Objection number 4
This is argument number four: why Christian belief should be rejected and why Christian arguments for God fail. One could take this objection in two ways: this is a de jure objection which claims that there is something intrinsically wrong with belief in God. At its core, belief in God is irrational and reflects some sort of cognitive defect on the part of the subscriber. A second way this argument could be taken is as a straightforward de facto objection which claims that there is not enough credible evidence to conclude that belief in God could be rational. In other words, the facts as we know them do not support belief in God.
Now, Bob employs a tactic that you, as an apologist, would be well served to recognize and respond accordingly. The evidence for belief in God is essentially unrelated with what some men claiming to believe in God have done over the course of history. The two issues are unrelated. It is a red herring that should be called out for what it is and I am convinced that Bob and any reasonable atheist knows it. Therefore, the 30-years war is unworthy of attention in light of the basic claim of this argument which is that belief in God is either intrinsically defective or contrary to the facts.
Apologetic TIP: You have no obligation to defend the practices or beliefs of professing Christians. So don’t. Work on your discipline in this area. Don’t chase the non sequiturs!
Bob goes on to point out that just because the Bible is accurate in some places, this does not mean it is accurate everywhere. This is an important point and apologists should sit up a pay attention. There is an argument employed by apologists that takes this approach. It is a bad argument and it is easily refuted. Just because there really was a historical Jesus does not mean that He was God. And just because Jesus claimed to be God, that does not mean he was God from the perspective of the atheist. So, how do Christian apologists prove to atheists that God exists or that Jesus is God or that the Bible is the Word of God? There is a better way, to be sure, but that is beyond the scope of this post. This post is focused on Bob’s defense of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”(FSM) objection.
This objection is an epistemological objection. How do we know that belief in God is rational since the evidence for both God and the FSM is weak and since we know for sure there is no such thing as a FSM. Why believe in God but not the FSM if the evidence for both is equally weak? A rational person would not believe in either or would believe in both. Now, don’t run past this comparison too quickly. That is exactly what Bob wants us to do. The last thing Bob wants is for us to subject his presuppositions regarding evidence to critical reflection and evaluation. Is the evidence for God of the same kind as the evidence for the FSM? I think this is an absolutely fair and necessary question.
The real question we are dealing with here is simply this: is belief in God rationally acceptable? Bob’s objection is also simple: if belief in the FSM is irrational, so too is belief in God since they both come with the kind of evidence. There are number of ways this objection could be answered. We could compare belief in the FSM with belief in God and ask, does anyone with properly functioning cognitive faculties actually believe in the FSM. Since we know the FSM was invented as a technique to oppose intelligent design in schools in 2005, it is hard to take this as a serious objection. However, the philosophy that produced the device is really the target of our critical evaluation. Once again, don’t get bogged down by the FSM. Focus on what has to be true in order for the FSM objection to have teeth. That is how you deal with this sort of objection. I said it above: the claim is that belief in God is irrational because of the sort of evidence that Christians offer to support that belief.
So, why is it irrational to hold a belief that has insufficient evidence? Well, because no rational person ought to hold a belief without sufficient evidence. I see. And what is sufficient evidence? Is there one standard for sufficient evidence? Who came up with this standard? And is there sufficient evidence to believe that there is one agreed upon universal standard of evidence to which all beliefs ought to be subjected? Additionally, do all beliefs require the same kind of evidence? What is the criteria for establishing the type and amount of evidence necessary before a belief ought to be accepted or embraced?
Another issue concerns how one arrives at the criteria in question. If we are going to come up with criteria that helps us distinguish between good beliefs and bad beliefs, don’t we need to know what constitutes good beliefs and bad beliefs even before we establish the criteria? How do I know that this is the best criteria for sorting good beliefs from bad beliefs if I have not already formed an opinion about what a good belief is and is not? This is exactly what Roderick Chisholm demonstrated so well in his Problem of the Criterion. You see, there is no way to get around the fact that what informs one’s criteria for determining good beliefs is the worldview they bring to the project at the outset. The last two paragraphs have been nothing more than a presuppositional challenge to Bob over at Patheos to demonstrate why his FSM objection should be considered valid to begin with. Why should Christian belief subject itself to the atheistic criteria for rationality to start with? Personally, I think doing so disrespects Christianity and is an insult to God.
Finally, it does not follow that just because Christianity refuses to submit its beliefs to the criteria of non-Christian worldviews that it does not have evidence for its beliefs or that its beliefs are groundless or without warrant and hence, irrational. Quite the contrary! Alvin Plantinga says that the Christian belief in God is what is called a properly basic belief. A properly basic belief is a belief that is not based on other beliefs, that is self-evident only in certain conditions. As I walked my dog this morning, away from the presence of my wife, I did not stop believing in my wife. But my evidence for my wife at that moment was based on memory and we all know that memory is not the most reliable function. Am I to think that my belief in my wife at that moment was somehow, in some way, less rational than it is when I am in the presence of my wife? I must confess that even though I enjoy philosophy, such philosophical speculation is preposterous.
In the end, the evidence for God is remarkably different from that of the FSM. The analogy is intended as light-hearted swipe religious belief and is not intended to be taken seriously. However, the philosophy that produced it certainly intends to be taken seriously. This philosophy claims that human reason is the key to human knowledge. Faith is dismissed as a pre-scientific, unenlightened practice that should be examined by the superiority of the modern, scientific mind. This is the presupposition of modern atheistic naturalism. This appears to be the view espoused by Bob or something very close to it. As Esther Meek puts it, If God is, and he is master of all, then he is master of you and your world. If he isn’t, then you are. [Meek, Longing to Know] Jeffrey Johnson adds to this point, It is self-verifying that every man-made philosophy has its origin in fallible and finite men. Because of this faulty foundation, the philosophies of men cannot help but be inconsistent and ever-changing. [Johnson, The Absurdity of Unbelief]
Bob’s objection presupposes what it does not and indeed, cannot demonstrate: that there is only one agree upon standard of criteria for rational belief. We can ask why that criteria? And Bob will no doubt, have a response. This quickly leads to an infinite regress. But if it does not, if Bob has come up with some ground to which the chain of his beliefs is anchored, the question is why that ground. Bob’s foundation for his number 4 objection to Christian belief moves between an infinite regress, radical subjectivity, and a random arbitrariness from which he cannot free himself. In short, Bob’s objection follows from a worldview that itself reduces to irrationalism. I am going to go out on a limb and say that Bob, if he is like most atheists, holds to a naturalistic view of the universe. Regarding naturalism, Jeffrey Johnson concludes, A naturalistic explanation of the universe, no matter if it be by a non-supernatural explosion from a singularity or by some other means, cannot account for the laws of nature that are rooted in the immaterial laws of mathematics. If there is a universe without a Divine Mind, why is there order and geometrical structure when chaos is what should be expected. [Johnson, The Absurdity of Unbelief]
James Anderson makes the following similar observation, Materialism has great difficulty account for our mental lives and our conscious experience of the world. Minds, ideas, thoughts, and sensations are so very different from physical things that its hard to see how they could be explained in purely physical terms. [Anderson, Whats Your World View?] In a purely naturalistic worldview, I am not sure how one could ever trust the human brain as a reliably capable of delivering truth about the world. How could it? It is one clump of matter among countless clumps of matter. And if evolutionary theory is true, the brain is more interested in survival than truth anyways. So if it believes a lie that increases its chances of survival, it is simply doing what that clump of matter does…randomly…for no reason…without any purpose or aim. And if naturalism is true, I can’t even really know this much. I can know exactly what used to be: nothing.
Jesus Christ came to save sinners. He gave himself for sinners. He lived for sinners, died for sinners, and resurrected from the dead, for sinners. He forgives, redeems, justifies, and gives life to dead sinners. Repent and believe in the name of Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Only here will you find true knowledge and rationality and so much more than you could ever imagine!