Atheism’s problem of truth.

It is no surprise that Atheists have values. Many are very upstanding people, not the baby-murdering, puppy-kicking deviants some might expect them to be. Most, especially the more out-spoken of their kind value truth. They believe that truth is important, it is valuable and worth pursuing. That is the very reason they preach that their view is superior to that of religion, because they have truth on their side and it is better to know the truth than not. They say that religion preaches lies and deceives people, and that should be avoided because that is not true.

Implicit in all this, though, is that truth is good, not-truth is bad.

Let me know if any Atheists reading this disagree with anything I’ve said so far. I think it’s safe to say that atheists think truth is good, otherwise they wouldn’t be so vocal about the issue.

Here’s the thing though: this is inconsistent with their own worldview.

To say that truth is good and not-truth is bad is to assign an inherent moral value to truth and non-truth. This is more than saying it is nice to pursue or know truth, or that you personally prefer to do so. This is to say that even if everyone on the planet unquestionably believed non-truth, this would be bad and it would still be better to believe what is true.

If perhaps you think an atheist might disagree with that statement, I would simply pose this scenario. Let’s say that everyone on earth unquestionably believed that the earth was only 6,000 years old, and God created every life form in six days fully formed (and for clarification, I am not a Young-Earth Creationist.). Would this be bad, good, or neither?

The thing about valuing truth, to insisting that other people believe it, to say it is the better way to go, to assign a moral value to truth, implies morality. It is to imply an objective morality by which we judge truth to be good and assign it that value.

Simply put:

1. If truth is morally good, then there is an objective morality

2. Truth is morally good

3. Therefore, there is an objective morality (from 1 & 2).

If we bypass the problems materialistic/naturalistic atheists would have with the existence of abstract things such as an objective morality, we can focus on the big problem this poses for atheism  as a whole.

Simply put: if objective morality exists, then God must exist.

Now, others have written extensively on the moral argument for God’s existence (see point 3 here, for instance) But, let’s summarize the argument here:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

  3. Therefore, God exists.

Let’s then insert my argument from above:

Simply put:

1. If truth is morally good, then there is an objective morality

2. Truth is morally good

3. Therefore, there is an objective morality

And combine the two into:

1. If God does not exist, then moral values and duties do not exist.

2. If truth is morally good, then moral values and duties do exist.

3. Truth is morally good.

4. Therefore, objective moral values and duties do exist (from 2 & 3).

5. Therefore, God exists (from 1 & 4).

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Not too much to take…. part 1

There are two sides to the problem of evil. That is, the logical problem of evil, and the emotional problem of evil.

Maybe I should back up a bit.

By “problem of evil”, I mean, of course, the problem people have reconciling the coexistence of both God and evil in the world.

Maybe I should back up more.

The logical version of this, struggles with purely the logical concept of the coexistence of a good God and the presence of evil. This is well addressed through a variety of logical arguments showing there is no logical contradiction here. This is beyond the scope of this post and more on it can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/the-problem-of-suffering-and-evil-aalborg-university and many other sources. But, the version of this is of a completely (in my opinion) different type. That is the emotional problem. This does not deal with any apparent logical contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of God on an objective, universal level, but instead is more personal. This is rooted purely in emotion: in hurt, anguish, and pain. Instead of saying “I don’t see how this can be…”, it says “How can this be???”

It is that point when you’re so broken down, so torn down, in so much pain, when you conclude there must be no God because if there was, He wouldn’t let this happen.

I think we’ve all been there.

But I’m not.

Usually the only way to deal with this version of the problem of evil is through counseling and experience. But I would like to suggest that there is a logical way to address this. Either way you boil this down, you are ultimately dealing with an issue of personal belief, because there’s no logical way to justify the position that there is no God in all of existence just because you yourself are having a hard time (to say the least). That’s incredibly narcissistic and you honestly aren’t that special. At most you can conclude that as far as you can determine from your own experience, there is not likely to be a God (because there could be a God, just one who’s punishing you, not looking after you, basically not a good version of God). But, this is ultimately rooted in the problem that you are emotionally and intellectually seemingly incapable of believing in the existence of a good God and this evil going on in your life. Because, let’s face it, if you did still decide to believe in Him despite what’s going on in your life, you wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. So, it stands to reason that if just one person has gone through a terrible circumstance in life and is still able to believe in God, then it stands that God can still exist, and the problem is merely a personal one in which you find it hard or impossible to personally believe in God in your circumstance, but that He really does exist.

So let me tell you my story….

November 2009: marry the woman I love. February 2011: birth of my first son. August 2011: Got a cushy, well-paying government job. December 2011: Graduate with my masters pursuing my dream of an academic career in paleontology. Sound like I had everything going for me? Yes and no. Behind the scenes, my life is miserable. My wife has severe emotional problems and I am practically a single dad despite being married. Every morning I go to work sick to my stomach with worry that my spouse will be able to handle taking care of our son, anticipating one of the week’s several intense emotional crises, and despite my best efforts I can barely keep a decent balance in the bank account and pay all the bills. In the midst of all this, I was getting progressively sicker. Starting really in January I was regularly experiencing intense gut pains that would make normal men want to curl up in the corner and cry, but I still had to take charge of child care every night and weekend. My wife’s demands and instability led me to miss work regularly, and my sickness caused me to miss even more.

April 2012: Missing work catches up with me, and I am let go. Suddenly I have to figure out how to provide for my family. Fortunately, I pull out what retirement money I built up on the job, and I got unemployment insurance when that ran out. Little did I know my troubles were just beginning.

May 2012: I go in for a routine procedure at my gastroenterologist’s office. By the time I get there, I’m experiencing the worst pain yet. I was curled up on a bed, barely able to talk. They admit me to the hospital. The treatment: stick a tube up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach to pump out the contents and starve me for several days. In the meantime I have to deal with my wife’s constant emotional breakdowns trying to deal with our son all by herself for the first 24/7 time in our marriage. I expend just as much energy calming her down and convincing her to take care of him as I do recovering.

I get out, still in pain but put on a special low-fiber diet. For the most part, I can’t eat much. I was still in pain, though not quite as much. I lost some 15-20 lbs in the hospital.

Within a month, I would go back in. The ironic part of what comes next is my wife and I started a marriage class at our church a week prior. But this night, I was in intense pain again. Unable to straighten up or hardly talk, I’m taken back to the ER. This time, they operate. Everything goes fine. Then, that night, I get a call from my wife.

“I cheated” She cried. She invited some random guy into our house, and slept with him in our bed. The nurse has to give me some sort of muscle relaxant to calm me down. She says she’s sorry and I say we can get past it and move on. I work on forgiving her.

Two days later she comes into the hospital room with hickies covering her neck.

She swears it’s over. We argue, I forgive her, and we try to move on.

After I get out of the hospital, the lies continue. I find text messages, pictures on disposable phones, catch her at his house late at night, messages to other guys on dating sites. Each time she swears up and down, sometimes with tears in her eyes, that it’s over and she won’t do it again. So I ended it, contacted to guy and told him to stay away. Her response? She was furious at me. Then, I catch her going to meet a second guy one night. I contact him and tell him she’s married and he ends it, too.

She comes home, and I tell her I’m filing for divorce.

To make matters worse, while I was in the hospital my former employer takes me to court and sues to remove my unemployment benefits. They succeed, and I’m required to somehow pay back everything they gave me over the prior two months. So now I end up draining my savings while waiting for welfare to kick in and help out with bills.

Did I mention our lease was about to end at the house we were all living in?

Fortunately, God intervened and a good friend of mine stepped in saying they need someone to occupy their rental property before her parents moved in and took over the place next year.

And, during that, I found out my wife was pregnant. The big question became: with who’s baby?

The social argument against the problem of evil

Connectedness is something that is highly prevalent in today’s society. It’s almost become the core of our culture now. Smart phones, the internet, social networking, etc. Everything we do seems connected to everything else we do, and it’s all posted on Facebook or Twitter.

But that’s not the type of connectedness I’m talking about. Think about it this way: how many people do you know? How many of those people do you have strong ties to, minor ties to, or interact at all with on a regular basis? Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others, Things that happen in our lives and to us affect those around us.¬†

One thing that really hit me in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy are the reactions of the perpetrators’ family and friends. The older of the two brothers had a wife and small son. They have parents. While the whole world was reeling from the tragedy, these people were mourning the loss of their sons, father, and husband.

Shortly after this I read a particular passage of the Bible in the book of Matthew:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 ” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 ” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “

(Matthew 13:24-30).

One of the things this parable states is that in the world there are good people and bad. No duh, right? Often I have wondered why God doesn’t strike down those who do evil. A lot of people wonder that. It’s often argued that God and evil cannot coexist. That if God is all loving and all powerful, then He would not allow evil to happen. I’ve addressed this issue in some of my previous posts, In short, God cannot both preserve the free will of human beings and restrict their decisions, such a thing is a logical contradiction, and logical contradictions cannot exist. For the sake of argument, let’s grant this (meaning if you got all in a harrumph over what I just said, uncross your arms and suspend your disbelief for a second….), and then we can wonder “Well, okay, if God doesn’t prevent evil things from happening, why not strike down evil people before or when they do evil?”

This is where the parable comes in. We are all interconnected. Nothing happens to us without affecting others. The Boston bombers got what they deserved, but in doing so it crushed their family, people not in any way guilty for what happened. The bad people, the weeds, are so entangled with the wheat, the good people, that there is no way to pull up the weeds without puling up some of the wheat with it. God told Lot that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if even one righteous person lived there. If God were to blot out an evil person, how many righteous would be affected? Wipe out the son, and it crushes the mother. Wipe out the husband, and it crushes and irrevocably affects the child and wife for the worse. God doesn’t wipe out the evil person, people curse Him. God wipes him out, and people curse Him also. Sounds like a tough situation to me.

Perhaps the reason an all-loving God doesn’t wipe out the evil-doers, is because He is all-loving.

The problem of Truth

I’ve noticed a lot of very heated feelings with regards to various aspects of the infamous science vs religion debate/issue/soapbox. I first noticed it while following the Creation/Evolution debate, then in the Intelligent Design/naturalistic evolution debate, then further in the rise of what’s called the “New Atheism”. At the core of this debate is the concept of truth. Both sides claim to know the truth, either in part or in whole, and defend the idea of their view being propagated in schools or other educational settings. One thing that has always struck me is the level of emotional fervor not just on the side of religion but also on that of science. As time has gone by, in fact, I have seen little if any difference between the two sides except in the content of their message. I see the same level of emotion, dedication, outrage, insistence on being the only exclusive truth, and even the archetypal roles of saints, evangelists, preachers, and heretics exist with little or no difference on both sides. But we ultimately always arrive back at the issue of truth.

At the core of the debate is the concept that truth is good. Not just good as in it’s nice to have, like a subjective preference, but that is an objective, moral good. Truth is good, and whatever else is evil. Not only that, but the act of spreading and convincing others of a viewpoint that is not truth is morally evil. Some may try to deny this, but their emotional fervor belies a different idea. If knowing and spreading the truth were not considered an objective truth by them, in my opinion, there would be no problem. If they really believed it was a subjective moral good, though they would greatly prefer their truth be taught, they would have no grounds on which to insist it be.

So, then, if we have both sides believing their side is objectively true, and that the acceptance and spread of this truth is objectively good, we have a problem for the side of atheists. This stance is perfectly understandable for the side of religion, and is something they fully embrace and preach. But if you have something that is objectively true, then you have an objective morality, which is a non-material, abstract thing. Though it is not necessarily true that all atheists disavow the existence of abstract, non-material things, it poses a severe problem for their worldview. It is well known and widely accepted within the field of philosophy that if there is an objective moral law, then there is an objective moral law giver. More is available on that here:http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-we-be-good-without-god , but I also have some of my own reasons for this as well (though I doubt they’re original). The level of specificity of moral laws indicate a pre-awareness of humanity and the human condition. In other words, for the moral law “Don’t commit murder”, there had to be the information that sentient beings would exist, be such that they were likely, at some point, to commit murder, and that a law had to be established to declare this morally wrong and establish a moral duty to not murder. The best explanation of this is an intelligent being capable of establishing moral laws and holding sentient beings within this universe accountable to them. Hence, we arrive at God.

This is what gets me especially when I hear about debates over legislation brought regarding what should be taught in science classes in schools. Atheist and science groups become enraged when this issue rears its head, and launch a crusade to squelch it. They become inflamed because they are worried that students will be lied to, won’t be taught the truth, and this is morally bad.