Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reasons for unbelief = reasons of the heart?

What are the reasons for unbelief? Many atheists – myself included – claim that they reject Christianity on intellectual or rational grounds. However, I’ve noticed a trend in Christian apologetics that seems to argue that atheists reject Christianity and God on grounds other than science and philosophical argument.

I’ve covered this before in this post – in which apologists mistakenly confuse belief in evolution with unbelief in God – but comments in Hugh Ross’ The Creator and the Cosmos have inspired me to think about the issue again.

Ross for example, seems somewhat perplexed that there are still scientists and astronomers who do not accept the idea that the universe was created by the God of the Bible. Ross provides three reasons for their unbelief:
  • Some individuals do not want to give up their sexual immorality by submitting themselves to the creator of the universe (pg 163).
  • There is stubborn rebellion and arrogance lurking under the cover of intellectual objections (pg 163). Some scientists attack the idea of a creator because “the Bible seems an affront to their intellectual prowess”. (pg 93)
  • Many who reject the creator hypothesis were once ex-Christians. They are simply reacting to their past, “holding bitterness over the wrongs and abuses they incurred in their experience with Christians.” (pg 103).

I received a recent email from a reader of this blog who shared similar sentiments:

When it all comes down to it, I believe that many of these persons [atheists] are hurting and confused individuals as well as people who find trying to live according to the standards of a Holy God just too much to bear!

Is there any room for intellectual reasons for unbelief? Alister McGrath, in his book The Twilight of Atheism, doesn’t seem to think so. He argues that nobody can conclusively determine, on intellectual grounds, the existence (or non-existence) of God. On page 179:

It is increasingly recognized that philosophical argument about the existence of God has ground to a halt. The matter lies beyond rational proof, and is ultimately a matter of faith . . .[this forces] us to reach two conclusions: either no decision can be reached . . . or a decision is reached on other grounds. As Blaise Pascal (1623-62) pointed out, “reasons of the heart” play a far greater role in shaping our attitudes to God than we realise.

To summarise the above: apologists argue that atheists have chosen to disbelieve because: (1) we have been hurt by the church, (2) we want to be free from sexual, and other moral, restraints; and (3) we are rebellious and arrogant.

What do you think? Do you think atheists reject theism on intellectual or emotional grounds? Maybe it’s a bit of both? And if there are valid intellectual reasons to reject theism, why do apologists insist that “reasons of the heart” are solely to blame?

Monday, August 20, 2007

100 waypoints on a journey away from faith

It was on a cool October evening in 2005 when I logged onto Blogger for the first time and created an account that would eventually lead to the birth of this blog. I was going through much contemplation and reflection at the time regarding my loss of faith, and I decided that a blog would be the best platform on which to capture and express my thoughts. On October 16 of that year I posted up my first article, Complexity of Mind. You can’t imagine how excited I was when my posts started soliciting comments; I was quite surprised that people actually took my writing seriously enough to respond.

Well, it’s taken some time, but this post is my 100’th.

Memoirs of an ex-Christian
has provided me with the opportunity to share my ideas on philosophy, religion, atheism, and evolution with a variety of people from different backgrounds and beliefs. And ‘people’ is the key word here: without your participation – without all your comments, thoughts, emails and ideas related to my articles – this blog would have been a useless endevour. Each one of you, through all the discussion and debate, has left a positive impact on my thinking.

Although I want to thank all of you who have either written on this blog or taken the time to email me, I would like to thank the following individuals in particular for their willingness to challenge my thinking:

Brian from Estonia; Brock; Casey Kochmer; CyberKitten; Dar; Don from Canada; eddie; ercatli; Jason Hughes; KenC; Kevin Cadman; Kyaroko; Laughing Boy; Lui; marc; Mark Fouche; Mike; Noell; P3T3RK3Y5; paul; r10b; Rodolfo; Roger Saner; Shmanky; Skywolf; Stardust1954; Steve Hayes; Sze Zeng; Tichius; Tin Soldier; and Zoe.

If your name appears above but is not linked to your site, please email me with the address so I can acknowledge your blog as well. And please let me know if I've linked you incorrectly.

Not only do I want to thank these individuals who I’ve interacted with through cyberspace, but I also want to thank personal friends who have also provided insight into my journey, either through reading this blog, the Bordlerlands discussion group, or through personal discussions. I want to thank Cori, my wife; Jono and Candice Smith; Rutger Wielenga; Andrew (Drew) Davies; Anne-Marie Smith; James Roger; Jacomein van Niekerk; Geertje and Bob Wielenga; Ian Stuart and Debbie Garner.

It is only through constructive dialogue with all of you that my thinking has been enriched, and it is through you that I’ve realized the truth of what Socrates said when he proclaimed that an unexamined life is not worth living.

Thank you to you all. look forward to another 100 posts of discussion, debate and dialogue.

All the best


Some of you might be wondering what the jumble of words are at the top of the post. These words represent a word cloud of this site, and it highlights the most common words that have been used in all my articles – the larger the word, the more often it has appeared on this blog. I think it gives a very nice overview of the main topics covered in these 100 posts.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Teaching creationism in schools?

Curtis left the following comment on a recent post of mine:

Currently students are taught the theory of evolution as if it is a fact not a theory. What is wrong with teaching the competing theories with all the evidence on both sides of the arguements and then letting the students make their own better educated decisions?

At face value this does seem like a noble idea: teach both creationism and evolution in schools, and let the kids decide. However, in my view, the problem lies in the fact that the primary aim of school is not to necessarily teach children what to believe, but to teach them what they need to know.

For example, every student who plans to enter the medical field needs to know the germ theory of disease in order to be a successful doctor or nurse. Likewise, in order to become a successful biologist, botanist, microbiologist – or any other occupation that falls within the life sciences – you need to know and understand the theory of evolution, simply because evolutionary theory describes how nature works.

A microbiologist, for example, who needs to understand how the Tuberculosis bacterium evolves to become immune to treatment, needs to know the elements of natural selection. She can use her knowledge of evolution in this case to solve the practical problem of developing a more effective drug against the disease. What value does the ‘theory’ of creationism add this endeavour? How can it be useful as a tool?

What I'm arguing is that creationism shouldn't be taught on equal footing with evolution simply because it won't add value to the future work of school kids who might become biologists, anymore than alchemy will add value to a chemical engineer’s ability to do the job well. For a biologist to be successful she needs to know evolution, but she doesn’t need any knowledge of creationism at all. So why waste time teaching it in science class where it isn't needed?

I’m not saying that we should throw out creationism entirely. Maybe it can be mentioned in an historical review of humankind’s changing beliefs about origins, or taught alongside other creation stories in a class on philosophy or religion. But it should not be taught as an alternative to evolution, simply because, as an alternative, it doesn't contribute any value to the practical field of biology.

Your thoughts?

Change of style!

Hi all

My blog has been running for almost two years now. Since the beginning I've been using the Rounders template for this blog, and I've decided - in order to try something fresh - to change the look and feel.

I hope this new look will inspire more discussion and debate :-)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Morality based on honour?

In Country of My Skull, Antjie Krog, writing about the South African Truth Commission, documents the horrors that were perpetrated by the apartheid regime before democratic elections in 1994. One interesting aspect of the book was Krog’s distinction between two opposing types of morality in society: universal morality vs. morality based on honour. Universal morality is based on individual responsibility, discussion, consultation, and human rights. However, morality based on honour has its foundation in the veneration of a specific leader or ideology. Those subscribing to a morality of honour will be more likely to do horrendous things to other people in order to protect their leader, ideology or culture. They are also less likely to stand up to their leader or comrade when she/he does something wrong. Krog argues that apartheid was sustained by a morality of honour. On page 262:

The ethos of honour is opposed to a morality which affirms the equality in dignity of all people and consequently the equality of their rights and duties. . . Honour became Verwoerd’s driving force. To protect the honour of the Afrikaner, anything was permissible – even the most dishonourable policy.

In other words, to protect the honour of the Afrikaner, the apartheid regime resorted to stripping people of their rights and dignity. One only has to think about Nazi Germany’s veneration of Hitler, or the South African government’s reluctance to criticise Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, to realise how dangerous an honour based moral code can be.

But what about conservative Christianity? Which moral code does it advocate? This is something that I’ve recently thought about, and I’ve only begun to clarify my own thoughts. So please let me know if my thinking is in error.

I would argue that all indications seem to point to a morality based on honour. After all, the divine theory of morality states that all moral law comes from God, so whatever he commands must be right. But what if God told you do something you felt was wrong? Think of the story of Abraham sacrificing his son according to God’s command. Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice Isaac, not because he felt it was right, but because he didn’t want to disobey God. Is this not an indication of a morality based on honour: the belief that it is more important to obey than to do what is right? I wonder how Abraham would have reacted if his moral code was based on human dignity and individual responsibility. Maybe he would have told God to get lost.

One also only has to think about God’s horrendous actions in the Old Testament (which I’ve mentioned here), and how modern day apologists bend over backwards to defend him. Lee Strobel, for example, devotes an entire chapter in The Case for Faith defending God’s atrocities against innocent children. Is this also not an indication of a morality based on honour: instead of standing up against God for doing something wrong, his followers go all out to defend him?

Just some food for thought . . .