's Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition (state controlled), held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people. On the other side atheists, secular, utilitarian regimes lead by Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, French Revolution, Adolf Hitler, etc have killed in the tens of millions.

2. The idea of God is oppressive. We are not atheist but antithesis.
A. Commandments are directions and not restrictions. God empowers, and doesn't restrict believers. There are many more successful and creative believers than non-believers. Many evangelicals don't like the LDS religion because they think having an organized LDS church with a structured hierarchy is oppressive. Science has proven that religious people are on average happier, healthier, and give more to charity than the non-religious.

American Democracy is based on self-government based on the Judeo-Christian principle of the "golden rule." Limited government cannot be expected to make rules about every little thing. Therefore, people are expected to govern their own lives based on the principle of "doing unto others as we would have others do unto us" and the belief that all mankind will stand before God in the next life and stand accountable on how we lived with respect to this divine and self-evident and natural law.

3. God cannot exist because of the problem of evil and bad stuff happening to good people.
A. LDS understand that the spirit of Lucifer always existed, so that God is neither responsible for making a defective creation, nor is He responsible for being an accomplice to evil by giving a murderer (Lucifer) a gun (agency). Evangelical claim God created Satan from nothing, and had perfect foreknowledge of Satan's evil intentions and claim God isn't responsible for letting Satan loose on the universe or that evil and sin is necessary. Only the LDS understanding of the eternal nature of the spirit addresses this argument.

There is another issue with the so-called "problem of suffering." When an atheist tries to argue that there cannot be a God because such-and-such bad thing happened to so-and-so, they usually don't tell you about how the person who was experiencing the pain, trial, or adversity felt about it. I have experienced many people of faith meet adversity, pain, and death with very little suffering. Instead, I have witnessed children and adults face great adversity with faith, courage and hope. Atheist object that religion is the opioid of the masses or a crutch, the Bible teaches that faith in God is balm that has the power to sooth a troubled heart.

4. A good atheist only believes what he can see.
A. Atheist claim this universe and the fact that it is calibrated from life is just a manifestation of luck. This universe is just one of a gazillion other universes not calibrated for life. "Other Universes?" When has anyone seen another universe? For an empiricist, all this talk about other universes sounds like voo-doo to me. LDS are taught that the only way to know God is to have a personal experience with God and allow God to reveal himself to them. There is no way to intellectually prove or disprove God. Therefore, LDS believe in God not because we can prove God, but because God has proved Himself to us.

8 comments:

Jeff G said...

1. "the fight is not over religion, but land and power..."


Two points worth making. First, while power may be at the ultimate root of these conflicts, the ideas of a life after this one and orthodoxy being more important than this life have led to a lot of violence. Second, religion is wwaayyy too powerful of a tool for the power-hungry to wield. The fact is that as the world has become more secularized, it has become less violent. Maybe this is correlation rather than causation, but it is interesting all the same.

2. "Commandments are directions and not restrictions. God empowers, and doesn't restrict believers."

Oh c'mon. Commandments are not directions, they are commandments. "Thou shalt..." is not how one gives friendly advice. Religion commands people to do things they don't want to do and not to do things they do want to do. There's nothing wrong with this so long as some kind of justification can be given for it, but this is exactly where religion tends to bog down. The "thou shalt" is the only reason ever given.

I also contend that we have exactly zero evidence that the golden rule was given to the world from God, especially by way of Judeo-Christianity.

3. "God is neither responsible for making a defective creation, nor is He responsible for being an accomplice to evil"

Lets suppose that a parent just sits and watches while their child drowns or is run down by a train. You make it sound like their defense attorney can get them off the hook by pointing out that nobody has asked the child how they felt about it and that the parent didn't create or drive the train.

In other words, either God knew a tsunami was coming and did nothing to warn or save people, or God didn't know the tsunami was coming. Which is it, evil or incompetence?

4. "A good atheist only believes what he can see."

When has anybody ever said that atheists can't have theories and hypotheses of their own? What atheists object to is not believing in things for which there is no proof, but hanging moral weight on such things.

Again, if we are going to be asked to do things we don't want to do and not do things we do want to do in our lives as well as in the lives of others there had better be some good reasons and justifications. Other universes simply don't influence or alter peoples' lives for good or evil.

BRoz said...

Thank you for your comments:

I see Religion as a tool like fire. It can be used for good and bad. But just because it can be used for bad, doesn't mean it is inherently bad.

The golden rule is self-evident. So, all humans have had it from the first man. But God created the mind of man to be empathetic.

Animals behave based on instinct over conditioning. Humans have a greater capacity than any other animal to repress instinct or nature. Religion and commandments are part of the nurture and conditioning to control appetites and passions. That is what being human and civilization is all about.

Sacrifice is about giving up something now for something better later. Today's secular world is too much about immediate graditifation and giving into our appetites. Such hedonistic behavior is animalistic and not civil and leads to violence. Tell me what secular programs teach sacrifice and help its members exercize self-control?

God has warned us and will save us. My point is according to LDS there is no problem with suffering because God didn't cause evil nor does He empower evil. God does permit evil as part of His purpose for us.

A Chinese proverb says a tree doesnt learn how stong it is by bending to the wind but by standing against it.

Anonymous said...

If you can't disprove something, you cannot prove it. You are correct about that.

The problem is that under such circumstances your knowledge is arbitrary. What if there is a God, and he wants us to not have to believe in him, and act according to the tools of this life? What if belief is against what God wants? If you have to believe in God, you cannot 'know' anything about him.

That is, a conviction that God exists, a feeling, could be nothing more than something generated from within. There is no way to know. Even if you died and met the eternal God, it could be a false spirit lying to you. Only things that are provable/disprovable can be known.

Sacrifice is giving something up that's better for something worse. Saying otherwise is frankly Orwellian. If you will get something better in the long-run, giving up something now is not a sacrifice. Sometimes things are worth more because they happen sooner rather than later. The deciding factor is reason, wisdom, thought, knowledge.

Your definition of sacrifice is basically giving up something known for something that is unknown. This is a sacrifice according to reason. If your belief turns true, it won't be a sacrifice in the end. But the sacrifice itself does not validate the belief. In fact, the only reason why sacrifice is a value is because if it is valued by a society, it allows for a mass-delusion where the absence of real success, real hapiness, is replaced with false believed hapiness. Avoiding knowledge is the way to survive here.

Most atheists have bad arguments because their ethical systems don't fully uphold reason. Modern 'secular' philosophy claims that reason is fundamentally flawed. They say things like 'how do you know the sun will rise tomorrow?' Like the lectures on faith definition of faith. But that definition is the definition of knowledge! When an event is observed and understood, and confirmed, that is how it is known. There is no other way to know or be aware of anything. Even to believe in something, you must first use knowledge to construct a fantasy before you then reject knowledge. These atheists are just anti-religion/paternal God-ists.

For ethics, you cannot answer 'why is so-and-so bad' with 'because God says so'. God must have a reason, or he wouldn't exist, so if you think about it there is a reason behind every ethical conclusion. Consider the reasons and you learn they apply to human life and human existence. God isn't needed to discover these reasons. Atheists have many reasons to be ethical.

BRoz said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments:

There is a God, He has revealed Himself to me. Of course I cannot prove that to you. But I can tell you how it happened to me and maybe it can happen for you.

But the God that has made Himself known to me does want me to have faith in Him and He also wants me to take advantage of all the tools/gifts of this life. Your argument presented a false dichotomy.

There are other ways of knowing than with your 5 senses. It is very important to gain the ability of discernment of the communication of God vs. appetites, passions, emotions, paranoia, etc. They are different.

Sacrifice is giving up something good for something better later. There is no speculation needed. What is required is self-restraint and patience.

Most evangelicals confuse faith with hope and hope with speculation. LDS Faith does not equal hope. LDS faith is as empiric and predictive as Classical Newtonian physics. For LDS, if we do such and such, we expect a corresponding result. LDS are expected to be Christian Scientists and prove God's word. So, far in my life, God's word has proven itself to me in every instance.

For Atheists to be ethical, they have to decide whose ethics they will adopt. So, how do you rate one ethical system above another? For LDS Christians the system is already in place, therefore we can focus more on applying the ethics instead of endlessly searching.

BRoz said...

Jeff G said:


"When has anybody ever said that atheists can't have theories and hypotheses of their own? What atheists object to is not believing in things for which there is no proof, but hanging moral weight on such things.

Again, if we are going to be asked to do things we don't want to do and not do things we do want to do in our lives as well as in the lives of others there had better be some good reasons and justifications. Other universes simply don't influence or alter peoples' lives for good or evil."


I didn't say you made the argument, but I have heard atheists make this argument. But just so you realize believing in other universes is just as immeasurable as believing in the theory of God.

There are good reasons to believe in God because although you cannot measure God with a man-made instrument, you can test the ethics. And you better have a good reason to reject the wisdom of the history of man contained in scripture and religion which teaches/conditions man self-restraint of his appetites and passions.

If atheists think they are so progressive, then they better have solid proof via longitudinal studies
that their ethics are superior to traditional values of self-restraint, traditional marriage, and rejection of recreational and abuse of psychoactive and addictive substances.

An unmeasurable theory of other universes can have moral implications if those who believe in these theories are the ones assigning moral value to them.

Anonymous said...

LDS & Islam are "tolerant" in outward appearance only, and only as a ploy for "marketing" and recruiting others into the "business."

Mormons talk a lot about tolerance, love, understanding, and getting along with other religions, but their official scriptures and Church doctrine condemn ALL other Churches and religions as an "abomination in [God's] sight; ...[their] professors [are] all corrupt;... they draw near to [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [God], they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith History 1:19)

The Quran also contains hateful, condemning words (put in God's mouth) about non-Muslim religions, cultures, and peoples. It justifies violence against "infidels". The news reports violent acts by Muslims who are ultimately more faithful, exact, and devoted to official scriptural "words of God" than are "lukewarm" moderate Muslims!

The problem is not in the degree to which faith is practiced; the problem is in the official scriptures and doctrines and formal organizations of religions!

Until the official "word of God" is cleansed of all its violence, bigotry, and self-righteous language, there will be no peace!

Anonymous said...

"There is a God, He has revealed Himself to me. Of course I cannot prove that to you. But I can tell you how it happened to me and maybe it can happen for you."

Wow... I used to say the same thing on my mission. I really believed it and was an effective missionary. It took years to realize how arrogant a position that was. Revelation is always a tautology - and that means it is always a fallacy.

I see comment moderation has been enabled. Meh. Kind of cultish that.

David B said...

That is the only way to know God. You cant prove God or disprove God. The only way a person can know is for God to reveal Himself to them. But everyone is capable to know for themselves.