A common thing that I see is people trying to wall off arguments they don’t like by stating a slogan, like “you shouldn’t push your moral rules on other people” or “that’s true for you, but not for me”. Those slogans are meant to get the person out of having to be reasonable about respecting moral obligations, or having to consider how the world really works when choosing what to do.
A self-defeating (or self-refuting) statement is one that fails to meet its own standard. In other words, it is a statement that cannot live up to its own criteria. Imagine if I were to say,
I cannot speak a word in English.
You intuitively see a problem here. I told you in English that I cannot speak a word in English. This statement is self-refuting. It does not meet its own standard or criteria. It self-destructs.
The important thing to remember with self-defeating statements is that they are necessarily false. In other words, there is no possible way for them to be true. This is because they violate a very fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. This law states that A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, it is not possible for God to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense. This would violate the law of non-contradiction. So if I were to say, “God told me He doesn’t exist” you would see intuitively the obvious self-refuting nature of this statement.
Aaron goes on to explain how to deal with self-refuting statements in the article.
Have you ever heard any of those? It’s amazing how often I hear statements like that when discussing interesting things like moral issues and politics with young people. The trick to being prepared to answer these is to learn lots of them. Then you recognize them when you hear them.
If you say that the Christian view is bad because it is exclusive, then you are also at that exact moment doing the very thing that you are saying is bad. You have to be exclusive to say that something is bad, since you exclude it from being good by calling it bad.
There is a difference, a clear difference between tolerance and truth. They are often confused. We should hold to what we believe with integrity but also support the rights of others to disagree with our viewpoint.
Sincerely believing something doesn’t make it true. You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. If I get onto a plane and sincerely believe that it won’t crash then it does, then my sincerity is quite hopeless. It won’t change the facts. Our beliefs, regardless of how deeply they are held, have no effect on reality.
If my belief is only true for me, then why isn’t your belief only true for you? Aren’t you saying you want me to believe the same thing you do?
You say that no belief is true for everyone, but you want everyone to believe what you do.
You’re making universal claims that relativism is true and absolutism is false. You can’t in the same breath say, ‘Nothing is universally true’ and ‘My view is universally true.’ Relativism falsifies itself. It claims there is one position that is true – relativism!
Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate evolution and intelligent design. (See below for link to video)
Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania and the founder of the modern Intelligent Design movement. His book “Darwin’s Black Box” ignited the controversy 14 years ago when it claimed that certain molecular machines and biological processes are “irreducibly complex” and cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution.
Keith Fox is Professor of biochemistry at the University of Southampton and chairman of Christians in Science. As a theistic evolutionist he believes that Evolution is the best explanation going for the complexity we see and that ID is a blind scientific alley and theologically unappealing to boot.
They debate whether micromachines in the cell such as the “bacterial flagellum” could have evolved by a Darwinian process of evolution. When inference to design is and isn’t acceptable in science. Whether random mutation can mathematically stack up to complex life, and whether God is reduced to a divine “tinkerer” by ID.
Here’s the debate:
Note: the following debate summary is rated “S” for Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.
ID is not Biblical creationism
ID is not religion
ID is a scientific research program
People refuse to discuss ID because of personal philosophical assumptions
ID is like the Big Bang – it is based on evidence, but it has broad religious implications
ID is not Biblical creationism, but it isn’t science
ID is compatible with common descent
ID is only opposed to unplanned, unguided evolution (Darwinism)
ID is not necessarily opposed to long periods of time
Behe’s first book – the bacterial flagellum
Here are a couple of papers that show how parts of the flagellum evolved
They are possible pathways
No, those are studies that show that there are similarities between bacterial flagella in multiple organisms
Similarities of proteins between different organisms do not necessarily imply a developmental pathway
The problem of having the instructions to BUILD the flagellum still remains
Maybe parts of the flagellum had other functions before they were used in the flagellum
Maybe you can use the parts of the flagellum for other purposes
Maybe, one can imagine, it’s possible that!
No, parts have to be modified and re-purposed in order to be used for other functions
But maybe the proteins can be used in other systems for other things
I re-purpose parts from of designed things to other purposes in my house when I do maintenance
Uh, yeah – but aren’t you an intelligent designer? What does your home maintenance have to do with Darwinian evolution?
Is ID another God-of-the-gaps argument?
Well consider the Big Bang… there was a build-up of scientific evidence for that theory
Just because a theory has religious implications, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true
You really have to look at the specific evidence for a theory, and not decide in advance
Keith Fox: (I’m paraphrasing/inventing/mocking from now on)
But the Big Bang is based on discoveries, and intelligent design is based on gaps in our scientific knowledge
What if I did have evidence of a step by step pathway (which I don’t right now)? Then I would win the argument – what would you do then?
Well, if tomorrow you do manage to find expiremental evidence of a pathway, which you don’t have today, then I would be wrong
ID is falsifiable by experimental evidence
But what about your your view? Is that falsifiable by experimental evidence?
Lenski has presided over 50,000 generations, (millions of years of evolution)
The bacterium did evolve and they did get better but not by evolving features, but by disabling features
But those are just LAB EXPERIMENTS! What do lab experiments prove?
What if? What if? What if? You don’t know, it happened so long ago, and you weren’t there! You weren’t there!
(clutches Flying Spaghetti Monster idol tighter and sobs pitifully)
See, the thing is that I have actual experiements, and here’s some more evidence that just got published last week
So I’ve got evidence and then some more evidence and them some other evidence – experimental evidence
And all the evidence shows that adaptation is done losing traits not by gaining traits
And the published observations are what we see in nature as well
But doesn’t Darwinism explain some things that we observe?
Well, I am not saying that micro-evolution doesn’t explain some things – it explains bacterial resistance, and other micro-evolution
it just doesn’t explain macro-evolution, and that’s what the experiments show
But ID is a science stopper! It stops science! You can’t produce experimental evidence to falsify Darwinism – that would stop science!
Well, you have to understand that the Big Bang postulated a non-material cause to the entire physical universe and yet the experimental evidence was allowed to stand because it was testable and verifiable evidence, even if the theory does have religious implications
All explanations in science are design to settle a question and it stops rival explanations that are not as good at explaining the observations
Finding the best explanation stops further study because it is better than rival explanations
Well you have to come up with a materialist explanation because that’s the only kind that a functional atheist like me will allow
Well, what if the best explanation for an observed effect in nature is non-material, as with the Big Bang?
But I have to have a material explanation because I am a functional atheist! (i.e. – a theistic evolutionist = functional atheist)
Well what about the cosmic fine-tuning argument? Do you accept that?
That’s an inference to design based on the latest scientific discoveries
Well I do accept that argument, but I don’t accept design in biology
When you apply it to biology, somehow it’s bad and you can’t do that or you losing research money and get fired
Anyway, your argument is based on a gap in our current knowledge
No, back in Darwin’s time we had a gap in our knowledge – we didn’t know what the cell was – we thought it was jello
Now, we know what the cell is really like, it’s irreducibly complex, and you can’t build up those molecular machines in a step-wise manner
The inference to design is based on the progress of science revealing the increasing levels of complexity
In experiments, Darwinian mechanisms cannot build anything useful, instead genes are disabled or dropped
You guys don’t have the evidence to prove your view that naturalistic mechanisms can do the creating
You keep issuing promissory notes
Well, you’re just seeing design subjectively, because you are a non-scientist
I’m being objective when I tell you that we will discover a materialist explanation later on – really really soon now, maybe even tomorrow, yeah
You won’t accept my speculations and you insist on these published experiments
You’re subjective and I’m objective
Just give me more research money so I can hide the decline better
Uh, you’re the one who is subjective – I cited evidence, and you are the one who is speculating
You have arguments from credulity, and I’ve got the lab experiments
You refuse to be skeptical, I am the one who is being skeptical
Maybe, maybe, maybe! Maybe tomorrow! Maybe in a parallel universe! Maybe aliens from Planet 9 from Outer Space!
Who knows! I certainly don’t know! And that somehow means you don’t know either! See?
Well, to prove me wrong, go into the lab, and run experiments and evolve some new genes (using Darwinian mechanisms) that have new useful functionality
Are there limits to what evolution can do?
You need multiple changes in the genome to get a new helpful feature (let’s say two specific mutations)
One specific change is possible
the odds are against getting multiple beneficial changes are really really small – you need two SPECIFIC changes to occur in order
Well, lots of things are really unlikely – any permutation of dice rolls is as unlikely as any other
Well, we are talking about TWO SPECIFIC mutations that are needed to get a beneficial function – lots of other mutations are possible, but we are looking for a specific outcome that requires two SPECIFIC mutations out of the whole genome
You aren’t going to get useful outcomes unless you direct the mutations
Here’s a lecture by New York University professor Paul Vitz to explain a connection between atheism and fatherlessness:
Here’s an article by Paul Copan (related to the lecture) which points out how father presence/absence and father quality affects belief and disbelief in God.
Seventh, the attempt to psychologize believers applies more readily to the hardened atheist.It is interesting that while atheists and skeptics often psychoanalyze the religious believer, they regularly fail to psychoanalyze their ownrejection of God. Why are believers subject to such scrutiny and not atheists? Remember another feature of Freud’s psychoanalysis — namely, an underlying resentment that desires to kill the father figure.
Why presume atheism is the rational, psychologically sound, and default position while theism is somehow psychologically deficient? New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz turns the tables on such thinking. He essentially says, “Let’s look into the lives of leading atheists and skeptics in the past. What do they have in common?” The result is interesting: virtually all of these leading figures lacked a positive fatherly role model — or had no father at all.11
Let’s look at some of them.
Voltaire(1694–1778): This biting critic of religion, though not an atheist, strongly rejected his father and rejected his birth name of Francois-Marie Arouet.
David Hume(1711–76): The father of this Scottish skeptic died when Hume was only 2 years old. Hume’s biographers mention no relatives or family friends who could have served as father figures.
Baron d’Holbach(1723–89): This French atheist became an orphan at age 13 and lived with his uncle.
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72): At age 13, his father left his family and took up living with another woman in a different town.
Karl Marx(1818–83): Marx’s father, a Jew, converted to being a Lutheran under pressure — not out of any religious conviction. Marx, therefore, did not respect his father.
Friedrich Nietzsche(1844–1900): He was 4 when he lost his father.
Sigmund Freud(1856–1939): His father, Jacob, was a great disappointment to him; his father was passive and weak. Freud also mentioned that his father was a sexual pervert and that his children suffered for it.
Bertrand Russell(1872–1970): His father died when he was 4.
Albert Camus(1913–60): His father died when he was 1 year old, and in his autobiographical novel The First Man, his father is the central figure preoccupation of his work.
Jean-Paul Sartre(1905–80): The famous existentialist’s father died before he was born.12
Madeleine Murray-O’Hair (1919–95): She hated her father and even tried to kill him with a butcher knife.
We could throw in a few more prominent contemporary atheists not mentioned by Vitz with similar childhood challenges:
Daniel Dennett (1942–): His father died when he was 5 years of age and had little influence on Dennett.13
Christopher Hitchens (1949–): His father (“the Commander”) was a good man, according to Hitchens, but he and Hitchens “didn’t hold much converse.” Once having “a respectful distance,” their relationship took on a “definite coolness” with an “occasional thaw.” Hitchens adds: “I am rather barren of paternal recollections.”14
Richard Dawkins (1941–): Though encouraged by his parents to study science, he mentions being molested as a child — no insignificant event, though Dawkins dismisses it as merely embarrassing.15
Moreover, Vitz’s study notes how many prominent theists in the past — such as Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer — have had in common a loving, caring father in their lives.16
Here are some corrections to the list:
1) Voltaire was not an atheist but a deist who rejected claims of the Bible’s inspiration, like Paine. Voltaire’s aphorism, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to the atheistic clique of d’Holbach, Grimm, and others.
2) David Hume’s religious views remain uncertain. He never said he was an atheist. A gentle skeptic suits him more.
3) Bertrand Russell was an agnostic.
Not only is there that anecdotal evidence of a psychological explanation for atheism, but there is also statistical evidence.
In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.
If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.
Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goesupfrom 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.
[…]In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.
A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!
The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.
Basically, anyone who doesn’t have a benevolent, involved father is going to have an enormously difficult time believing that moral boundaries set by an authority are for the benefit of the person who is being bounded. The best way to make moral boundaries stick is to see that they apply to the person making the boundaries as well – and that these moral boundaries are rational, evidentially-grounded and not arbitrary.
The book is “If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?”, by theologian R.C. Sproul. R.C. Sproul is one of my favorite theologians. The book in question has a very, very special place in my heart, because I think that it is one of the major reasons why I was able to resist pernicious ideas like religious pluralism and postmodernism for so long. Once you put on the glasses of Romans 1 and see for the first time what man is really doing with respect to God, you can never see things the same again. I’ll say more about this at the end, but let’s see what Brian wrote first.
So often, you hear atheists complaining about religion is nothing but wish-fulfillment or some sort of crutch for people who are frightened by a variety of things. They think that God is invented to solve several problems. 1) how does the world work?, 2) is there meaning to suffering and evil?, 3) why should I be moral?, and 4) what will happen to me and my loved ones when I die?. On the atheistic view, God is just a crutch that people cling to out of weakness and ignorance. But is this really the case?
Sproul starts the book by investigating three atheists who sought to explain religious belief as a result of psychological factors.
Before tackling the psychology of atheism, Sproul spends a chapter on the psychology of theism, from the perspective of Freud’s question “If there is no God, why is there religion?”11 What follows is an overview of various psychological explanations of theistic belief: Feuerbach’s “religion is a dream of the human mind.”12 Marx’s belief that religion is “due to the devious imagination of particular segment of mankind.”13 And Nietzche’s idea that “religion endures because weak men need it.”14 The author properly reiterates: “We must be careful to note that the above arguments can never be used as proof for the nonexistence of God. They can be useful for atheists who hear theists state that the only possible explanation for religion is the existence of God.”15 That being said, Sproul also reveals what these arguments presume:
Their arguments already presupposed the nonexistence of God. They were not dealing with the question, Is there a God? They were dealing with the question, Since there is no God, why is there religion?16
Sproul points out the weaknesses of each of these approaches and says “there are just as many arguments showing that unbelief has its roots in the psychological needs of man.”
Wow, could that really be true? What are the real reasons why people reject God? Does the Bible have anything to say about what those reasons are?
Brian cites Sproul’s contention:
The New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones. The problem is not that there is insufficient evidence to convince rational beings that there is a God, but that rational beings have a natural hostility to the being of God.
[…]Man’s desire is not that the omnipotent, personal Judeo-Christian God exist, but that He not exist.
Sproul explains why atheists cannot allow themselves to live according to the evidence that is presented to them:
The cumulative effect of this knowledge that is clearly seen is to leave men ‘without excuse.’ Herein lies the basis of the universal guilt of man. No one can claim ignorance of the knowledge of God. No one can cite insufficient evidence for not believing in God. Though people are not persuaded by the evidence, this does not indicate an insufficiency in the evidence, but rather an insufficiency in man.
[…]The basic stages of man’s reaction to God can be formulated by means of the categories of trauma, repression, and substitution.
[…]If God exists, man cannot be a law unto himself. If God exists, man’s will-to-power is destined to run head-on into the will of God.
And this is the force that is animating atheists today. They don’t want to be accountable to God in a relationship, no matter what the evidence is. They have to deny it, so that they can be free to get the benefits of a universe designed for them, without having to give any recognition or acknowledgement back. If they have to lie to themselves to deny the evidence, they will do it. Anything to insulate themselves from the Creator and Designer who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.
The rest of the book review, and the book, deals with explaining in detail how atheists respond to an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator/Designer. I encourage you to click through and read the whole book review. You can read the review, and the book, and then investigate for yourself whether atheists really are like that.
My survey of atheists
By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was “How you begin to follow Christ if it suddenly became clear to you that Christianity was objectively true?”. I got some very strange responses that dovetail nicely with Sproul’s book.
I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me.
I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do.
I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values. I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.
Well Spent Journey did a similar survey of atheists, inspired by mine, and got this result on the relevant question:
12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?
– Would follow (5) – Wouldn’t follow (6) – Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2) – It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3) – Christianity can’t be true (3)
– No answer given (4)
…What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?
– Adjusting wouldn’t be that difficult; would eagerly welcome knowing that Christianity was true (2)
– Praying, since it seems weird, creepy, and strange
– Trying to figure out how the Bible became so corrupted – Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– Don’t think it would be possible to adjust – No clear response, or not applicable (16)
Yes, they really think like that! Just ask an atheist questions and you’ll see how “objective” they really are. Atheism is entirely psychological. It’s adopted in order to feel sufficient and to operate with autonomy, with the goal of self-centered pleasure-seeking above all. Evidence has nothing to do with it.