Monday, January 7, 2013

Non-Belief, Pt. 9: Don't Tell Me What I Think

Please don't tell me what I think. Tell me what you think. I already know what I think, and you probably don't. Certainly, most people seem to get it wrong.

The other day, I was watching this debate between Matt Dillahunty, host of the Atheist Experience TV show, and Jay Lucas, director of the Isaac Backus Project, an organization which trains Christian apologists. I enjoy these debates, because I like to hear what both sides have to say. (And who knows? I might learn something.)

The topic was, "Does God Exist?" Now, all you really need is one good reason to believe that a god - your god or any god - actually exists. A million bad reasons wouldn't add up to one good reason, and a million good reasons wouldn't be necessary. We really need only one. Since I've never heard one, I'm an atheist.

And apparently, Jay Lucas doesn't have a good reason, either. The debate was rather disappointing, because Lucas didn't even attempt to answer the question. Instead, he spent his time telling the audience what atheists think!

Well, sort of. Actually, he doesn't seem to think that atheists even exist. Right at the beginning, he claimed that everyone already knows the Christian God exists, but that we atheists - and believers of other religions, too, presumably - just "suppress it."

Yup, he's got us, doesn't he? After all, who wants to spend eternity in Heaven, when we could be enjoying eternal torment in Hell? After all, we'd have to go to church every Sunday - or at least at Christmastime - and who wants to give up an hour a year just for eternal life? :)

Do I tell Christians that they already know there isn't a god, but they just suppress it? Not usually. I understand that they can't possibly know if there's one god, many gods, or no god, but only believe or disbelieve. And, in any case, I let them tell me what they think. Doesn't that make more sense? Then why not give me the same consideration?

Lucas continued by talking about the "worldview" of atheists. But we atheists don't have a common worldview. Atheism is just... not believing in gods. That's it. Other than that one little issue, we are just as diverse as everyone else. Many of us aren't even skeptics, which would come closest to describing my own worldview (or a big part of it, at least).

Indeed, believers tend to be just as atheistic as we are when it comes to most gods. They just make an exception for their own. So the problem is even smaller than you might think. We don't disagree about all gods, but only about yours. We agree about all the others, right? Our disagreement is only because we think your god, too, is imaginary, while you think he's just invisible, immaterial, and inactive.

At any rate, don't tell me what my worldview is. Tell me yours, if you want. Ask me about mine, if you want. But it's obvious, as soon as you start describing my beliefs, my worldview, that you're just building a straw man. And that's dishonest.

In this case, it was particularly dishonest because, as I say, we atheists don't have a common worldview. Note that he quoted some atheists and some humanists, so he could build his argument. But even if he wasn't just quote-mining, would he accept the same thing in reverse? If I quoted other believers, would he accept that as his worldview? Even if they were other Christians?

Believers - even if you limit it to just Christians - are notoriously diverse, which is why you have to tell me what you believe and why you believe it, before I can intelligently comment on whether or not I agree with you. I've heard Christians say that "God is love." Well, I believe that love exists (by most definitions of the word, at least), so...

Lucas then went on to "objective moral values" - objective morality vs subjective morality, moral relativism, etc.  I'm not entirely sure what he even means by that, and I don't see how it applies to the question of whether or not God exists.

After all, morality can be explained by evolution just as easily as it can be explained by 'God.' We human beings are social animals. We've always been social animals, as long as we've been human - and even before that, our immediate ancestors were also social animals. We live in groups, and we needed to agree on certain standards of right and wrong.

But those standards have also evolved over time. Frankly, if you look at the Bible, that's obvious. We no longer consider slavery to be moral. We don't consider executing "witches" or religious heretics to be moral. Genocide isn't moral these days. Stoning to death disobedient children isn't moral. Killing people who pick up sticks on the Sabbath (also by stoning them to death) isn't moral.

So if you consider this to be "subjective morality," then Christians are also moral relativists, huh? Has God changed his mind on what's moral and what isn't? Or isn't the Bible the word of God? And if God said that cannibalism was moral, would it then be moral? There's a lot to that argument that doesn't make sense.

But my biggest problem with his argument was that he insisted on telling us what atheists think. Heck, he had an atheist right there! Why not just ask Matt Dillahunty what he thinks? Instead, Lucas didn't seem to respond to a single thing Dillahunty said. The Christian apologist just kept creating his straw man.

Atheism "rules out" objective morality. Does it? Whether it does or not, that has nothing to do with the question about God's existence. Atheists have to give up objective moral values! Do we? Again, whether we do or not, that's not the question. The question is "Does God exist?" not "Do you wish that God existed?"

Maybe this is considered to be a clever tactic, when you don't have a real argument to make. I really don't know. To me, it just demonstrates that you have nothing to back up your beliefs. You've been taught all your life that a god exists - and a particular kind of god, at that. God believes everything you believe, so of course you want to believe he exists.

And that's enough for you to feel that he does exist. But it's not enough to convince other people - me, at least - that you're right. I need a good reason. So don't try to tell me what I think. Tell me what you think, and why I should think that you're right.

(Note: The other posts in my Non-Belief series are here.)


Gregg Garthright said...

Good post!

I see you do have a page with your skeptical series - did you just create that, or have I been missing it?

Don't worry, I won't try to tell you what you think - I can barely keep track of my own thoughts.....

WCG said...

Thanks, Gregg. I did have a page called "Series Posts," which included this Non-Belief series and a short series on "Great Games."

But I hadn't been writing very many of them, so I just moved the game series to the Computer Games page and renamed the other one "Skepticism."