Friday, September 7, 2012

Upon What Authority . . .

. . . do you base your beliefs? That is the question. It's always the question.

So, you're in a debate with a proud atheist, who thinks you are an ignorant fool for believing in what he deems to be a fairy tale, concocted by ignorant, superstitious humans long ago as some sort of psychological or sociological coping mechanism. You quickly recognize the old, worn-out talking points and soundbites he's throwing at you (the Bible is full of contradictions and can't be trusted because it has been translated and copied so many times, etc.; there were many other religions before Christianity came along; why do you eat shellfish and why don't you stone your women for wearing clothing with different fabrics?; if God exists, why is he powerless to stop the many evils and catastrophes that happen in the world?; science has proven that the evolutionary theory is no theory, but fact; the books of your Bible were arbitrarily decided upon by Constantine in the fourth century; there has been more blood shed because of religion than all other causes; we can't even be sure whether this Jesus you believe in even existed; and so forth), and the temptation is to argue with this proud atheist point for point. Don't! To do so would be nothing more than an exercise in futility. It doesn't matter that he's just plain ignorant about many of the things he's simply parroting, having heard them from others. It doesn't matter that he has no clue how to interpret the Bible or what Christianity is. It doesn't matter that he hasn't spent an ounce of time studying textual criticism, the Biblical manuscript evidence, or the historical basis for Christianity. To try to engage him point for point will just further confirm his belief that you are just another in a long line of superstitious humans intent on defending your fairy tale. Ask me how I know.

So, what should you do? Ask him upon what authority he bases his beliefs. You will probably be told that he doesn't have beliefs, but sticks with the facts. Good! This gives opportunity to rephrase the question: Upon what authority do you arrive at your facts? The two most common responses you will hear are 1) Science and 2) Common Sense (human reason, rational thought). If the response is science, ask him which scientific resources he uses as his authority to arrive at his facts. Most often, the proud atheist will stumble here, since most of them haven't really done anything resembling any kind of study or research into any of the supposed facts they readily cite, but are in the happy habit of just aping what they've heard others saying or what they've read on popular atheist websites, and so forth. But, maybe just maybe, he'll provide you with some resources. Good! Ask him which of these resources makes the claim to have proven macroevolution as fact. Remember, he is a proud atheist, who thinks that he doesn't have beliefs, but relies on facts. Ask him to show you those facts. Since he cannot do that, you'll most likely get hit with more soundbites and popular rhetoric. But, hold his feet to the fire. You want facts. You want to know upon what authority those facts are based. Eventually, if you resist the temptation to argue, but continue to press him for the authoritative basis of the supposed facts he so readily cites, he will have to admit that his authority is not so authoritative and his facts not so factual, after all. Either that, or he will call you some names and walk away in disgust. Either way, you will have given this proud atheist much to ponder, which should be your only goal. You will have forced him to actually think about the authority upon which he bases his beliefs facts, which, after all the smoke from the rhetoric fades away, whether he tells you science or common sense initially, is himself. He believes what he believes. He is his own god. He is his own authority.

Of course, were a proud atheist to read what I've written here, he would scream and moan about how off base I am, but, after all that screaming and moaning subsides, the only thing he is really left with is that he believes what he believes. He can no more prove his supposed facts than you can prove the existence of God. He may never admit that, but it is an irrefutable fact, nonetheless. The difference between you and him is not a matter of one of you being able to prove the other wrong; rather, it is simply a matter of the authority upon which each of you bases your beliefs. Your authority is the revealed Word of God in Holy Scripture; his authority is himself. It's really that simple.

A few months back, I ran into a college science professor on a friend's Facebook thread. According to him, I was a superstitious moron because I don't accept the theory of evolution as fact. He thought that meant that I had never studied evolution and had no clue what I was talking about. The temptation was severe to correct that impression by informing him that I have spent countless hours over many years studying evolution (I even have three of the most popular modern college texts on the subject sitting on my bookshelf that I have been reading when time permits), but I resisted that temptation. I simply asked him to point me to the authoritative resource that proves macroevolution as fact. In short fashion, he responded by sending me two different links to 20-page abstracts he had written for his own dissertation on how paired fins evolved over time to form appendages, and so forth, which was supposedly proof for macroevolution. I read both of these abstracts from beginning to end, having to rely on Google to look up several scientific terms along the way. What I found fascinating was that the conclusions in each of these abstracts made it vividly clear that everything proposed was hypothetical theory. Both conclusions admitted that much of the evidence needed to prove the theory is non-existent. So, by the author's own admission, which was in black-and-white for all to read, the whole paper was nothing more than his best guess, which relied upon the presumptions of a series of other best guesses. It was like saying that D is true, if C follows B and B follows A, but we have no evidence that either C, B, or A even exists. It was really quite remarkable, but not surprising, since, at the end of the day, all that such scientists have are presumptions and guesses - having read my share of scientific journals and evolution text books, that is always the case.

Anyway, after carefully reading both of these abstracts, I responded to this science professor by noting what he himself said in the conclusions of both, telling him that he did nothing more than prove my point, which was simply that he couldn't prove macroevolution as fact; that the theory of evolution remains a theory, not fact. He could not do anything to refute my response. He was caught by his own words. He revealed himself and his guesses and theories, which were based on the guesses and theories of others like him, to be the authority upon which he based his beliefs, which were indeed beliefs, not facts. But, rather than receiving an intelligent response, I was called more names and told how ignorant I was. That's fine. I don't mind being called names or being told how ignorant I am by someone who is so delusional that he cannot even accept his own words quoted back at him. But, what scares me is that this dude is teaching kids at the college level that his best guesses and theories are facts, when he himself knows better.

So, what's my point in all this? It's simple: Stop trying to prove you're right when debating proud atheists. Instead, put the onus on them to prove they're right. Ask them upon what authority they base their supposed facts. If you can get them to answer that question honestly, you win, NOT because you have proven your beliefs to be superior than theirs, but simply because you have led them to discover for themselves that their facts are no facts at all, but beliefs, and that the authority upon which those beliefs are held is themselves. You have science on your side in these debates, for science simply does not prove what they think it does, despite all the popular propaganda to the contrary (my favorite little bit of popular propaganda is the saying, "Evolution is a theory like gravity is a theory" - cute, but, um, not so much). So, dig beneath the soundbites and propaganda. Get to the authority. Uncover the real facts by getting them to expose their supposed facts as the beliefs they are. This is a much better approach than going into a defensive posture, as tempting as that may be. Besides, there may be time for that later. Once it is an established fact that both sides are dealing in the realm of beliefs, perhaps a discussion can ensue about those beliefs, and the authority upon which those beliefs are held. Or, maybe not. Maybe you'll be called names and your opponent will leave in disgust. So be it. At least you can say that you tried. And, whether or not the proud atheist will ever admit it, you will have given him much to ponder, because, try as he might, he will not be able to find the resource that proves his beliefs to be facts, since no such resource exists. That little nugget of truth simply has to give one furiously to think, which is really all you can hope to accomplish, at least initially.   


Jim Pierce said...

Thank you for this great post, Pr. Messer! You are certainly correct about the futility of arguing point by point with the atheist. I know... I was an atheist at one time and when I came across evangelicals toting around "Evidence that Demands a Verdict," or some other title, in their door to door evangelism, I would just laugh at them as incorrigible morons without a clue as to what is "really" the nature of the universe.

Now that I am a Christian, and "creationist" to boot!, I have had ample opportunity to engage atheists I had been pals with, but am no longer since they can't stand the fact I am a Christian. In my exchanges with them I like to ask them questions about what is the greatest explanatory power in the world.

You see, as a Christian, I believe the greatest explanatory power is Jesus Christ. For example, if I am asked the question, "Why do we have a world, rather than not having one?" my simple answer is John chapter one. From John 1 I can argue that the world holds meaning, because the world exists by design and not just any design, but is designed by God with redemption already in mind.

What's the typical atheistic response to my question? The greatest explanatory power is the human mind. Well, that's hardly a great explanatory power considering that according to them the world existed for a couple billion years without the brain of a homosapiens to ponder its existence! Indeed, the human mind looks more like an aberration in the grand chaotic-scheme (irony intended) of things than anything else. In other words, the atheist can't explain why we have an ordered mind in a sea of chaos without using a bit of circular reasoning in appealing to his own mental prowess as a grand explanatory power. This is the nonsense of the weak anthropic principle in the face of any hypothesis for the start of life that postulates consciousness is a product of chance. That is, these "big brained" atheists have no explanatory power other than to shrug their shoulders and declare "We're here, so the universe must have been capable of supporting life." Riigghhtt! So who has the "greater faith" now?

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Thanks, Jim. Excellent comment, my friend.