Believers Are No Better
By Dan Barker
Are Christians more moral or successful than non-Christians?
The Second Coming Of The Church by George Barna (Word Publishing, 1998), reports that they are not. The author, a born-again Christian sociologist, is founder and president of Barna Research Group (CA), which releases many meaningful survey results.
Although most of Barna's book is a sermon to Christian ministers on how the church should regain its lost status, it does contain some frank statistics showing how the present church has "failed" in its mission. The numbers are based on Barna's own studies, and other national surveys.
Barna compares the behaviors and attitudes of Christians with Non-Christians (see tables below) and concludes: "We think and behave no differently from anyone else."
Examples of the Similarity of Behavior Between Christians and Non-Christians
(from The Second Coming Of The Church, p 6, partial list)
Have been divorced (among those who have been married) Born Again Christians: 27%; Non-Christians: 23%
Gave money to a homeless person or poor person, in past year Born Again Christians: 24%; Non-Christians: 34%
Took drugs or medication prescribed for depression, in past year Born Again Christians: 7%; Non-Christians: 8%
Watched an X-rated movie in the past 3 months Born Again Christians: 9%; Non-Christians: 16%
Donated any money to a nonprofit organization, in past month Born Again Christians: 47%; Non-Christians: 48%
Bought a lottery ticket, in the past week Born Again Christians: 23%; Non-Christians: 27%
Attended a community meeting on local issue, in past year Born Again Christians: 37%; Non-Christians: 42%
Examples of the Similarity of Attitudes Between Christians and non-Christians
(from The Second Coming Of The Church, p 21, partial list)
Feel completely or very successful in life Born Again Christians: 58%; Non-Christians: 49%
It is impossible to get ahead because of your financial debt Born Again Christians: 33%; Non-Christians: 39%
You are still trying to figure out the purpose of your life Born Again Christians: 36%; Non-Christians: 47%
Satisfied with your life these days Born Again Christians: 69%; Non-Christians: 68%
Your personal financial situation is getting better Born Again Christians: 27%; Non-Christians: 28%
Barna also sheds light on the definition of "God" that most Americans claim to believe in:
"Since more than nine out of ten Americans own at least one Bible, and 86 percent call themselves Christian, you might expect people to pay homage to the deity described and followed by the Christian Church. In July 1997, we asked a nationwide sample of 1,012 adults to describe the God they believe in. Two out of three adults (67 percent) said they believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe who rules the world today. The remaining one-third described their god as 'the total realization of personal, human potential'; or 'a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach'; or said, 'Everyone is God'; 'There are many gods, each with different power and authority'; or 'There is no such thing as God.' The remaining 5 percent said they did not know." [Pages 25-26]
According to Barna, a third of Americans does not really believe in "God" at all.
In spite of all the sermons about how belief makes a difference in life, the numbers show that Christians are not better off than unbelievers. At least one born-again sociologist is honest enough to admit it.
Or did we know this already?
By Dan Barker
Many have suspected it, but now there's proof: Americans are not as religious as the polls report.
Only half of those who say they regularly attend church actually do!
According to the traditional polls, 40% of the United States population reports attending church regularly. This figure has held remarkably constant for decades. Responding to a 1992 Gallup poll asking, "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?" 42% of adult Americans said "Yes."
But a new study questions this prevailing wisdom. "What The Polls Don't Show: A Closer Look At U.S. Church Attendance" was published in the December 1993 American Sociological Review, casting serious doubt on the supposedly high rate of regular church attendance. The authors are C. Kirk Hadaway (United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Adjunct Faculty at Hartford Seminary), Penny Long Marler (Assistant Professor of Religion at Samford University), and Mark Chaves (Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame).
"In the sociological literature," the three scholars write, "this high participation rate [40%] is prominently and widely cited to bolster attacks against the secularization hypothesis." They give widespread examples of this "social fact" in sociology texts, history texts, and journalism.
But many observers have doubted this characterization of high American religiosity--it doesn't seem to square with reality. This is especially true among many "old-line" Protestant denominations that have experienced membership losses and slowing growth rates the past few decades.
"Consistently high levels of church attendance and a growing U.S. population suggest that most major denominations should be thriving and growing," the authors point out, "[y]et most are not. Claims that losses in old-line denominations are more than offset by gains in evangelical denominations . . . do not suffice. In addition to the fact that evangelical gains simply are not numerically large enough, Americans in declining denominations still claim high levels of membership and attendance."
Church members appear to be "over-reporting" (to phrase it politely) their attendance. It has long been known that people tend to make themselves look better than they are in surveys. Overreporting (or underreporting) is often due to "social desirability" factors. Many people, for example, tell pollsters that they vote regularly, although their names are absent from voting records. Many youths underreport deviant behavior, such as substance abuse.
Suspecting that poll respondents "substantially overstate actual church attendance," Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves hit upon a novel idea. First they did a poll, then they did a head count.
Then they compared the polls to the pews. Using a variety of data sources and strategies, they estimated count-based church rates among Protestants and Catholics in a rural Ohio county (Ashtabula) and among Catholics in 18 dioceses nationwide.
To be as accurate as possible, the authors located every single church in the county, driving the length of every road. They found 172 Christian churches, 44 more than the 128 listed for Ashtabula County in Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1990. Some congregations were counted physically, and average attendance counts were received from other churches through denominational yearbooks, telephone interviews, and letters. (It is not to be expected that churches would underreport their attendance.)
"The results are dramatic," they write. Church attendance rates "are approximately one-half the generally accepted levels."
Although 35.8% of Protestants said they regularly attend church, only 19.6% showed up. The 35.8% survey result is consistent with 1991 statewide and 1992 Cincinnati polls yielding 36%.
Only 25% of Catholics were counted in church, compared to 51% reported. The 51% survey result is similar to polls in New York (44.8%), Chicago (48.5%) and Cincinnati (59.3%).
One of the harshest attacks on this new study came from Catholic priest/sociologist Andrew Greeley, who called it "a sloppy piece of work," according to Christian Century. But Gerald Marwell, the review editor who decided to publish the study, said he was not surprised by Greeley's reaction: "To some extent he [Greeley] was one of the people who is argued against in the research." Marwell pointed out that the ASR study was reviewed before publication by a panel of noted sociologists.
"To generalize from a county in Ohio to all of Protestant America is irresponsible," said Greeley. Marwell responded that the burden of proof is on the critics to demonstrate how the county in this study is out of line with the rest of the nation.
Jay Demerath, professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, responded to the survey's conclusion that Americans have been inflating church attendance. He said: "I think the study needs to be taken very seriously indeed. . . . Gallup and other pollsters are aware of this. It's kind of a dirty little secret."
The implications are obvious. If church attendance reports are unreliable, what about other "facts" of American religiosity? What about belief in God?
A Historic Debate on the Existence of God
January 5th, 2003
Venue: Islamic Institute of New York, Woodside, New York
Welcome Speech By Br. Muhammad Jaffer
(Assistant Principal, Tawheed Institute)
Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatuh--which means peace be upon all of us, and all of you. We are very happy that we have a good crowd today. This is part of a series (of events) that we have done after September 11; I guess a sharing of faith with many groups of people. This center is an Islamic Institution and the Tahweed Institute is an Islamic school. The word 'Tahweeed' means--the Oneness of God. Though it's an Islamic school, and an Islamic center, we are not going to be biased here with anybody or any group. I guess the main purpose we are here today is to share faith and to get an understanding of each other. I was speaking to Dan before and we hope people can leave today with just an understanding of each other and an ability to think differently, because I guess, last year people have felt very sad about what is happening in the world. And if the stereotypes go away and the unity of us human beings as being together begins to flourish, the world will be a better place, and how do you do that as an individual? How do you promote happiness with each other and brotherhood as we call? The only way to do that is to get to know each other, and one of the best ways to get to know each other is to know our faiths, what we believe in, and what we stand for.
I saw a very nice T-shirt back there, NYC Atheist Club--interesting!! It's the first time I saw that. I am sure you will see the people from the Islamic Institute and different groups here, and it is not to show that we are angry at each other because somebody is different, but I think, to say that we are all human beings. The only way we will be prosperous and successful is that we live in peace. Going back to the Tawheed institute, it was started 14 years ago, and its goal was to educate the youths. And hopefully today, after everybody speaks, we will be better educated on the belief in God and the belief in other groups, who don't believe in God.
I will ask one thing--and it is a very touchy subject, especially for those (non-Muslims). I would say, being a Muslim I can talk about myself. When someone comes to me and starts questioning God, and putting down God to me--it is very sensitive. But I would ask everybody to put away their emotions today, and open up their minds, and no anger and animosity should come from this. What should come from this is more unity and more brotherhood, and I think in the end we will see that we will be happier as people and successful as human beings.
What we will do later on, since by you being here is a gift to us, is in the end we will have gifts for all of you, especially for those coming to this Center for the first time, we have books and Qur'an for you to read.
Thank you. (A good ovation from the audience)
Recitation of Qur'an by Br. Abbas Peera
(Student, Tawheed Institute)
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent , the Merciful
The Beneficent God,
Taught the Qur'an.
He created man,
Taught him the mode of expression.
The sun and the moon follow a reckoning.
And the herbs and the trees do adore (Him).
And the Heaven, He raised it high, and He made the balance,
That you may not be inordinate in respect of the measure.
And keep up the balance with equity and do not make the measure deficient.
And the earth, He has set it for living creatures;
Therein is fruit and palms having sheathed clusters,
And the grain with (its) husk and fragrance.
Which then of the bounties of your lord will you deny
He created man from dry clay like earthen vessels,
And He created the jinn of a flame of fire.
Which then of the bounties of your lord will you deny?
(Audience responds by invoking blessings upon the Prophet and his progeny)
Introduction By Br. Mohamed Athar Lila
(Teacher, Tawheed Institute)
Thank you very much Abbas that was very much appreciated.
My name is Mohamed Athar Lila, and I have the pleasure and the honor of being the moderator of today's debate. Before I begin with outlining how the program will proceed today, as well as a few rules of decorum, and finally by introducing the speakers, I suppose I should mention a little bit about myself. I am currently completing my Master's Degree in Journalism at the graduate school of Journalism at Columbia University, where one of the first things we are taught is to identify our biases, then declare them, and promptly throw them out of the window. So, I suppose I should, identify some of my biases. I am a practicing member of the Islamic faith, I am also from Toronto, Canada if that means anything and I enjoy the occasional game of ping-pong. All humor aside, I promise that today, to both of our speakers, this is a personal pledge that I make to you, I will be even-handed and as fair as I possibly can be and that brings especially true for the timings. Some of the segments that we have been allotted a specific amount of time so please don't be upset if I have to cut you off half way. I will give you both a one-minute warning so that you know that the time will be running out so that you can plan your talks accordingly. It's also a great pleasure to see that this auditorium is at capacity. I see there may even be some people standing at the back. For those who come late, please try to find a seat if possible--if not please speak to one of the organizers--we can try to bring in some seats for you.
And this afternoon we have two very distinguished, and qualified speakers to bring to focus the question of the debate, and that is, "Does God Not Exist?" I will begin by explaining a little bit about how the program will run. For those of you that entered, you would have seen a table right in front of you. There is a program itinerary on the table but those of you that do not have it, Dan Barker will begin with opening arguments against the existence of God and that will run for approximately--exactly twenty minutes followed by a rebuttal by Hassanain Rajabali of ten minutes followed by a reply by Dan Barker for 5 minutes. That process will switch over and following this, Hassanain Rajabali will give his opening arguments for the existence of God and again that will be for twenty minutes. Dan Barker will have ten minutes to rebut followed by a final reply by Hassanain for 5 minutes. After that we are going to have a break for about 5-10 minutes as many of us will need to stretch, walk or probably even absorb some of the things that will have been said. And then we will have closing statements from both the speakers followed by a 30 minutes questions and answers session. For the questions and answers session, in the interest of fairness, we are going to ask all of you to write down your questions on the pieces of paper that will be provided--it will be distributed before the questions and answers session begins and once you have written down your questions, please hand them to one of our organizers... and we will make sure it gets to the front. Please accept our apologies if your questions are not answered--we do have a very short amount of time for the questions and answers session.
And before I introduce the speakers, I just would like to go over some of the rules for today's event. The first rule (wash rooms). Also, if you need to get up in between, please do so with very little inconvenience. On that note, there shall be no unauthorized recordings of today's event--this includes audio recordings, video recordings. I have just been advised by the organizers that as much as possible since this is an Islamic Institute there are certain rules of decorum and one of those is that we are trying as hard as possible to keep the men on one side and the women on the other side. We are, I am told; in the process of bringing more chairs down for those of you who do not have chairs yet so please hang in tight the chairs will be coming pretty soon... Another rule just to speed things up a bit--cell phones, pagers. Someone once told me when I was young that the only people that should have cell phones are doctors and drug dealers. (Laughter from the audience) So, unless you are a doctor, I ask that you turn off your pagers. It is very disrespectful to have a gathering when your cell phones goes off as it disturbs the speakers and interrupts their speech and (At this moment, brother Lila's cell phone rings and everyone cannot help laughing. He picks up the phone and answers: "hello, its me, I am moderating a debate right now, I will call you right back...") So if you all can follow my lead, turn your cell phones off and your pagers off that way the program will not be interrupted again and my apologies for that interruption.
The last thing that I wish to reiterate is something that Muhammad Jaffer reiterated earlier is that in debates of this nature, it's very easy to get emotional, and it is very easy to let our emotions take control of us. But I would just like to reiterate again that out of respect for the speakers, if we could refrain from any kind of negative responses, any kind of jeering, perhaps even booing, even excessive cheering... to keep the proper decorum and to show the speakers the respect they deserve--that will help our program run smoothly. Just a note for some of the non-Muslim friends and visitors who are here today you will have noticed that after the recitation of the Qur'an, Muslims responded with a phrase in Arabic and essentially that phrase in Arabic is invoking blessings upon the Prophet and often times this is how Muslims rather than clapping, they express their appreciation for a speech or a talk or any kind of things done for the public, they express their gratitude by invoking blessings upon the Prophet. So please do not be startled by this--it is a normal thing that when you go to Muslim gatherings this will happen often. However we do ask everyone--Muslims and non-Muslims to please keep the responses including the applause and God forbid there should be any boos to a minimum and that will help us go smoothly. Now, I have talked enough; let's get to our speakers!!!
To my left, Mr. Dan Barker, is a former evangelical Christian Minister who preached for 19 years, before giving up his faith in Jesus and belief in God. He received a degree in religion from Azusa Pacific University, was ordained to the ministry and served as an Associate Pastor in 3 California churches. He served a total of 2 years as a missionary in Mexico, and 8 years as a cross-country evangelist. In 1983 following 4 to 5 years of deep conversion thinking, Dan became an atheist. He now works as Public Relations Director for the National Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also married, and has 5 children. Let's welcome Dan Barker! (Clapping).
To my right, we have Hassanain Rajabali, who is the Principal of the Tawheed Institute of New York. He is a popular speaker locally, and has traveled worldwide to lecture on Islam. He is also a frequent lecturer on Islam at Columbia University, on behalf of the Muslim Students Association. He is a graduate from the University of Colorado, and presently, he owns and runs an Internet company called Netsite Corporation which specializes in E-Commerce and E-Business and is located in White Plains, NY. Hassanain came to settle in the U.S. in 1975, emigrating from Tanzania, East Africa. Let us all welcome Hassanain Rajabali. (Clapping)
With that, I believe gentlemen; you know the rules of the tonight's debate, if you have any questions, I will be seated on the side and with that I would like to invite Mr. Barker.
Opening Statements By Dan Barker
Thank you Mohamed for that very entertaining introduction, very nice. I also want to thank all the other organizers and inviters, especially Ali Khalfan, who I thought was single-handedly putting this thing on, but I guess he has a lot of help with Mohsin (Manekia), and others, so it's very nice to be working with such gracious people as Ali and his helpers. He is also a very generous and a very capable organizer, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a guest in this place.
Hassanain Rajabali, Dan Barker, Ali Khalfan
There are also some freethinkers here. There are some members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation here. I recognize Irving [Yablon] who comes to everything in the country; members of the Atheists of NY; another member who is a student at Columbia University with some other friends there, Richard Carrier is here. So welcome to you, and thank you for coming.
There are millions of good Americans who do not believe in god. And on the planet there are about a billion people who do not believe in any kind of a god. Most of them are Buddhists, and a lot of other non-religious people who don't believe in a god. I used to believe, as you know. I believed firmly and strongly, I was a devoted disciple of Jesus. I spent many years preaching, and I changed my mind. I can't tell you the whole story. I can show you my book (Dan walks over to his table)--its not for sale today but it is available through different sources--Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist--going from a firm Bible believing Christian to an outspoken atheist. Or if you rather hear it in musical form, I have a CD called "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," with 34 songs expressing in an artistic way, my lack of belief, and my pride in being an atheist and a humanist in this world. Now I am a very happy moral person without beliefs. For me the only guide to truth is reason--not faith, not tradition, not authority and not revelation. The only way to know what is true and false is through reason.
This is an Islamic institute and I am so happy to have a chance to get acquainted with Ali and the others here; but I am not an expert on Islam, so if you want to score some points Hassanain, ask me some questions on the Qur'an because I've read much of the Qur'an, but I am not as familiar with the Qur'an as I am with the Bible. But if you do want some information that is critical of Islam specifically, and critical of the Qur'an--and criticism is good: we should all welcome criticism, because by meeting it, it strengthens our faith, doesn't it?--I would recommend to you a wonderful book I just read--by Ibn Warraq--Why I am not a Muslim. He was raised as a Muslim. He is a scholar; he was an Islamic scholar. He knows these things better than I do. So, if any of these things comes up, I have to defer to his expertise.
Hassanain, you and I have a lot in common. When you say that "there is no god but Allah," you are telling millions of good Hindus that Vishnu does not exist. Shiva, Devi do not exist; and I agree with you. You are right. Those gods do not exist. You and I are both unbelievers in those gods.
When you say "there is no god but Allah," you are telling a billion good Christians on this planet that not only is Jesus not god, he is not even the son of god; and I agree with you. The Trinitarian god of Christianity does not exist. You and I are both in agreement; we are unbelievers in that god.
When you say "there is no god but Allah," you are telling the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Norsemen, the Mayans, the Aztecs through history there, "Osiris, Zeus, Mercury, Thor, Quetzalcoatl . . . they do not exist." And I agree with you. You are right Hassanain. Those gods that were worshipped by millions of devout believers--those gods do not exist.
The only difference between you and me is that I believe in one less god than you do.
Basically we are the same. We are unbelievers. Did you know that the early Christians were called unbelievers by the Romans, because they did not believe in the true Roman gods? Although they had their god, they were called atheists.
Atheism in its most general sense is the absence of a belief in a god or gods--atheism with a lower case "a" is not a belief system, it is not a creed, it is not a system of morality: it is simply the lack of a belief in a god, for what ever reason. Most agnostics are atheists by this broad definition, because the word "god" could mean anything, and you can't possibly disprove the existence of something that is not clearly defined.
However, when it comes to a particular definition of god, such as the Christian god, or the Islamic god, I go further than just the negative soft lower-case atheism and I make the positive claim that that particular god does not exist. In that case, I am an upper case Atheist.
Especially when it comes to the gods of the revealed religions. I am convinced and I claim to know that that those gods--the Christian god, [and] Allah, does not exist. It is not a belief; it is a claim of knowledge. The word "god" is minimally defined by the Abrahamic religions to be a personal being who created and maintains the universe, who is all-Powerful, all-Knowing, and all-Good. There is more to the definition, but in a minimal sense, that is how god is defined, and that is the god we are debating tonight.
Such a god is fictional; such a god does not exist. First I will give you my lower-case reasons, then I will give you some positive upper case "A" reasons for this claim.
First of all, it is the lack of evidence. If there is anything that is obvious, it is that the existence of god is not obvious. Even the Bible says that. "Truly you are a god who hides himself" [Isaiah 45:15], because if there is a god, where is he or she or it?
Some people say that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. But I disagree. If something is truly not existent, then the only evidence we can possibly have for its non-existence would be the absence of evidence for its existence. The absence of evidence is not proof, but it is certainly evidence. If god is obvious, and if god does exist, if there is evidence for it, then why are we having this debate? We don't debate things like gravity. We don't debate things like "Who is our president," or "Does Saudi Arabia exist as a country?" We know these things by evidence. If there is a god, and if there is an evidence of a god, then why are there unbelievers, why are there atheists? Are we just blind? Are we just inherently evil? We just want to close our eyes to something that others claim is so obvious? The very existence of a billion non-believers on this planet is not proof, but it is certainly evidence. I offer myself as Exhibit A. I do not believe in a god. It is not evident to me. It is not obvious to me.
What if...what if scientists were to gather together every Sunday morning like Christians do in Church, and hold hands and bow their heads and pray and say: (Dan is singing) "Yes, gravity is real. I know that gravity is real. I will have faith. I will be strong. I know in my heart that what goes up, must come down, down, down!" (Laughter) What if they did that? You would think they were pretty insecure on the concept, wouldn't you?
That's what religious people are always doing; they are getting together--What if scientists were to get together every Friday, and bow to the north and say, "There is no law but evolution and Darwin is its prophet. There is no law but evolution and Darwin is its prophet." What if they said that over and over and over again? Wouldn't you think they were somewhat insecure? They are trying to talk themselves into this thing, for which there is no evidence. And that's what most religions do, they talk themselves into it without any actual evidence that they can show me.
Or what if [they said] "Gravity is real, and Isaac Newton is its prophet"? Isaac Newton: probably the greatest mind of science. 300 years ago he figured out the laws of gravity. Isaac Newton believed in a god and when he figured out the laws of gravity, and the orbits of the planets, and the elliptical paths and all that, it was a wonderful revelation to our world, not by revelation, but of course, by reason. He figured it out and proved it with reason.
But Isaac Newton was stymied. As great a mind as his, he bumped up against some things that he could not figure out. He did not have an answer for why all the planets were in the same plane. How could that be? Why? Or why they were all going in the same direction? And you know what the great scientific mind Isaac Newton said? He said "That is evidence of design in the Universe. That is evidence of choice. That's proof of god, the fact that they are in the same plane and they go in the same direction."
What we now know is that Isaac Newton was wrong. We now know that this gap in his understanding does have an answer. We now understand the formation of the solar system or planetary system. So we now know why they are in the same plane and in the same direction.
But in his time, it was an unknowable thing. He had this huge gap in his mind, and he said, "Well, I don't know the answer, so god is the answer." There is a big gap, and he plugged it with his god. How convenient. He had a gap in his understanding; he plugged it with his god. And that's basically how the arguments for the existence of god have all boiled down.
Christians, and Islamic and Jewish theists and others argue "Well, there is some gap in our current understanding of science, therefore, I can plug my god into that gap."
Years ago, when it was thundering and lightening, they didn't know what caused it. So, "Zeus did it" and "Thor did it." But now we understand electricity and the weather patterns, and Zeus and Thor have died. They're gone . . . except we do have a day of the week dedicated to Thor. [Thursday]
Fertility of the soil. They used to wonder, "How do the crops grow?" So they had a goddess named Hera. But now we understand more, and that gap has closed, and that god has died out.
Now, I expect Hassanain is going to give some of these arguments for the existence of his god, and I will attempt to rebut them during my rebuttal time, and I have just to show that many of these arguments are basically just "god of the gaps." They are arguments from his ignorance.
I would also ask you--and I will ask you if I get a chanceHassanain--if you do expect me to disprove god, then tell me: what you would accept as a disproof?
The principle of falsifiability I think is useful. Maybe not be 100% perfect, but it is useful. For any statement to be true, there must be things that could be said about that statement which if true would make the statement false. And the failure to prove these falsifiable statements true strengthens the truth claim of the original statement.
For example, if I am a short, fat redhead, you can say "He is not a tall skinny blonde." Right? And if I were a tall skinny blonde, it would falsify that I am a short, fat redhead, right. There have to be statements you can say about your claim, which would falsify if they were true. So, I am going to ask you: give me an example of a statement, which if true, would prove your hypothesis false. What would you accept as a disproof, so then we are having a fair debate?
Now here are some positive arguments for the non-existence of god:
Suppose god is defined as a "married bachelor." Does he exist? You cannot ask "Does he exist?", but you can just say "He cannot exist." A "married bachelor" is discrepant. You can't have such a thing. And there are about a dozen different ways that god has been defined in the revealed religions that are mutually incompatible, definitions of god that cannot exist in the same being.
For example, here is a trivial example, and I will move on to a stronger one later. If god is defined as "all-merciful," or "infinitely-merciful," as I have heard some Muslims say, and if god is also defined as a "just" god, then such a being cannot exist. Because why? What does "mercy" mean? Mercy means you give punishment with less severity than is deserved by the crime. You committed this crime; you deserve this punishment, but "Be merciful to me god." So god gives you less punishment. Maybe he sets you free, maybe he is "infinitely merciful." By the way if god is infinitely merciful, then I am not going to Hell, right? (Laughter) If he is infinitely merciful, no one is going to go to Hell. That's a side point.
But to be just . . . what does it mean to be just? What is justice? "Just" means that you have the punishment that fits the crime. You commit the crime, you get this punishment. That's justice. We want justice in world. But if god is "all-merciful," "infinitely merciful," then he can never be "just." If god is ever "just," only once even, then he cannot be "ALL-merciful." He has to be "sometimes merciful," and "sometimes just," but he cannot be "all merciful."
So, it follows, a god who is defined as "all-merciful" and "just" not only doesn't exist, but cannot exist.
Here's a stronger one. God is defined as a "personal being." To be a personal being you have to be able to make decisions. Which means you have to have a potential of uncertainty. Tomorrow I am going to decide something, but before then I could change my mind, right? So I am a free, personal being because I have the ability, at least in principle, to change my mind. If I didn't have that ability, then I would not be a free agent, a personal being. But god is also defined as "all-knowing." He is defined as "omniscient," which means that not only does he know about the past, present and the future of everything, but he also knows all his own future decisions. If god knows all of his own future decisions, and if the set of future facts is fixed by his omniscience, then that puts some limits on his power, doesn't it? He is not able to change his mind between now and then. He has to go like a robot or a computer program. He is stuck. If he knows the future he can't change it. If he goes ahead and proves his power by changing it anyway, then he was not omniscient in the first place, was he? So this is a short-hand version of saying that a god who is defined as "personal" and "all-knowing" not only does not exist: such a god cannot exist. He either has freedom, or he doesn't. And if he knows the future, he has no freedom. I call this the Free Will Argument for the Non-Existence of God, or FANG for short.
Another problem--another "married bachelor" problem--is the idea of an immaterial mind. All we know about minds is that they exist within some kind of a physical housing: a human brain, a computer or something. We have no evidence or no coherent definition of a mind or spirit that can exist apart from something physical.
Another evidence for the non-existence of god is that all these god believers claim virtually without exception that believing in god makes you a better person, makes you more moral. Believing in god is how you can live the good and right life. But when you look at the lives of believers, you do not see better lives. you do not see--Muslims are not more moral people than atheists. They do not love their children any more. They do not provide for charity anymore. Muslims, Christians and Jews were just about the same. In fact in America, non-believers score better than Christians do on lot of these moral charitable things. And If there is a god who gives us absolute moral standards, why do no believers agree on what they are?
Take the death penalty, for example, or abortion rights, or gay rights, or euthanasia, or women rights, or doctor-assisted suicide, or stem cell research--you name it, you will find devout, praying god believers falling on both sides of those issues. God believers do not agree with each other, so where is this absolute morality? That doesn't disprove god, but it is an evidence against the existence of a god who gives moral standards.
Another argument against the existence of god, of course, is the problem of evil. All you have to do is walk into any children's hospital, and you know there is no god. Children are in pain, they are suffering, their parents are desperately praying for god to protect them. They are praying, "Jesus"--or "God, or Elohim or whoever--"protect my child." And the children die. They don't survive. Occasionally, according to statistics, some of them will get better, prayed-for or not. And of course the believers think that's proof of prayer. But in my family we had a traumatic situation, where my wife did survive, not because of invoking prayer, but because of invoking good medical attention.
On September 11 , Hassanain, those god believers who committed that act of terrorism had a foreknowledge of the evil that they wanted to do. They had a belief in a god, they had a belief in a Heaven. And It's not only Muslims, but its believers of all stripes who commit horrible acts. What if you had known what was in the minds of those terrorists? What if you would have known about it in advance and what if you had the ability to stop it, without any risk to yourself? Would you have stopped them? I would have. I am sure--you are a good man--that you would have stopped it. You would have stopped the bloodshed, the trauma. I would have, as a good human, moral person. If you say "Yes, I would have stopped it," then you are nicer than god. Because god had the foreknowledge, god had the power to stop the brutality, but he did nothing about it. In my book, he is something of immoral accomplice.
Also, besides these evidences for god's non-existence, I don't see any need to believe in a god. You can live a good moral life, a happy life, a reasonable life, a compassionate life. Even Jesus said, "They who are whole don't need a doctor." Well, most of us atheists consider that we are not sick. We are not sinners. We do not have this need for some master up there before whom we can bow as a slave. And we can live a good life without a belief in a god.
So, my time is up, Mohamed tells me, and we will now move to the next phase.
Rebuttal By Hassanain Rajabali
I begin in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Without taking too much time, I will make a formal introduction when I begin my presentation. But due to limited time to rebut I will just spend a few moments in just sort of listing these issues with regard to what my friend Dan has spoken about.
It's very similar as I see that your arguments that you have brought forth with regards to the non-existence of God as you have used in all your debates--with (Dr. Phil) Fernandes for example, and others you have debated with, and it seems that you--you have got all your arguments laid down on your website too and it almost seems like a dogmatic presentation in trying to refute the existence of God.
So let's go with the basics here. First you say, that you use reason. Absolutely, reason is a very necessary tool by which mankind needs to ascertain the realities, for if one were to remove reason from his tools then he fails to reach his goal. You say that there are a billion people who are atheists--well I think you have taken it a little too far--because a Buddhist is not an atheist, he's what we call a non-theist. He does not reject the existence of God, he simply defines it differently, in a different manner. We can discuss that later.
When you say that you claim knowledge and not belief, I fail to understand how a person can come forward and say that there is no God and say that I don't have a belief. It's a claim of knowledge you say but it's not a belief. And I don't understand that difference. When you say lack of evidence it's amazing that in all the debates that have taken place between the atheists such as people like--Bertrand Russell, as you all revere very much, the atheists that do, you find that this argument of design is so conspicuous, its staring and glaring at one's nose, that yet you simply say--well this has to be discarded as just a mere existence of some primordial soup that came into existence out of nothing with nothing, by nothing, through total probabilistic game. This is absolutely impossible; impossible from all standards of logic and reason, as we would say. So the interesting fact is that, yes, reason is a necessary entity, but something that is so prevalent, that is so clear about the system of design in the universe and to reject it, and simply say that it has no purpose, no design, no meaning, it just came out of nothing, going nowhere with no meaning, I think that is really, really stretching the issue, way beyond reason--it becomes totally unreasonable, and that's the question.
So, you asked me; you mentioned for example, Isaac Newton--you said he was a great scientific mind, but he was wrong because he couldn't answer some of the things. No one denies that a human being, no matter how brilliant a mind is can have an understanding of everything. It's not possible. There will always be some level of ignorance in the reality by which we live in. The universe is vast--it is not possible for us to understand everything. That does not preclude the fact therefore that I have to reject in a Maker.
When Isaac Newton said what he said, that may be he was wrong, but he said that there is a design; it did not imply that because--in other words he knew 80%, 20% was not known and on that 20% because he did not know he used that 20% as proof that God exists. That's not true. What he said is that there is a designer, but there is this much that I do not understand. Whether we fill the gap, or we don't fill the gap has no relevance to the fact that the reality exist, but you have not answered the rest of the question. Just because we don't know something does not imply it is not there. So for someone to say that if Isaac Newton says something which he makes a wrong scientific judgment--everybody makes a wrong judgment sometime in life, but that does not imply; that they therefore abandon the whole system, and I think that's where we are coming from.
So when you say something is falsifiable, how do you prove for example, what do I expect from you? The very basic question we are debating this issue is--if you and I did not exist--why would we be debating? The question here has got nothing to do with anything further than our existence. We exist; we want to know where did we come from. What is our goal? You mentioned in all your debates, in your arguments, with regards that you know we are moral people, we are good people, we do good things, (and) we give charity. I fail to understand why. Honestly, and I like if you can give me some explanation on that. Why would you do that? You came from nothing, you have no goals, you are going nowhere, you have no goals, why for this transient period of time, are you so concerned about coming forward and telling the world that God doesn't exist--I fail to understand this. Really, I am being very concise on this matter, but when you say it's a falsifiable, falsify my existence. I challenge that. Tell me that I don't exist--because the minute you discuss your existence and my existence, you and I have to go back and question the integrity of where did we come from, and that brings me to the next question.
I've noticed for example, you speak about God. We call Allah God. What is Allah? From Islamic perspective, Allah means the God, the Absolute, indivisible God. The Holy Qur'an says Qul huvallahu Ahad--Say God is unique, one, Allahus Samad, God is independent, he depends on nothing, everything depends on Him, Lam Yalid--He does not beget, nor is He begotten, nor is He born. So for someone to say that God had a son, or sons, or sonship, as you mentioned and we agreed on that--that we don't accept that. This absolute God has no frame of reference. Frame of reference implies something that is bound within time, matter and space. The problem with these arguments is that we keep constantly debating on the issue of bringing God to the relative world. The relative world cannot exist without an absolute Creator, and that's the argument.
You keep arguing on the issue of God in the relative sense. God is not transient; He is the "Necessary Existence". We are the transient existence. Meaning that you and I can exist or not exist. There is an equal chance as one would say, that a person who exists--who is dependent, couldn't cause his own existence. It can tip either way. There has to be a higher necessary existence that is the immovable mover, who is not bound in time, matter and space. So every time you ask about matter, is God a mind, is he thinking? Does he have gray matter? That again is a matter of relative discussion.
When we say that God is bound in time, how did He know tomorrow--tomorrow is not a substantive matter to question about God. God has no tomorrow. He knows, His knowledge is infinite in the absolute sense of the word, and absolute cannot be defined, but we understand it indirectly, for this relative universe can never exist without an Absolute Creator.
You speak about infinitely Merciful God--God IS infinitely merciful, but the problem once again is you take one dimension (attribute) of God, meaning the justice of God, and then you envision it in a pinhole mechanism, in a relative sense. You 'compartmentalize' His attributes, and that's where the problem comes. And that's typical--not only for you, but even for believers. Among the Muslims there are people who say God is infinitely Merciful, that means that everything that I can do is okay, because in the end He is going to forgive me anyway.
From the Islamic perspective, there are 99 attributes given to God. The attributes are not separate entities of God. You and I as human beings are limited in our perceptions and concepts. We are compartmental creatures. We cannot think simultaneously--multiple times, in different dimensions at the same time. Thus the limitation is ours, and this infinite God is communicating to us due to our limitation. And our limitation should not imply therefore that we take our limitation and apply it on God. And that's a clear indication that when I say God is Merciful--when Qur'an says God is Merciful, and God is Just, these simultaneous characteristics cannot be compartmentalized, we must understand them holistically and the holistic nature that we can understand and which the Qur'an tells us through revelation is sufficient to indicate that a universe that is so magnificent, that has endowed every creature with its power to exist.
And even an atheist, as you know, yourself also, that when you become ill, you go to the hospital to get yourself fixed because life is so precious to you. It's amazing that you came from nowhere, you're going nowhere, yet life is so precious, you make every effort to make sure you live. And that alone is sufficient indication for man to say--what's wrong with you?? Haven't you seen this wonderful system created in you? So you're talking about (the) infinite Mercy of God--yes, the 'mercy' is infinite.
The fact that you and I have the power to even discuss is the Mercy of God. The fact that you and I have the power to reject is the Mercy of God. The fact that you and I have the power to obey is the Mercy of God. That's what we see as infinite Mercy. When you say justice and mercy cannot exist together (and) that's once again--if you put it into a dimension of a relative world, it makes sense, but God is not relative, He is Absolute. So thus this question is not possible.
Final point is when you say about Evil--and I will answer this question--you have asked this question to all your previous people (debate opponents) with regards to children dying, how, would you have stopped him, would you have stopped him??? Yes, I am under a trial, if I could have stopped September 11, I would have but "God is not under a trial". So it is irrelevant for him.
Reply By Dan Barker
Buddhists are atheists. They don't overtly, positively reject a god, but they are atheists by the general definition of what it means to be without belief.
I know this was a rebuttal, and I am waiting to hear your positive arguments. Therefore, I might withhold some of my remarks, until I hear your positive arguments.
But your whole concept of design illustrates my point about using a gap. The fact that we don't understand at this time all of the nature of the design in the universe--does not give you the freedom to just plug that gap with your god.
There are many people who feel that the universe is poorly designed. There are many people who think that there is a lot of cruelty and ugliness built into the universe. Built in the human genome, there are some horribly designed sloppy things built into our system. So to claim that the world is gloriously designed is a burden of proof that you must share, because many of us don't see it that way. We see ourselves in spite of the lack of design.
And Isaac Newton explicitly said that these two things that he did not understand were evidence of design. He said that. He didn't say that there is a gap in his understanding. He basically said that this is evidence of choice. He was using the gap as evidence. Which is what theists like to do, which is what you like to do, find the gap in our understanding.
The question is, what's going to happen some day when the gap closes? What's going to happen when we go--"Oh we do now have a complete cosmological picture"? When that happens, will you reject your belief in god? I doubt it.
I think you are using these arguments more as an excuse to pretend to be an intellectual. But if these gaps close, of course, you will find some other reason.
And of course, it is a relative discussion. We all know that the world that we live in is relative. I am not claiming any type of absolutes or even a transcendence. It is all relative. If you think that there is some absolute frame of reference in a theistic sense, then it is up to you to show that, not just assume that maybe it could happen.
During your opening statement, I assumed you would give us evidence for--not just evidence for our ignorance--but evidence for your claim that there is this all-powerful personal being up there.
One of your last comments underscored my opening statement quite nicely. Another one of the "incohesive" arguments against god is that, to be a person means you have limits. I am not a redhead. I am not a big, tall, fat guy from Buffalo, New York. I am who I am. We define ourselves as who we are, where we were born. We have limits, and our limits are what define us. But a being who has no limits, who is not compartmentalized--as you claim your Allah is--cannot be said, then, to be a person. Because there's no way to know what is not him.
A person has to be a limited being in someway. So if god is infinite, if he is totally unlimited, then he is not a personal being. Then he is an "infinite blob of nothingness." Basically, you are defining him out of existence. To define god, you have to define what he is, not just what he is not. Thank you.
Opening Statements by Hassanain Rajabali
I begin in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, the One who created everything with utmost perfection. There is no imperfection in his creation, and that which we see as imperfection is our own ignorance, and not the system in itself. Thus for someone to say that the universe is imperfect, one has to admit that it is their mind that does not conceive it properly, and the system that the mind did not conceive it properly is the part of a perfect design. So for one to reject that would be tantamount to putting cart in front of the horse. So, the perspective here with regards to the debate that we are having today, is Does God not exist?
We put this burden of proof obviously on Mr. Dan Barker because it is essential that in order for us to disprove the existence of God, one has to somehow from the materialistic perspective come with an empirical observation and disprove the existence of God. One can say that "Well, since I can't measure God, therefore there is no proof in the existence of God." But that is not the reality. The fact is that we exist and there is a higher dimension by which our existence comes from is a sufficient proof.
Steven Hawkins in his book A Brief History of Time, explains that this singularity of the point that this so called Big Bang took place, as we know, we cannot go further than the Planks Constant of one times ten to the minus 43(10E-43), because all physical laws that we understand cease to exist.
Who brought about this grand Universe? The universe which functions so intrinsically, so interwoven, that even scientists who studied black holes out in the universe understand that they have an effect in my existence in this world.
This concept of the Anthropic Universe, the Holy Qur'an upholds it very clearly, it says alam tarau ann Allaha saqqara lakum--do you not see that God has made for you subservient this whole universe--ma fis samavati wal ardh--whatever is in the Heavens and in the earth, it has been made subservient to you. One might say then "is the whole universe just for me?" That is not the implication. The implication is that the universe has been created for my benefit also.
Whether I am the central figure is not the issue of the discussion today, but the question to say, is the existence of God or the non existence of God. When you say about the non-existence of God, how would you prove the non-existence of God.
The fact that you and I exist, is the question you and I need to ask. How did we come, and this is the typical debate that takes it right to the very basics and says where did we come from. There's disagreement in all different schools of thought, among the atheists themselves and the agnostics also as to where does all start? Is it a steady state universe, whether the universe has always been here, well that's all been disproved by the very founder--Fred Hoyle. So, you find that is not true.
Is the universe expanding and contracting? Do we have an oscillating universe. That does not seem to show proof at all from reason and from empirical evidence that this universe is contracting and expanding with its mass that it cannot sustain itself. So the obvious question is that we know that the universe is expanding. We can see that. It has been observed.
When you talk about the Doppler Shift and you look at the Red Shift, you can see that the universe is expanding--there is a constant expansion. This expansion has a direct implication on my existence on this earth.
When we talk about the issue of design, my friend Dan mentions that I have not brought enough evidence. It is not my platform here to bring you an abundance of arguments. There are plenty of them, voluminous, but the interesting irony is that we do not even need that. In this grand universe, I have this capacity to produce sound, to breathe, to think simultaneously, to move and have depth of perception. If you are going to reject that as design, then you are begging the question because essentially it does not convince me rather than saying-- well, I am not willing to be convinced because I want to shut my eyes, and I want to be lied.
When you can say that how can you prove the existence of god--first of all, we exist in this universe. The design and the probabilistic factors make it impossible scientifically and empirically for the universe to come into existence the way it did.
With reference to Planck's Constant of one times ten to the minus forty three (10E-43) when all the basic fundamental laws were set in motion. We talk about natural selection--this argument is constantly brought (discussed). Natural selection is an entity that is part of the great design. You seem to have taken this thing (theory), and the pin hole vision of how an engine in the car does combustion and said "that's it, we don't need to worry about the car itself, it is the combustion within the system that takes place, and that's sufficient for us." Well, then that in itself is an incredible design.
To reject design, is once again begging the question. In all the arguments that I have heard, that takes place with an atheist, these issues of design that have been brought forward in numerous ways, is so sufficient, that due to lack of time we don't need to bring it forth, but if you need it, we can spend 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes as much as you need on this subject, and we discuss all these aspects of design, and for you to refute even one of them and take it out of perspective, and say it is not needed in this grand holistic universe, then we are begging the question once again.
Just going very quickly in describing our position as Muslims--so that at least we are on a better platform and there's no confusion. When we talk about Islam, what does Islam say with regards to God? God is Absolute. You asked this question just now and said "Absolute frame of reference." A frame of reference implies that there is a position by which something is, for example, in Science I can't say this room is 500. 500 what? 500 yards? 500 miles? 500 kilograms? What is it? What do you mean? I need a frame of reference.
A Human mind cannot function outside (of the) frame of reference. It's impossible. And that's where our limitation lies. The fact that we are so bound within the frame of reference, we are having a problem in these discussions. But God is not bound in the frame of reference . He is the creator of time. Time is a creation of God. Matter is a creation of God. These are transient entities. Transient entities cannot come into existence by themselves. Nothing can exist from nothing with nothing by nothing. That is not possible. That means, that our existence, had to have pre-existed a necessary existent--in Arabic it is called wajibul wujood ; the necessary existent that brings forth all transient mumkinul wujood into existence. And that the mumkin cannot demand its own existence, nor can it demand its own non-existence. It cannot.
That's very important to understand. When you talk of a frame of reference, we must clearly understand that, when we ask questions about God in time, knowing the future, we have to be very careful in how we define this terminology, for God's knowledge of the future, of my future, is Absolute in His domain. He knows everything but He is not bound in the time where He is experimenting himself for He is not bound in space, time and matter. Those are created entities which He has put into it. So for me to put him into it, would also be very wrong.
When you say "Infinite Blob of Nothingness," that's a contradiction in statement and I think it is just a matter of rhetoric.
Let me spend a few moments with regards to the issue of "Evil", as you mentioned, and what is our position from the Islamic perspective. God created this universe out of his infinite mercy. The Holy Qur'an says--kataba ala nafsir rahma--he has made incumbent upon Himself (it is metaphorical), that mercy is upon his creation. We're all (his) creation. That's why, when I began my presentation, I said, "I begin in the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful." Now, one might say what kind of a God is this who brings pain and difficulty. Let me explain this very briefly without taking too much time.
First and foremost, we have been created to be tried--the Qur'an clearly states that "Mankind has been created for a trial". This trial is not for God to know, it is for man to know. In other words, when I am under trial, though God knows exactly what is going to happen to me, and it is not for Him to know what I will do.
When it comes to "free will", a human being has "free will", he has been given total authority to choose his own destiny, but God knows this "Destiny." And knowledge of God about his free will does not imply the fact that because God knows he has caused him to do it, those are 2 separate entities here, because, in the absolute realm, once again, he is not bound in time and we have to take that into perspective.
We are under a trial, human kind has been endowed with intellect. The Qur'an mentions it beautifully--laqad qalaqnal insaana fee ahsane taqveem, we have created man in a perfect form. What does that mean? The Qur'an says wa nafsiv wa ma savvaha--This self, (or soul) in me has been perfected, fal hal hamaha fujooraha wa taqvaha and it has been taught wrong and right. So when the common atheist says, "I have this morals in me, I know what is right and wrong". Exactly!! The creator has planted that into your soul. And it is the beginning platform, that when the human being says that you never communicated with me on the day of Judgment, you say "No, that is not correct." It was implanted in you and you know what the moral goodness was.
And when we discuss morality, you will see this whole concept of "free thinking", atheism and agnosticism in its truest form. It is wiser for an atheist to say that he is an agnostic, instead of saying that he is an atheist.
You say that we are not certain about this universe. We don't know. Then I fail to understand how can you take a stand and say there is no God. You yourself admit, that there is no design, we don't understand all the dimensions of it. So how come you have taken that step, leap forward, and said, "There is no God." Therefore, you should subject yourself to the same scrutiny, and you should say "I have not enough evidence, and I cannot make a legal claim."
A man comes to the Holy Prophet (saww) and says, "I am an atheist". Prophet asks "Why?" The man said, "I believe the universe has always existed, and will always exist, therefore there is no God. Prophet asked, "Why is it? " The man said, "because I have never seen a God create it". Prophet asked, "Have you seen that the universe always existed and will always exist?" The man said "No." The Prophet then said, "How come you have taken one side over the other. It is wiser for you to say 'I don't know,' and I will subject myself to further scrutiny, than to take a stand and say there's 'No God' because you have taken that stand and you have no evidence."
In fact if you look, it is very bold for someone to say that there is 'No God,' considering yourself to be so bound with this intrinsic system, which is so magnificent. That, I think is an interesting thing, from the Qur'anic perspective. When you read the Holy Qur'an you will find that there are very few verses with regards to the arguments against the atheists. In fact the Holy Qur'an only asks the question, "How can you reject when you were created, you will die, and you will be raised again. Do you not see?" as my brother Abbas Peera recited Surah Rahman, "we created you, which bounties of your Lord will you deny." All these wonderful things we created for you. It is so inherent that there is no need to get into semantical arguments, polemical arguments and then say, I need to debate this. Look at you! You have negated something that's so obvious.
And as you mentioned in your presentation before when the Christians say, "Oh gravity come down what goes up comes down". Yes it is absurdity! Precisely! That is the point from theistic believer, that when you reject this fantastic design, that's absurdity from that perspective.
So in retrospect, when we talk about the whole concept of Islamic perspective, we are under trial. We have been endowed with intellect and free will. We have been given the choice to accept or reject our own destiny. This is what the trial is all about. Now, let me explain. When a teacher gives an exam, your implication is, why is there evil in this world? What is evil? From the Islamic perspective, there's no such thing as absolute evil. Absolute evil does not exist--it is relative--and it changes its position depending on which side you take, and which angle of perspective you take.
That which is good for one side can be bad for another simultaneously as is the case in a relative frame of reference.
I can say that I can be extremely larger with relations to an atom, and at the same time, I am extremely small with the relations to the universe. It depends on my frame of reference, when things change positions. Thus when we talk about relativity, when we talk about good and evil, they take positions inside but nothing in the universe is absolutely evil. There is no such thing.
An absolutely perfect God does not create an imperfect system, nor or is there such a thing like evil, in its absolute sense. Let me give another example, lies versus truth. You will find that to lie is evil and to speak the truth is good. You will see that lies cannot exist without the truth, but on the other hand, truth can exist without lie. For example, if I say, I always lie. Does it make sense? No. Because there is no essence of truth in my statement, thus it becomes nonsensical. Therefore, truth is a necessary constituent to lies. But I can certainly say that, "I always speak the truth", or "I sometimes speak the truth", it makes perfect sense, because there is an element of truth in my statement, and thus my statement makes sense.
Thus when it comes to the relative perspective within the Islamic position, that is what it means. When Allah says, min sharri ma qalaq--by the evil or by that rejection. What does 'Evil' mean from the Islamic perspective? It means that which lacks good. It's just like 'darkness'. It cannot exist. You cannot measure darkness. It is lack of light that you can measure. You cannot measure coldness. It is lack of heat, because it is only heat that our senses measure, not coldness.
So from the Islamic perspective, it is a relativistic position, and evil is a trial. When evil comes into play would we say that when a teacher gives exam, and each question has 5 multiple choices, and only one is right, and four are wrong. From that perspective you say that one of them is a good answer. If you select the right one you get rewarded, and if you select any of the other four, it is evil, because you get punished by getting a zero for that question. Now, would you say that the teacher is inherent to evil for having put four wrong answers to one right answer? Or would you say that the exam is so preposterous that evil absolutely outweighs the good. Would you say that the teacher should remove all evil, and make all answers correct? In fact, you will say that you are fooling me--you are now shaking my own foundation--that you are actually insulting me. Either give me the exam and allow me to select my own ways, and to see the difference between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, or else, don't try me.
Trials, if you look at them, are an inherent part of our existence. No human being on earth--theist or non-theist--exists outside the realm of an exam.
Today we are being examined by this debate. Why are we doing this? Because we want to find out what is right and what is wrong. If the wrong did not exist, would we be able to debate? No! And when you see that we want to discuss this issue, absolutely discussing and bringing it forth with the power of reason and having an open mind is very essential. But to condemn unequivocally, just because one things rejects to you, then you are pushing it a little too far.
I like the academic discussion here, when you say there is plenty of evidence and let us look into it further, rather than saying, that is it! The Qur'an mentions they reject it because they want it that way, they wish it that way. But the reality dawns upon them. But the Qur'an is saying, from Islamic perspective we are under trial. Evil is a relative entity and it is a trial by which mankind should appreciate the good.
When you see a child dying, yes, it is sad. But what if a child could not die? Let's take that perspective. If you chop the head of a child, and it does not die, he's still alive, it's immune from all disease. That would be the state of preposterous mentality. What system is this that I can abuse and kick the child like rubber ball because no matter what you do with it and nothing happens to it. But if something happened, God is evil, and he allowed the baby to die. Is it a catch 22 or a circular argument? No. The argument is for you to appreciate a healthy baby, one needs to have a relative perspective by which to understand good. Good cannot be understood without that which is not good and is existing simultaneously.
We're relative creatures, and that is how we understand things, and we can never have a conception of something that is bad, until we understand what is good. That reality, that co-existence is a necessity in this world. If one wants to say that evil should not exist, then earth should not exist. You and I should not exist, trial should not exist, and exam should not exist. Rather we are in a system where we understand that evil is there.
A lot of the evil that takes place on the earth is man made. It is not natural. However, if you look at natural disasters such as an earthquake--an earthquake, for the greater good is good for the earth. When it releases its heat from the center of the earth and the fact that it shakes, it is good for the greater good.. Thus, should we say that we should eliminate all earthquakes and let man survive. No !! From the Islamic perspective, this trial world is transient, it is for a short time period, and within this trial when you die, that is just the beginning of this existence.
What follows after? Allah says many a times in the Qur'an, "we created you from nothing, what is to prevent us from making you again. We can bring you into existence just like that, and take you into non-existence just like that." It means nothing to God. It is nothing. He ( Allah) says, "You walk with pride, thinking that you are so intelligent with your scientific observation." Look at the scientist. He is so proud, he is a great thinker. What has a great thinker done? Nothing, except observed. He has not created anything, he has not invented, he has only observed.
When you say Isaac Newton observed gravitational forces, he simply observed and he became a great man. Imagine the one who put the gravity there? No, that's out of design, we say. We revere people--(loud applaud from the audience). When we talk about this, however we cut it, we have to examine this from the perspective of Islam. Evil is something that is under a trial.
The Qur'an mentions that be patient and understand that your reality, your dogma, your system, has a higher good and your trials and tribulations in this world is part of this exam. In conclusion, you would never say that the teacher is evil when he/she examines a child. Nor does a teacher give an exam for the teacher to know what the student will do. No. The student goes to the university and takes an exam for himself to know, how much he is capable so that he can use that in order to get a better salary out in the real world. It is not for the teacher to know. Therefore, for one to say that God needs to know--right here, is the very simplest example one can give, that in an exam without that which is evil, and it is not a part of the system, it cannot be an exam. It is tantamount to removing it from the entire system. Thank you.
Rebuttal by Dan Barker
Thank you Hassanain. You have a good gift of teaching and you are a good man. He is a good man. I think most religious people are good people, in spite of their Holy Book, and I applaud all the good that Christians, Jews and Muslims do in the world.
But I think your opening statement basically proved my point, and you also are attacking a straw man. I have never said that I reject design. You must have been reading another debate.
There is ample evidence of design in the universe, and we can account for that design in natural ways. There is design by Natural Selection. When you look at the ridges of the sand dunes, when you look at the design of how molecules combine because of the limited number of ways geometrically they can come together, that's a certain design by the laws of nature. Yes there is design, and your argument about design basically amounted to what I said in my opening statement: a "god of the gaps."
Here's your words, "Where did we come from?" [that] you gave as an evidence for god. That's a question. Right? That is not evidence. Surprisingly, you find this book [Qur'an], this ink on the page, which tells you where we came from, and you plug that question with your particular brand of a god. Theists have been doing this for centuries, for millenniums. They have been plugging that question with their god. So, you have not given us evidence for a god; you have given evidence for our ignorance.
I claim that there is a lot of design in universe that can be explained in natural ways. It is a beautiful, wonderful design, and it is right here in our own backyard. It is not some transcendental mystical thing out there. But think about what you are saying.
If functional complexity and design requires a designer, or multiple designers made it--the human minds is complex, and look how we exist: we function, we feel we are moral, how our eyes function--if all this design is within us that requires a higher designer than us, because we could not have designed it ourselves, right? Well, think about this: is not the mind of Allah beautifully organized? Doesn't it function with purpose? Does it not have a goal? Does it not have some kind of inner-working of desires, wants, needs goals and purposes? Is it not also beautifully designed? Or is it some random jumble of transcendent ideas?
In order for you to worship your god, you have to assume that your god is a purposeful being, that your god has a mind that functions in a logical way, somehow. Your god makes a decision, [in fact] that decision that does not happen in the reverse. There's some logic to it. The mind of your god is, as you say, beautiful, wonderful, organized.
By your own reasoning, then, if functional complexity requires a designer, then the functional complexity of your designer also requires a designer.
God needs a designer himself. Otherwise, your logic is wrong in the first place. If your god's design does not require a designer, then neither do we.
It is you who is begging the question. Because, suppose there is a god up there, sitting up there in the Seventh Heaven or wherever it is, and saying, "I am here, and I have desires, and I think I will create some worlds and people. But, I exist. And according to you (Hassanain), we should not even question our own existence--right?--without having some frame of reference outside of ourselves." What gives your god the freedom then, to say that "I exist, but I am not going to question my frame of reference. I just exist."? The logical question is "Why, and how?"
How did this god come into existence? If he does exist, if he is functionally complex, if he is beautiful, and if he acknowledges his existence, then you are simply answering one mystery with another mystery.
You are not answering the question; you are simply delaying the question. "We do not understand our existence, therefore there is a designer up there." The designer if he/she asks the same question, comes to the same problem, and we atheists prefer to stop with what we do not know. We do not prefer to unnecessarily multiply hypotheses to say there must be something greater, because it does not answer anything. It doesn't give us any evidence for.
You say, in the Qur'an, "we atheists reject it because we want it that way." That is untrue. The Qur'an is wrong. I do not reject the belief in god because I want it that way. If there is a god, I will accept, I will believe. If there is a god, it would be foolish of me not to accept. I don't want it that way. It's not a matter of what you want--in fact you seem to be betraying that there is a religious bias between people.
I could say that "You believe in god, because you want it." But that doesn't answer anything. That amounts to ad hominem in the argument. You are attacking me as a person, rather than the evidence, by telling me that it is my inner weaknesses and my inner desires of not wanting god. That is unacceptable in a debate to attack your opponent's motives. If there is a god, it doesn't matter if I want it or not. I want the evidence for that god to exist.
You say "Nothing comes from nothing." So, is god something? Well if god says "Nothing comes from nothing," and if he is something, so how could he even exist?
Think about this: how many ways are there for something to exist? Lots of ways, right? How many ways are there for nothing to exist? Only one. So, which is more likely, that something exists or nothing?
Why do we assume that reality, if left unperturbed, would somehow default to the state of nothingness? As if that were a thing. Obviously, something exists, and even if god exists, god is something, and "something existing" is a brute fact of reality.
The whole concept of nothingness is an incoherent concept in itself. Even as you were pointing out, somewhere we need to refer to some brute fact and we atheists say, "Well, existence exists. It's here, as far as we perceive it to exist."
"God is on trial. God claims to be omni good (omniscient). He claims to be all good." If a teacher in a classroom is giving an exam to students and the teacher sees one of the students hurting in one way, and refuses to help, then that teacher is guilty of some kind of an accessory to the continuation of that student's pain. You (Hassanain) admitted that you would stop (the tragic event of) September 11. So would I, and so would everyone in this room have stopped it. So, if your god is all good, he is on trial. You see the point of the problem of evil? He claims to be all good, and you claim that if you pray to him, he will answer your prayers, but repeatedly, your prayers are not answered.
He apparently cares more about the free will of Christian, Jewish and Islamic terrorists, than he does about the precious human lives, which could have been saved. You say it is a test. Evil is relative? So in god's mind, September 11 could have been good? According to your reference, if evil is relative, and it's a "lack of good," then in god's mind, September 11 could have been a good thing. You are telling us that there could be a mysterious higher way that something like that could be justified--and I say that kind of thinking is morally bankrupt.
To excuse anybody--your master, your slave master, your Lord, your teacher, your god--because he/she is "good," and has a higher purpose, that is moral bankruptcy, and it removes you from the field of criticism. It removes you from the ability to say "I disapprove. I denounce."
I will say that if your god or the god of the Bible does exist, and if I am forced to meet him some day, then I will denounce him to his face. I will say, "You are a brutal god. I do not respect your actions. You caused harm and you could have avoided harm, and you didn't."
As a moral human being, I have the obligation to say that to a slave master who bosses me around, the slave master who tells me to bow down. So I think that we naturalists have a firmer grasp of what it means to be moral than believers who just simply close their minds and say "whatever the father wants is what we get."
You used the word "judgment" in your statement, and the word "judgment" basically boils down to Heaven and Hell. Again I will say--Heaven and Hell--Hell is a threat. Hell is an intimidation: "Do you want to burn?" The Bible and Qur'an are filled with these examples. I am going to get a double dose of Hell because I am an unbeliever, right? That's a threat to me, a physical intimidation on my person. That's what that book is.
If I don't follow the way you people think. I will repeat: any system of thought, any ideology that has to make its point by threatening violence, as the Bible does, and as the Qur'an does, is a morally bankrupt system.
We can find a natural way to be good to each other by minimizing harm in the natural world. By being kind to each other. By being good to each other in the natural world, in ways that we know to lessen harm. We don't need a Daddy in the sky to tell us what to do. We all know it. We didn't need the Ten Commandments to tell us there was something wrong with killing. We could have figured it out on our own, as we did long before the Ten Commandments.
Reply by Hassanain Rajabali
In this few minutes I would like to make some quick points. First and foremost, when we say we want it from the Qur'an, that the atheists want it, the want and the need is an inherent fact of all creatures. That is not what I said. I said the want for a believer to want to have an understanding of his own existence is equivalent to the one who is non-theist / atheist who wants to understand his existence too. The want is not in question. It's how we come to the conclusion. I am not saying that we have a desire for a want. We are manufacturing the conclusion.
In your rebuttal you completely ignored the entire issue of design. You said yes there is design. Yes there is wonderful design but I can say that it's a natural selection. Or that is the natural movement. It is interesting that you are accepting this incredible system, but you do not want to go further than natural selection. Natural selection is part of the greater. And you have limited yourself within a scope of a greater, and you say this is all I am going to focus on. I am going to ignore the greater.
Natural selection cannot exist by itself, it cannot demand its own existence, it's part of the greater system, and you don't want to answer that question, and I know why. The minute you do, you are going to have to question the integrity where did you come from. I have absolutely every right to say like every human being to find out where did we come from.
For you to say the idea of gaps, the god of the gaps, for you also to say that there is no god is also a gap. I think your gap is much wider because for one to say, because of this incredible design, therefore there is no maker, no designer. But then you turn quickly and say, if everything has a design, and the design has a designer, then the designer has a designer. Well I told you earlier, and you apparently did not understand.
In the relative world there is that transit nature of the design system. But the absolute creator is the immovable mover, who is not bound in that design. You have not come to the absolute domain, and challenge me on that perspective, that this absolute God does not bound in matter, time and space cannot be questioned in this integrity, and you keep questioning that integrity. You are saying, God you've written this article, dear Theologian. Honestly Dan, with all due respect, you say we are good people--we atheists are good people, we are kind people, for what you write, have you ever taken into consideration that there are those who believe in that theological ideology? That you are bashing them so face forwardly, almost in an instigating fashion. You could say, how about me, how come I am not so academic? You say, you know what, this is what they, that's perfectly fine, rather than make satirical fun of God, that I am so lonely up here, I know nothing and if I read that theologian for you, you've written it, and if the public were to read it, and if you read it, it really is very insulting to me, and I think as an academician, like yourself, I really admire the fact that you have come forward and posed this question, and I like your pattern, by which you say I want to understand--that's wonderful, and I respect you for that and for that reason I am debating with you.
The reason is that when arguments come down and when the substance of matter comes, Quran says--qul haatu burhanakum in kuntum saadiqeen--Tell them to bring the proof, if they are real, if they are truthful, bring the proof and put it on the table.
Nothing comes from nothing, I did not say that. I said nothing comes from nothing with nothing by nothing. That is what I said. So you have misquoted me there. You said teacher verses God. You say God is on trial, once again you put him in a relative world, and you put him on trial. God is the Absolute Creator, He is not under trial, He has no deficiencies. So, for you to say he needs to go on a trial, implies that there is a deficiency, and that's not acceptable. You said--I will not accept God because He is forcing me to bow. You are naturalistic, it is interesting, you are bound by gravitational forces, you are bound by a gender to be a male, you are bound by your two eyes, why aren't you angry with that?
Why don't you say, I am a male, and I am being forced by natural laws to be a male, to breathe oxygen, I cannot breathe nitrogen, I cannot breathe under water, I cannot reverse my time, I cannot reverse my age, I cannot stop my birth, why aren't you angry with those things? And you are a naturalist, and I love these things, and I fail to understand that.
Questions from the Audience
Question #1: (For Dan Barker)
"You have stated that you are a moral person. What is the foundation for your morality? Where do you derive your morals from? And what evidence can you provide that your moral system is good and correct?"
Dan Barker: By definition morality means the lessening of harm. If people increase harm, by definition they are immoral. If they unnecessarily increase harm in the world, they are immoral people. We can use the word "Evil" as a kind of tag for that. Morality by definition is then the minimizing of harm, and that's what we all mean.
If we do things that makes harm less, then you are a moral person. And as a corollary, we can say enhancing life, compassion, and adding to understanding. If morality is basically the minimizing of harm, none of us want to harm. Do we? We all want to raise our families where we all want to be free of pain. Of course, then the question becomes not "Where do we get our absolute principles?" The question becomes, "How do we identify harm?"
What is harm? Harm is a natural thing. Harm in its identification, in its avoidance are natural exercises. If this were a cup full of arsenic, and I handed it to Hassanain, then it would be a harmful act. But if it is a glass of water, and if I handed it to him, well, then that would be a good act. If he is thirsty, I assume he is thirsty. So harm is relative to our human natures and the environment we live in, and its avoidance is a natural exercise. And most of us have good enough minds--unless you are unhealthy in some ways--to know how to do this. And a lot of this is common sense.
A lot of moral dilemmas involve a conflict of values. It's not always "Should I do this?", or "Should I not do this?", or "Should I do this or should I do this?" I have two or more courses of action, in which case it becomes an exercise of assessing their relative merits of the various consequences of those acts in trying to decide which one of those leads to the less amount of harm. And even if you fail, if you intend to lessen harm in the world, you could be called a moral person.
The problem with absolute morality is that you will do what is "right" or "wrong" because of some absolute mandate, not because you evaluated the consequences.
Response by Hassanain Rajabali: First of all, I have a difficulty understanding with your definition of morality. It seems to be very self-centered, morality where the individual is--I am good, therefore the world is good. I like good things, therefore the world likes good things. This ideology of morality which is self-centered, can never be a social ideology, that can never be legislated under the sphere of social beings. You for example, yourself say, in your website say there is no universal moral urge, and not all ethical systems agree polygamy for example, human sacrifice, cannibalism, wife beating, all these are perfectly moral actions in certain cultures. Is god confused? Your implication therefore is that polygamy is wrong.
It has got nothing to do with harm. If three women get married to one man--to you that is harm. I don't understand how you came up with that conclusion, but when you say for example, to call God contradictory, there is no higher moral good that comes from this ideology, and it can never be legislated.
Question #2: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"Why is it necessary to believe in god? Want god treat all equally good men, equally, regardless of race, sex or creed?"
Hassanain Rajabali: God creates everything with perfection, everybody is endowed with his or her abilities. You will find that insects are able to protect their own environment and live. Animals have their own environments by which to live. If you observe the Discovery Channel today, where all those interesting videos are being displayed today, shows the grand scheme of things where this Creator has endowed every creature with the ability to sustain its life and therefore it is able to procreate, and sustain in this incredible universe. So the existence of God is a necessity, because everything in this universe is a transient existence. It cannot demand its own existence.
Therefore, it requires what we call a necessary existent, and that is the one that has brought existence. So, do we need God--yes. Not only for our existence, but our moral codes are derived from that too. There is a higher, longer focus for human beings, ethical standards, the deed that I do today is accountable in the hereafter. As far as unbelievers, an atheist says, committing a perfect crime is a good deed, as long as you don't get caught, it's fine.
Response by Dan Barker: I think that missed the point of the question. If I am a good and moral person by your standards, then if you judge me to be a good moral person, but I don't believe in a god, is it right for your god to punish me for the simple fact of unbelief? That was the question being asked.
Why is it necessary to believe, if we can live good lives? And you have to admit that many atheists and agnostics live very good lives, and many theists live horrible lives. Right? Many people who believe in god live horrible lives.
So the question really is, "Why should I be punished in eternal Hell for simply living a good moral life as you live?" That's unfair. Any god who has that type of a system is not a good god, is not worthy of my worship.
Question #3: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"Why do Muslims need to follow a book of religion if there is a God? Wouldn't there be some real signs and absolute directions to man and God's helper accepting responsibility for his actions?"
Hassanain Rajabali: God creates a system where he gives man free will and that free will allows him to decipher wrong from right. The differences that we (humans) have in opinion is a prime reason to show that we have free will. If everybody was thinking the same and there would be no ambiguity in any issue that the implication would be that it is a defeated purpose for the exam itself is not an exam in its truest form.
And you know, in any exam, the greater the difficulty of the exam, the greater the value of the exam. The student who passes, deserves a greater reward. So when you say, that there is a moral god, this god that we follow, he gives us the laws, divine laws are essential--what we call 'Our Guiding Light', and an individual who says, like Dan says I am a good person, there's nothing wrong with me, why would God punish me. If a student goes into class, and refuses to observe the rules of the exam, and says, I am a good student, will the teacher say but since you are rejecting the exam, the teacher say I will pass you. I don't understand that.
Response by Dan Barker: My only response is that I am being condemned for eternity in Hell for the simple fact that I do not believe, not for something I have done. Atheists, agnostics and humanists say that people should be judged by their actions, not by their beliefs.
Beliefs don't make you a good person. There are many devout believers who commit horrible actions. So, it is wrong again to say that just because I don't believe is somehow breaking a rule. What sense does that have in a rule--"Believe!"--when you can still take the exam without believing that there is a great exam maker in the sky? You can still get the questions right. Can't you? You can still live a good life, without the belief.
If I live a good life without the belief in your God, and your God wants to punish me forever for the simple act of not believing in his existence, that's unfair.
Question #4: (For Dan Barker)
"Science cannot and will not explain everything. Thus there will always be a god of gaps. Don't you agree?"
Dan Barker: Yes, except Science is closing a lot of doors. There were questions that were [once] open. For example, Darwin did not understand genetics.He did not understand DNA. And if Darwin had . . . he would have closed the gap in his mind. Yes, we have closed some of those gaps, and science is progressing.
And who is Isaac Newton to say that we would never understand the formation of planetary system? And who is Hassanain to say that "We have now reached the end of knowledge. All of these gaps will never be closed again."?
I will ask you the same question that I asked you before: What happens if the [windows] gap would be closed? What happens if we have a cosmological explanation of the origin of the universes?Then will you reject your belief in god? What happens when we do have a perfectly natural understanding of design apart from the question of whether it is absolute or relative trials, then when that gap is closed, will you reject your belief in your god?
Is it really an honest argument that you are making or are you coming to the argument with your belief in God first, looking for gaps to plug? Sure, science does not know . . . there are a million things that we don't know. That's what drives science. If we didn't have that uncertainty then science would not be driven.
Atheists and agnostics welcome the uncertainty. We like not knowing. We don't have to invent some answer. We like having debates and argument and disagreement because that's what drives the pursuit of truth.
Response by Hasanain Rajabali: What you're saying with regards to Science, first of all, you've taken the assumption that Science answers everything. How does Science answer the power of reason, the power of love, the power of hate, ethical questions, and morality. Where in Science within the five senses in the empirical observation can you tell me that Science has ever delved into the question of moral ethics?
You can never get the answer. Science is limited. The reason I am saying you can never get the answer is because you have limited yourselves, within a certain set of tools which are in itself limited, and that you're saying that only this tool is going to give me the answer, when itself is limited, then I can say without any hesitation that you will never get the answer. First and foremost, Science is limited in its scope, that's why you see Scientists don't talk about the existence of God. Because within the empirical observation you're not allowed to even say that.
Also Steve Hawkings says that this is something that the philosophers' talk about, we scientists are simply empirical observers. What you make out of it is your issue.
Question #5: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"If humans need a reference to go forward, then shouldn't God come within that reference for us to understand him."
Hasanain Rajabali: God is the Absolute Creator, He has no frame of reference. Thus to put him in a frame of reference implies that He is limited, and in reality God is not limited, that's why he is not in the scope of reference. For you and I, as our Prophet (Mohammed, peace be upon him) says--man arafa nafsahu faqad arafa Rabbah--If you know yourself, then you will know your Lord--and that power of the self-introspection and knowing who you are, in an indirect fashion is sufficient evidence. Even Dan himself says that "In a direct fashion of reasonable thinking where you use logical explanations in an indirect fashion, you can ascertain things." For example, if someone says "I Love you", well, can you define it? Can you display it to me? Is it quantified? Can you ever observe it? Never! It comes in an indirect fashion.
When someone sacrifices himself (or herself) under difficult conditions then you say "Aha!" that person loves me. No one has rejected the existence of love, but it is not a directly observable entity the same as the power of reason, and there are many entities as such that are not directly observable, and sufficient evidence is to say that the relative entity cannot exist by itself, without the absolute.
The Absolute has no frame of reference, thus to defy the system and to say that God therefore should be relative is begging the question. When you say, why does not God come in a human form? For argument sake, yes, if He came, what would be the requirement of this "Human-God" that you would approve of, (If he had) two eyes you (would probably) say I wish he had three eyes, if he had three eyes (then you would say) I wish he had four eyes (and if) he has no eyes then you would say (I wish) he had no eyes then I would worship him. What you essentially want to do is to bring him down to the relative earth, so that you can deny him. And that's the problem, that God is not a relative entity, and the fact that He is Absolute, overwhelms the human mind and that is sufficient for one to submit.
(applause by the audience)
Response by Dan Barker: I disagree. Love can be observed. It can be studied. It can be measured. Love is a verb; it is an action. If I am abusing my wife, there's an indication that I do not love her. If I am burning my children with fire, there's an indication that I do not love them. The fact that I provide for their needs, that I meet them, spend some time with them . . . love is something that we do observe and measure. Many scientists are addressing the moral questions. You are wrong to say that scientists are not addressing moral questions.
Right now, I am reading Matt Ridley's book The Origin of Virtue. I just read Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate, addressing the human-nature instinct to compassion and to reciprocal altruism, and the evolutionary genetic advantages to those things within our species. Science does address these things and comes up with good answers for what you think are mysterious questions.
Question #6: (For Dan Barker)
"If an atheist can live by a moral code, then how do you explain the killing of millions of human beings by the greatest atheists of all times, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tsung, etc."
Dan Barker: Well, most atheists don't say that they live by a moral code. A code is something that is codified. It is a list, just like you have a list of 10 commandments of "Do this" and "Don't do that."s Few atheists would say that they live by a moral code. Most of us say we live by moral principles.
As I elaborated earlier, the principle of minimizing harm in a natural world is a principle that works for us. That's what morality means. Yes, atheists have done horrible things, no one denies that.
Atheism is not a creed or a religion. Just as many Christians are shocked at how some of their co-believers have murdered abortion doctors, and they say that does not represent all Christians. Think about Stalin, for example, who was seminary trained, or think about Hitler, who was a Christian and a member of the Catholic church--think of some of these people. Were they doing it in the name of atheism, to promote atheism, or were they doing it for political reasons. Were they brutal tyrants for political personal gains?
Of course atheism does not pretend to make you a better person. Atheism never says that. Atheism is simply the absence of a religion. But some of us atheists feel that the absence of a religion is still superior to the presence of an absolutistic moral code in which if a god says "Kill", you should kill, and it is right, because god says it's right. And that is immoral. So, I am not going to excuse Stalin or Pol Pott. I am going to denounce those actions as immoral because they cause unnecessary harm.
Response by Hassanain Rajabali: Well, first of all the question is that you cannot legislate what you just said, you said that "We do not have a moral code", so, how did you condemn it? You condemned it on an individual level. Not on a social level.
You can never legislate this condemnation because what Stalin and Marks did has no correlation to your basic moral codes, because you have no basic moral codes. So how can you say "Legislate it?" How can you vociferously say, Dan Barker may say "Yes", another atheist may say "No", what Stalin did was very good.
This is a anarchistic mentality that appears as a result of a person who says, there is no moral code. You make it as you go, you are a free thinker, no one tells you what to do, do what you want, when you want, how you want, no one is your boss, you are your own boss. Essentially then, the sadomasochist is one who would like to inflict pain, and the masochist is one who likes to receive pains. If they became our global leaders, it would be perfectly justified as to what Hitler did. As a result when you say, there is no moral code, this in itself is a danger.
Question #7: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"I as a relatively ignorant Buddha (Bojhwa)?? believe that I cannot know if God is a reality. Furthermore by the ethos of my background to take a stand one way or another way would be an act of arrogance--Are you willing to consider the possibility that you cannot know even if you consider it for a short time."
Hassanain Rajabali: A person who is not endowed with enough understanding, comes into that position that he cannot know. And that's a perfectly reasonable argument. And at that state, you have every right to say that I don't know, and to limit yourself in the state of suspension, when you say I am not certain, but that does not preclude the fact that you should not therefore search for it, because the evidence is sufficient, plenty of evidence. It's equivalent to saying that, we don't know about this theory, or we don't know about this existence that does not say that therefore in the world of science you should not go out and delve into the depths of universe and find it.
That finding of the self is so inherently important in this entire discussion, we are not talking about matter out in space, we are not talking about planetary bodies out in space, we are talking about ourselves, our ethical issues. Even Dan agrees with me, that we are moral creatures, we condemn. We believe, when you say I don't believe, we atheists are non-believers. No! you are believers, you are a believers in a system, and a system accepts certain things, and rejects certain things.
To monopolize a word and say, I am not a believer, it is the system of--Eric Frohm who was a German philosopher--the question is not whether you have a religion or not, the question is which religion do you have. Rejecting God is a religion, it is a way of life, it has its effects on all human beings. That person who is an atheist, becomes a President, becomes a legislator, he is going to instill his ideology upon the people. You cannot be a creature in limbo, floating in space with no ideology, and to take that position and say--look I am not harmful, I am not doing anything. But here, Pope Paul, as we mentioned, Carl Marx--millions of people were killed because of that, can we say therefore they were wrong? By whose standards? By their standards they're atheists, who can tell them wrong. They have no moral codes, I got away with it, and it is perfectly fine.
Response by Mr. Dan Barker: To say that atheists are unbelievers in God is not to say that atheists have no beliefs in other things. Atheists can be fiercely committed and have a belief in the equal treatment of women, for example and denounce the mistreatment of women in most of the revealed religions. We can have a belief--that it is better for humanity if men and women are treated equal. It doesn't follow that if we do not believe in god, we don't have any beliefs. I never said that. So there's another strong .....
You also did add another ad hominem, Hasanain. You said to those of us who are "not endowed with understanding," which basically is an attack on me. Somehow, you have more understanding. What do you know that I don't? Is there some secret thing about the world that you know, that I don't? You are "endowed with understanding," but I am not? You are the chosen one, but I am not? You are special, blessed, and I am not? You have vision, and I am blind? Is that what you are saying? And only those who are blessed with superior vision and intelligence . . . it's really a very self-centered thing to say. Ad hominem attack is not acceptable within a debate.
Question #8: (For Dan Barker)
"If god does not exist, then how do you recount for that inner voice that each of us possess scientifically. How can you explain this? Isn't this beyond our relative realm?"
Dan Barker: Well, an "inner voice" can mean a million different things. Sometimes when I am stressed for staying up late for 2 or 3 nights, I might hear my mother's voice in my mind. Carl Sagan said he used to hear the inner voice of his parents talking to him. It is a natural thing that happens, when the brain sometimes goes into certain states. I know a man who "talks to Jesus" all the time, and "Jesus' voice" is very clear to him. And he says that he is a baritone. He knows that Jesus is a baritone because he hears his voice.
People who hear voices I don't think are good arbiters of truth. I do not have an inner voice for morality. I simply have a principle that says "Stalin was wrong, not because he broke some code, not because he didn't follow a list of do's and don't's. Stalin was wrong because he caused harm." That's simple to understand, isn't it?
Hitler caused harm. We all know what harm is. He didn't have to [cause harm], and he did. So I can say, based on the relativistic definition of what morality means--we are human beings who want to survive. We recoil from pain, by nature. You stick your hand in fire and you pull from it. You don't need some code to tell you "Thou shall pull thy hands from the flames." It's our nature to recoil from pain.
So, if we're going to use the word "morality," we are talking about the natural harm in the natural world, and I can denounce Stalin on that relativistic principle that he could have and did not minimize harm in this world, and therefore he was what we could call, with a lower-case "e," an "evil" person.
Response by Hassanain Rajabali: When you say cause harm, if a man goes to battle, and he is fighting, and he gives his life for the cause of the greater, he caused harm to himself by his own death, yet we call them heroes. So it is very relativistic when we say "cause harm", when you say "cause harm, killing for the greater good", how then would you define the greater good? What is the greater good?
If a battle takes place between two people then there is harm. Therefore, what do you do then? Do you just simply prevent harm? How will you prevent harm without causing harm to the other side? So when you say we do not cause harm, it is a very loose and vague term. It is not applicable, it's not practical. I am not rejecting that we should stop harm. But the question here is that you can not apply it in a legislative fashion. You cannot apply it on any social arena because we are very individualistic, and I think that's where the problem lies.
Question #9: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"If an atheist offered a reasonable explanation for why the universe exists and for all evidence of design, would you conceive that there might not be god after all?"
Hassanain: You are asking a question which is really an impossibility by its own nature. If you say that there is a reasonable answer (explanation) for no creator, the reasonable answer (explanation) first of all, you have to jump over the basic hurdle of asking yourself, how does a relative universe come into existence by itself. Whatever that answer that you're going to give me has to be God, whether you want to call it God, that whatever the case may be, Supreme Power is what we are discussing. How you name is based on your own perception. But the question is that the infinite power is a necessity, anything less than that has been created for centuries, anything less than that is not sufficient.
Response by Mr. Dan Barker: So you are saying that theoretically you would allow for the possibility of an impersonal transcendent supernatural force that's not personal. You're saying that you would allow for the possibility that the universe came into existence by some supernatural means that is not necessarily a being that we can worship. You would allow for that theoretical possibility then?
Dan: You just seemed to say that
Hassanain: No, I did not.
Dan: If you are saying it is impossible for a non-personal being to have caused the universe, then I say you're begging the question. I am open. If you can give me evidence for a god, I will change my mind. If you can give me evidence for Allah, I will change my mind and we will believe in Allah--I will do that. But you have a close-minded position.
You have boxed yourself into a corner saying, it is an "Impossibility." Those are your words. Therefore, you're not open to truth. You're being dogmatic in your position. Convince me, and I'll change my mind. I've done it before and I will do it again. And I would like to hear you say the same thing: that you would change your mind, if the evidence warrants it.
Hassanain Rajabali: I wish we had the cross-examination . . . (crowd cheering)
Question #10: (For Dan Barker)
"You say that scientists don't know everything, can you also say atheists go by the code of inflicting the least harm. If you yourself do not know everything, you are not in the correct position to decide what inflicts the least harm. What do you say to that?"
Dan: Well, I said it before that by definition, morality is the intention to minimize harm. That is what it means. We are not even discussing morality unless we have a definition. So by definition, what do we mean by morality is that you cannot be just following orders. You can not take the Nuerenberg defense and say that I was just doing what my boss told me. We have to use our minds. I said before that most moral dilemmas come when you have a conflict of values, not when you are just trying to decide "yes or no" on this, but when there is a conflict of values. If your intention is to assess the merits, the relative merits of the consequences of these different actions, and thereby to compute what would be the least amount of harm for those two actions, if that is your intention, and even if you fail--because we don't know everything--then you can be called a moral person.
I might commit an act that I think to be moral, and due to my ignorance, I cause more harm . . . I will feel horrible if I made a mistake. I would hope to learn from it. That's what moral education is: we learn from our mistakes. But if my intention was to minimize harm, whatever that means, whatever the level of my education and experience and knowledge is of the facts, then I can be called a moral person.
If my intention is to increase unnecessary harm, then I would be called an immoral person. I would be called even "evil." I don't like these absolute words, "Good" and "Evil," but we can use them as language tags for the intention of a person to create harm in the world where it is not necessary to be created. I agree with you that there are no clear answers either way, but we can legislate morality if enough of us get together, enough human beings get together, and say we don't like what Hitler did, then we can make laws to try to stop Hitler.
There's no big mystery to that, and if enough of us get together, on some of these issues that aren't such a gray area, then we can make a legislation. And legislation is fluid. In our country laws change and they improve over time. But in religious morality, laws have no room for improvement.
Hassanain: You say I am closed minded--Yes, if you say that I am rational, I am using logic, I am using evidence and observations, then yes, you might say that I am close minded.
To answer your question--you mention the law, if you say something and say it's wrong, well, then the law will recognize it, was my mistake. You've not defined that law. It is arbitrary, you see it comes into existence in your mind and then it disappears. It is almost like you are creating it to justify something, then it disappears again.
If you say if enough people come together and you can justify, so if Germany did what it did, the majority of Germans believed in the removal of the non-ethnic race. Then from your moral standards, what Hitler did, and his people, and what Saddam is doing today in Iraq is sufficient evidence to say that they're morally right. That just begs the question.
Question #11: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"Could you please elaborate on the Islamic perspective of evil and Hell as a natural consequence of one's own action and not of god's making."
Hassanain Rajabali: Hell is something you and I earn due to our own rejections. And Dan, before you take umbridge, when I said you have a lack of understanding I never implied it to you. Don't take anything personal. It's nothing to take personal here. It is not implying that you are ignorant in any way, we are having a discussion in this matter, and I did not say, the question was that if I have a lack of understanding, can I suspend?
I never said it is you who has a lack of understanding. In fact you have not suspended, you have taken a position.
To answer your question with regards to the position of evil from the Quranic and Islamic perspective, mankind has been endowed with enough evidence and enough gifts. For him to reject that system is tantamount to be punished. Just like a teacher who punishes you after having taught you, and you fail the exam. That punishment is a natural consequence, no one says this student failed, you are being unfair, you should pass him. Well then, you are degrading the entire system.
For someone to go to Hell, understand that their dimensions, it is not our platform to discuss this, but I would love to have that discussion. But the issue of Hell is something that human beings earn. The Qur'anic perspective is those who go to Hell will say--it is because of our own misdeeds. Had we listened, had we obeyed, had we accepted what was given to us that was so prevalent, we would not be the inmates of this punishment, and that punishment is needed on the basis of the great mercy of god, given to man to live in perpetuity in the paradise, and for someone to say that this is...... called the golden pot, look how every human being functions in that system.
We're goal oriented. We go to work, because we want to get paid at the end of the week. Should we deny that? You're saying deny that, have no acceptance of any pot at the end of the day. That's preposterous. We are living in this system, if God has created this system, and we're within it, it does not mean he created Heaven and Hell, in order to provide ourselves the moral codes. Even as a father you say to your child "Don't do this, this will happen." Why do you restrict your child from doing it? Because you know there is an impending danger in it. God is giving us this standard to follow. There's nothing wrong with it, it's perfectly fine.
Response by Mr. Dan Barker: Does it ever occur to you, Hasanain, that if there is a Heaven, and a Hell, and if Heaven is getting to live for eternity with the god of the Bible, or the god of the Qur'an, and if some of us have examined the actions and the intentions of that god and we find it to be beneath our dignity, as moral people--does it ever occur to you that some of us might prefer Hell to living in Heaven with your brutal dictator who creates such harm?
Some of us might think that was a moral thing to do. I won't mind spending eternity in Hell if it was a better moral act. Let him prove what a Macho Man he is and send me to Hell and torture me forever simply for the crime of questioning his motives.
So I take my denunciation in Hell as a form of a compliment, and I thank you for the compliment. All the good people in Hell, like Bertrand Russell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we're (all) going to have some great conversation, while you are up there, bowing down before your Master Lord. Think about our choice. I have more dignity.
Question #12: (For Dan Barker)
"Many a times we make meticulous plans but yet they fail in the last stage. Who overrules your plan?"
Dan Barker: Many times we make meticulous plans and it falls apart. It happens a lot of times. This debate is one example. We had a few minor glitches. Most of us unbelievers are somewhat pragmatic about the world. We know that things aren't going to happen exactly the way we plan, and we are not gods. We don't pretend to have perfection, we don't pretend to be omniscient, we don't pretend to be all-powerful. We accept our human limitations in the natural environment in which we live, and sometimes things will not go according to our plan, because we are not all-powerful.
And I don't care, as long as I am intending to do the best I can. If I fail somehow, if plans go wrong then I will learn from that mistake. I hope I will learn from that, if I am open minded. That's what happened with Christianity. I preached for 19 years, and I studied it more closely, and I learned, "Oops, I made a mistake. This is the wrong religion. This is not for me."
Ibn Warraq did the same thing with Islam. He lived the Islamic (Muslim) life, and yet he studied it closely with the eye of scholarship, and gives excellent reasons for why he changed his mind. Things did not go exactly as he planned. He thought he was going to be a faithful Muslim his whole life, and he started studying the evidences, started looking at the criticisms, (and then) he realized there is something better than this.
Response by Hassanain Rajabali: It's interesting you say that a person like Ibn Worck takes that position. Because a person lacks understanding and takes a position, that does not imply anything in anyway. When you take for example the position that you've taken, with regards to the moral codes once again, you have not justified a social system. When you say you are promoting this anarchistic ideology, that every human being is a free thinker on his own, and as long as 51 people out of a 100 sufficiently decide on something, as we call it democracy, it becomes moral. That's taking democracy to a higher level, where we say it's moral now, and that really is deadly in its very system. When a person says, "Well I have a free thought , and things don't go right the way they do," that does not mean you abandon.
From what I read, Dan (Barker) from your perceptions, the statement you just made "this terrible god" you seem to have a lot of anger. And if that is anger, then I think you should vent it out differently.
Question #13: (For Hassanain Rajabali)
"If there were god why would it put people on the earth to waste their time frame?"
Hasanain Rajabali: Waste their Time ! There is an assumption that what we are doing is useless and that in itself is a negating question. A person who prays, is praying for his own good. Science has even shown, even those who don't believe in God, that those intercessory prayers and those people who pray on their own, according to research done, that people who are in the hospital bed, themselves praying for, not others praying for them, have a higher rate of cure than those who don't. That means prayer is shown to be a very good entity.
When someone prays, it is for himself (or herself)--it takes them to a greater moral grounds. When a person submits himself (or herself), gives himself (or herself) into charity, to goodness, controls his animalistic behavior, becomes chaste and a good person--I don't see how you call it (prayers) a waste of time.
Prayer is good for the individual, God does not need prayer. Prayer is a means by which to reap the wonderful mercies of God and to negate that is tantamount to disconnecting the jugular vein of the individual.
In today's modern world, children are not taught about God in schools, and observe what they are doing. Humans are made of material and spiritual. If you deny them the spiritual aspect they will go and fill it up... Today there is a problem in the United States with devil worshipping--all types of ridiculous behavior--in trying to reach the realm of the unseen. It's human nature. To deny it is to choke it. Therefore, prayer is very good--for one to say it is a baseless act--that is total ignorance in a statement.
Response by Mr. Dan Barker: You need to look at this. Dr. Richard Sloan and others have done a careful study on this so-called "intercessory prayer" study, and showed that they are all flawed. Everybody agrees that relaxing during recuperation can help someone's recovery. No one agrees that praying will restore a lost eyeball, or a lost arm, or will get rid of cancer. No, that never happens. But if you are recovering, and you need lower blood pressure in order to recover, then prayer in connection with your faith, and your community, whether you're religious or non-religious . . . like what happened with my wife when she almost died in the hospital. She found support from her community of non-believing community, family and friends. And that helped her to recover better.
But prayer as a way to cajole some . . . God to change laws of nature to my benefit, that never has been shown to work. Nothing fails . . . [like prayer] . . . We all know that prayer is a failure, except that it can make you feel better and recover a little faster in some types of medical recuperations.
Hassanain Rajabali: So, you do agree.
Moderator: This brings to an end of the Question and Answer session.
Closing Statements by Dan Barker
Thank you for sitting through this long event. Great will be your reward on earth for that.
As I said in my opening statement, Hassanain, you and I have a lot in common. You and I have virtually identical DNA. My blood can be used as a transfusion to save your life, and vice versa. My children could breed with your children. Somewhere back in time, you and I have a common ancestor. Each of us has been physically cut from our mothers. We know that. We are basically one huge physical organism. You and I are truly brothers in the same species.
My dad is a Delaware Indian (Lenni Lenape Indian). My ancestors' homeland is right across the Hudson river--where there's now New Jersey--before we were forced to leave our homeland because of the Christian-European invaders who came with a weapon in one hand and a bible in the other claiming that it was God's will to chase us off--similar to what the Christian-European crusaders did to the Arabs, which I think was morally wrong. They had no moral right to go over there, to try replace one religion with another--and somewhere [else], in my own personal opinion--not all atheists agree--but similar to the way the Christian-European Jewish settlers came into that area and tried to make some religious claim to the land.
I think we should stop building these walls. I think we should stop drawing these circles. You have a circle that you are in. You are a respected man, and a knowledgeable man, and in a certain circle in the world, but outside of the circle are the infidels, the believers--it is "we" versus "they," "us versus them," and those "out there" are our enemies.
My mom was also a part Apache Indian, although she had a grandmother whose last name was "Sopher," which is some kind of a Semitic name, or Jewish name. Maybe we have a common ancestor who is closer than we think. Who knows? Her parents came from Spain. May be it was 10 generations ago you and I had the same ancestor father and mother. That makes us one.
The Bible and the Qur'an are apparently your source of Information about this god you worship. It didn't just come out of the air. Both books, if you read them--and I have really enjoyed reading some of the Qur'an, though I am not an expert in them --but if you get to the bottom, they both are really books of war. They are books "versus them," fighting. The god of those books is the God of War.
And I think to have any hope for our world, we don't all have to convert to atheists. It is not my mission to try to convert you to an atheist. I think there's little chance of that happening, right? I don't care in what you believe. I don't care if you believe in Allah or stand on your head and speak in tongues in front of Mother Goose. I don't care. This is a free world.
In America, we have a separation of religion in government where the government backs off and says you are free to believe what you like even if everyone thinks it is stupid. Even if you think atheists are stupid and evil, they are free to be atheists in this country. We need a system in this world where we stop equating religion with government.
I don't see what is to be gained in my life by believing in a god. I don't see what I get out of that. Maybe god is so hungry to be praised. I mean, would you worship me if I stood up and said you should pray to me everyday? No, you wouldn't do that. You'd think I'm some kind of a mean..... sick guy who was born and wants to be worshipped and praised all the time, with little servants down there who bow down and say "Yes, you're great."
If there is a deity up there, what do I gain from believing in it? As I told you, Hell doesn't scare me. The threats of punishment do not scare me. I want to live my own life. I want to live with good natural principles.
I heard that religion is a way to offer you to live a good life. Here is what we atheists say:
"If you want to live a good life and be kind to others, then live a good life and be kind to others."
If I am motivated to be kind to others by the threat of Hell, then that shows how little I think of myself. Doesn't it? I need some help to be a good person. I am no good.
Or if I am persuaded to be kind to others by the promise of Heaven, well, then that shows how little I actually think of others. I am doing it for selfish reasons. I want to go to Heaven, I want to be cuddled by this daddy up there who is going to make me feel good and give me things.
Both atheists and humanists in this world say: "Let's be good, for goodness' sake."
(Applause from audience)
Closing Statement by Hassanain Rajabali
Thank you Dan (Barker) for your closing arguments. I will just make some very quick points here. First and foremost, what we get in conclusion to this debate is that we see that those who hold this free thinking mentality, this free thinking concept of life are lawless people--let me explain what lawless means as I don't want to be taken out of perspective. It means those who are not socially bound in any law system, as Dan has mentioned, "stop building these walls, let's break them down." What you are saying is that take all the laws out, take all institutions down, dismantle them, because they do nothing but harm. Well, if you dismantle them, will you live in a lawless society? Is that what you're promoting? Or are you saying dismantle them and rebuild? When you rebuild then, you just built them again. Which one has the higher goal?
When you talk about the universality of our existence, you say that we are the same, yes, we are the same and that's the ingenuity of our existence that if a person is asked to program something where it can take every parameter into possibility into action, that a person's mind and thought decides to do something with this application, you ask the programmer what a heroic task that is.
It's an impossibility to put all actions together where a person has his completely open architected system, where you take atoms and combine them, you shift one molecule over another, change the bonds from one place to another, and it changes its clarity, and it causes harm or it causes good. That universality in itself is sufficient for you and I to submit ourselves, that "wow", it's not so enclosed, it is so universal, that we share so much together, that it all works in consonants that an incredible Creator had to put this together for all of it to work together, that in itself is sufficient evidence for anyone.
We don't have to get into polemics, into rhetoric's, into discussions, it is sufficient for yourself to see in the mirror, and say "Wow!", to reject that is tantamount to saying I don't want to see it, and that's fine, it's your choice.
What I am getting completely from this debate--when it comes to morality--is make it 'yourself'. You yourself said on your website, "everybody is a free thinker, no one tells you anything, not a Rabbi, not a priest, not a politician", but you didn't add one thing--Not an atheist either. You didn't put that in there, because you're saying to yourself that we should have our own thought, and I'm telling you how it should be. Well, then you should. You negated your own purpose. Because, when you say you shouldn't impose any law to anybody, then you shouldn't even speak about it. You should be silent, and let every man think for himself. But that's not the case.
(Applause from audience)
You said that the Bible is our source! Correction--(Only) The Qur'an is our source. The original Bible which was revealed to Jesus was a perfect book. It was adulterated, we do not accept it. We accept it as a revelation to Jesus, Jesus was a great Prophet, he was a great man, and he performed many miracles. Qur'an upholds it, and we have no doubt in it, no questions.
In conclusion we say the Qur'an is our litmus test. It is the criterion. It is what decides right from wrong. Science is subject to it. The higher authority, the one who created the Universe, has put Science into motion, and to take one aspect of the greater and to say that is my God is a very foolish statement.
You say I don't care about people praying. Yet I see so much anger in your statement. You say "I don't care if a person wants to do this, or if he wants to do that," yet, you have made so many condescending statements that you're praying to this vicious God, or you're fooling around. You make even funny statements about people bowing their heads on the ground. When I read that, it is a clear indication to me that you're angry. You're angry with something, rather than having respect for somebody who wants to worship his own God, why don't you say "let him worship". Yet on your website you say "We should forbid worship of God in school. It's a public place. It is our tax dollars". Well, then you are promoting rejection of prayer in public. See! There you go. You see the actions coming when it comes to the practical indications.
When it comes to individuals, in conclusion, the individual 'knows his Lord' A man comes to our 6th Imam (Imam Jaafar al-Sadiq, a.s.) and says, "tell me about this existence of God." He (the 6th Imam) asks him, "What do you do for your living?" He (the man) says "I am a sailor". He (the 6th Imam) said, "When you travel have you had those moments when you were floating on that piece of wood, and your life was in danger?" And the man said "yes". He (the 6th Imam) said, "Did you have that glimmer of hope? he said "Yes". He (the 6th Imam) said "That's your Lord! That's inbuilt into you."
I'll give you an example, my uncle was flying on Air Tanzania, and the plane was primarily of Chinese people, who were atheists, and the pilot said that the landing gear was not opening and that they were going to do a belly landing. He saw all these Chinese were murmuring something. Then the gears opened up, and it (the aircraft) landed safely. My uncle asked them "What were you murmuring? You are atheists." They said "Yes, we are atheists. We were murmuring about that hope". My uncle said "But you don't believe in it." They said, "But then we did."
(Applause from audience)
In conclusion--when you look at the atheistic perspective, you find that there's no time factor, a final point--(you said) let's be good for the sake of goodness, (I say) let's worship God for the sake of God. Thank you.
(Applause from audience)
Thank You Note by Mohammed Athar Lila
On behalf of the Tawheed Institute of New York, I would like to thank all of you for taking the time today to come and sit through the debate. We apologize if it started a little late. I myself apologize if I said anything wrong, or offended anyone. We would like to thank both of our speakers for taking their time in preparing the arguments.
(loud clapping from the audience)
Also, one element of this program, that many of you might not have realized is that there were a number of people whose hard work and dedication went into making this program a success. There were some volunteers here, as early as 9 or 10 am in the morning to set up, plus the weeks e-mails, phone calls, making reservations, etc. and there are far, far too many to mention here today, so I guess I will just mention the head organizer and in expressing gratitude to him, you will also be expressing gratitude to all those who have helped us make this program a success--Mr. Ali Khalfan. As a final announcement--refreshments are outside. Please make sure to grab them on your way out. There could be a crowd-control situation in the hallways, we don't want it to be too condensed, so please take your refreshments as you are on your way out, and for the Muslims, the Maghrib Salaat (evening prayers) will begin in about 10 minutes, therefore please pick up your refreshments, and make your way out. Thank you once again.
(loud clapping from the audience)
If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention.
Below is an abstract of the speech by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, given at the World Religions Conference "Silver Jubilee," October 1, 2005, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Dan was invited to represent atheism at the 25th annual event, along with representatives of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Aboriginal spirituality. The topic for all was "salvation." His participation was kindly sponsored by the local Humanists, who joined Dan in singing "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" at the end of his talk.
By Dan Barker
Atheism is a philosophical position, a world view that disbelieves or denies the existence of god(s). It is not a religion. Atheism has no creeds, rituals, holy book, moral code, origin myth, sacred spaces or shrines. It has no sin, divine judgment, forbidden words, prayer, worship, prophecy, group privileges, or anointed "holy" leaders. Atheists don't believe in a transcendent world or supernatural afterlife.
Most important, there is no orthodoxy in atheism. We atheists do not expect conformity of thought or action. To freethinkers, allowing for differences of opinion is a sign of health.
Terry Mosher of the Montreal Gazette drew an editorial cartoon on March 5, 2002, saying:
"Here's a headline we never see: Agnostics slaughter Atheists!"
Atheists are simply people without theism.
However, many atheists have opinions about much of the above. We champion reason as the only tool of verifiable knowledge. For morality, most atheists follow humanism, a set of natural principles (not rules), that help us think about how to live.
In many religious traditions, "salvation" is a deliverance from one of the three "D"s: danger, disease, and death. Most believers see these in both natural and supernatural ways. Danger can arise from an occupying conqueror, or from the threat to morality and order by evil spirits or devils. Disease and death can be feared both physically and spiritually.
Atheists, with the same human desires and fears, also care about deliverance, but only as natural concerns. We see deliverance coming--if it is to come at all--in the real world, from our own human efforts.
Sometimes no deliverance is needed at all. The New Testament Jesus reportedly said, "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." (Matthew 9:12) We atheists consider ourselves whole. We are not sick. We don't need the doctor.
Suppose you were convicted of a horrible crime and sentenced to life in prison, but after a few years behind bars you are surprised to hear you are being released. This "salvation" would be a wonderful experience, but which would make you feel better: learning you were released because you were pardoned by the good graces of the governor, or because you were found to be innocent of the crime?
Which would give you more dignity?
We atheists possess "salvation" not because we are released from a sentence, but because we don't deserve the punishment in the first place. We have committed no "sin."
Sin is a religious concept, and in some religions, salvation is the deliverance from the "wages of sin"--death, or eternal punishment. Sin has been defined as "missing the mark" of God's expectations or holiness, or "offending God," so it follows that since there is no god, there is no sin, therefore no need for salvation. Only those who consider themselves "sinners" need this kind of "salvation." It is a religious solution to a religious problem.
We atheists might ask: how much respect should we have for a doctor who cuts you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?
If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention.
People who believe in "sin" and "salvation" have nothing to fear from us atheists. We are not barging into mosques, synagogues and churches dragging people from worship. If believers do not have freedom of conscience, then neither do we.
Most humanists define ethics as the intention to act in ways that minimize harm. Actions have consequences, so morality is a real-world exercise. A moral person is accountable. If my actions cause unnecessary harm, intentionally or unintentionally, then my "salvation" comes in trying to correct that harm, or to repair the damage as much as possible.
Canadian physician Dr. Marian Sherman, a prominent atheist from Victoria, B.C., in the Toronto Star Weekly (Sept. 11, 1965) article, "What Makes an Atheist Tick?", is quoted saying:
"Humanism seeks the fullest development of the human being. . . . Humanists acknowledge no Supreme Being and we approach all life from the point of view of science and reason. Ours is not a coldly clinical view, for we believe that if human beings will but practice love of one another and use their wonderful faculty of speech, we can make a better world, happy for all. But there must be no dogma."
When asked about death, Dr. Sherman replied: "It is the end of the organism. All we can hope is that we have found some sort of happiness in this life and that we have left the world as a little better place."
Those with a negative view of human nature might seek help in solving problems from outside humanity. But those with a positive view of human nature--a true hope--will work for "salvation" from within the human race, using the tools of reason and kindness.
For atheists, "salvation" is active problem solving.
We do not think there is a purpose "of" life. If there were, that would cheapen life, making us tools or slaves of a master. We think there is purpose "in" life. As long as there are problems to solve, hunger to feed, illness to cure, pain to lessen, inequality to eradicate, oppression to resist, knowledge to gain, and beauty to create, there will be meaning in life.
A college student once asked Carl Sagan: "What meaning is left, if everything I've been taught since I was a child turns out to be untrue?" Carl looked at him and said, "Do something meaningful."
If you want to be a good, kind person, then . . . be a good, kind person.
If salvation is the freedom from sin, then we atheists already have it. If salvation is deliverance from oppression and disease in the real world, then there is real work to do. In this ongoing effort, we atheists and humanists are happy to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the truly good religious people who also strive for a future with less violence and more understanding.
Debate between Dan Barker and Peter Payne
University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
March 14, 2005
Dan Barker, a former minister who is now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, debated Christian philosopher Peter Payne on the topic "Does Ethics Require God?" at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point on March 14, 2005. The event, sponsored by four campus groups, attracted a packed crowd of several hundred students as well as community freethinkers and FFRF members.
When Barker asked, "If God told you to kill me, would you do it?", Payne replied, uncomfortably, that if he were certain it was really God making the command, he would have to consider it.
By Dan Barker
This is a very brief look at some of the most common arguments for the existence of a god, originally written in brochure form, and appearing as chapter 17 in Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist. Links have been added to this online version to articles that go into greater depth.
Theists claim that there is a god; atheists do not. Religionists often challenge atheists to prove that there is no god; but this misses the point. Atheists claim god is unproved, not disproved. In any argument, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim.
If a person claims to have invented an antigravity device, it is not incumbent on others to prove that no such thing exists. The believer must make a case. Everyone else is justified in refusing to believe until evidence is produced and substantiated.
Some atheists feel the argument is pointless until the term "god" is made understandable. Words like "spirit" and "supernatural" have no referent in reality, and ideas like "all-knowing" and "omnipotent" are self-contradictory. Why discuss a meaningless concept?
Nevertheless, there are many lines of theistic reasoning and volumes have been written on each. The following sections briefly summarize the arguments and the refutations. Atheism is the default position which remains when all theistic claims are dismissed.
"Where did it all come from? How can you explain the complex order of the universe? I can't believe the beauty of nature just happened by accident. Design requires a designer."
This argument merely assumes what it wishes to prove. Any attempt to "explain" anything requires a higher context within which it can be understood. To ask for the explanation of the "natural universe" is simply to demand a "higher universe."
The universe is "all there is." It is not a thing. A god would certainly be a part of "all there is," and if the universe requires an explanation, then god requires a god, ad infinitum.
The mind of a god would be at least as complex and orderly as the rest of nature and would be subject to the same question: Who made god? If a god can be thought eternal, then so can the universe.
There is design in the universe, but to speak of design of the universe is just theistic semantics. The perceived design in nature is not necessarily intelligent. Life is the result of the mindless "design" of natural selection. Order in the cosmos comes from the "design" of natural regularity. There is no need for a higher explanation.
The design argument is based on ignorance, not facts. Failure to solve a natural riddle does not mean there is no answer. For millennia humans have created mythical answers to "mysteries" such as thunder and fertility. But the more we learn, the fewer gods we need. God belief is just answering a mystery with a mystery, and therefore answers nothing.
"The universe is governed by natural laws. Laws require a lawgiver. There must be a Divine Governor."
A natural law is a description, not a prescription. The universe is not "governed" by anything. Natural laws are merely human conceptions of the way things normally react, not behavioral mandates, as with societal laws. If the design argument is valid, the mind of a god would be equally "governed" by some principle of order, requiring a higher lawgiver.
"It is improbable that the complexity of life occurred by accident; and the second law of thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend to disorder, makes evolution impossible. There must have been a Creator."
These pseudo-scientific objections are based on error. No biologist claims organisms suddenly appear in one step of "accidental" mutation. Evolution is the gradual accumulation of tiny changes over millions of generations of environmental suitability. Humans, for example, did not have to evolve--any one of billions of viable possibilities could have adapted, making it quite likely that something would survive the ruthlessness of natural selection.
Using probability, after the fact, would be like a lottery winner saying, "It is highly unlikely that I could have won this lottery, therefore I must not have won."
Creationists often misquote the second law of thermodynamics, which states that disorder increases in a closed system. The earth is currently part of an open system, getting energy from the sun. Driven by the input in solar energy (and other forms of energy, such as chemical), complexity routinely increases, as with the growth of an embryo or crystal. Ultimately, of course, the sun will cool and life on earth will disappear.
"Millions of people personally know God through an inner spiritual experience."
Most theists claim their particular god can be known through meditation or prayer, but such experiences point to nothing outside the mind. Mysticism can be explained psychologically; it is not necessary to complicate our understanding of the universe with fanciful assumptions. We do know that many humans habitually invent myths, hear voices, hallucinate and talk with imaginary friends. We do not know there is a god.
There are millions of god-believers; but this is a statement about humanity, not about god. Truth is not something which is attained by vote. Religions arose to deal with death, weakness, dreams, and fear of the unknown. They are powerful mechanisms for giving meaning to life and personal/cultural identity. But religions differ radically, and appeals to inner experience only worsen the conflict.
"Atheists lack spiritual insight and can hardly criticize the theistic experience of God. That would be like a blind person denying the existence of color."
Many theists claim that god is known by a special "spiritual" sensitivity. But is faith a "sixth sense" which perceives another world? Skeptics deny such a thing exists.
The blindness analogy is inapt because blind people do not deny the sense of sight, or that color exists. The blind and the sighted live in the same world, and both can grasp the natural principles involved. The path of light can be traced through a normal eye to the brain. Frequencies can be explained and the spectrum can be experienced independently of vision. The existence of color need not be taken by faith.
The theist, however, gives no independent means of testing "spiritual" insight, so it must be doubted. The skeptic does not deny the reality of subjective religious experience, but knows it can be psychologically explained without reference to a supposed transcendent realm.
The implication that theists are the only "complete" human beings is unfounded and arrogant.
"We all have a feeling of right and wrong, a conscience which puts us under a higher law. This universal moral urge points outside of humanity. It is consistent that God, a nonphysical being, would relate to us by such sublime means."
Here is another argument based on ignorance. Ethical systems are based on the worth humans have assigned to life: "good" is that which enhances life, and "evil" is that which threatens it. We do not need a deity to tell us it is wrong to kill, lie or steal. Humans have always had the potential to use their minds to determine what is kind and reasonable.
There is no "universal moral urge" and not all ethical systems agree. Polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism (Eucharist), wife beating, self mutilation, war, circumcision, castration and incest are perfectly "moral" actions in certain cultures. Is god confused?
To call god a "nonphysical being" is contradictory. A being must exist as some form of mass in space and time. Values reside within physical brains, so if morality points to "god," then we are it: the god concept is just a projection of human ideals.
"If there is no absolute moral standard then there is no ultimate right or wrong. Without God there is no ethical basis and social order would disintegrate. Our laws are based on scripture."
This is an argument for belief in a god, not for the existence of a god. The demand for "absolute" morality comes only from insecure religionists. (Voltaire quipped: "If god did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.") Mature people are comfortable with the relativism of humanism since it provides a consistent, rational and flexible framework for ethical human behavior--without a deity.
American laws are based on a secular constitution, not the bible. Any scriptures that might support a good law do so only because they have met the test of human values, which long predate the ineffective Ten Commandments.
There is no evidence that theists are more moral than atheists. In fact, the contrary seems to be true, as evidenced by centuries of religious violence. Most atheists are happy, productive, moral people.
Even if this argument is true, it is of little practical value. Devout, bible-believing Christians cannot agree on what the scriptures say about many crucial moral issues. Believers regularly take opposing positions on such matters as capital punishment, abortion, pacifism, birth control, physician-assisted suicide, animal rights, the environment, the separation of church and state, gay rights, and women's rights. It might be concluded from this that there is either a multiplicity of gods handing out conflicting moral advice, or a single god who is hopelessly confused.
"Everything had a cause, and every cause is the effect of a previous cause. Something must have started it all. God is the first cause, the unmoved mover, the creator and sustainer of the universe."
The major premise of this argument, "everything had a cause," is contradicted by the conclusion that "God did not have a cause." You can't have it both ways. If everything had to have a cause, then there could not be a first cause. If it is possible to think of a god as uncaused, then it is possible to think the same of the universe.
Some theists, observing that all "effects" need a cause, assert that god is a cause but not an effect. But no one has ever observed an uncaused cause and simply inventing one merely assumes what the argument wishes to prove.
"God can't be proved. But if God exists, the believer gains everything (heaven) and the unbeliever loses everything (hell). If God doesn't exist, the believer loses nothing and the unbeliever gains nothing. There is therefore everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing in God."
This argument, first formulated by French philosopher Blaise Pascal, is sheer intimidation. It is not a case for a god's existence: it is an argument for belief, based on irrational fear. With this kind of reasoning we should simply pick the religion with the worst hell.
It is not true that the believer loses nothing. We diminish this life by preferring the myth of an afterlife, and we sacrifice honesty to the maintenance of a lie. Religion demands time, energy and money, draining valuable human resources from the improvement of this world. Religious conformity, a tool of tyrants, is a threat to freedom.
Nor is it true that the unbeliever gains nothing. Rejecting religion can be a positive liberating experience, gaining perspective and freedom of inquiry. Freethinkers have always been in the forefront of social and moral progress.
What kind of person would eternally torment an honest doubter? If their god is so unjust, then theists are in as much danger as atheists. Perhaps god will get a perverted thrill from changing his mind and damning everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. Or, inverting the gamble, perhaps god will only save those who have enough courage not to believe!
Pascal was a Catholic and assumed that the existence of god meant the Christian God. However, the Islamic Allah might be the true god, which turns Pascal's wager into a riskier gamble than intended.
In any case, a belief in a deity based on fear is not a belief that produces admiration. It does not follow that such a being deserves to be worshipped.
"God is a being than which no greater being can be conceived. If god does not exist in actuality, then he can be conceived to be greater than he is. Therefore, God exists."
There are dozens of varieties of the ontological argument, but St. Anselm was the first to articulate it in this manner. The flaw in this reasoning is to treat existence as an attribute. Existence is a given. Nothing can be great or perfect that does not first exist, so the argument is backwards.
A good way to expose this reasoning is to replace "being" and "God" with some other words. ("Paradise Isle is an island . . .") You could prove the existence of a perfect "void," which would mean nothing exists!
The argument squashes itself, because god can be conceived to have infinite mass, which is disproved empirically. And it is comparing apples and oranges to assume that existence in conception can somehow be related to existence in actuality. Even if the comparison holds, why is existence in actuality "greater" (whatever that means) than existence in conception? Perhaps it is the other way around.
No wonder Bertrand Russell said all ontological arguments are a case of bad grammar!
"The Bible is historically reliable. There is no reason to doubt the trustworthy testimonies that would hold up in court. God exists because He has revealed Himself through scriptures."
The bible reflects the culture of its time. Though much of its setting is historical, much is not. For example, there is no contemporary support for the Jesus story outside the Gospels, which were anonymously written thirty to eighty years after the supposed crucifixion (depending on which scholar you consult). Many accounts, like the creation stories, conflict with science. The stories of the bible are just that: stories.
The bible is contradictory. A glaring example is the discrepancy between the genealogies of Jesus given by Matthew and Luke. The story of the resurrection of Jesus, told by at least five different writers, is hopelessly irreconcilable. Scholars have noted hundreds of biblical errors which have not been satisfactorily addressed by apologists.
The bible, like other religious writings, can be accounted for in purely natural terms. There is no reason to demand it be either entirely true or false. Christianity is filled with parallels from pagan myths, and its emergence as a second century messiah cult stems from its Jewish sectarian origins. The Gospel authors admit they are writing religious propaganda (John 20:31) which is a clue that it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Thomas Paine, in The Age Of Reason, pointed out that scripture cannot be revelation. Revelation (if it exists) is a divine message communicated directly to some person. As soon as that person reports it, it becomes second-hand hearsay. No one is obliged to believe it, especially if it is fantastic. It is much more likely that reports of the miraculous are due to honest error, deceit or zealous theological interpretations of perfectly natural events.
Outrageous claims require outrageous proof. A criterion of critical history is the assumption of natural regularity over time. This precludes miracles, which by definition "override" natural law. If we allow for miracles, then all documents, including the bible, become worthless as history.
"There are many scientists who believe in God. If many of the world's most intelligent people are theists, then belief in God must be sensible."
This is just an appeal to authority, which atheists could do equally well, or better. Academicians, as a group, are much less religious than the general population. Though it is easy to find scientists who believe, none of them can scientifically demonstrate their faith. Belief is usually a cultural or personal matter separate from occupation and no one, not even a scientist, is immune from the irrational seductions of religion.
"The new science of quantum physics is showing that reality is uncertain and less concrete. There is now room for miracles. A theistic world view is not inconsistent with science."
This is nonsense. A miracle is supposed to be a suspension of natural law which points to a transcendent realm. If the new science makes miracles naturally possible (a self-contradictory concept), then there is no supernatural realm, and no god.
In quantum physics, the term "uncertainty" does not apply to reality, but to our knowledge of reality.
Theism implies a supernatural realm. Science limits itself to the natural world. So theism can never be consistent with science, by definition.
"Belief in God is not intellectual. Reason is limited. The truth of God is only known by a leap of faith, which transcends but does not contradict reason."
This is no argument. Admitting that something is nonintellectual removes it from the realm of discussion. Yes, reason is limited: it is limited to the facts. If you ignore the facts you are left with nothing but hypotheses or wishful thinking.
Faith is the acceptance of the truth of a statement in spite of insufficient or contradictory evidence, which has never been consistent with reason. Faith, by its very invocation, is a transparent admission that religious claims cannot stand on their own two feet.
Sartre said that to believe is to know you believe; to know you believe is to not believe.
Even if theism were a consistent hypothesis (which it is not), it would still need to be proved. This is why most theists downplay proof and reason and emphasize faith, sometimes ludicrously claiming that science requires faith or that atheism is a religion.
"There is strong evidence of psychic powers, reincarnation and such. You have to admit there is something out there!"
Most scientists disagree that there is strong evidence for "parascientific" claims. When carefully examined with rigid controls, they are generally exposed as misinterpretations or outright fraud.
Even if they were legitimate, mysterious phenomena could have perfectly natural explanations. In such cases, skeptics prefer to withhold judgment rather than jump to superstitious conclusions.
It should be noted that even if these theistic arguments were valid, they would not establish the creator as personal, singular, perfect or currently alive (except for "revelation," which is free to create any kind of god desired). Nor do any of the arguments address the presence of chaos, ugliness and pain in the world, which make an omnipotent deity responsible for evil.
Many theists, when they realize their philosophical arguments have failed, will resort to stereotypical character attacks. All atheists are labeled unhappy, immoral, angry, arrogant, demonic, unfeeling wretches who have no reason to live. This is untrue and unfair. But even if it were true, that would not make theism correct.
Since by careful examination all theistic arguments are faulty, atheism remains the only rational position.
System of thought or practice which claims to transcend our natural world and which demands conformity to a creed, bible or savior.
A being who created and/or governs the universe. It is usually defined with personal aspects like intelligence, will, wisdom, love and hatred; and with superhuman aspects like omnipotence, omniscience, immortality, omnibenevolence and omnipresence. It is most often pictured interacting with humanity, but is sometimes held to be an impersonal "force" or nature itself.
Belief in god(s).
Absence of belief in god(s).
Refusal to accept the truth of a proposition for which there is insufficient evidence or logical justification. Most agnostics suspend belief in god.
The practice of forming opinions about religion on the basis of reason, without reference to authority, tradition or established belief.
The idea that all beliefs should be subject to the proven methods of rational inquiry. Special treatments like faith or authority, which are not allowed in other disciplines, are not acceptable for analyzing religion.
The degree to which a statement corresponds with reality and logic.
That which is directly perceivable through our natural senses, or indirectly ascertained through the proper use of reason.
A tool of critical thought which limits the truth of a proposition by the tests of verification (what evidence or repeatable observations confirm it?), falsifiability (what, in theory, would disprove it, and have all such attempts failed?), parsimony (is it the simplest explanation, requiring the fewest assumptions?) and logic (is it free of contradictions and non sequiturs?).
Secular humanism is a rationalistic natural outlook which makes humanity the measure of values.
All of these words have suffered from multiple definitions. The definition of religion, of course, can vary with the religionist. Most atheists consider themselves to be concurrently freethinkers, rationalists and agnostics since they are not mutually exclusive labels. Agnosticism is here defined by Huxley's original intention, though current popular usage wrongly views it as a halfway house between theism and atheism. Any person who cannot say, "I have a belief in a god," for whatever reason, is an atheist.
For Further Reading:
- The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine.
- An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism, edited by Gordon Stein, Prometheus Books, New York, 1980.
- A Second Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism, edited by Gordon Stein, Ph.D., Prometheus Books, New York, 1987.
- Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Michael Martin, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1990.
- Atheism: The Case Against God, George Smith, Prometheus Books, New York, 1979.
- Bertrand Russell on God and Religion, edited by Al Seckel, Prometheus Books, New York, 1986.
- Critiques of God, edited by Peter Angeles, Prometheus Books, New York, 1976.
- Ten Common Myths About Atheists, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin (booklet), 1987.
This chapter originally was printed as a booklet, sold and distributed to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Its purpose was to provide a handy, nutshell response to common theistic arguments. Most of the arguments have been developed in greater detail elsewhere in this book.
© Copyright 1992 by Dan Barker. From Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Chapter 17. All rights reserved.
Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist - Chapter 35
By Dan Barker
A criticism of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
About six months after my deconversion I had lunch with Hal Spencer, president of Manna Music. His company is a leading publisher of Christian music. In light of my deconversion to atheism I wanted to buy back the copyrights to my musicals which they continue to promote. "No way," he said. "Your musicals are very strong items in our catalog, among the few things that keep us in business." Talk about mixed feelings! I used to be excited to hear those glowing reports. Not any more.
Our conversation eventually drifted into one of those endless and usually fruitless discussions of design, first cause, morality, miracles, science, faith, and atheism. As we were paying the bill Hal turned to me with a grin and said, "I suppose this means you won't be writing us any more musicals?"
I laughed and said, "Sure I will! But I doubt you would publish anything I would want to say now."
Christian publishing is a huge industry. Have you ever been in a Christian bookstore? (They are sometimes euphemistically known as "Family Bookstores." I am tempted to go in and ask if they have any readings for atheistic families.) You should visit one sometime, just to see what we freethinkers are up against. You will see thousands of books by hundreds of presses, a plethora of albums by dozens of record companies, racks of bibles in every size, color, and version. You can read about child raising, gardening, abortion, psychology, worship, history, politics, romance, computers, humanism, and the women's movement--all from a Christian perspective. And science fiction, of course. You may also spot some of my material; but forgive me, for I knew not what I was doing.
On Christmas Eve I wandered into the Upland Christian Light Bookstore, for no particular reason, and was promptly accosted by a local minister who had heard that I had turned heretic and who thought I needed to learn a few things about the creation/evolution debate. (I do. So does he.) After our "friendly" chat, I took a nostalgic stroll down the hallowed aisles of religious reading. I was particularly interested in finding books that I had at one time considered to be great, books that I would like to reread in a new light. So I picked up C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.
C.S. Lewis is a very popular Christian writer. He was a professor at Oxford who claims to have converted from atheism to Christianity. Many people have been influenced by his work. He is known for his Narnia series for children, and for many books that popularize theology including Screwtape Letters (along the line of Twain's Letters from the Earth), The Great Divorce (a hell-to-heaven bus ride explaining that people are in hell because they choose to stay there), Miracles, Pilgrim's Regress, The Problem of Pain, and a science fiction trilogy. He writes in a convincing, readable style, is often humorous and usually thoughtful.
Mere Christianity, Lewis's most popular book, is really three books in one: 1. "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe," 2. "What Christians Believe," and 3. "Christian Behavior," all adapted from a series of radio lectures. The book's title comes from Lewis's attempt to strip Christianity of all that is nonessential, getting down to the "mere" basics of what it means to be a Christian. As a believer, I remember being impressed with the first book since it gives what many consider to be a compelling argument for the existence of a deity. I have an uncle who says that Mere Christianity was a major factor in his "conversion" to deeper commitment. So when I reread the book, I was anxious to reexamine its arguments.
Lewis goes to great anecdotal length to argue for the existence of a "Natural Law" of morality within each human. Unlike the law of gravity, though, this moral law can be disobeyed.
"This law was called the Law of Nature," he writes, "because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colourblind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right."
As an example, Lewis points to the opposition to the Nazis: "What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair."
Lewis does not believe that differing civilizations have had differing moralities: " . . . these have never amounted to anything like a total difference." (Oh? What about culturally sanctioned polygamy, infanticide, cannibalism, wife beating, self mutilation, castration, incest and war?) He dismisses the critics who claim that morality is a result of the species' survival instinct by noting that we are free to obey or disobey this "instinct" and make our decision by a higher standard of Right and Wrong. "You might as well say the sheet music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one of the notes on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes on the keyboard. The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts are merely the keys."
You can see that Lewis is fond of arguing by analogy. (His whole Narnia series is one huge metaphor.) This can sometimes be an effective way of communicating with uncritical readers; but it can be deviously misleading if used in place of disciplined reasoning. Mere assertions (a better title for his book) can be used in place of carefully defended statements, and can be made to "stick" in the mind with an analogy which, though perhaps apt, nevertheless skirts the question of the truthfulness of the basic idea.
For example, is it true that all persons in all cultures share a common knowledge of a Moral Law? Some would disagree. And his analogy about piano music completely misses the possibility of improvisation and composition, making robots of us all. Besides, the sheet music is external to the piano, and it can be replaced with another song if desired. And pianos don't grow and learn and hurt, like people . . . and so on. Analogies can be helpful to illustrate a point, but propping up a bald assertion with an analogy alone can backfire.
Even if it is true that all cultures share a common morality, why does this prove a supreme intelligence? After all, don't we humanists sometimes claim that there is a common thread of humanistic values running through history across cultural and religious lines? Lewis's attempt to leap from the shaky platform of a "Natural Moral Law" into the arms of a loving deity is even less convincing than his basic premise.
First, Lewis gets the idea of a deity from history, noting that there are two major world views: the materialistic and the religious. The materialistic world view asks questions that can only be addressed by science ("What is the structure of life?"); but the religious world view raises issues which assume a higher context ("What is the meaning of life?"). Science observes the material world, but religion sees the mental, nonmaterial. (Where does he put philosophy and psychology?) If there is a God, Lewis argues, then God is much more like mind than anything else, and if this God is to communicate with us it will be more likely that he will do so through our minds, not through the material world. (How does Lewis know any of this?) And this is exactly what this wise deity has done: he has placed within us this "law of morality" which connects us with the higher realm, which can never be verified with mere science.
So, according to Lewis, if you want to find God, look within yourself to discover this urging to morality and realize that you have broken this law, every day. Mere Christianity boils down to the same old sermon: you are a sinner and you know it, don't you feel bad? Then, when you are properly ashamed you will realize the beauty of the plan of salvation that this deity has revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (which Lewis historically takes for granted).
Lewis does not address situational ethics in this book, though it would seem relevant. He assumes, I guess, that we would all agree what would be the "cosmic" right in every instance. In fact, Lewis is confident that his readers will be tacitly convinced of the correctness of this line of thinking. (God exists because we have morals and we wouldn't have morals if God didn't exist.) And Lewis can afford to relax, I think, because most of his readers are Christians who buy the book because they are looking for substantiation. They are not skeptical searchers of truth. Any writer can capture a sympathetic audience by capitalizing on those areas that everyone "knows" to be right.
Humanistic morality is a code of ethics based on the value and quality of human life. It is not derived from absolute engravings on a cosmic stone tablet. Morality is relative to human things like happiness, health, peace, beauty, love, joy, and justice. It is the preferring of those actions and ideas which enhance the human condition over those which threaten it. The Nazis, who were mostly Catholics and Lutherans, were wrong not because they broke an absolute law, but because they desecrated human life. Even though humanistic morality does assert some rights and wrongs relative to the human condition, it is flexible and free to improve. For example, on the one hand it is inconceivable that something like genocide would ever be considered moral, and on the other hand that something like genuine politeness could be considered immoral; but there will always be a middle ground between those extremes for things like birth control, divorce, diet, self defense, or patriotism, which will depend on the situation.
Any morality which is based on an unyielding structure above and beyond humanity is dangerous to human beings. History is filled with examples of what religious "morality" has done to worsen our lot. Whole cities can be gleefully exterminated in God's name. Society's "witches" can be eliminated. Free thought can be suppressed, squelching any hope for progress. (Why else were the Christian-dominated centuries called the "Dark" Ages?) Under Christian morality, anything goes if it furthers God's plan. In place of Lewis's Law of Morality, more enlightened people would champion reason and kindness: principles that are pliable and human, not rigid and cold.
So, now I have to ask myself why I once thought Mere Christianity was so special. Because it told me what I wanted to hear. As a freethinker I am now no longer satisfied with mere assertions, with creative rehashings of myth. Freethought demands evidence in place of analogy, data over dogma.
What do you think? Should I cash the royalty checks I continue to receive from my Christian musicals? Now there's a moral dilemma with which I struggle all the way to the bank.
© Copyright 1992 by Dan Barker. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not distribute copies of this chapter in this form.
By Dan Barker
In February I participated in two "Does God Exist?" debates.
On February 18 I debated Tom Rode, President of Ohio Campus Crusade For Christ (CCC), at Ohio State Uni versity, Columbus. The event was sponsored by Students For Free thought, CCC, and the Ohio Union Board. Although the audience of 200 was primarily religious, a healthy contingent of student and community atheists and humanists expressed support for the freethought side.
Since this was Rode's first public debate, he was not as prepared or conversant as other debaters. His arguments were standard--cosmological, design, morality, and the putative resurrection of Jesus--but during cross examination and questions from the audience, his unfamiliarity with scientific concepts and with the critical scholarship of the resurrection was obvious.
Rode claimed that without a God, there is no basis for moral values. I pointed out that there are no such things as "objective moral values," and even if there were, there is no single moral issue on which Christians agree. For example, a state execution was scheduled for the next day (Ohio's first in 35 years) and devout, Bible-believing Christians were taking positions on both sides of the issue.
If the Bible is a clear moral guide, why do believers disagree on such crucial issues as capital punishment, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gay rights, birth control, women's rights, and war?
After the debate, a local minister came up to me and said, "What you are saying frightens me."
"Why should it frighten you?" I asked.
"Because, if you are right, then everything I have been preaching and living is wrong."
"But why should that frighten you?" I continued. "If atheism is right, then wouldn't you be excited to learn it? Wouldn�t you be happy to know the truth about reality, to be rid of false ideas?"
"I suppose I would, if it were true. But it would change everything."
To this man's credit, he appears willing to entertain the possibility that he might be wrong. He is not afraid of truth: it is change that frightens him.
I want to thank the student organizers August Brunsman, David Frison, and Robert Nekervis (moderator) for putting on such a successful event. And special appreciation to Foundation member Joe Sommer, a Columbus attorney, who staffed (and policed) the FFRF literature table.
On February 23, I debated Michael Horner of the Society of Christian Philosophers at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, Washington. The debate was moderated by Ken Schramm, popular host of Seattle's KOMO-TV talk show "Town Meeting."
This was the third debate that I have had with Horner, but unlike the previous two encounters, this time the audience was not in his favor. For the first time in my experience, the audience of 300+ students and community members (including many Foundation members) was divided at least 50/50, maybe even slightly more toward freethought. There were no religious or student sponsors; the event was organized by Shore line College's lecture series.
At one point I mentioned that the Pacific North west, especially Seattle, contains the highest ratio of unbelievers in the nation. When I said, "You should be proud of that fact," spontaneous, heart felt applause erupted from all parts of the room. That was a refreshing experience.
Horner is one of the better debaters, conversant with all the issues. But he made the mistake of insisting that I should go first. (He erroneously claims atheists share an equal burden of proof. I think he was hoping I would only be prepared with rebuttals, offering nothing positive in favor of atheism.) Having the opening statement, I took the opportunity to set the tone. Not only did I underscore the lack of evidence for theism ("god of the gaps"), but I presented many evidences leaning toward the likelihood of a godless universe, plus positive "coherency" arguments outlining mutually contradictory aspects in the traditional definition of a god.
Horner came back swinging, and we got into a lively 10-minute cross examination that kept us both on our toes. When I asked him to describe what God is made of, he replied "spirit." When I asked for the definition of "spirit," he had none, and charged that I was begging the question by refusing to consider the possibility of a being without a body. When he asked me for the source of "objective moral values," I replied that there are no such things, only that there is an "objective basis in nature" for making ethical choices.
Horner's main arguments were cosmological, design, and morality. Unlike our first two debates, he omitted the resurrection of Jesus, perhaps for time reasons, but perhaps because he knew, from our previous debate, that I was prepared with the results of current liberal Christian scholarship showing that the bodily resurrection is legendary, not historical.
Like the Ohio debate, the questions from the Seattle audience were quite strong. Many freethinkers posed tough problems to Horner, making excellent points that I hadn't thought of or hadn't had time to address.
After the debate, I was pleasantly surrounded mainly by freethinkers, which was unusual. And so was Horner! Possibly for the first time in his life, he was the mission field.
During our drive back to the hotel, Horner told me, "Well, we got some people thinking tonight."
"We sure did," I replied.
Special thanks to Foundation members Beth and Scott for hospitality, and to Beth for organizing an informal dinner of more than 20 Seattle-area freethinkers at the Wild Ginger Restaurant the evening before the debate.
By Dan Barker
The Christian God is defined as a personal being who knows everything. According to Christians, personal beings have free will.
In order to have free will, you must have more than one option, each of which is avoidable. This means that before you make a choice, there must be a state of uncertainty during a period of potential: you cannot know the future. Even if you think you can predict your decision, if you claim to have free will, you must admit the potential (if not the desire) to change your mind before the decision is final.
A being who knows everything can have no "state of uncertainty." It knows its choices in advance. This means that it has no potential to avoid its choices, and therefore lacks free will. Since a being that lacks free will is not a personal being, a personal being who knows everything cannot exist.
Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.
Some people deny that humans have free will; but all Christians claim that God himself, "in three persons," is a free personal agent, so the argument holds.
Others will object that God, being all-powerful, can change his mind. But if he does, then he did not know the future in the first place. If he truly knows the future, then the future is fixed and not even God can change it. If he changes his mind anyway, then his knowledge was limited. You can't have it both ways: no being can be omniscient and omnipotent at the same time.
A more subtle objection is that God "knows" what he is going to do because he always acts in accordance with his nature, which does not diminish his free agency. God might claim, for example, that he will not tell a lie tomorrow--because he always tells the truth. God could choose outside of his nature, but he never does.
But what does "nature of God" mean? To have a nature is to have limits. The "nature" that restricts humans is our physical environment and our genetics; but the "nature" of a supernatural being must be something else. It is inappropriate to say that the "nature" of a being without limits bears the same relationship to the topic of free will that human nature does.
Free will requires having more than one option, a desire to choose, freedom to choose (lack of obstacles), power to accomplish the choice (strength and aptitude), and the potential to avoid the option. "Strength and aptitude" puts a limit on what any person is "free" to do. No human has the free will to run a one-minute mile, without mechanical aid. We are free to try, but we will fail. All of our choices, and our desires as well, are limited by our nature; yet we can still claim free will (those of us who do) because we don't know our future choices.
If God always acts in accordance with his nature (whatever that means), then he still must have more than one viable option that does not contradict his nature if he is to claim free will. Otherwise, he is a slave to his nature, like a robot, and not a free personal agent.
What would the word "option" mean to a being who created all options?
Some say that "free will" with God does not mean what it means with humans. But how are we to understand this? What conditions of free will would a Christian scrap in order to craft a "free agency" for God? Multiple options? Desire? Freedom? Power? Potential to avoid?
Perhaps desire could be jettisoned. Desire implies a lack, and a perfect being should lack nothing. But it would be a very strange "person" with no needs or desires. Desire is what prompts a choice in the first place. It also contributes to assessing whether the decision was reasonable. Without desire, choices are willy-nilly, and not true decisions at all. Besides, the biblical god expressed many desires.
No objection saves the Christian God: he does not exist. Perhaps a more modest deity can be imagined: one that is not both personal and all-knowing, both all-knowing and all-powerful, both perfect and free. But until a god is defined coherently, and then proven to exist with evidence and sound reasoning, it is sensible not to think that such a being exists.
Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist - Chapter 19
By Dan Barker
I have a few questions, and I thought you would be the right person to ask. It gets tough sometimes, sitting up here in heaven with no one to talk to. I mean really talk to. I can always converse with the angels, of course, but since they don't have free will, and since I created every thought in their submissive minds, they are not very stimulating conversationalists.
Of course, I can talk with my son Jesus and with the "third person" of our holy trinity, the Holy Spirit, but since we are all the same, there is nothing we can learn from each other. There are no well-placed repartees in the Godhead. We all know what the others know. We can't exactly play chess. Jesus sometimes calls me "Father," and that feels good, but since he and I are the same age and have the same powers, it doesn't mean much.
You are educated. You have examined philosophy and world religions, and you have a degree which makes you qualified to carry on a discussion with someone at my level--not that I can't talk with anyone, even with the uneducated believers who fill the churches and flatter me with endless petitions, but you know how it is. Sometimes we all crave interaction with a respected colleague. You have read the scholars. You have written papers and published books about me, and you know me better than anyone else.
It might surprise you to think that I have some questions. No, not rhetorical questions aimed at teaching spiritual lessons, but some real, honest-to-God inquiries. This should not shock you because, after all, I created you in my image. Your inquisitiveness is an inheritance from me. You would say that love, for example, is a reflection of my nature within yourself, wouldn't you? Since questioning is healthy, it also comes from me.
Somebody once said that we should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. My first question is this:
Where did I come from?
I find myself sitting up here in heaven, and I look around and notice that there is nothing else besides myself and the objects that I have created. I don't see any other creatures competing with me, nor do I notice anything above myself that might have created me, unless it is playing hide-and-seek. In any event, as far as I know (and I supposedly know everything), there is nothing else but me in-three-persons and my creations. I have always existed, you say. I did not create myself, because if I did, then I would be greater than myself.
So where did I come from?
I know how you approach that question regarding your own existence. You notice that nature, especially the human mind, displays evidence of intricate design. You have never observed such design apart from a designer. You argue that human beings must have had a creator, and you will find no disagreement from me.
Then, what about me? Like you, I observe that my mind is complex and intricate. It is much more complex than your mind, otherwise I couldn't have created your mind. My personality displays evidence of organization and purpose. Sometimes I surprise myself at how wise I am. If you think your existence is evidence of a designer, then what do you think about my existence? Am I not wonderful? Do I not function in an orderly manner? My mind is not a random jumble of disconnected thoughts; it displays what you would call evidence of design. If you need a designer, then why don't I?
You might think such a question is blasphemy, but to me there is no such crime. I can ask any question I want, and I think this is a fair one. If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren't you contradicting yourself? By excluding me from the argument, aren't you bringing your conclusion into your argument? Isn't that circular reasoning? I am not saying I disagree with your conclusion; how could I? I'm just wondering why it is proper for you to infer a designer while it is not proper for me.
If you are saying that I don't need to ask where I came from because I am perfect and omniscient while humans are fallible, then you don't need the design argument at all, do you? You have already assumed that I exist. You can make such an assumption, of course, and I would not deny you the freedom. Such a priori and circular reasoning might be helpful or comforting to you, but it does me little good. It doesn't help me figure out where I came from.
You say that I am eternally existent, and I suppose I would have no objection if I knew what it meant. It is hard for me to conceive of eternal existence. I just can't remember back that far. It would take me an eternity to remember back to eternity, leaving me no time to do anything else, so it is impossible for me to confirm if I existed forever. And even if it is true, why is eternal greater than temporal? Is a long sermon greater than a short sermon? What does "greater" mean? Are fat people greater than thin people, or old greater than young?
You think it is important that I have always existed. I'll take your word for it, for now. My question is not with the duration of my existence, but with the origin of my existence. I don't see how being eternal solves the problem. I still want to know where I came from.
I can only imagine one possible answer, and I would appreciate your reaction. I know that I exist. I know that I could not have created myself. I also know that there is no higher God who could have created me. Since I can't look above myself, then perhaps I should look below myself for a creator. Perhaps--this is speculative, so bear with me--perhaps you created me.
Don't be shocked. I mean to flatter you. Since I contain evidence of design, and since I see no other place where such design could originate, I am forced to look for a designer, or designers, in nature itself. You are a part of nature. You are intelligent--that is what your readers say. Why should I not find the answer to my question in you? Help me out on this.
Of course, if you made me, then I could not have made you, I think. The reason that I think I made you is because you made me to think I made you. You have often said that a Creator can put thoughts in your mind. Isn't it possible that you have put thoughts in my mind, and now here we are, both of us, wondering where we each came from?
Some of you have said that the answer to this whole question is just a mystery that only God understands. Well, thanks a lot. The buck stops here. On the one hand you use logic to try to prove my existence, but on the other hand, when logic hits a dead end, you abandon it and invoke "faith" and "mystery." Those words might be useful to you as place-holders for facts or truth, but they don't translate to anything meaningful as far as I am concerned. You can pretend that "mystery" signifies something terribly important, but to me it simply means you don't know.
Some of you assert that I did not "come" from anywhere. I just exist. However, I have also heard you say that nothing comes from nothing. You can't have it both ways. I either exist or I don't. What was it that caused me to exist, as opposed to not existing at all? If I don't need a cause, then why do you? Since I am not happy to say that this is a mystery, I must accept the only explanation that makes sense. You created me.
Is that such a terrible idea? I know that you think many other gods were created by humans: Zeus, Thor, Mercury, Elvis. You recognize that such deities originate in human desire, need, or fear. If the blessed beliefs of those billions of individuals can be dismissed as products of culture, then why can't yours? The Persians created Mithra, the Jews created Yahweh, and you created me. If I am wrong about this, please straighten me out.
My second question is this:
What's it all about?
Maybe I made myself, maybe some other god made me, maybe you made me--let's put that aside for now. I'm here now. Why am I here? Many of you look up to me for purpose in life, and I have often stated that your purpose in life is to please me. (Read Revelation 4:11) If your purpose is to please me, what is my purpose? To please myself? Is that all there is to life?
If I exist for my own pleasure, then this is selfish. It makes it look as if I created you merely to have some living toys to play with. Isn't there some principle that I can look up to? Something to admire, adore, and worship? Am I consigned for eternity to sit here and amuse myself with the worship of others? Or to worship myself? What's the point?
I have read your writings on the meaning of life, and don't misunderstand me, they make sense in the theological context of human religious goals, even if they don't have much practicality in the real world. Many of you feel that your purpose in life is to achieve perfection. Since you humans fall way short of perfection, by your own admission (and I agree), then self improvement provides you with a quest. It gives you something to do. Someday you hope to be as perfect as you think I am. But since I am already perfect, by definition, then I don't need such a purpose. I'm just sort of hanging out, I guess.
Yet I still wonder why I'm here. It feels good to exist. It feels great to be perfect. But it gives me nothing to do. I created the universe with all kinds of natural laws that govern everything from quarks to galactic clusters, and it runs okay on its own. I had to make these laws, otherwise I would be involved with a lot of repetitive busy work, such as pulling light rays through space, yanking falling objects down to the earth, sticking atoms together to build molecules, and a trillion other boring tasks more worthy of a slave than a master. You have discovered most of those laws, and might be on the verge of putting the whole picture together, and once you have done that you will know what I know: that there is nothing in the universe for me to do. It's boring up here.
I could create more universes and more laws, but what's the point? I've already done universes. Creation is like sneezing or writing short stories; it just comes out of me. I could go on an orgy of creation. Create, create, create. After a while a person can get sick of the same thing, like when you eat a whole box of chocolates and discover that the last piece doesn't taste as good as the first. Once you have had ten children, do you need twenty? (I'm asking you, not the pope.) If more is better, then I am obligated to continue until I have fathered an infinite number of children, and an endless number of universes. If I must compel myself, then I am a slave.
Many of you assert that it is inappropriate to seek purpose within yourself, that it must come from outside. I feel the same way. I can't merely assign purpose to myself. If I did, then I would have to look for my reasons. I would have to come up with an account of why I chose one purpose over another, and if such reasons came from within myself I would be caught in a loop of self-justified rationalizations. Since I have no Higher Power of my own, then I have no purpose. Nothing to live for. It is all meaningless.
Sure, I can bestow meaning on you--pleasing me, achieving perfection, whatever--and perhaps that is all that concerns you; but doesn't it bother you, just a little, that the source of meaning for your life has no source of its own? And if this is true, then isn't it also true that ultimately you have no meaning for yourself either? If it makes you happy to demand an external reference point on which to hang your meaningfulness, why would you deny the same to me? I also want to be happy, and I want to find that happiness in something other than myself. Is that a sin?
On the other hand, if you think I have the right and the freedom to find happiness in myself and in the things I created, then why should you not have the same right? You, whom I created in my image?
I know that some of you have proposed a solution to this problem. You call it "love." You think I am lonely up here, and that I created humans to satisfy my longing for a relationship with something that is not myself. Of course, this will never work because it is impossible for me to create something that is not part of myself, but let's say that I try anyway. Let's say that I create this mechanism called "free will," which imparts to humans a choice. If I give you the freedom (though this is stretching the word because there is nothing outside of my power) not to love me, then if some of you, a few of you, even one of you chooses to love me, I have gained something I might not have had. I have gained a relationship with someone who could have chosen otherwise. This is called love, you say.
This is a great idea, on paper. In real life, however, it turns out that millions, billions of people have chosen not to love me, and that I have to do something with these infidels. I can't just un-create them. If I simply destroy all the unbelievers, I may as well have created only believers in the first place. Since I am omniscient, I would know in advance which of my creations would have a tendency to choose me, and this would produce no conflict with free will since those who would not have chosen me would have been eliminated simply by not having been created in the first place. (I could call it Supernatural Selection.) This seems much more compassionate than hell.
You can't have a love relationship with someone who is not your equal. If you humans don't have a guaranteed eternal soul, like myself, then you are worthless as companions. If I can't respect your right to exist independently, and your right to choose something other than me, then I couldn't love those of you who do choose me. I would have to find a place for all those billions of eternal souls who reject me, whatever their reasons might be. Let's call it "hell," a place that is not-God, not-me. I would have to create this inferno, otherwise neither I nor the unbelievers could escape each other. Let's ignore the technicalities of how I could manage to create hell, and then separate it from myself, apart from whom nothing else exists. (It's not as though I could create something and then simply throw it away--there is no cosmic trash heap.) The point is that since I am supposedly perfect, this place of exile must be something that is the opposite. It must be ultimate evil, pain, darkness, and torment.
If I created hell, then I don't like myself.
If I did create a hell, then it certainly would not be smart to advertise that fact. How would I know if people were claiming to love me for my own sake, or simply to avoid punishment? How can I expect someone to love me who is afraid of me in the first place? The threat of eternal torment might scare some people into obedience, but it does nothing to inspire love. If you treated me with threats and intimidations, I would have to reconsider my admiration for your character.
How would you feel if you had brought some children into the world knowing that they were going to be tormented eternally in a place you built for them? Could you live with yourself? Wouldn't it have been better not to have brought them into the world in the first place?
I know that some of you feel that hell is just a metaphor. Do you feel the same way about heaven?
Anyway, this whole love argument is wrong. Since I am perfect, I don't lack anything. I can't be lonely. I don't need to be loved. I don't even want to be loved because to want is to lack. To submit to the potential of giving and receiving love is to admit that I can be hurt by those who choose not to love me. If you can hurt me, I am not perfect. If I can't be hurt, I can't love. If I ignore or erase those who do not love me, sending them off to hell or oblivion, then my love is not sincere. If all I am doing is throwing the dice of "free will" and simply reaping the harvest of those who choose to love me, then I am a selfish monster. If you played such games with people's lives, I would call you insensitive, conceited, insecure, selfish and manipulative.
I know you have tried to get me off the hook. You explain that Yours Truly is not responsible for the sufferings of unbelievers because rejection of God is their choice, not mine. They had a corrupt human nature, you explain. Well, who gave them their human nature? If certain humans decide to do wrong, where do they get the impulse? If you think it came from Satan, who created Satan? And why would some humans be susceptible to Satan in the first place? Who created that susceptibility? If Satan was created perfect, and then fell, where did the flaw of perdition come from? If I am perfect, then how in God's name did I end up creating something that would not choose perfection? Someone once said that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.
Here is the title for your next theological tome: Was Eve Perfect? If she was, she would not have taken the fruit. If she wasn't, I created imperfection.
Maybe you think all of this gives me a purpose--putting Humpty Dumpty back together--but it actually gives me a headache. (If you won't permit me a simple headache, then how can you allow me the pain of lost love?) I could not live with myself if I thought my actions were causing harm to others. Well, I shouldn't say that. Since I think you created me, I suppose I should let you tell me what I could live with. If you think it is consistent with my character to tolerate love and vengeance concurrently, then I have no choice. If you are my creator, then I could spout tenderness out of one side of my mouth and brutality out of the other. I could dance with my lover on the bones of my errant children, and pretend to enjoy it. I would be very human indeed.
I have a thousand more questions, but I hope you will allow me one more:
How do I decide what is right and wrong?
I don't know how I got here, but I'm here. Let's just say that my purpose is to make good people out of my creations. Let's say that I am to help you learn how to be perfect like me, and that the best way is for you to act just like me, or like I want you to act. You goal is to become little mirrors of myself. Won't that be splendid? I'll give you rules or principles, and you try to follow them. This may or may not be meaningful, but it will keep us both busy. I suppose that from your point of view this would be terribly meaningful, since you think I have the power to reward and punish.
I know that some of you Protestant theologians think that I give rewards not for good deeds, but simply for believing in my son Jesus who paid the punishment for your bad deeds. Well, Jesus spent only about thirty-six hours of an eternal life sentence in hell and is now back up here in ultimate coziness with me. Talk about a wrist-slap! He was not paroled for good behavior--he was simply released. (He had connections.) If my righteous judgment demanded absolute satisfaction, then Jesus should have paid the price in full, don't you think?
Beyond that, it is entirely incomprehensible to me why you think I would accept the blood of one individual for the crime of another. Is that fair? Is that justice? If you commit a felony, does the law allow your brother to serve the jail sentence for you? If someone burglarized your home, would you think justice was served if a friend bought you new furniture? Do you really think that I am such a bloodthirsty dictator that I will be content with the death of anyone for the crime of another? And are you so disrespectful of justice that you would happily accept a stand-in for your crimes? What about personal responsibility? It is tough to open my arms to welcome believers into heaven who have avoided the rap for their own actions. Something is way out of kilter here.
But let's ignore these objections. Let's assume that Jesus and I worked it all out and that evil will be punished and good rewarded. How do I know the difference? You are insisting that I not consult any rule book. You are asking me to be the Final Authority. I must simply decide, and you must trust my decision. Am I free to decide whatever I want?
Suppose I decide that I would like you to honor me with a day of my own. I like the number seven, I don't know why, maybe because it is the first useless number. (You never sing any hymns to me in 7/4 time.) Let's divide the calendar into groups of seven days and call them weeks. For harmony, I'll divide each lunar phase into roughly seven days. The last day of the week--or maybe the first day, I don't care--I'll set aside for myself. Let's call it the Sabbath. This all feels good, so I suppose it is the right thing to do. I'll make a law ordering you to observe the Sabbath, and if you do it then I will pronounce you good people. In fact, I'll make it one of my Big Ten Commandments, and I'll order your execution if you disobey. This all makes perfect sense, I don't know why.
Help me out here. How am I supposed to choose what is moral? Since I can't consult any authority, the thing to do, it appears, is to pick randomly. Actions will become right or wrong simply because I declare them to be so. If I whimsically say that you should not make any graven or molten images of "anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth," then that is that. If I decide that murder is right and compassion is wrong, you will have to accept it.
Is that all there is to it? I just decide, willy-nilly, what is right and what is wrong? Or worse, I decide based on whatever makes me feel good? I have read in some of your literature that you denounce such self-centered attitudes.
Some of you say that since I am perfect, I can't make any mistakes. Whatever I choose to be right or wrong will be in accordance with my nature, and since I am perfect, then my choices will be perfect. In any event, my choices will certainly be better than your choices, you feel. But what does "perfect" mean? If my nature is "perfect" (whatever it means), then I am living up to a standard. If I am living up to a standard, then I am not God. If perfection means something all by itself, apart from me, then I am constrained to follow its path. If, on the other hand, perfection is defined simply as conformity to my nature, then it doesn't mean anything. My nature can be what it wants, and perfection will be defined accordingly. Do you see the problem here? If "perfection" equals "God," then it is just a synonym for myself, and we can do away with the word. We could do away with either word, take your pick.
If I am perfect, then there are certain things that I cannot do. If I am not free to feel envy, lust, or malice, for example, then I am not omnipotent. I cannot be more powerful than you if you can feel and do things that I cannot.
Additionally, if you feel that God is perfect, by nature, what does "nature" mean? The word is used to describe the way things are or act in nature, and since you think I am above nature, you must mean something else, something like "character," or "attributes." To have a nature or character means to be one way and not another. It means that there are limits. Why am I one way and not another? How did it get decided that my nature would be what it is? If my "nature" is clearly defined, then I am limited. I am not God. If my nature has no limits, as some of you suggest, then I have no nature at all, and to say that God has such-and-such a nature is meaningless. In fact, if I have no limits, then I have no identity; and if I have no identity, then I do not exist.
Who am I?
This brings me back to the conundrum: if I don't know who I am, then how can I decide what is right? Do I just poke around in myself until I come up with something?
There is one course I could pursue, and some of you have suggested this for yourselves. I could base my pronouncements on what is best for you humans. You people have physical bodies that bump around in a physical world. I could determine those actions that are healthy and beneficial for material beings in a material environment. I could make morality something material: something that is relative to human life, not to my whims. I could declare (by conclusion, not by edict) that harming human life is bad, and that helping or enhancing human life is good. This would be like providing an operation manual for something I designed and manufactured. It would require me to know all about human nature and the environment in which you humans live, and to communicate these ideas to you.
This makes a lot of sense, but it changes my task from one of determining morality to one of communicating morality. If morality is discovered in nature, then you don't need me, except maybe to prod you along. I saw to it that you have capable minds with the ability to reason and do science. There is nothing mysterious about studying how humans interact with nature and with each other, and you should be able to come up with your own set of rules. Some of you tried this millennia before Moses. Even if your rules contradict mine, I couldn't claim any higher authority than you. At least you would be able to give reasons for your rules, which I can only do by submitting to science myself.
If morality is defined by how human beings exist in nature, then you don't need me at all. I am off the hook! From what I have read, most of you have your feet on the ground with no help from me. I could hand down some stone tablets containing what I think is right and wrong, but it would still be up to you to see if they work in the real world. I think we all agree that grounded reason is better than the whim of an ungrounded deity.
This is a wonderful approach, but what bothers me is that while this may help you know what is moral in your environment, it doesn't help me much. I don't have an environment. I'm out here flapping in the breeze. I envy you.
Nor does the humanistic approach help those of you who want morality to be rooted in something absolute, outside of yourselves. It must be frightening for you who need an anchor to realize that there is no bottom to the ocean. Well, it's frightening for me also. I don't have an anchor of my own. That's why I'm asking for your help.
Thank you for reading my letter, and for letting me impose on your busy schedule. Please answer at your convenience. I have all the time in the world.
© Copyright 1990 by Dan Barker. All Rights Reserved.
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