Tawa replied to my article here. He writes: “[Luke] has just begun publishing blog essays promoted as ‘refutations’ of the original Apologetics 315 essays.”
Promoted by whom, I wonder? The index page for my series says: “My goal in such a short space is not to refute all these arguments but to give the ‘first round naturalist’s response’ to them…”
Meaning without God
Tawa originally used Ecclesiastes (“Meaningless! Meaningless!”) to illustrate that life is meaningless without God. That all depends on what you mean by “meaning,” of course. I have a few thoughts on that topic here and here. My first reply was to say that if Ecclesiastes says life is meaningless, it says it is meaningless with God, because the author, obviously, believes in God. I even quoted chapter 3 verse 14, where the author spells out part of why life is meaningless with God.
But, it should be mentioned the author does not believe in Yahweh, God of the Israelites. The name for God in Ecclesiastes is ha-Elohim. As the Jewish Encyclopedia explains,
The Israelitish name for God is nowhere employed, nor does there appear to be any reference to Judaic matters; hence there seems to be a possibility that the book is an adaptation of a work in some other language.
Like many Biblical books, Ecclesiastes says that the dead “know nothing.” Since there is no heaven or hell awaiting you, the author’s advice is to just enjoy your life while you have it, which reminds me of an xkcd cartoon:
I also pointed out that it’s not the source of a life’s meaning and purpose that matters, but its quality. I illustrated this with a story about a God who invented people who would fight endless religious wars to entertain him. This fighting would be a divine purpose, but having a divine source would not make this purpose worthwhile. But Tawa seems to have missed the point, for he replies that this fictional God is not at all like his God. Yes, I know. The point is that it’s not the source of meaning and purpose that matters, but it’s quality.
Tawa implicitly seems to agree with this point, for he says “Fortunately… God calls us to ‘promote cooperation and well-being over conflict and suffering’.” But why say “fortunately”? If Tawa thinks it’s the source of purpose that matters, wouldn’t any other purpose be just as “fortunate” as another, as long as it came from a supreme deity? I think many believers implicitly recognize that a crappy, destructive purpose would be a crappy, destructive purpose even if it happened to come from a Creator God. But they still insist it’s not the quality but the source of a purpose that matters just so they can convince themselves and other believers that being an atheist is intolerably purposeless. Well, it’s not.
A Hole in Our Hearts?
In his original essay, Tawa claimed that “there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.” My reply was:
Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you.
The claim that “there is… a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God” is empirically false. It is a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity.
Rather than give evidence that everyone has a hole in their heart that can only be filled with God despite the fact that there are hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world, Tawa complains about my harsh language. But if the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t fit, explain why. I would love to see an argument for why the hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world really do have “a hole” in their hearts that “can only be filled by God.”
Tawa writes that I did nothing to prove that his claim about holes in hearts was empirically false. How about a billion non-believers? Is that proof enough?
Tawa also writes:
[Luke claimed] that I (and Christianity) thrive on “insecurity … poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk.” I wonder whether Luke would insist that everyone who embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is “insecure” or “superstitious” or otherwise somehow deficient (morally? intellectually?).
No. I said that religion and superstition thrive on insecurity, poverty, ignorance, fear, instability and risk. And I pointed to a whole book’s worth of data to back up that claim. Because evidence matters to me. If I was a believer and I found out there were hundreds of happy, fulfilled, moral atheists, I would no longer claim that everyone has a hole in their hearts that can only be filled with God, because such a claim could not be more thoroughly falsified by the data.
Now, is everyone who worships Jesus insecure? I highly doubt it. Are they superstitious? Superstition is “a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge.” That fits religion pretty well, though – following William Rowe – I do think some believers might be “rational” to believe in God in a loose sense of the word. (But in general, I’m not that interested to try to define words like “rational.” I’m more interested in first-order questions such as “Is it true that God exists?”)
Poverty and Religion
Tawa disagrees with the secularization thesis I mentioned, the one defended by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, which says that secularization is very complex but generally follows from settings of existential security, such as those experienced by the people of Northern Europe.
Tawa writes that “The religious state of the world does not support Luke’s cherished secularization thesis.” I disagree. It fits with the Norris-Inglehart thesis quite well. The world was one of extreme existential insecurity throughout its entire history, until the highly developed “welfare states” of Northern Europe came into being during the 20th century – the century in which, according to World Christian Encyclopedia, non-belief jumped from 0.2% of world population to 15.3% of world population, or from 3.2 million people to 918 million people.
I cannot recount the entirety of Norris & Inglehart’s argument here, but let me make a few points. Tawa asks me to defend my claim that “The poorest nations in the world are the most religious.” Here you go: a 2009 gallop poll of 114 nations. Now of course, there are several poor non-believing countries in which atheism was forced on the population by someone like Pol-Pot. But that, too, fits just fine with Norris & Inglehart, because they’re claiming that atheism arises organically from a situation of existential security – such as that found in North Europe.
Why is America the wealthy, religious outlier in the world? Several reasons. For one, it has almost always had an extremely open and competitive religious marketplace, far more so than in any nation in Europe. For another, it provides its citizens with far less existential security than the European welfare states. In America, it’s still quite easy to lose your job, or to lose your home because you get sick and can’t afford the medical bills. That doesn’t happen nearly as much in the European welfare states. Moreover, America has higher rates of violent crime and teen pregnancy than the advanced nations of Europe, and generally has much worse public education through high school.
Finally, it’s worth noting that even America is finally slipping into non-belief. The non-religious are on the rise not just in the country as a whole, but in every single state. Those born after 1980 are leaving the churches in droves, and so America’s secularization may simply be delayed until the adults who were raised in the Old Time Religion are no longer with us. If America ever decides to provide its citizens with health care, job security, and to lessen the gap between the rich and poor (also much higher in the USA than in Europe), then it can kiss religious domination goodbye. But yes, that will take time.
The Experiential Argument
Tawa originally wrote that our “yearning for eternity suggests that we exist for more than just this lifetime.” I replied that just because we wish for something doesn’t make it true. But, Tawa says, our yearning to avoid death is natural to us, and this somehow points to God. I still can’t follow the logic, but anyway: an aversion to death is exactly what evolution predicts. Because death is, you know, bad for reproduction.
As for the rest, I’ll be very brief.
- Tawa says I haven’t indicated how the falsity of the A theory of time would undermine the Kalam cosmological argument. I don’t have to. William Lane Craig admits it, and always has.
- Tawa says that “there is by no means a consensus that… the A-theory [is] false.” True, I haven’t seen a poll taken of physicists. Every physicist I’ve asked about it has said the A Theory is false, and that they don’t know anyone who thinks it is true. And every physics book I’ve read that talks about time rejects the A theory. If Tawa can point to a book or article written by a physicist that defends the A theory of time, that would be fascinating, and I’d be most grateful. Anyway, I’m drafting a whole post series on this right now, but for a primer on the physics of time, see here.
- Tawa says: “Luke accuses the KCA of employing ‘intuitions and language in a slippery and sneaky way,’ but yet again does not demonstrate how.” Did Tawa read the article by Wes Morriston I linked to? I guess not.
- I said that of course an eternal or self-creating universe is problematic, but it’s even more problematic to assert the existence of an eternal or self-creating ‘God’ that is defined as the opposite of everything we experience: a timeless, spaceless, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, brainless person. Tawa says I haven’t substantiated that. Yes I have. See here, here, and here.
- Tawa writes: “I’m not sure why Luke wants to be shown ‘evidence that life has intrinsic value’.” Here’s why: Because evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings. Like I said in my first post, if Christian don’t think they need evidence backing up their arguments for God, then they should stop talking about how there’s so much “evidence” for God and admit they’re believing on faith. You can’t say you’re giving evidence for God, and then when asked for evidence, say “But I don’t need to give evidence!” Don’t be silly.
- Concerning my request for evidence that carbon-based biochemistry has intrinsic value, Tawa says: “Luke is simply setting up an impossible ideal. Neither have I ever seen any evidence that ‘love’ exists, but I don’t doubt that one bit either.” I’m not sure what Tawa means. Love is a fairly well-understood phenomenon, chemically and biologically. There’s tons of evidence for love.
- Tawa’s original support for his claim that objective morality exists was, “deep down everyone knows that morality is objective.” I said that’s no argument, and Tawa seems to agree, for he now says “but that’s not where the argument ends” and links here. In that article, Tawa gives four pieces of evidence that people generally believe in objective morality. But that’s not what I’m disputing. If Tawa wants to make the case against non-cognitivism, I’ll help him out. Here are seven pieces of evidence that people generally believe in objective morality. What I asked for was evidence that such a belief in objective morality is correct.
- I argued that morality grounded in God is not “objective” in a meaningful way. “Objective morality” usually means morality not grounded in the attitudes of a person or persons. Obviously, God-based morality is not objective in that sense, so theists redefine “objective morality” to mean morality not grounded in the attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens. But by this definition, morality grounded in the attitudes of a giant alien would be “objective.” But that’s not what most of us mean by “objective.” So Tawa will have to find a different meaning for “objective” if he wants to say that God-based morality is objective. Tawa says my point is “not applicable,” but it is exactly applicable. It was written to illustrate the silliness of Tawa’s definition of “objective morality” in reference to homo sapiens alone, which he explicitly endorses here. He will have to go with something more sophisticated – perhaps the account of “robust morality” defended by Matt Jordan.
- I also note that Tawa did not respond at all to the McGrew-Vestrup objection to the fine-tuning argument that I linked to, though he is welcome to copy and paste the responses given by Robin Collins and Rodney Holder if he wishes.
At the end, Tawa writes to me directly, saying:
I found it unfortunate that you frequently descend to name-calling and mudslinging in your response.
Where is this name-calling and mudslinging in my post, I wonder? As far as I can tell, two phrases stand out as the “harshest” part of my essay…
I referred to “those who prefer the life of a sheep and a slave.” I did not describe Tawa this way. Moreover, huge swaths of Christianity proudly proclaim that they are “the Lord’s sheep” and “a slave to Christ.” I did precisely that when I was a Christian, and I meant it. I thought it was a good thing.
I also wrote that “The claim that ‘there is… a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God’ is empirically false. It is a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity.” Maybe Tawa doesn’t like my tone, but am I wrong? Tawa claims we all have a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God. But this claim is falsified by hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral atheists – including, as I noted, most of the leading philosophers and scientists in the world. Tawa’s claim could not be more thoroughly falsified. Why would Tawa defend a claim so obviously false? The claim fits quite neatly with similarly outrageous claims that cults make about outsiders to scare cult members from “leaving the flock.” For millions of hell-frightened children and adults, such claims play the same role in Christianity.
If Tawa had something else in mind when he wrote about “name-calling and mudslinging,” I’d like to know what it was.
Okay, enough for now.