Rhetorical Points That Internet Atheists Need To Stop Bringing Up

Rhetorical Points That Internet Atheists Need To Stop Bringing Up

Recently, I posted a screenshot of an old Tweet by Lee Strobel where he said “To continue in atheism, I would need to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I simply didn’t have that much faith.” which was just another way of saying that The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument, The Arguments For the existence of the soul, and the DNA Argument convinced him that the world was created by God. I wrote “#Theism > Atheism” and in doing so, I essentially threw a rock at a hornet’s nest! Legions of atheists descended upon me. For 3 mornings in a row, I woke up to 60-70 notifications on Cerebral Faith’s Twitter account!

The majority of them said Lee was attacking a straw man, though in part I think they were merely conflating what atheists say with what atheism logically entails. But what Lee said is indeed what many atheists have said in trying to explain the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, and the origin of our reasoning faculties. Even if this isn’t common to all atheists, you don’t have to look hard to find atheists saying things like the universe came into being from nothing and by nothing1, that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance2, and that consciousness developed from a non-conscious process.

But leave that aside. Among the many angry responses I received, many of them brought up the biblical accounts of the Serpent in Eden and the story of Jonah to make Christianity seem just as foolish. For example, when I posted Strobel’s quote with the caption “#Theism > #Atheism”, @JohnLodge responded  “And yet you can believe in talking snakes, man surviving three days inside a big fish, women turned into salt, penguins walking from Antarctica to the Middle East for a boat trip, walking on water, etc.”. Lodge is clearly committing the tu quoque fallacy3, but let’s leave that aside. Do these biblical accounts (and others) make the Christian worldview a foolish thing to believe?

Asking The Wrong Questions 

Is it really rational to believe that a man could survive 3 days inside the belly of a giant fish prior to be vomited up onto dry land? Is it really rational to believe an account concerning a talking snake (Genesis 3)? Can a reasonable person take seriously an account of a talking Donkey (Numbers 22:31-39)? And what of every animal in the entire world getting on one boat (Genesis 6-9)? Surely that’s not rational.

I think there are some reasons why Christians have no problem with these biblical accounts and the atheists do, and the reason is that Christians and Atheists approach these biblical accounts with different presuppositions.

Presupposition 1: The Existence Of An Omnipotent God

If God does not exist, then any account of any miracle is absurd. This is because a miracle, by definition, is the overriding of the laws of nature to cause something that natural processes couldn’t ever possibly produce.If there is no omnipotent God, then any man who is swallowed by a whale is going to dissolve in that whale’s stomach acid, or drown, or suffocate, whichever comes first. If there is no omnipotent God, then any snake or donkey is going to be as talkative as I am when I haven’t yet had my coffee. These things just don’t happen on their own. We’ve never seen them happen and it’s unlikely that we will. Why? Because when things are left to their natural course, men swallowed by whales die and animals stay mute. But of course, this all hinges on the presupposition that there is no omnipotent God. 

However, what if God exists? What if a God possessing the attribute of omnipotence actually exists? In that case, these historical accounts are at least possibly true, whether they are actually true is another question altogether. But if an omnipotent God exists, omnipotence being defined as having the capacity of doing anything logically possible, then this God could, if He wanted to, cause a man not to be dissolved by a whale’s stomach acids, nor drown or suffocate. He could temporarily give a donkey the ability to warn his rider of impending danger. He could temporarily give a snake the ability to tempt a woman to sin. He could even turn a woman into a pillar a salt. 

Christians find the biblical accounts believable and atheists find them so unbelievable because they disagree on this very thing; that an omnipotent God exists. Surely the atheist must say “Yeah, I supposed if an omnipotent God existed, I could believe these things happened. However, I don’t believe He does. Since he does not, it is unreasonable to believe these accounts have any factual basis” That would be a much more charitable way to deal with the issues than basically saying “Hyuck! Hyuck! Yoo Xians are so stoopid! You believe in talking snakes and donkeys. You believe a man survived 3 days in the belly of a whale! lol” 

I think there are a couple of good reasons to believe that an omnipotent God exists.

Reason 1: The Ontological Argument 

Before I go on to list and defend the premises of the argument, let me first explain some of the unique terminologies that will come into play for those without a background in philosophy. The Ontological Argument employs terms like “Possible Worlds” and “Maximally Great Being”.

Possible Worlds = A maximal description of the way the world could be. It is simply a complete list of logically possible states of affairs that could be true of reality. At least one of these lists of logically possible states of affairs will be true of reality. If you still find the term “Possible Worlds” confusing, just substitute it for the term “Possible Lists” instead. Imagine you have multiple sheets of notebook paper, and each list has a sentence describing a logically coherent state of affairs which could be true of reality, such as “Evan Minton is typing a blog post”, “Evan is wearing a Pokemon T-shirt while he types”, “Evan’s room needs cleaning up”, and so on. These statements listed one after another on your notebook paper are all states of affairs that could exist, and so, form a possible list. I’ll confess, all of the prior statements are not only true of a possible world/list, they’re true of the actual world/list. Now, if you change some statements on your sheet of paper, you arrive at a different list. This is really all a possible world is: an exhaustive list of statements that could be true of reality.

Maximally Great Being = This is a being that has all properties or attributes that go to make a person great (e.g power, knowledge, presence, moral goodness) and it has these properties to the greatest extent possible (i.e omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect). If an attribute would make a person great if he had it, a Maximally Great Being will have that attribute, and moreover, will have it to the greatest extent possible.

Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s look at the premises of this argument.

1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists.

2: If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world.

3: If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

4: If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

5: If a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world, then a Maximally Great Being exists.

6: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being exists.

This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises by the rules of logic.

Defense of Premise 1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being Exists

By possible, I mean that something like a Maximally Great Being (MGB) could exist in reality. I don’t mean it like a weak agnostic that says “Well, it’s possible that a Maximally Great Being exists and it’s possible that He doesn’t.” I mean that an MGB is metaphysically or logically possible. It does seem to me that this premise is true. I don’t see any reason to think that it isn’t possible that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect, necessarily existent being exists. Such an entity seems intuitively possible.

Defense Of Premise 2: If It Is Possible That A Maximally Great Being Exists, Then A Maximally Great Being Exists In Some Possible World

This premise follows from the first. If the existence of anything is logically possible, then it exists in some possible world. The only way it would exist in no possible world would be if the thing in question were logically impossible, such as a square circle, one ended stick, a married unmarried man, or a physical object with no shape. Such things are contradictions. A shape is either a square or a circle, but not both. A man is either married or unmarried, but he can’t be both! A stick always has two ends. These things violate the laws of logic and therefore exist in no possible world. By contrast, things like a little green alien or a unicorn, while these don’t exist in the actual world, they do exist in some possible worlds because their existence is possible. If God’s existence is possible (see premise 1), then He at least exists in some possible worlds.

Defense Of Premise 3: If A Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then He exists in every possible world.

This premise is true because of how one defines an MGB. A Maximally Great Being is, by virtue of being maximally great, necessarily existent. A Being who is necessarily existent is intuitively greater than one who is contingently existent. When something necessarily exists, this means that it could not possibly fail to exist. Its non-existence is impossible. Many mathematicians think that numbers, sets, and other mathematical entities exist in this way. If they exist, they have to exist and could not possibly fail to exist.

Now, if a necessary being exists in some possible world, it is impossible for it to not exist in all other possible worlds. 2+2=4 is a logically necessary truth. If it’s necessarily true in some possible world, it will be true in all of them. 2+2=4 is a logically necessary truth. If it’s necessarily true in some possible world, it will be true in all of them. 2+2 will not equal 4 in some possible worlds, but 5 in others. Necessary truth and necessarily existent being either exist in all possible worlds.

Defense Of Premise 4: If A Maximally Great Being Exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

This premise follows from the previous one. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then, of course, it will exist in the actual world. The actual world is a possible world. We know this precisely because it is actual. If it were an impossible world (like a world with a square circle) then it would not and could not exist. Given that it does exist, we know that it certainly is logically possible.

Defense Of Premise 5: If A Maximally Great Being Exists In The Actual World, then a Maximally Great Being Exists.

Obviously, if something exists in the actual world, it actually exists.

Conclusion: Therefore, A Maximally Great Being Exists.

An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect, necessarily existent being exists in the actual world.

The premises of both of this, so it follows that a necessarily existent, morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, personal being exists.

Reason 2: The Kalam Cosmological Argument 

Over the last century, much scientific evidence has arisen pointing to the fact that all of physical reality had a beginning out of nothing a finite time ago. The theoretical work of Albert Einstein5, Alexander Friedman6, George Lemaitre7 predicted an expanding universe, and these theoretical predictions were confirmed in 1929 by Edwin Hubble’s observation of the galactic redshift.8 An expanding universe entails a universe with a beginning. If the universe is getting bigger and bigger as the clock moves forward in time, then if you rewind the clock, the universe was smaller and smaller in the past. If you rewind the clock far back enough, you find that the universe was once smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Rewind it farther still, and you find the universe shrank down to nothing. The universe began to exist in a rapid explosion-like event that scientist Fred Hoyle dubbed “The Big Bang Theory”.9

Now, given that the universe began to exist, and given that anything that begins to exist has a cause (to say otherwise is to say things can come into being from nothing, a denial of the law of causality and something that makes you a candidate for the loony bin), then it follows that the universe has a cause of its existence.

What kind of cause must the universe have? The cause of the universe must be:

Spaceless – Because space came into being and did not exist until this cause brought it into existence, the cause cannot be a spatial being. It must be spaceless or non-spatial. You cannot be inside of something if you are that something’s cause. You cannot be inside of something if that something did not exist until you brought it into existence.

Timeless – Since time did not exist until The Big Bang, the cause cannot be inside of time. It must be a timeless being.

Immaterial – The cause’s non-spatiality entails immateriality. How so? Because material objects cannot exist unless space exists. Material objects have mass and ergo occupy spatial dimensions. If there is no space, matter cannot exist. This means that because the cause is non-spatial, it is therefore non-material.

Unimaginably Powerful – Anything able to create all matter, energy, space, and time out of absolutely nothing must be extremely powerful, if not omnipotent.

Supernatural – “Nature” and “The universe” are synonyms. Nature did not begin to exist until The Big Bang. Therefore, a natural cause (a cause coming, by definition, from nature) cannot be responsible for the origin of nature. To say otherwise would be to spout incoherence. You’d basically be saying “Nature caused nature to come into being.”

Uncaused – Given that the cause of the universe is timeless, the cause cannot itself have a beginning. To have a beginning to one’s existence entails a before and after relationship. There’s a time before one existed and a time after one came into existence. But a before and after of anything is impossible without time. Since the cause existed sans time, the cause, therefore, cannot have a beginning. It’s beginningless.

Personal– This is an entailment of the cause’s immateriality. There are two types of things recognized by philosophers that are immaterial: abstract objects (such as numbers, sets, or other mathematical entities) or unembodied minds. Philosophers realize that abstract objects, if they exist, they exist as non-physical entities. However, abstract objects cannot produce any effects. That’s part of what it means to be abstract. The number 3 isn’t going to be producing any effects anytime soon. Given that abstract objects are causally impotent, it, therefore, follows that an unembodied mind is the cause of the universe’ beginning.

For any being able to create the universe out of nothing, the rest of the miracles described in The Bible would be mere child’s play.

Presupposition 2: A Literal Snake and A Global Flood

With a couple of these critiques, I noticed that the skeptic presupposed certain interpretations of The Bible passages that he was heaping such ridicule on. For example, who says that it was a literal snake who spoke to Eve. While I believe an omnipotent God exists and therefore would have little trouble accepting the account of a literal talking snake, I think based on scriptural and logical considerations, that the “serpent” language in Genesis 3 was likely a metaphor. I was talking to one of my Christian friends just a few hours ago on whether the serpent in Genesis was a literal serpent. He said “Do you think there was a physical snake? I tend to think of it as descriptive language referring to the character of the Tempter…” and I responded “That’s where I lean too. One of the things like that makes me think that is Eve didn’t go ‘OMG! A Talking snake!!'” The Hebrew word for serpent is nachash. 

Bible scholar Michael S. Heiser writes “One of the things that always bothered me about the story was why Eve wasn’t scared witless when the serpent spoke to her. There’s no indication that she thought the incident unusual. I’ve run into some odd explanations for that, such as, ‘Maybe animals back then could walk and talk.’ That sort of speculation is aimed at preserving an over-literalized view of the text, and it’s often accompanied by an appeal to science— a claim that snake anatomy shows snakes once had legs. It’s a bit misguided when someone attempts to defend biblical literalism by appealing to the evolutionary history of snakes. And anyway, the whole approach misses the point. It also presumes that the villain was simply an animal. He wasn’t. The truth is that an ancient reader would not have expected Eve to be frightened. Given the context— she was in Eden, the realm of Yahweh and his elohim council— it would have been clear that she was conversing with a divine being. As we’ve seen in earlier chapters, the biblical author has telegraphed that Eve was on divine turf.” 10

Commenting on Heiser’s work, L.M Cross said “Dr. Heiser’s opinion is that the nachash or serpent is not an animal and definitely not a talking snake.  It is a divine being associated with the Divine Council  who freely chose to oppose God’s plan for humanity by prompting the humans to disobey God so they would either be killed or removed from God’s council and family.  The nachash is an angelic-type divine being perhaps masquerading as an animal, but not a member of the animal kingdom.  It may have been in serpentine form or took a serpentine form.”11

Well, that demolishes that presupposition. This wasn’t your garden variety snake (pun intended). It was a fallen angel. Either the descriptive term “serpent” was metaphorical of the devil (similar to when a woman says “men are pigs”) or whether the devil possessed a snake or took the form of one is another issue. I lean towards the former.

What about the objection that all of the world’s animals got on one boat? Going back to John Lodge’s tweet, he said “And yet you can believe in talking snakes, man surviving three days inside a big fish, women turned into salt, penguins walking from Antarctica to the Middle East for a boat trip, walking on water, etc.” It appears to do no good to appeal to the omnipotence of God, for here we’d have to come up with some sort of ad-hoc miracle (e.g “God shrunk the animals to the size of figurines so they’d fit”). So we’ll have to look elsewhere for a resolution. Again, I think that this objection relies on the presupposition that the flood described in Genesis 6-9 was a global, planet-wide catastrophe. However, a good many Christians including myself argue on biblical grounds that while the flood destroyed all of humanity, it did not cover the entire planet. It didn’t need to. Humanity didn’t spread across the globe until the Tower Of Babel event recorded in Genesis 11. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to defend the local flood interpretation, so see my article “Why I Believe A Local Flood Interpretation Is More Plausible” for a defense. Those who do hold that the flood was a planetwide event hold that Noah merely brought “kinds” of animals onto the ark (e.g dog kind, cat kind, horse kind), and post-flood, micro evolution turned these animals into the various different types of cats, dogs, and horses we see today. Though this view is plagued with difficulties.

Conclusion 

The attempts by atheists to make Christianity look foolish by pointing to miraculous stories in The Bible is a failure. They remove God from the Bible and then mock acts of God in The Bible. Additionally, a couple of these interpretations are based on a poor interpretation of the narratives in the first place. If atheists really want to “have a seat at the table” to use Jim Boucher’s terminology, they need to stop using these rhetorical points.

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NOTES

1: Consider these quotes from atheist philosophers/scientists;

“What does need its origin explained is the concrete Universe itself, and as Hume…long ago asked: Why not stop at the material world?  It…does perform a version of the ultimate bootstrapping trick; it creates itself ex nihilo.  Or at any rate out of something that is well-nigh indistinguishable from nothing at all.” – Daniel Dennett, from his book “Breaking The Spell”  As quoted by William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd, Edition, p. 151

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” – Stephen Hawking, Stephen Hawking Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/stephen_hawking_627115

“The most rational position to hold is that the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” – Quinton Smith, an atheist philosopher at The University Of Western Michigan.

I think Daniell Dennett, Stephen Hawking, and Quinton Smith would take issue at anyone saying Strobel is straw-manning atheism here.

2: While I can’t think of any official quotes like in the previous footnote, I give you my word that in my 8 years of arguing The Fine-Tuning argument on Twitter, most of them have opted for the chance alternative. They argue for it in various ways from the unsupported multiverse proposal to simple handwaving dismissal “Ah, improbable things happen all the time”, not taking into account that the fine-tuning is THE most improbable event ever to occur in the universe, and also that it isn’t just improbable that leads us to conclude that the fine-tuning couldn’t be due to chance, but must be due to design, but it’s the specified complexity we find in the cosmic fine-tuning. I address this objection in my blog post “Fine-Tuning and Specified Complexity”. 

3: The Tu Quoque Fallacy is “…is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.” https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/tu-quoque

4: Or as David Hume defined it: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature… a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent” while I take issue with this definition, since it makes it sound like God is essentially raping the natural world by causing to happen (i.e nature’s laws have been “violated”, “transgressed”) and would prefer to replace it with something like “A suspension of the laws of nature” or “overridance of the laws of nature”, nevertheless this atheist philosopher realized that miracles are a God thing, something that cannot happen if nature is left to her own devices.

5: Albert Einstein, “Die Feldgleichungen Der Gravitation”, Sitzungberichte der Koniglich, Preussischen Akademie der Wissenchafen,” 25 November 1915, pages 844-847 (the following includes this reference); Albert Einstein, “Die Grundlage der allgemeninen relatavitatstheorie,” Annalen der physik 49, 1916, pages 769-822 [Lorentz et. al. The Principle Of Relativity, pages 109-164

6: Albert Einstein, “Kosmologische Betrachungn zer Allgemeinen Relativitatstheorie”, Sitzungberischte der Koniglich, Preussischen Akademie der Wissenchafen, February 8th 1917, pages 142-152. The English Translation can be found in The Principle Of Relativity by H.A Lorentz A. Einstein, H. Minkowski, and H. Weyl with notes by A. Sommerfield and translated by W. Perrett and G.B Jeffery (London, U.K: Methuen and Co. 1923), pages 175-188; See also this article for more background on Einstein’s “fudge factor”: Karen Wright, “The Master’s Mistakes,” Discover, September 30, 2004, discovermagazine.com/2004/sep/the-masters-mistakes .

7: See the article “Important Scientists: George Lemaitre (1894-1966), https://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/scientists_lemaitre.htm

8: Hubble, E. (1929). “A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

9: See “Fred Hoyle Dies At 86; Opposed ‘Big Bang’, but Named It”, by Walter Sullivan, August 22nd 2001, New York Times, — https://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/22/world/fred-hoyle-dies-at-86-opposed-big-ba ng-but-named-it.html

10: Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 73). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

11: The Nachash In The Garden Of Eden, L.M Cross, http://freedomfromdelusion.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-nachash-in-garden-of-eden.html

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hi Evan, that's quite a post you made. I've been following you for a while now and enjoyed a good number of your posts. I'm what you'd call an old fella (73 years young) but I can't help but admire the amount of work you but into your posts. I run a Christian Apologetic web site with WordPress but the work that I put into it is nothing compared to the work you put into defending Christianity. My blog is called Christian Cases for Christ and the URL is bcooper.wordpress.com

    This particular post really grabbed my attention because I was going through Genesis again yesterday AND also reading through Lee's book on the Case for a Creator AND I just finished reading the book authored by Don Johnson (http://programmingoflife.com/ ), which all ties in together. And the part about the snake almost echoed some of the thoughts that I had as we go through the Garden of Eden account.

    This particular post really impressed me with the mental capabilities that you have, which kind of leaves me in the dust but in essence I share many of your beliefs. My hat is off to you.
    Just wanted to thank you for all the work that you do and let you know how much I appreciate the manner in which you lay things out, point by point. You're an amazing young man. Some day in the future we will meet when we are with the Lord. I look forward to that. Grace and blessings!

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