An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
- This book is divided into an introduction and 15 chapters. Each episode of this series will examine one chapter of the book, meaning that this series, like the series about The Case for Christ, will consist of a total of 16 videos, starting with this one, examining the introduction.
- To reintroduce the format and purpose of the series: This is the fifth Christian book which I have examined in this format. The previous four are The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, and all of those series are available on my channel if you haven’t seen them and if this is of interest to you.
- There are three main reasons why I do these series, or should I say three primary audiences I’m concerned with. First and foremost is myself. I first read The Case for Christ over ten years ago when my girlfriend at the time, who was a Christian, loaned me a copy and asked me to read it. It didn’t leave much of an impression at the time, but since then, and especially since I’ve begun speaking out as an atheist, I’ve come to understand the value of knowing the opposing argument. If I, as an atheist, am going to be engaging with religious people and challenging their beliefs, I should know what those beliefs are and what arguments are commonly used to defend them, so I can better understand a) why I’m right (if indeed I am, which I don’t consider a foregone conclusion, despite the smugness that radiates from me at all times), and b) why they’re wrong.
- Second, I hope that this work will be of some use to my fellow atheists, many of whom have had these books placed into their hands by religious relatives and have been unwilling to read them themselves, or uncertain about how to respond. I hope that seeing me articulate my response might help others to formulate their own responses to these books and the arguments they present, which you cannot help but encounter ad nauseum if you engage in conversations with religious folks, Christians especially.
- Third, I hope this will be of interest to Christians, or religious believers in general, who might be interested to see what an atheist has to say about these books and the arguments they present.
- I’m not the first person to do this. In fact, my series on The Case for Christ was inspired by another YouTuber, FaithFightsFact, real name Becca, who started a similar series before she closed her YouTube account late in 2011. The critiques of and reactions to this book in this series will be mine, from my own perspective. I don’t intend this to be the definitive atheist response to this book or to apologetics in general. This is my response. And as always, I owe Becca my gratitude for inspiring me to do this in the first place. So:
- Before we get to the introduction, a few brief words on the Foreward and the Preface, this being one of those books that has all three.
- The foreward is written by David Limbaugh, and, like most forewards, is skippable. But there is one quote from near the end of the foreward that struck a discouraging chord for me as I began the book:
“I have long believed that it does take more faith to be an atheist. It certainly takes more faith to believe that human beings evolved from the random interaction of molecules (which somehow had to come into existence themselves) than to believe in a Creator.” (David Limbaugh, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, Foreward, p. 12)
- Fortunately for we, the godless, it isn’t necessary to believe that. Most people with the grasp of biology and chemistry expected of a first-year college student understand that we are not the result of molecules interacting randomly, but of molecules interacting in some extremely complex ways according to observable, predictable natural laws. But I’ll get more into that as I work my way through the book.
- As for the preface, it’s even more unnecessary than the foreward, though it also had one quotable bit that jumped out at me:
“. . . if you’re a skeptic, please keep in mind that you should believe or disbelieve what we say because of the evidence we present, not because we have a certain set of religious beliefs. We are both Christians, but we were not always Christians. We came to believe through evidence. So, the fact that we are Christians is not the issue; why we are Christians is the important point. And that’s the focus of this book.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, Preface, p. 14)
- Turek and Geisler make two things clear in that quote, which closes the preface. First, they do intend to address skeptics (at least in part). Second, they do intend to present a case for the truth of Christianity based on the evidence. That second intention is the most interesting one to me, because it’s a departure from the books I’ve reviewed in this format to this point. William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith, which I reviewed in a previous series, stated in that book and elsewhere that evidence cannot compel faith. On this point, at least for now, Turek and Geisler are dissenting. According to them, evidence can compel faith. So let’s start looking at the evidence.
Religion and the Box Top
- The introduction begins with an anecdote from Turek about a religion class he took in college. Turek recounts enrolling in the class while in the midst of a spiritual search, hoping to learn whether there was a God or not. He mentions the skepticism toward the Bible displayed by the professor, and then his disappointment when he asked the professor point-blank if there is a God, only for the professor to answer, “I don’t know.”
- Turek complains (to us, not the professor) that it’s irresponsible to teach that the Bible is false while also admitting that the existence of God is a possibility, since if it’s possible that God exists, it’s also possible that the Bible is true.
- “. . . I simply walked out, frustrated with the entire semester. I could have respected a qualified ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with some reasons given, but not ‘I don’t know’ — I could get that from an uninformed man on the street.” (p. 19)
- Turek then complains about how “universities” are actually “pluraversities,” where rather than teaching students how to discover the truth, they teach that all viewpoints are equally valid, except the viewpoint that one religion is uniquely true. In contrast to this, Turek and Geisler assert that it is possible to discover the truth, and to determine if any of the many world religions are actually correct.
- This is where the “box top to the puzzle of life” bit comes in. Discovering such a big truth, Turek and Geisler say, would be like getting a look at the top of the box of a jigsaw puzzle, that shows us how the pieces are supposed to fit together.
- A few things. First, I can’t help but notice right off the bat that Turek and Geisler are creating a false choice between the God of the Bible and no god at all. Turek asks his professor, “Does God exist or not.” I find the capital “G” to be significant.
- Second, I’m struck by how naïve Turek comes off both in his expectation to have his spiritual questions answered definitively by this religion course, and in his complaint about his professor teaching Biblical skepticism while also holding that he doesn’t know whether God exists or not. There are vast sections of the Bible that we can dismiss with confidence without even considering the question of the existence of God — any god. Whether a god exists or not, for instance, there is no reason to believe that the Genesis creation, or the flood of Noah, or the Exodus ever actually took place. You can come to the conclusion that the Bible is largely false based on history and archaeology and textual analysis, and not commit to a yes or no on the existence of a god, without there being any tension between those two positions.
- Third, Turek says he was disappointed that the professor said “I don’t know” whether God exists or not, because he could have gotten “I don’t know” from any uninformed person on the street. But Turek misses the point — he wasn’t talking to an uninformed person on the street. He was talking to his religion professor, who, after studying and teaching the subject, had decided he honestly didn’t know whether God existed or not. Turek seems so wedded to his either/or thinking that he automatically dismisses “I don’t know” as a meaningless answer, but that’s not fair. “I don’t know” can be a carefully considered, well-informed answer to a question just as much as “yes” or “no” can. In fact, if you honestly don’t know, it’s much better, and more honest, to admit that you don’t know rather than arbitrarily trying to make a case for a “yes” or a “no.” Like it or not, no matter how it fucks with Turek’s need for a black-or-white answer to every question, sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer.
- Fourth, already, only three pages into the introduction, I’m already encountering the bitter strain of anti-intellectualism that I also saw from Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. Universities don’t teach truth, universities aren’t to be trusted, don’t listen to what your professors told you, listen to us.
What Kind of God?
- Turek and Geisler present the five most consequential questions in life (and I’m having Purpose-Driven Life flashbacks):
- Origin: Where did we come from?
- Identity: Who are we?
- Meaning: Why are we here?
- Morality: How should we live?
- Destiny: Where are we going?
- “The answers to each of these questions depend on the existence of God. If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life. If there’s real purpose to your life, then there’s a real right and wrong way to live it. . . . On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe — your destiny is dust.” (p. 20)
- A few thoughts about that quote. First, the existence of God (and again, they’re using God with a capital “G”, presuming the Abrahamic god, or at least a monotheistic god, so I’m just going to go with it and stop pointing that out) certainly has implications regarding the answers to those questions, but to say that the answers depend on the existence of God is to overstate it, I think. For instance, God might exist but not have taken any direct role in our creation, or might not have any interest in how we live or what our ultimate fate is. In that case, the answers to some of those questions would be the same whether God existed or not.
- Second, you can’t just assert that because God exists, life has ultimate meaning and purpose and there is absolute morality. You’re skipping a step. You have to explain why the existence of God imbues life with meaning and purpose, and why the existence of God also means the existence of absolute morality. This is a crucial step that is always skipped. Why does the existence of God give life meaning? How does the existence of God give life meaning? Why does the existence of God also mean the existence of absolute morality?
- Third, they assert that no God equals a meaningless life, because without God (and by extension, without an afterlife — another thing they are assuming just comes with the package), we die and become dust and therefore nothing we do matters. But to me, whether or not life matters is all a question of scale. Do I think our lives have meaning on the scale of the universe? No. But that doesn’t bother me, because our lives have meaning to each other. Within this tiny sphere of the universe where our actions have consequences, where our lives can have an impact on each other and on our environment, our lives definitely have meaning. And this insistence that things only matter if they matter forever just seems nonsensical to me, not to mention a little childish. If you rescue a person from drowning, you have done something with ramifications not only for the person you saved, but for everyone else that person will interact with for the rest of his life. Your action matters — to you, to the person you saved, to every other person he will affect. The fact that both you and the person you rescued will eventually cease to exist does not render your act meaningless. You don’t have to have an everlasting impact to have an impact.
- And fourth, if Turek and Geisler honestly believe that the only reason to live a good life and treat people right and strive to be honest and upstanding, etc., is because there are eternal consequences to our actions, I have grave concerns about the quality of their character. But I suspect that they, like most people who make this asinine argument, don’t really believe that the only reason to be good is the certainty of eternal reward or punishment. Although maybe I think that just to make myself feel better. I don’t know.
- Turek and Geisler examine a few of the reasons why people dismiss the notion of there being one true religion: the number and diversity of religions in the world, the existence of difficult questions that religions are apparently unable to answer (the problem of evil, for example), and the belief that religion doesn’t deal in matters of fact, and that science is the only reliable path to knowledge.
- “We believe that there is a real answer. And despite the powerful objections we have identified (which we will address in later chapters), we believe that the answer is very reasonable. In fact, we believe this answer is more reasonable and requires less faith than any other possible answer, including that of an atheist.” (p. 22)
- “The answer of an atheist” being that all religions are false.
Faith and Religion
- Three major views of God are articulated, each with an explanation in the form of a metaphor:
- Theist: “God is like the painter, and his creation is like the painting.” (p. 22)
- Pantheist: “. . . God is the painting.” (p. 22)
- Atheist: “. . . what looks like a painting has always existed and no one painted it.” (p. 22)
- As an atheist, I have to quibble with the assertion that atheists believe the “painting” has always existed. The atheist — or perhaps it’s better to say the naturalistic — view is that there is no painting, just something that looks like a painting that is the result of natural processes and not the deliberate creation of a painter. But it’s not necessary to believe the painting has always existed, and most people don’t, though Turek and Geisler seem unaware of this, as we’ll see later in the book).
- Also mentioned is the agnostic position, which Turek and Geisler define as “someone who is unsure about the question of God.”
- Again, I take issue with that definition. If you’re going to talk about these things and use these terms, I think it’s your responsibility to fairly represent what these terms are commonly held to mean, especially by people who use these terms to identify themselves. An agnostic is not someone who is unsure about the question of God. An agnostic is someone who either doesn’t know whether God exists or not, or who holds that the existence or non-existence of God is unknowable. It goes back to what I said earlier about “I don’t know” being a valid answer to a question.
The Problems with Christianity
- Turek and Geisler assert that religion is not just a matter of faith, but also a matter of fact. They point out examples of important truth claims of religion, like the resurrection of Christ, which Christians claim actually happened, and Muslims (among others) deny. To know which claim (if any) is right, one must examine the evidence, which makes it a scientific as well as a theological question.
- I’m glad to see Turek and Geisler say that. I feel the same way.
The Faith of an Atheist
- Turek and Geisler describe three types of objections to Christianity: intellectual problems (both philosophical and scientific), emotional obstacles (objections to Christian doctrines and to negative Christian behavior), and volitional objections (finding Christian morality too restrictive, for instance). But despite these types of objections, Turek and Geisler insist that Christianity is the most reasonable position to take on the question of religion, and that it takes less faith to accept the Christian position than any other position, including atheism.
- Turek and Geisler admit that absolute proof is impossible, that no matter what conclusion we reach, it is always possible for that conclusion to be incorrect.
“In fact, it is possible that our conclusions in this book are wrong. We don’t think they are because we have good evidence to support them. Indeed, we think our conclusions are true beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . Nevertheless, some faith is required to overcome the possibility that we are wrong.” (p. 25)
- I just want to take a moment to applaud them for this statement. It’s only fair. Most apologists, indeed, most defenders of the faith, period, don’t like to admit that they might be wrong, and even though I think they are wrong and that they don’t actually have very good evidence at all for their position, I think Geisler and Turek deserve a tip of the hat for at least paying lip service to the possibility that they are wrong. Good on you, fellas.
Discovering the Box Top
- When Turek and Geisler use the word “faith,” they are referring not to religious faith, but to what we might also call “confidence” or “trust” — coming to a conclusion while lacking 100% certainty.
- One of the things I’ve observed that distinguishes me slightly from many of my fellow atheists is that I am less allergic to the word “faith” being used to describe atheism. But my acceptance of faith depends on one very important condition being satisfied.
- Normally, when apologists compare the faith of a Christian in the Bible to the faith of a scientist in, say, the truth of the theory of evolution, they’re drawing a false equivalent. Religious faith in the existence of a god or the truth of a scripture is a very different thing from the faith of a scientist in the truth of a well-demonstrated theory — or the faith we all exhibit every day that allows us to trust inductions like “that chair won’t collapse if I sit down on it,” or “if I drive to the grocery store, I probably won’t die.” As long as that distinction is made clear, and the difference between religious faith and what we might call scientific faith is explicitly defined, I have no objection to calling atheism a faith position. But trying to argue that atheism is just another form of religious faith won’t fly. That’s at best a misunderstanding and at worst a willful distortion of what atheism is.
- But that doesn’t seem to be an issue here, because Turek and Geisler are apparently basing their arguments, and their acceptance of Christianity, on evidence. They aren’t claiming to rely on religious faith at all, which has me intrigued. It’s a ballsy stance for an apologist to take. We’ll see how this tactic plays out, especially since Turek and Geisler have already displayed what I consider to be a significant misunderstanding of what atheism is, and what atheists typically believe.
- Speaking of misunderstandings:
“Although he claimed to be an agnostic, Carl Sagan made the ultimate statement of faith in atheistic materialism when he claimed that ‘the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.’ How did he know that for sure? He didn’t. How could he? He was a limited human being with limited knowledge. Sagan was operating in the realm of probability just like Christians are when they say God exists.” (p. 26)
- When he said that, Carl Sagan was actually defining the concept of the cosmos — all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. His intention wasn’t to assert that the natural universe is all that there is, although many of us do believe that. His intention was to define the scope of Cosmos, his series, which examined not only astronomy and cosmology, but also history, biological evolution, human culture, chemistry, a whole host of subjects that fall under the all-inclusive cosmic umbrella.
- Also, I would venture to say that most Christians are not in the realm of probability when it comes to their faith. I have not found the evidence-based approach being presented by Turek and Geisler here to be at all typical. Pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known or seen or read or heard of has relied on religious faith, not scientific faith in evidence.
- “Even skeptics have faith. They have faith that skepticism is true. Likewise, agnostics have faith that agnosticism is true.” (p. 27)
- No two ways around it, this is just an embarrassingly silly and stupid thing to say. Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims and arguments. It’s an attitude, not an ideology, and as such it can be neither true nor false. And while I suppose you could say that agnosticism does make a claim — that the truth about the existence of God is unknown or unknowable — that is either true or false, to talk about it in those terms is also to misunderstand it.
- Turek and Geisler reiterate their claim that there is strong evidence for the claims of Christianity. They will illustrate the evidence in this book using a 12-step progression:
- Truth about reality is knowable.
- The opposite of true is false.
- It is true that the theistic God exists, as evidenced by
- the beginning of the universe (cosmological argument)
- the design of the universe (teleological argument)
- the design of life (teleological argument)
- the moral law (moral argument)
- If God exists, then miracles are possible.
- Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word from God).
- The New Testament is historically reliable, as evidenced by
- early testimony
- eyewitness testimony
- authentic testimony
- eyewitnesses who were not deceived
- The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
- Jesus’s claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by
- fulfillment of prophecy
- sinless life and miraculous deeds
- prediction and accomplishment of resurrection
- Therefore, Jesus is god.
- Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
- Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
- Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false). (p. 28)
Next: Chapter 1: Can we Handle the Truth?
- Perhaps some of you have already noticed a few serious problems with this process — the circular reasoning employed to use the Bible to establish the divinity of Jesus, then use the divinity of Jesus to establish the authority of the Bible, for example. I’m not going to get into those problems now. I’ll deal with them as we encounter them in the coming chapters.
- Also, if you watched my series on The Case for Christ or Reasonable Faith, or if you’re just familiar with apologetics generally, that list will seem very familiar to you. I know it does to me.
- Turek and Geisler insist that we need not accept any of their claims at face value, that they will provide ample evidence for everything. They go on to assert that if their reasoning is sound, then all religious that contradict the Bible are proven false:
“This would not mean that all other religions are completely false or that they have no truth. Nearly all religions have some truth. We are simply saying that if the Bible is true, then any specific claim that contradicts the Bible must be false. For example, if the Bible is true, and it says that there is a God beyond the universe who created and sustains the universe (theism), then any claim that denies theism (e.g. atheism) must be false.” (p. 29)
- I would submit this statement as evidence that their reasoning is not sound. This is a trick apologists often try to pull: treating the Bible as a single claim that is either 100% true or 100% false. It’s possible — I and many others would argue that it is, in fact, the case — that the Bible is a combination of true and false. Some of its claims are almost definitely true. Others, not so much. A much better way of stating it would be to say that if the Bible’s claim that a transcendent creator God exists is true, then claims that contradict it must be false. Trying to argue that the Bible, as a whole, is incontrovertibly correct on every question is asinine.
- “We believe that the unexamined faith is not worth believing.” (p. 29)
- Again, a commendable sentiment, though I can’t say it’s one I share, precisely. I believe that the unexamined faith is the only one that can be believed, because while ignorance is not an excuse, it is certainly an explanation for much of Christianity.
- In the final pages of the introduction, Turek and Geisler address the question of why more people don’t believe in Christianity, if the evidence is so persuasive. Their answer: skeptics don’t want to believe, because becoming a Christian would require them to change their lifestyles and attitudes in ways they aren’t comfortable with. They go on:
“One beauty of God’s creation is this: if you’re not willing to accept Christianity, then you’re free to reject it. This freedom to make choices — even the freedom to reject truth — is what makes us moral creatures and enables each of us to choose our ultimate destiny. . . . And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidence of his existence, but without his direct presence — a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him.” (p. 31)
- It’s worth noting, if we accept the biblical accounts, that God didn’t always require people to decide if they believed in him on the basis of indirect evidence, in the absence of his personal presence. In the Pentateuch he is personally present quite often. I wonder why he didn’t require Adam and Eve, or Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or Job, or any number of other people depicted in the Bible to make the same decision he demands of modern people.
- “Some people choose to suppress the truth rather than live by it. In fact, we humans have a fatal tendency to try to adjust the truth to fit our desires rather than adjusting our desires to fit the truth.” (p. 32)
- That awkward moment when you think you’re describing the other guy but you’re actually perfectly describing yourself.