Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Current State of (Dis)belief

It may depress you to experience what passes for serious debate between atheists and believers on the Internet these days, but if you are strong in your faith, you will survive the experience and be even stronger than before. So if you are of a mind to try it, take these steps:

1. Read about the ongoing Ideological Turing Test at this link. (Submissions on the atheist part of the exercise will be accepted until tonight at midnight. The Christian part of the test will be ongoing for the remainder of this week.)

2. To learn more about the atheist blogger (who constantly argues with her Catholic boyfriend!) who decided to try to carry out this exercise, read her post here, and check out some of her threads at this link.

Now, keep in mind as you read the above that Leah and many of her commenters are college students. They are still struggling with what questions to ask, let alone deal with the proper answers. At the same time, they are convinced they have already heard everything (from Norman Geisler's apologetics to Sam Harris' extended rants) worth saying on the subject, and that there can be nothing new under the sun.

What I find initially depressing about Leah's exercise is that it reduces faith or belief to a matter of debate -- as though rational argument ever convinced anyone of Christianity's truth, without some accompanying element of grace. But then I go behind the exercise, and realize that it can be healthy for one's own faith to try to state the arguments for the contrary view as best as one humanly can. So on balance, reading the responses of the "atheists" to the questions depressed me, but then realizing that there was a real living soul behind each of them, struggling for the light, I came away strangely refreshed.

Until I happened on Ilya Somin's post about the Ideological Turing Test at the Volokh Conspiracy -- a blog with many more readers than Leah's, or this one. That short post had drawn 226 comments when I last checked, and reading through the comments really depressed me about the ability of Christians to defend their faith to non-believers. Here's a typical exchange:

zuch says:

G.R. Mead:

[G.R. Mead]: ... if the Resurrection is not real then we are, of all men, the most to be pitied.

[zuch]: How about “laughed at”? Would that be more pleasant for you?

In honored tradition — please be my guest.

What do you find funny? Or does your plan work out better ?

My “plan”, such as it is [or isn’t, as the case may be], works out better than yours, wasting your affections and efforts (and probably money) on some fictitious sky pixie. Why I should pity you when you voluntarily choose such behaviour is beyond me. If there is no Resurrection, no skin off my nose.

G.R. Mead: This is what it comes to. You have not actually faced the reality of a conviction that there is nothing, then an accidental existence, and then nothing. Neitszche did — and look how he turned out. In a world that is thus — there is no reason, literally, no rational basis — to do anything but take any risk, do any harm to others, that may be necessary to find maximum pleasure in this life. Oh sure, maybe you have some hormonal surges evolution programmed to trick you into maximizing fitness as a social group — but that just some illusion bred by your blind and selfish genes of which you are the mere tool. If you are rational you should rise above all of that an consider reality in its true face. Blackness then a flash of awareness and then the black and nothing else. Get what you can — while you can.

You’re not only a philosopher par extraordinaire, you’re a geenyus and a mind-reader as well. I fart in your general direction.

Why you think I have not faced your own personal daemons is beyond me. They’re your boogeymen, and I think you ought to deal with them yourself and not insist that I need to do this, so that you can feel that you’re not so much the scared little man that you are.

And you seem to think that I must either follow the dictates of [your] religion, or else be a totally amoral person. Why you think this is beyond me. You seem to think that an atheist must ‘logically’ indulge in hedonism, nihilism, and selfishness. Not so. But ‘logically’, you as a religionist must put homosexuals and sassy kids to death, kill the entirety of the menfolk in other tribes and rape their women, turn your wife out of the house and city if she’s menstruating, offer to kill your own son if asked by ‘sufficient authority’, and any number of things that I find personally appalling from a moral perspective. Other religions think that killing infidels is a grand thing. That’s the ‘morals’ that you have chosen. Thanks but no thanks.

And if you want to insist your genes make you do things, go for it. But isn’t that blasphemy?

Cheers, (Quote)

So is there hope for this world? As long as debate and argument about religion continue, there can always be hope. But blogs are singularly unsuited as places where such exchanges can take place and be meaningful.

After this morning's excursion through the blogworld, I have truly come to appreciate the wisdom in the old saw:
A good example is the best sermon.

1 comment:

  1. I recently heard Alister McGrath speak at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. The topic "Why God Won't Go Away". Is the New Atheism Running on Empty.

    I read a copy. He's very logical and straight forward. Near the end of the book he writes--
    "The ironic fact is that New Atheist angr at the persistence f faith has inadvertently tirred juge interest in the whole God quetion. Ht's made people want to reflect on the other side of the story.."