Monday, February 14, 2011

Christianity Today: Unreasonable Doubt

Jim Spiegel is a philosophy professor at Taylor University (a Christian College in Indiana, United States). He has published an article in Christianity Today: Unreasoanble Doubt, "The reasons for unbelief are more complex than many atheists let on."

It's interesting to see what a philosophy professor/Christian apologist has to say about why we have failed to be convinced about the existence of supernatural beings.
Paul provides at least part of the answer in the same Romans passage, noting that some people "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (1:18). We all suffer from intellectual blind spots created by personal vices and immoral desires. To the extent that we succumb to these, we may be tempted to adopt perspectives that enable us to rationalize perverse behavior.

In this regard, scholars are no different from anyone else. The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person."

Historian Paul Johnson's fascinating if disturbing book Intellectuals exposed this pattern in the lives of some of the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period, including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre. In their private (and often public) lives, these Western intellectual stars were moral wrecks. Could their rejection of God—and, in particular, Christianity, with its exacting moral standards—have been entirely intellectual and dispassionate? Or might the same desires confessed by Nagel and Adler have played a role in their atheism?
Damn him! He's discovered the secret. My life is a moral wreck and that's why I have to reject God. Can you imagine how my life would be transformed if I ever became a Christian? I'm just not ready for that kind of morality.1

(I assume this is one of those "sophisticated" arguments for religion that we hear so much about.)

[Hat Tip: Canadian Atheist]

1. The University expects its members to use discretion and discernment in their choices of entertainment and recreation (some examples include media, Internet usage, and games). Social dancing is not permitted on or away from campus. However, acceptable forms of expression may include sanctioned folk dances, dances that are designed to worship God, dancing at weddings, and the use of choreography in drama, musical productions and athletic events. Activities and entertainment that are of questionable value or diminish a person's moral sensitivity should be avoided.


  1. I'd like to see the evidence that becoming a Christian actually improves one's moral life. I also thought that wasn't the point of converting anyway.

  2. Spiegel is absolutely correct! I shun religion so I can live a moral free life consisting of getting married at a reasonable age (33) to a man I adore and respect, getting a PhD from a reputable school (UT), having one child that I love more than life itself, hanging out with my mother that I adore and respect, being a part of my community, knitting silly hats for children, donating time and money to local animal shelters...etc.

    Oh yes! What an immoral life I live! I would never be accepted by them good religious folk!

  3. "the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period, including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre."

    Hemingway? Really?

  4. i guess this should be offensive to non-chrisitans as well as atheists but... hey, how could i know, after all my wickedness suppresses the truth

  5. This is, of course, the essential ad hominem at the heart of Evangelical Christianity -- there are no legitimate objections to belief in Jesus, that's all just a smokescreen so us nasty sinners can go on enjoying our sinful lives. That way we deserve to be condemned to eternal torture, right? Otherwise, that doctrine would be too monstrous for any psychologically healthy human to seriously contemplate.

  6. "You guys just don't believe in God so you can go on sinning!"

    "Uh, sinning how, exactly?"

    "Well, not believing in God, of course!"

    [Run in circles. Repeat till vomit.]

  7. Ah 'genuinely religious' ... a wonderful weasel phrase. The Pope was a Nazi, then a deserter, then shopped his Marxist friends to the police, then covered up an decades-long paedophile ring, now campaigns against women's rights, gay rights and AIDS prevention ... well, he's not *genuinely* religious. That's only me and people who agree with me.

    Religious person who rapes a kid = 'not genuinely religious'. Atheist who rapes a kid = motivated solely by his lack of belief in God.

    People are good or bad, regardless of their religious creed, regardless of the strength of their belief.

    And that, ultimately, is the god-killer. We can do good without him. It's easier, in fact.

  8. I once read a story, perhaps true and perhaps not, about a Christian author at a book signing. A young man came up and said he is an atheist. The author told him that he is only an atheist out of rebellion against living a moral life. The atheist said, "No, I just don't accept your beliefs." The author asked some of the young man's friends and found that the kid was living with his girlfriend. Cohabitating. Shacking up.

    The author said "I knew that there was something that the young man was hiding from me, but more importantly, from himself."

    It is hard to take Christians at their word on anything, especially when it comes to morals. They are all living moral lives and setting themselves up as examples, and like Eamon has said, they believe that atheism is a smokescreen.

  9. I have called an emergency family meeting at the local strip club so that we can start our journey toward a life of debauchery. Thanks for the article, we identified ourselves as atheist until now and had never realized this grievous short coming until now.

  10. Just followed the link to the original article, read that, then the comments.

    It's the sensation I always have, reading theists talking about their theism ... seriously? That's it?!

    Even discounting the 'me am creationist, why no scientist-man am take me serious?' stuff, it's just so ... rubbish, isn't it? The great cutting-edge arguments are always elsewhere - even if you're reading Christianity Today, claiming to be engaging with Hawking.

    One comment:

    "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

    He meant it seriously. I mean, that's funnier than if he'd meant it as a joke. Particularly in the context of an article about how atheists mouth tired old articles, then bleats about how something can't come from nothing, in response to a new book about one of the most eminent theoretical scientists in the world that actually gives you the math to explain how somethings are coming from nothing all the time, all around us.

  11. Atheists indulge in all kinds of debauchery and mayhem and then rationalize that there is no God or Hell so that they can go on indulging themselves.

    Christians indulge in all kinds of debauchery and mayhem and then rationalize that Jesus will forgive them of it all, or that the Bible doesn't really condemn debauchery and mayhem (you just have to read it carefully and do some sophisticated interpreting), so that they too can go on indulging themselves.

    So Spiegel really offers a compelling point. Christianity gives two rationalization options, atheism just one. In today's world of consumer choice, Christianity trumps atheism, hands down! Christianity: 2. Atheism: 1. Take that, atheists!

  12. The first chapter of Romans has ruined a lot of good minds. It promotes the "if you don't believe it's because you're sinful" nonsense that I hear from Christians way too often. It promotes the erroneous idea that faith is somehow a virtue, and doubt a vice. The truth is, belief for the sake of belief is not a good thing, and doubt - skeptical inquiry - is not only healthy, but the impetus behind our scientific achievements.

  13. The notion that Paul Johnson is an expert on anything is laughable. Several years ago, amateur historian Mr. Johnson wrote what was purported to be a history of the United States that was universally panned by real historians as being totally bogus and without merit. Prof. Speigel does himself no favors by citing a clown like Mr. Johnson.

  14. including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre.

    How much better it would be to live a moral life, like celebrated Christians Jimmy Bakker, Ted Haggard, Peter Popoff, Kent Hovind, ... here's a list.

  15. @Lone Primate: You're not exaggerating (not much, anyway) and the point deserves emphasizing. In Evangelical thought, it's not just the Big Sins like adultery, grand larceny or substance abuse that are worthy of eternal torture; it's not even the little sins like being snappish with your spouse or fudging on your taxes -- you could get all that stuff right and still get sent to the Big BBQ Below. Ultimately it's all about failing to give God his due sycophancy and obedience -- a requirement so conveniently open-ended and impossible to sufficiently meet that it ensures a lifetime of dependency to keep the guilt at bay.

  16. AL says,

    Atheists indulge in all kinds of debauchery and mayhem ...

    I can't remember the last time I debauched or committed mayhem. Can you do them simultaneously for extra credit?