The Weakness of “Weak” Atheism: Why Faith is Unavoidable Even for Those Who Try (and a debate with Danny Ledonne)

Is atheism characterized by faith in the absence of God or by the absence of faith in God? Regardless of which option is selected, it seems that faith is requisite in something (or someone), and that no faith-free option even exists. I choose faith in Jesus, but I understand that others don’t. What follows is a reflection about the faith atheists necessarily include in their worldview, often without their even knowing it.

Thanks for reading,

-Corbin Lambeth

Perhaps the resurgence of declaring oneself to be a faith-free atheist can be credited to one of the many recent books written by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris etc. Either way, it seems to be in vogue to be what has traditionally been called “weak” atheism. For those of us who are new to this trend, so-called “weak” atheism is not a pejorative term meant as an insult, but rather as a distinguishing mark intended to separate it from the other main branch of atheism (“strong”), which actually makes a palpable truth claim, namely, that God (or gods) do not exist. So-called “strong” atheism is also oftentimes married to “humanism” or “materialism,” which is the philosophical faith-commitment that the material universe is all that exists, and nothing else.

This so-called “strong” form of atheism or materialism is traditionally what people refer to when they say “atheism.” For terms of this discussion, we might also characterize it as “FAITH that God does NOT exist.” But this is exceedingly troublesome for atheists who want to convince themselves that they have no faith whatsoever. In several discussions that I have had, it has become somewhat obvious that atheists (weak or strong) react rather negatively to the suggestion that they have faith, even if it is in someone or something other than the God of the biblical text. They tend to perceive “faith” as some sort of weakness, perhaps because that is what they find so distasteful about Christianity. So to point out to them that their own philosophical (dare I say “religious” dogma) system incorporates a huge amount of faith is troubling indeed.

It is common knowledge that a negative cannot be proved. What this means is that we might come up with any crazy thesis, like that there is a gold-carrying leprechaun at the end of rainbows for example, and then place faith in this because nobody can prove that there isn’t one (at least not all the time anyway). Atheists (of either persuasion) claim that this is just like Christians who think that Jesus is really who he said he was and then ask atheists to prove otherwise. While we can agree that it is indeed impossible to PROVE a negative (that something does not exist), this is quite different from placing FAITH in the idea that something does or does not exist. For example, I have no reason to place faith in the wealth-bestowing leprechaun because there are simply no credible sources in support of them. We might not rule out the idea of its own accord, but in the absence of quality evidence to believe, there is no reason why we should. An atheist might say the same thing of Christianity, but then it becomes an issue of faith about the evidence, for there is evidence for Jesus indeed.

Christians have no a-priori reason to rule out the idea of God’s existence nor the idea that he might love his creation enough to interact with it. But this is not like gold at the end of the rainbow at all, for there are many credible sources that indicate that this God indeed has made himself known through the real person in real time and space in real history of Jesus of Nazareth. This linkage to actual people and events separates Christianity from most of the world’s other religions, even if not Islam, Judaism and Mormonism, but that is somewhat of a secondary issue at the moment. To be direct, the point of citing the impossibility of proving a negative is to highlight the need for atheists to pull their philosophical system from the fire, for “strong” atheism makes the assertion that God or gods do not exist. This “negative” is indeed impossible to prove, so even if we never say anything FOR Jesus, this form of atheism relies on a significant amount of faith on its own accord. As such, most “strong” atheists recognize that the faith-game is up if this is the track that they take, and it has become completely untenable for that very reason. Strong atheism is on the way out it would seem.

But what’s an atheist to do? The answer comes in the form of “weak” atheism which maintains that the label connotes the complete “absence of faith in God (or gods)”, rather than “faith in the absence of God.” The difference here is subtle but important nonetheless, or so atheists would have us believe. This absence of faith in God removes the unsightly and embarrassing faith-nature of “strong” atheism’s claim that God doesn’t exist.

But does it work? Does “weak” atheism (absence-of-belief in God) pull atheism from the fire? I contend that it does not, and here’s why: Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior is never a question of “faith vs. no-faith,” but rather an issue of “faith in Jesus vs. faith in something or someone else.” What I mean is that if I were to remove Christianity from the top of my faith system, it would by necessity leave a vacuum or emptiness, but not for long, for I would have to put something else in its place. The only time we can completely cease thinking and functioning is when we are dead. Even the absolute skeptic claims to know at least one thing, namely, that they cannot know ANYthing. As living people, we automatically incorporate some sort of world-view, even if not Christianity. So to dismiss faith in Christ means that (short of proof) I would have to admit faith in something else. Proof itself is an elusive thing, for how can we prove the reliability of our (or others’) senses in a way that does not depend on those same senses? There is much more to say on that issue, but in terms of the immediate discussion, “weak” atheism simply cannot stand for long on the notion that it has no faith in anything.

While it may be true that weak atheism places no faith in God per se, it is unavoidable that the person who subscribes to this form of atheism places faith in something else. He or she does not exist in a vacuum either, and when confronted with evidence for the biblical narrative, particularly about Jesus of Nazareth, the atheist (of either persuasion) must make a few judgments. They might still maintain that they have no faith in God, but this conclusion must be connected to their dismissal or rejection of the biblical narratives and all the evidence in support of them. As such, they are confronted with the same problem that weak atheism tried so desperately to avoid in the first place: a faith claim, namely that the evidence for Christianity is inadequate or that at the very least, that Christians have gotten it “wrong.” This is not altogether different than a Christian’s own faith that Zeus, or Mohammed’s “Allah” etc. are false gods. They can’t prove it, but they can critically evaluate the evidence for and against them and then make a judgment call. It is faith and reflective thinkers should not troubled by this at all.

Of course a person might even set out to “disprove” all of Christianity’s faith claims and then assert that they no longer have “faith” that the evidence for Jesus is laking, but proof. But historically speaking, this has never been done. Quite to the contrary, oftentimes those who set out to do just that come home as faithful Jesus followers. Alternatively, it seems that much of what is penned in the biblical documents is categorically rejected by atheists merely because it relates events that are not open to scientific inquiry. No matter how much evidence might be marshaled to support accounts of the miraculous, if a person has a prior faith commitment dictating that no such “miracles” are possible, then no evidence will be taken seriously. I can accept such a position, but it rests on nothing more than faith (that miracles cannot occur), and it should be recognized for what it is.

Conversely, if a person is open-minded about what is possible, then some accounts of scientifically inexplicable events (like a crucified man springing back to life) are not automatically ruled out. Once again, even if we ultimately reject the witnesses that reported such events, it is still faith (that the witnesses / documents are unreliable). The only way around this is to prove that biblical documents are completely unreliable, and if that can be done, I freely invite anyone to do so.

Unlike leprechauns and spaghetti monsters, there are several independent accounts of some rather unusual events occurring in 1st century Palestine. I can’t rule them out just because I personally have never witnessed similar events. I’ve never witnessed, heard or seen George Washington either. But if these people actually saw and heard what they say they did, I have to at least consider how they might have gone about relating it to the world. They didn’t have video cameras or audio-recording equipment. They had their 5 senses (the same senses that scientists use in their labs, I might add) and they had language. Unlike later so-called “gnostic” texts like the “Gospel of Thomas,” the New Testament narratives read like eye-witness accounts and secondary sources of those events.

All things considered, I have to ask myself, could these women and men have actually seen and heard the events that we read about in the New Testament? Without a pre-existing faith commitment to a closed universe, I have to answer, “Yes, these stories might actually be true.” Do I “know” that they are true in the same way that I know I’m typing on a computer right now? No, of course not, but I believe both positions nonetheless and have good reasons for doing so. Christians have faith and so does everybody else, even if not it is not invested in the same things, ideas or people. “Weak” atheists might not have faith in God, but they’ve got faith in their conclusions about God, and in that sense, their philosophy is open to the same vulnerabilities of strong atheism and materialism.

What does it all mean? I find this situation immensely encouraging, for oftentimes Christians find themselves fighting against a deceptive tactic which attempts to ridicule them by characterizing the discussion as a fight between fact and faith, or even fact and fiction.  Secular Humanists/ atheists will construct the argument not as if they have faith, but knowledge on their side, while their Christian counterparts are caricatured as possessing little more than fairy tales and superstition for their part. The truth, however, is that nothing could be further from reality. Atheism of all persuasions is not a position that one casually arrives at after simply being exposed to “the facts,” but rather it is a dogmatic tradition that requires its followers to incorporate huge amounts of faith. While these beliefs might be as varied as any we might find across the aisle in the broader Christian community, the fact remains that atheists incorporate all kinds of faith about history, how the universe operates (or doesn’t operate), about humans’ senses and the reliability of oral and written testimonies etc.

Christians can take some solace once they realize the true nature of atheistic arguments: those arguments rest on faith, and in some cases, faith without even a shred of evidence. In discussions and even debates between Christians and atheists, it is never faith vs. fact, but faith vs. faith. As for me, I find the historical character of Jesus of Nazareth to be rather compelling, and I believe that I have interacted with him in my own historical setting. Can I “prove” his reality or my experience with him via the scientific method? No, of course not, but I don’t need to. I believe and have good reasons for doing so.

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin Lambeth

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About C_Lambeth

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's of Science and from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) with a Master's of Divinity. In addition to knowing Christ and helping others know him, I am passionate about peace, the environment, Christian feminism, justice for all (not just the wealthy) and being a lifelong learner. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts here or to suggest new posts altogether. Thank you for reading me! -CL
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42 Responses to The Weakness of “Weak” Atheism: Why Faith is Unavoidable Even for Those Who Try (and a debate with Danny Ledonne)

  1. C_Lambeth says:

    Just so I’m clear, the weakness of weak atheism is not that it incorporates faith, but rather that it pretends not to. The weakness of weak atheism is its own self-deception.

    -CL

  2. Catherine Lambeth says:

    Well done!

  3. Pingback: Marshalling of Facts Part-3 « My Night Dreams

  4. Danny Ledonne says:

    I am impressed by Corbin’s analysis of atheism, “strong” and “weak.” These relationships between atheism may be a bit like the relationship between “fundamentalist” Christians who maintain that the Bible is literally true and “moderate” Christians who view this text as allegorical in nature.



    Though it is tempting to associate an author like Richard Dawkins with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, that is of mere convenience to an author who has been citing examples of other potential gods for much longer than FSM (a 2005 creation by Oregon State physics student Bobby Henderson). Earlier analogies of a similar rhetorical bent, such as Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot, essentially construct the same claim.



    Corbin writes with sincere conviction that faith in God and faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster are not the same because evidence exists for God that does not exist for the FSM. This claim is not surprising; very few modern Christians are likely to be content on faith alone – they believe sincerely in evidence to establish various claims of the Bible. Christians necessarily view Jesus in two contexts: 1) historical claims about his existence on Earth and 2) metaphysical claims about his miraculous origins, deeds, and rebirth. There is a reason Socrates is a figure of historical verifiability and that Jesus is not. This is why the life and miracles of Jesus are not taught in the history class, nor do they appear in secular literature or peer-reviewed journals. Two thousand years later, the miracles of Jesus hold precisely the same truth status as the miracles of other mystics and gurus, though Corbin will resist this conclusion because he is invested in the belief of this particular mystic and not another.



    Speaking of which, consider the miracles of contemporary Hindu mystic Sathya Sai Baba, who was purportedly born of a virgin, raises the dead, levitates, materializes objects, and possesses clairvoyance. Unlike Chris Jesus of the pre-technogical era, one can watch Sai Baba’s videos on YouTube! And prepare to be underwhelmed.

    

While the miracles of Jesus are not recorded in any retrievable format, Sai Baba’s are available online for viewing right now! Millions of people follow him and attended his recent birthday. His followers attest to the very real evidence they encounter firsthand as he performs miracles before them! It is altogether likely that Corbin, like myself, will not follow Sathya or be sufficiently convinced by the videos of his magic powers. Yet the “evidence” for his miraculous abilities far exceed that of the contradictory, amalgamated, hotly-contended tomes of Christ Jesus. The reason for this disparity has nothing to do with the (specious) claims themselves but rather how culturally conditioned and psychologically predisposed we are to them.

  5. C_Lambeth says:

    Thanks to Danny for a thoughtful reply. I think he has incorporated some mistakes, but I appreciate his willingness to engage. I wish more Christians and atheists would follow suit.


    
This is of minor significance, but first off Danny has tried to sweep all biblical interpretive efforts into two, mutually exclusive camps: literal & allegorical. He goes on to use the polarizing descriptors “fundamentalist” & “moderate.” This is a mistake, for the Bible incorporates a variety of different genres, and each of those requires varied interpretive approaches. A person can understand some Bible passages as literal while perceiving others as allegorical without falling neatly into either category of “moderate” or “fundamentalist.” If I was forced to label myself with either of these two options, I would pick “moderate,” but I hold many passages in the biblical text to be quite literal, and I am not particularly unique in that outlook.


    
As for Christians, it has been suggested that they are not content on faith alone but would prefer to connect their faith with evidence. This is an appropriate assessment. Even Martin Luther, who essentially coined the phrase “faith alone” wouldn’t go so far as to say that he believed in Jesus without any evidence at all. Luther’s famous phrase concerned salvation, not reasons for belief in Christ in the first place. I’ve never met a Christian who believed in Jesus without any kind of evidence at all. Indeed, without hearing some sort of information about him, I don’t think anyone could develop a faith position either way. I believe because of the evidence, not in spite of it. A person may still deny the evidence, but there is a big difference between that and not having any to begin with. Even so, evidence is not what “saves” me.



    Danny is also correct in perceiving that Christians often incorporate two categories of belief about Jesus: 1) his historicity and 2) the miraculous events that are reported about his life. These can and should overlap at times, but they are not always the same. After all, there are historical details about Jesus that are not miraculous. Unfortunately, Danny’s argument seems to be that since the miracles surrounding Jesus’ life cannot be verified by our own sensory input, Christ is therefore “not a figure of historical verifiability” (but Socrates is). This is an overstatement. Jesus and Socrates are both figures of historical verifiability, but none of the events, deeds and sayings of their respective lives can be verified empirically today. Such is the nature of most historical events, and the same is true of almost any figure or other event in the past. 



    This is another point of departure between Christianity and many (but not all) other religions. Egyptian, Greek & Hindu pantheons (among others) are largely disconnected from real people, time, space and history. Their gods’ actions allegedly occurred in the astral planes of… not here. Yes, parts of the Bible describe a similar situation, but more often it incorporates real humans, in real time & space, some of which are verified by modern archeological efforts as well as writers contemporary with the 1st century. Yes, other religions have “evidence” via story and narrative, but that is where many of their similarities with Christianity break down. Like You Tube’s Sai Baba, not all evidence is of the same quality. I am not required to believe anything that blows in just because it involves a miracle. I too am somewhat of a skeptic.



    The bottom line that Dawkins (and yes, Bobby Henderson too) has missed is that it’s a logical fallacy to assert that ALL miraculous tales are false just because many (or even most) of them are. Danny may certainly have faith that Jesus’ miracles hold the same truth value as any other religious figure’s alleged deeds, but this is nothing less than faith, and it seems to rest on little more than a logical fallacy. Could it be that he resists this assertion of faith because of his investment in other philosophical frameworks / dogma? I suspect so.

    -CL

    • Danny Ledonne says:

      It was not an effort to “try to sweep all Biblical interpretive efforts into two, mutually exclusive camps” but rather to suggest that these classifications are as common and readily-examined as “weak” and “strong” atheism. Of course, there is a spectrum of belief and non-belief, as well as cleavage between these two concepts.

      Corbin’s distinction with regard to “evidence” is important because, as I have indicated, the concept of faith hinges upon belief without evidence—or rather than evidence is not the impetus for belief. Given the discussion about literal and allegorical interpretations of the Bible, I would argue that there is an inverse correlation between literal/allegorical and faith/evidence. That is to say that the more literally one takes a religious book, the less conviction is drawn from evidence and the more necessary faith becomes.

      • C_Lambeth says:

        I am glad that Danny can see that trying to force the entire biblical text into a single genre is a mistake. As he said, different descriptions and categories of the biblical text deserve examination just like the terms in any other field do. I completely agree, for the task of any biblical interpreter is to understand the text on its own terms, rather than what the reader might otherwise be tempted to project onto it.

        Unfortunately, in his second paragraph Danny reasserts his dogmatic position about the relationship between faith and evidence as he tries to push the entire biblical text back into the literal camp: “the more literally one takes a religious book, the less conviction is drawn from evidence and the more necessary faith becomes.” Danny claims/ believes that “faith hinges upon belief without evidence-or rather than evidence is not the impetus for belief.” I am tempted to ask him how he knows this and if he can offer demonstrable proof. I suspect I know the answer, but rather than focusing too much on the inherent faith nature of Danny’s claim here, let me simply offer an insight into Christian faith itself: It is because of the evidence, not in spite of it. All of Christianity is rooted in real time and space, real history and actual events and the reporting thereof. The Bible is evidence as are other ancient writings like Herodotus’ Histories. It really is that simple.

  6. Danny Ledonne says:

    But If the Bible is taken literally, all sorts of problems arise: How did Noah save all the freshwater fish? Where did the water to flood the entire surface of the Earth go to afterward – since that much water doesn’t exist in the planetary water cycle? Was the Earth really created in six literal days? Where were the dinosaurs during this time? Why do humans have inactive DNA to encode for tails and why do whales have inactive DNA to encode for feet? Why do humans have superfluous organs like the appendix if they have no evolutionary ancestors? God has never grown back the limb of an amputee – yet this routinely happens with salamanders. Does God favor salamanders over humans? A litany of almost unending questions arises for Biblical literalism dependent on evidence, so “faith” is often the panacea Christians use to sweep such troubles under their theological rug.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Most of Danny’s questions here continue to miss the point I am trying to make, which is that the Bible should not always be approached from a literal perspective. The sooner Danny can understand this, the more productive our conversation can be. As a side note, I find it ironic that atheists like Danny try to squeeze the biblical text into a literal mould as much as Christian fundamentalists do. Both sides want to insist that just about everything is literal but for very different reasons. Danny’s questions on this front would be better aimed at his literalist opposition than at myself. In fact, he might just discover me as a refreshing ally when it comes to pressing my fundamentalist brethren for coherent answers about their literal interpretations.

      The one question of Danny’s in his last paragraph that merits some light is his insinuation that if God allows for a salamander’s limb to grow back (but not a human’s), it indicates that God loves the regenerative amphibian more than humans. There are several problems with the logic there, not least of which is that Danny presumes a hierarchy amongst God’s creation and which animals are more loved than others. Such an imaginative hierarchy has more to do with Darwinian thought and modern, Western values of utility than it does with the Christian worldview itself. The biblical text indicates that humans are as much the result of God’s handiwork as are any other creatures, and that God does indeed care for all of his creation, humans and animals alike. It is even possible that animals which suffer with the rest of creation on earth might be restored in the new heaven and earth. Nevertheless, the Bible is aimed at moral creatures, so it doesn’t address this issue to the degree we might otherwise prefer.

      As for the particulars of this argument of regenerating limbs, surely Danny is aware that humans have many other qualities that supersede those of the salamander. Humans’ life span and cognitive ability come to mind just to name two. Evolutionary theory explains why a variance of skills and physical attributes remains between humans and their fellow creatures. Would Danny argue that lions are also superior to humans because of their stronger muscles, speed, and big pointy teeth? If so, it might seem that he does not understand evolution very well.

  7. Danny Ledonne says:

    My central contention in this reply is not about Christianity but rather atheism itself.



    I must start by confessing that I do not know what it means to be a Christian. I do not know what a Christian truly feels or thinks upon waking up each morning. Corbin’s writing in one passage was very revealing and insightful to me in this way: “if I were to remove Christianity from the top of my faith system, it would by necessity leave a vacuum or emptiness, but not for long, for I would have to put something else in its place.”

    Corbin writes about a “faith system” which he imagines all humans must have, one which MUST be filled by “faith in Jesus vs. faith in something else.” Perhaps for Corbin this is true. But for me this is not. Corbin writes of a non-believer’s disdain for the concept of faith – and rightly so – because a non-believer who greatly admires and aspires to faith is a confused non-believer, indeed.



    It is tempting, then, to view atheism as a “philosophical system” that, as Corbin perceives, atheists must “pull from the consuming fire” through rhetorical assertions about being unable to prove a negative. But non-belief is not analogous to belief; atheism is not a religion. There is no specific text, cultural tradition, or even overarching moral structure to atheism. “Atheism” is merely a term coined by believers to describe those who do not believe. To identify someone as an “atheist” is a descriptively-empty term because it makes no positive qualifiers; it merely indicates that such a person does not believe in a particular religious deity. That is why one cannot ascribe the brutality of Pol Pot or Josef Stalin in terms of their non-belief anymore than non-belief could account for the successes of Bruce Lee or Kurt Vonnegut.


    
Some atheists have suggested the term “atheist” to be fundamentally flawed and dissolved or replaced altogether. Some have tried without success to find another word, such as “brights.” We do not have a word for those who do not believe in alchemy, faeries, or Celestial Teapots. We (“atheists”) do not refer to ourselves as “aThorists” although we aren’t likely to believe in the Norse god anymore than the Christian God. An atheist, then, is merely a way to describe someone who is skeptical about the claims that others believe in. In a very real sense, the concept of atheism stems from a large demographic of believers, not non-believers themselves. As Pirsig writes, “When on person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”


    
Most atheists who were never religious to begin with, myself included, have no real understanding of what a “faith system” even really is. I do not pray. I do not engage in any activity that resembles the attempt to directly dialogue an alleged higher power in the manner that intercessory prayer represents. I do not imagine that loved ones are being protected by invisible means. I do not believe anyone watches over me while I shower, sleep, or eat breakfast – with a possible exception being Dick Cheney. But all jocular humor aside, I am sincere in my admission to being entirely outside this “faith system” of which Corbin imagines atheists must necessarily engage as do Christians such as he.


    
Some Christians who later became atheists have done a good job of describing this in terms I can understand. One such man, a computer programmer, described his Christian life as running a simulation of God in his own mind—and failing to realize it was his mind, not God, running this simulation. When attempting to access divine inspiration, through prayer or other means, this man explained that this simulation felt as if an entirely separate entity from himself – a mind within a mind that guided him. Of course, after much introspection, research, and study, he concluded that “God” was an invented concept. The closest I have come to understanding faith, in my friendships and dialogs with true Christians, have led me to the conclusion that the concept of God is a psychological adaptation for feeling protected by surrogate fatherhood.

    Much of the rest of Corbin’s post is dedicated to the defense of miracles, which I do not wish to delve into here because it hinges upon the faith claims he has already made. As someone who lives without “faith,” I reject wholesale the notion that I fill my moral superstructure with any similar concept in its stead. Faith is simply not a part of my life—in terms of atheism or otherwise. I do not ride an airplane, microwave my dinner, burn a data DVD, or txt my friend to ask about going to a movie on the basis of faith. I understand the scientific underpinnings of all these activities – and those I do not (such as the origins of the universe) I am willing to be honest enough to admit, “I do not know.” And I greatly prefer it that way because for me, “faith” is a word we use when we have surrendered our own agency to make change or our intellectual capacity at understanding.


    The notion that atheists have “faith” in something other than God misses the point entirely as to what non-belief actually is.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      I understand that atheism may not always be identified as a religion per se. Nevertheless, those who loosely identify with that label seem to hold onto a set of beliefs rather religiously even if those are a bit different from the atheist’s next door. Similarly, there is a core of Christian dogma that all believers (or at least most) incorporate, even though I’ve yet to meet even 2 Jesus followers who believe the exact same thing about everything, especially doctrine and other things non-essential. Thankfully it is God’s grace that grants salvation, and not that each Christian believes precisely the right thing about everything. But I digress.

      

I can appreciate Danny’s sensitivity about my assertion that he has indeed incorporated faith into his worldview. Having one’s worldview challenged is rarely comfortable. Yet even in his recent posts defending the faithlessness of atheism, a large degree of faith has seemed to work its way in. This is a key part of my original thesis that it takes faith to be an atheist. As Danny has demonstrated, faith has become such part and parcel of the system that it is not even recognized as such. In one sense, that is the major difference between atheism and Christianity. Christians recognize and embrace the faith component whereas many atheists deny it or try to find a way around it. Of course I would love it if Danny would open his mind to Christ, but given his prior (faith) commitments, I think that mere recognition of those commitments would be legitimate progress. Atheists may not admire, aspire or even admit to faith, but this doesn’t mean that their worldview is devoid of it, and it seems that Danny has incorporated quite a bit of faith in his outlook thus far, even if unwittingly.

      

As such, it seems that my original critique of weak atheism stands. While I don’t contest that Danny has no faith in Jesus per se, he has quite a bit of faith in various ideas and hypotheses about Jesus. In fact, I count no less (but maybe more) than 8 statements that have been expressed by Danny in faith.



      According to Danny’s posts above, readers are to take it on faith that:


      1) All accounts of the miraculous are of similar truth value.

      
2) Jesus is not a figure of historical verifiability.

      3) Cross categorically, videos found on the internet best historical & archaeological evidence.

      
4) The accounts of Jesus’ life are unreliable and “specious.”

      5) Belief systems are nothing more than the result of cultural conditioning and psychological disposition. (Except for Danny’s?)

      
6) All religions are little more than mass delusions or mental projections.

      
7) He (Danny) has no faith.

      
8) Faith indicates the surrender of people’s agency and intellectual capacity. (Except for Danny’s?)

      

Of course it is possible that Danny has not faith, but proof for each of these assertions, so I invite him to present his proof if that is the case. But for some of these statements, numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 in particular, proving one instance (or even several) is insufficient, for it would only take one single exception to upend his entire hypothesis. To be devoid of faith therefore, weak atheism must prove itself in each and every case, past, present and future. I don’t think such exhaustive proof is possible, but I could be wrong. I am open to wherever the evidence leads.

      As for Danny’s post about the life of a Christian, he has made some unnecessary assumptions. While individual behavior is far less predictable, in a large-group format I would suspect that the life of a Christian in middle class, white America is remarkably similar to an atheist of a comparable setting. Excluding churchy things and some ethical nuances, most of these groups’ activities are probably very similar. While I certainly pray and study the Bible, its history, cultures and how it can impact me in the present, decisions to go to the movies or to take a flight aren’t big faith-events for me either. However, I think we are kidding ourselves if we deny on any level that we have some faith about what going to a movie or stepping onto a plane might entail, namely, entertainment and a safe landing in our destination of choice. That kind of faith may be of a different order or magnitude than faith about Jesus, but it is still faith. 


      The problem seems to center on faith about what is and is not possible in the universe. A Christian is open to the possibility that God exists and has acted in the cosmos whereas an atheist (in general) seems to be closed minded about the existence of something beyond the material universe and therefore closed to the possibility that God exists or has acted in that universe. Short of proof either way, a faith commitment of some sort is unavoidable. 


      That’s the big picture, but on a micro level it gets even more prickly to deny all faith. What does an atheist say about Jesus? Was he a liar, lunatic, legend or what? Even if one asserts that there is not enough evidence to come to a conclusion about Jesus that is still a faith commitment. Put another way, even if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. I merely assert that whatever you decide has incorporated a faith commitment unless you can prove your position. So how about it Danny, who and what do you say Jesus is/ was?



      Thanks for the conversation, Danny. I look forward to your reply.

      -CL

  8. Danny Ledonne says:

    My contribution to this blog is limited to the point-by-point rebuttals I have already given.

    I know it’s tempting for you to think your arguments are so powerful that atheists run away, but your insistence to reject the very premises of a debate and write as though I haven’t already provided examples and evidence for my claims gives the impression that my words are falling upon deaf ears. It is frustrating and I can think of no positive gains to come from a perpetual “conversation” in which I cannot be accorded the basic understanding of my position.

    So yes, until you are wiling to understand that it is not incumbent upon non-believers to prove their non-belief, and until you are willing to see transparently honest arguments for what they are, I imagine you’re going to drive off most people who disagree with you because you provide no intellectual hospitality despite your disingenuously cordial tone.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      The problem is, Danny, that your “rebuttals” merely retrench your previous faith claims while offering no proof and little elaboration other than a few anecdotal stories. I have asked you to tell how you know what you know, but it seems that you have little to appeal to other than opinion and your own dogmatic faith claims.

      As I said to you in our Facebook dialog, I have yet to encounter an atheist who didn’t either start slinging mud or abscond (or both) when I begin to question their foundational dogma. Your recent colorful language accusing me of being “intellectually inhospitable” and “disingenuously cordial,” along with your looking to make an exit indicate that you are not particularly different. This is disappointing but not altogether surprising.

      I am willing to understand your position, but I am not willing to pretend that it contains no inconsistencies, logical fallacies or problems in general. It seems that you are unwilling to apply the same level of scrutiny to your own beliefs as you are with those of others’. I would think that you would want to engage those problems rather than merely dismissing any criticisms launched against them. I invite anyone to engage and pleasantly critique my faith in Christ. I want to believe the truth, not a nice even if inspiring fictive story.

      Of course I am willing to see that it is not incumbent upon non-believers to prove their non-belief. I fear that I have miscommunicated if that’s what you think I have been arguing. My point has always been that atheism (and Christianity) encompass belief structures that are not provable and this is what we call faith. You are welcome to believe that there is no God or gods, just as you are welcome to believe in an amoral universe, or that you have no faith etc. These things are not hard for me to understand in the least. The problem comes when you assert knowledge, rather than faith, and at that point, the burden of proof is on the person who claims not belief, but unassailable facticity. So again I ask that you tell us how you “know” what you “know,” but I also ask that you have enough cognizance to discern between faith and knowledge, for I know that one can easily be confused with the other.

      I hope you won’t disengage, Danny, but that remains entirely up to you. I can’t force you to step up to the challenge, but I can offer an open invitation. When spoken with civility, my ears will remain open to what you have to say.

      -CL

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  11. Annonymous says:

    Corbin, I can’t help but feel you’re making a special pleading for accepting the validity and veracity of claims of Christian miracles while dismissing those of other faiths. If you have some evidence (and its being extra-biblical should go without saying) for any one miracle, and I’ll even let you choose which one you want to defend, please provide it. Otherwise you are the one making the a priori assumption.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Anonymous,

      I am honored that you would answer the call and join the conversation. Thank you for your participation. I hope that you won’t be a hit-and-run poster.

      Your insinuation that I am engaging in “special pleading” is a bit perplexing to me. I have not argued for any special treatment of biblical faith claims. What I HAVE done is assert that all accounts of miracles should not be judged on the basis of some. This is a thoroughly logical position. What Danny has asserted is that since we can all agree that some miraculous stories are bogus, we should therefore conclude that ALL miracles are fictitious. I am with him on the first part, but the conclusion is completely unwarranted.

      As for your request that I defend a biblical miracle without appealing to the Bible, I must confess that this is an old page torn straight out of the atheist playbook and it does nothing more than stealthily stack the deck. To help make my point, I will concede to defend a biblical miracle without use of the best evidence for it AFTER you can provide some evidence (ANY evidence) that human senses yield reliable data (and it goes without saying that you cannot use our sensory perception to defend our sensory perception, for that would be a circular argument indeed). Good luck.

      A priori assumptions: Yes, I have several, one of them being that our faculties of perception yield reliable data. I hope I have not implied that I have no faith commitments. My point has always been not that I have none, but that Danny, and indeed all atheists, DO incorporate a-priori faith positions, It merely seems as though they are unwilling to acknowledge them. What faith assumptions have you incorporated?

      Thanks for your engagement; I appreciate it.
      -CL

  12. Danny Ledonne says:

    Flatly stated: like most atheists, I reject the notion of “miracles” because the concept itself necessitates a suspension of rational inquiry and logical cognition. It is not out of “faith” that a reject a specific set of miraculous claims but rather Corbin’s faith that foists certain miraculous claims on a pedestal worthy of organizing his life around. A rejection of miracles requires no investment in philosophical frameworks / dogma, merely the absence of such adherence.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny’s conclusion on miracles is unfortunate and unmerited. At some point he must come to terms with the fact that belief in miracles (at least in the narratives surrounding Christ) is because of the evidence and rational inquiry and logical cognition, not in spite of these things. The bottom line is that rational, intelligent humans witnessed some amazing things surrounding the life of Christ, and they told others about these things. It really is that simple. These women and men used the same 5 senses and deductive reasoning to make heads and tails of what they witnessed as do scientists in the laboratory. For atheists to assert anything else (like “the suspension of rational inquiry and logical cognition”) is to demonstrate abject ignorance and/or unreasonable bias against the evidence.

      Contra Danny’s assessment, indeed, even demonstrated in what he has written above, his rejection of miracles incorporates a huge investment in the philosophy of secular humanism, which indoctrinates its adherents to have faith that miracles are not possible and that all evidence for them must be categorically rejected regardless of the evidence. This isn’t just faith; it is blind faith.

  13. Danny Ledonne says:

    While secularists are free to disagree about any number of issues, they remain within the same metaphysical realm and agree to such. The value of secular humanism comes from a common understanding of present circumstances that can be measured in finite space and time – in contrast with the eternal expanse of afterlife that God has allegedly appropriated for his most devoted grovelers. Corbin will never find two atheists arguing over which one’s organic matter will decompose more rapidly after death, yet he can visit any number of denominations of Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faith and find hotly-contested debates about who will be allowed passage into Heaven and who must spend eternity with rock musicians, homosexuals, and the Hollywood elite in the flames of Hell.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny’s argument here seems to be that since secular humanists only deal with the physical universe, any other faith system that incorporates the spiritual universe must be invalid. The argument is muddled at best, or completely devoid of logic at worst.

      The rest of the paragraph leans on a ad hominem argument that presumes Christianity to be false for the mere fact that not all religious believers (let alone just Christians) agree on everything. This calls into question Danny’s awareness of how much disagreement there is within the scientific community itself on any number of issues, or that professional witnesses are often called to participate in trials and congressional hearings, and that they contradict each other and offer conflicting interpretations of the evidence with alarming regularity. By Danny’s logic, they (and the enterprises they represent) are all invalid and have suspended rational inquiry and logic etc. Like most other aspects of Danny’s writing here, it seems that he engages in special pleading for his own faith commitments, methodologies and inconsistencies while attacking those of others. This deserves criticism. My original critique of “weak atheism” stands unchallenged.

      As a final note on this comment, my understanding of Jesus/ Christianity is that “salvation” is not contingent upon “groveling” enough or believing the right thing about everything, but rather receiving God’s grace. I must be open to the possibility that I have not “arrived” or adopted the correct theology or stance on everything, but that Christ’s grace nevertheless remains sufficient for me despite my shortcomings. So while I may disagree with other Christians (and Muslims and Jews) on certain issues, I judge the eternal destiny of no one, and I wish my fellow Christians would learn from Jesus’ words on the issue (See Matthew 7.1 & Luke 6.37).

  14. Danny Ledonne says:

    Corbin’s “original critique of weak atheism” is likely to stand so long as he runs a blog in which a “faith system” is an assumed concept – which he has still failed to prove exists. Instead, he has moved the goal posts of his own claims further out, now asserting that my faith has been carefully concealed but must indeed remain. These are the emperor’s new clothes and Corbin’s argument depends on their existence. Yet I remain naked, standing without any faith garments on my person.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Yes, my original critique of weak atheism stands until it encounters evidence and argument to the contrary. So far, Danny has supplied neither of these things without incorporating a significant amount of faith himself. That he remains blissfully unaware of this or unwilling to see it is perplexing, but it does indeed prove how difficult it can be to overturn the dogmatic principles, philosophies and faith commitments that one has built his or her life upon. In that sense, once again, Danny seems to have far more in common with Christian fundamentalists than he may realize.

      -CL

  15. Danny Ledonne says:

    If anything, the thrust of my arguments would denote that readers are to take nothing on faith – and certainly not my claims. And, on a point-by-point basis, here’s why:

    1. “Accounts of the miraculous” that can be verified with scientific methodology are no longer miracles. Early accounts of disease, thunderstorms, and fossils of extraordinary size all smack of miraculous claims. Yet the epidemiology, meteorology, and archeology have dispatched of the miraculous status of these accounts. Presently, no testable evidence exists to explain immaculate conception, levitation, resurrection, and eternal, non-physical mind. I am an atheist only because these accounts of the miraculous remain devoid of rational explanation.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny’s first argument here seems to be that because some events have naturalistic explanations, they must all fit into that paradigm. This is the some-therefore-all fallacy (or what might also be called the association fallacy, or hasty generalization) a logical misstep that fails to consider exceptions to the rule i.e., that some events might have supernatural explanations, and it only takes one to upend the entire argument. In the resurrection of Jesus, we have such a supernatural explanation (indeed the only possible explanation given the evidence).

      The second fallacy that Danny uses here is that something must be testable in order to count as valid knowledge. This has already proven to be false in the case of events in the distant past, and it holds for future events as well as other types of knowledge (Did my dead grandmother love me?). It would seem that Danny is only an atheist because he has faith that if something is not testable it is devoid of rational explanation. Put another way, Danny believes that a higher power exercising its free-will in a cause and effect relationship does not qualify as a rational explanation. I disagree, but either way it reinforces my thesis that Danny relies on faith, and lots of it.

      As a final point in this response, it is important to note that the absence of evidence is not evidence for the absence. Just because there is an absence of the kind of explanation that Danny wants (scientific?), this is not evidence against miracles. To force the scientific method in researching the miraculous is simply the wrong tool for the job.

      -CL

  16. Danny Ledonne says:

    2. I am somewhat agnostic with regard to the historical verifiability of Jesus, ergo I could be wrong. Nonetheless, Readers should peruse “The Case Against The Case for Christ” by Robert M. Price or “Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore” by Alan Dundes. I think there is a strong case to be made, based on the oral history of Jesus prior to Paul or Mark, that Jesus is a mythological iteration with the same basic chronology of events and miracles as Oedipus, Osiris, Dionysus, and Horus. At present, I tend to believe (based on this evidence) that Jesus is a historical amalgamation of several earlier mythological figures.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      This is the most honest and appreciated of Danny’s writings thus far. He freely admits that he may have come to the wrong conclusions about Jesus but that he nevertheless has faith about Christ because of what a few authors have written about Jesus. Exposure to the musings of a few authors has lead Danny to believe (or reinforced already existing faith) “that Jesus is a historical amalgamation of several earlier mythological figures.” I have to wonder if Danny believes that Robert Price and Alan Dundes are objective, uninterested and unbiased authors who passively write about these subjects because they have nothing more interesting to do. But honestly, what else can I say? Danny has faith based on evidence.
      Me too.

      -CL

  17. Danny Ledonne says:

    3. Videos found on the Internet are compelling to those who wish to believe in them. Assuming he viewed them, neither Corbin nor I are convinced by the videos of Sathya Sai Baba. However, videos I can view on the Internet are more likely to persuade me than Ray Comfort telling me that the banana is the “atheist’s nightmare” because it appears designed to fit in the shape of my hand (the domesticated banana plant is actually evidence for evolution by natural selection – or unnatural selection in the case of human horticulture). Corbin will rightly recognize Ray Comfort for the straw man he is – and as such the burden of proof remains on Christians like him to produce evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he flew up into the sky three days after certain death, or that he is watching me as I type this response. I don’t envy Corbin’s burden; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Ah, the modern rendition of Hume’s argument: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But before I get to that, I’d just like to remind us that Danny’s insistence that the burden of proof is someone else’s to bear has already been addressed above and merits no further attention until he can prove his case on the matter.

      Back to Hume’s dictum. I wonder what would constitute “extraordinary” evidence for ol’ Hume. Would not a man walking around, spry as a spring chick, eating, talking, hugging and being hugged perhaps as little as 36 hours after being brutally executed and buried count as “extraordinary”? If not that, then what? Did Hume expect pictures, an audio recording or video tape? Given Hume’s era, I doubt it, so the question remains. Could it be that he demands certain types of “extraordinary” evidence knowing full well that they don’t exist simply to justify his rejection of Christ? Talk about cognitive dissonance.

      Of other concern is that Hume merely started from the position that extraordinary evidence does not exist for miracles and then hastily concluded that all of them were unworthy of attention. Stated another way, Hume taught that people should “believe” according to the greatest evidence, which always “outweighs” the lesser amount of evidence. Hence, the greatest amount of evidence indicates that people do not rise from the dead, walk on water etc.

But what is alarming here is that Hume seemed to equate truth with quantity. This can lead to odd conclusions like “the universe is devoid of all life,” or, “since most of the people in the world believe in a higher power, that power must exist.” Hume’s argument relies on a logical fallacy.

      Another concern leads back to my initial response, namely that Hume seemed far too willing to bend the evidence to fit his theory rather than vice versa. If Hume had actually witnessed a miracle with his own sober and conscious faculties, he would still have to deny the experience, the evidence and the miracle if he were to persist with his faith that one should only believe according to the greatest amount of evidence. Never mind about the particulars of how he defines “greatest evidence,” I am skeptical of any dictum that requires the suspension of my own faculties, reason, experience etc. merely because I have witnessed something that has thus far been outside the average daily experience of my life and that of greater humanity. I do not deny the fact that almost EVERYONE in ALL times and ALL places stays dead after they die (at least in our present reality). One miraculously resurrected man is insufficient to overturn that paradigm, but this does not mean that said resurrection did not occur. Hume (as I understand him) seemed unwilling to come to terms with his hasty conclusion/ fallacy, and this has yet to be addressed.

      -CL

  18. Danny Ledonne says:

    4. The accounts of Jesus’ life are varied and contradictory. To apologists like Lee Strobel in “The Case for Christ,” such contradictions ironically constitute reliability. Let the facts fit the conclusion, it would seem! What remains of Jesus’ life are miraculous claims that modern medicine cannot duplicate and modern physics cannot explain. This is apparently a source of vindication for Christians and atheists alike, so the readers can decide for themselves who is fooling oneself.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Some variance in eyewitness accounts does indeed attest to reliability and the absence of doctored evidence. Historians, reporters and cops have all known this for a long time. That being said, wildly differing stories can indicate manipulation, but they can also indicate that the reporting party had a unique perspective or circumstances. In the case of the biblical text, many apparent contradictions have reasonably plausible explanations and the ones that would seem mutually exclusive are either absent or of little consequence in the light of the full weight of the source material and overarching narrative. If Danny is anything like other atheists on this matter, he is bound to change the goalposts at some point and argue that since there is so much overlap between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), they cannot be trusted as independent sources. Which one is it? Wait and see.

      As for the rest of Danny’s 4th installment, he doubles back to his faith that if modern medicine and the present understanding of physics cannot explain something, then it didn’t happen. I also hope readers can see this argument for what it is.

      -CL

  19. Danny Ledonne says:

    5. Corbin cannot resist classifying atheism as a “belief system” that I have already exhaustively demonstrated that no set of specific beliefs unite all atheists. While the tenuous underpinnings of secular humanism have common points of reference, there is no text that unites are non-believers anymore than claiming all non-consumers of ice cream are nonetheless standing with cone in hand, licking up a scoop of something. And yes, the correlation between geographic region and likelihood of a specific religious adherence is very, very high – to the point where decisive claims are regularly made about “a Christian nation” or “a Muslim nation.” No country with a plurality of non-believers have similar associations in their lives. The wrenches in religious homogeneity, such as globalization and secularization, are the main reasons that such tribal belief matrices are beginning to erode.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny’s argument here seems to be that since all atheists cannot affirm the same set of specific beliefs, they must not be part of a belief system. Then to come at the issue from a slightly different angle, Danny argues that a unified text is required for a belief system. There are several things here worthy of note, the first of which is a reminder for Danny that earlier he argued against Christianity because not all Christians agree on the same issues. If applied consistently, then by his own standard Christianity must not be a “belief system” either. This is a variation of the “special pleading” fallacy wherein a proponent asks for different standards or special exceptions to be used in measuring his or her own beliefs/ claims against those of others. Danny’s argument is unglued.

      Secondly, Danny seems to be unaware that the earliest Christians did not have a New Testament text either. Perhaps he will change his tactics and argue that all Christians are unified by a subset of ideas even if not always accessible within a written text. I don’t necessarily argue against that point, but as soon as we let that in the door, atheism falls under the same paradigm. Danny is being inconsistent here, but let’s go one step further and focus on his specific faith in humanism. Even if he doesn’t carry around the humanist manifesto, he certainly carries around its subset of ideas and beliefs (about the scientific method in particular). Try as he might, the fact remains that Danny is not blazing a new trail at all. He is following in the footsteps of others even if he has incorporated various nuances on various issues that are a unique amalgamation. There’s little else I can say except that Danny is not being consistent and that he shares far more in common with other atheists than he may realize.

      -CL

  20. Danny Ledonne says:

    6. Religions consist of broad, expansive concepts with psychological, sociological, economic, and geopolitical components. However, the currency of religiosity – “faith” – can be understood as forms of mass delusion or mental projection. As neurological research into religious belief is further studied, these claims will be born out in brain scans. Since Corbin has indicated an aversion to link-dropping, I will only allude to an article in Time Magazine that can be produced in a Google search called “What Your Brain Looks Like on Faith.”

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny has produced yet another knotty faith claim, namely, he has FAITH that people OF faith suffer from a “mass delusion or mental projection.” If he can prove this to be the case in all instances in all times and places, then I gladly invite him to do so, and I will happily withdraw my assertion that he has leaned upon faith for this particular argument. I suspect that Danny can muster no such proof (and that he won’t even try), but I’ll leave that up to him. Until then, he is welcome simply to believe that people of faith suffer from delusion, but since he does so in faith, he falls victim to his own argument. Stated another way, when Danny’s argument is pressed to its logical conclusion, there is really only one thing we can say: He is suffering from a delusion.

      But to set aside Danny’s faith for the moment, he has also made use of the association fallacy in this effort to attack Christianity. That particular logical misstep jumps to the unnecessary conclusion that all claims of a certain persuasion are false merely because some claims of a similar persuasion are false. Relating to the present discussion, since some articles of faith are the result of delusion or projection, Danny slovenly assumes that all faith claims are bankrupt. Of course I do not dispute that some individuals suffer from delusions and mistake their mental projections for reality. Danny’s persistent appeals to faith in support of his claiming to not having any might qualify. Nevertheless, it simply does not follow that because some individuals suffer from such ailments, everyone else must as well, especially if the only criteria used to make such claims is whether a person consciously proclaims having faith or not. To use another example from the atheist’s playbook, they will often argue that all religions and faith claims are false because some (or even many) such claims are false. Once again, the conclusion does not follow the evidence. I have written about this more extensively elsewhere, but the bottom line is that Danny’s argument here is useless.

      But let’s talk about brain scans. This is yet another, predictable pattern run from the atheist playbook. The argument asserts that since certain parts of the brain demonstrate activity when a person speaks of faith or has a “spiritual” experience, this merely indicates a natural neural phenomenon (or disorder, as Danny believes), rather than anything that is mystical or actually corresponds with objective reality. The problem is that this argument also rests on materialistic/ atheistic faith and fails to consider that actual spiritual realities may be the source of the brain’s response.

      Consider this example: I recently watched a scientism show hosted by Morgan Freeman called “Into the Wormhole” in which a variation of this same brain-scan argument was deployed. In the show, a psychology professor created what he called the “God Helmet” that unwitting volunteers would wear during experiments. Targeting only specific areas of the brain, the helmet passed low-level radio waves and electrical impulses into the gray-matter of participants, and it almost invariably elicited a response from the test-subjects in which they professed “feeling” like otherworldly spirits or entities were close to them and attempting to interact with them. The conclusion that the psychologist wanted the audience to draw was that there was nothing to these kinds of faux “spiritual” experiences except radiation and/or other neurological disorders and manipulators of false-positives. People who have dabbled in psychotic drugs and other hallucinogens relate similar types of experiences, so I can see why uncritical thinkers might be tempted to jump to conclusions and make use of the association fallacy one more time. To be clear, the argument here is that since some perceptions of spiritual “realities” can be induced synthetically, all such perceptions are bogus. Will this fallacy ever die? The logic alone fails to make the atheist’s case, but there is more here to consider.

      If this researcher’s “God-Helmet” demonstrates that the brain can be manipulated to produce false-positives for so-called “spiritual” entities, then the only thing this proves is that the brain can be manipulated to produce false-positives for “spiritual” entities. Are we really supposed to believe that this is a profound discovery? It says absolutely nothing about legitimately perceived sources. Would we be impressed if researchers demonstrated that the brain can be manipulated to “hear” audible sounds when no sounds were actually present and then used this to claim that actual sound waves were merely mental projections and/ or that people who reported hearing them were delusional?

      So I’d like to offer a different perspective on what brain scans are actually telling us about the human brain. It seems to me that our brains were built (or evolved) to have perceptive abilities tuned to spiritual realities. Stated another way, brain scans undeniably prove that humans have the means to perceive things beyond use of the standard five senses (tasting, touching, smelling, seeing and hearing). If they are going to enlist such scans for their cause, atheists must brace for the argument to cut in ways they might not intend. Due to the hard physical evidence, atheists must acknowledge that human brains are equipped to perceive things that transcend the 5 basic senses. Their arguments would be far stronger if they could prove on a neurological level that humans simply had no way to perceive spiritual entities with any of their senses. Unfortunately for them, the evidence does not support that line of thought.

      Even more tellingly, this brain-scan business forces us to ask the question: Why is the human brain capable of perceiving such things to begin with? If spiritual entities and sources of perceptible input do not exist, then how did our brains get equipped to perceive them? Atheists like Richard Dawkins believe that these perceptive abilities are merely holdovers from an un-evolved or primitive brain that hasn’t come into fruition (and yes, he thinks he is more evolved than Christians).1 But his argument is completely devoid of evidence and heavily leans on the blindest of faith. Do we see any kind of spiritual practices or religious systems in our closest evolutionary cousins? As far as I know, the answer is “no.” In fact, the actual taxonomical evidence regarding spiritual experiences and practices amongst our planet’s creatures demonstrate the exact opposite: It is only the MOST intelligent and evolved organisms (humans) that seem equipped to perceive spiritual input. In light of this, I think we should consider that perhaps Richard Dawkins has some evolutionary catching up to do.

      Finally, we must consider that perception of spiritual/ mystical/ heavenly beings is only one component of Christian faith. Yes, the Bible indicates incidents that seem to lean on a person’s perceptive abilities that transcend the standard 5 senses. Prophets who “hear” the voice of God or interact with angels in a private setting might qualify, and this might also be what is happening during Jesus’ teaching in John 12:27-29 and Paul’s experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-7), when certain people clearly heard the voice of God while others only reported strange sounds or “thunder.” It would certainly seem that God can choose to speak to or reveal himself in exclusive ways according to his purposes at different times, and this is where the human brain makes use of perceptive abilities that transcend the usual senses.

      However, it would be a mistake for us to assume that all such encounters with God/ the spiritual realm are only accessed through the brain’s spiritual perceptiveness. If Paul’s conversion experience in the Road to Damascus story took place through the standard human senses of touch, hearing and vision, then no special reliance on individualized, supra-experiential cognitive perceptiveness is required in the least. Similarly, no god-helmet type explanation is necessary for people to perceive a man who had been brutally executed just a few days previously now walking, talking, eating, laughing and hugging (spry as a spring-chick I might add) around Jerusalem. Jesus’ fantastic resurrection after a brutal execution requires a miracle for an explanation, but for the reporting witnesses, it does not demand any great exception to the five standard senses that humans rely on every day (scientists included).

      So back to Danny’s argument #6. His rationale here first confirms my thesis that he has faith and relies on it more than he knows. Secondly, his leaning on brain-scan research implicitly acknowledges that our brains are created to sense, perceive and yes, respond to, spiritual realities and hence, that religious adherents over the ages experienced something legitimate (or at least could have). I actually appreciate this line of thinking very much.

      -CL

  21. Danny Ledonne says:

    7. As I have attempted to demonstrate, the concept of faith is one foreign to my life. I can talk about “hoping” for something good to happen, I can be “optimistic” about future events, and I can have “confidence” in a friend or colleague, but all of these concepts are informed by my best judgment as presented by evidence. I am wary of veering into extended semantics, but suffice to say that I cannot present a facet of my life that connotes “faith” in the sense that religious practitioners refer to it.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      There seems to be a category mistake that Danny has incorporated in his practical understanding of the word “faith,” for Christian hope, optimism and confidence is also informed by people’s best judgment as correlated to the evidence. Christians believe in Jesus because of the evidence, not in spite of it. If we define “faith” as that which we believe, but do not “know” or cannot “prove,” (at least not by the scientific method) then my thesis that Danny has faith (and lots of it) remains intact.

      Perhaps it would be helpful for Danny to supply the definition of faith that he is operating with. I suspect that it diverges from the Christian concept in significant ways.

      -CL

  22. Danny Ledonne says:

    8. Yes, faith indicates the surrender of people’s agency and intellectual capacity – which is why I strive to reject this notion for my life. It is instructive to note that people most often resort to prayer and other expressions of faith when other means have been exhausted. In the case of Captain Chafik Gharby (piloting an ATR 72 commercial airline charter to Italy), prayer in the cockpit of a failing plane resulted in the death of 16 people. Instead of gliding the plane into the Palermo airport as investigators concluded he should have done, Gharby panicked, surrendered his agency and intellectual capacity and resorted to evoking faith in God through prayer instead. Clearly, God was unable to do what Gharby himself could have done and the Italian court jailed him for manslaughter and other charges. When it comes to pilots as in any position of responsibility, I don’t want leaders whose faith in God is placed above faith in their own ability.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Once again, Danny is operating with a misunderstanding of the word “faith.” Being a Christian represents no more of a loss of people’s agency or intellectual capacity than does being an atheist. This is one more reason why Danny remains unaware of how much faith he relies on: he misunderstands (or misrepresents) the term.

      The rest of Danny’s paragraph on #8 is anecdotal and is built upon a mistruth. I don’t know about “most people” (non-Christians?) any more than Danny does, but I am tempted to argue that most Christians engage in prayer as they seek to take action themselves. His suggestion that prayer is only used as a last option is little more than hearsay.

      But let’s talk about this unfortunate story about the pilot Chafik Gharby. Danny uses this story as evidence to prove that God either doesn’t exist or wasn’t able to do what a mere human could have accomplished if only he had the nerve. If Danny thinks this is good evidence for his point, it makes me wonder what other poor arguments from atheist pundits he has faith in. For example, I think it only appropriate to mention my own mother’s battle with a very serious case of breast cancer. Upon diagnosis, we began praying immediately, and ultimately she was healed and continues to live well today (more than 12 years later). According to Danny’s rationale, clearly this proves that God exists and that he was more capable of healing than all of the best cancer fighting medicine, doctors and research. I suspect many skeptics will place faith in a different conclusion, but if we’re going to start accepting anecdotes as valid evidence, then Danny has backed himself into a corner with this type of argument.

      Nevertheless, there are still a few other things to consider here. First of all, I’m not sure which god Mr. Gharby prayed to, and that could have significant implications if he prayed to a false deity, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it was the God of the Bible (the one I happen to believe in).

      Even so, God never asks his followers to ignore their own responsibilities in life. In fact, the Bible maintains that humans are free-agents, completely responsible for their own choices or lack of choices. So right from the start, the pilot of the Italian flight stepped outside the will of God when he chose to disengage from his responsibilities. It is human nature to blame others (as Danny has done here), but the fact remains that the pilot’s failure was just that: the pilot’s failure.

      Lastly, being a Christian never means that life will be on easy street or that we will always be rescued from every situation. God always answers prayers, but he does not always say “yes.” So, for God not to save this plane in the way the pilot wanted says nothing about God’s existence or abilities. Like Danny, I want leaders who take appropriate action in their spheres of influence. I just happen also to want leaders who hold themselves accountable to Christ. The bottom line is that Danny’s citation of a pilot who made egregious mistakes on his own, says nothing about God himself.

      -CL

  23. Danny Ledonne says:

    Corbin’s estimation of Christians and “weak” atheists regarding the possibility of God is precisely incorrect. A true Christian has made a sincere commitment to the possibility of God – to the point where it informs their daily life, is passed onto family members and their community. A weak atheist merely concludes that Thor, Jesus, or Celestial Teapots are unlikely for any number of reasons and therefor do not deserve serious commitment. An atheist is perfectly capable of believing in God in much the same way they can indeed visit the ice cream parlor and order a scoop – should such conditions present themselves. But to this atheist, the existence of the specific God as portrayed in the Bible is as unlikely as a myriad of other deities that neither Christians nor atheists believe in.

    At this point, I have made all the comments on this issue that I care to and leave Corbin free to continue this discussion with those who share his faith in a universal “faith system.” Clearly, I do not.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Danny,

      Your declaration of my wrongness is amusing but premature. Try as you might, you have done little to rebut my thesis that atheism rests on faith (and lots of it). Your arguments either incorporate debilitating logical fallacies, or rest on nothing more than pseudo-science, misunderstandings, anecdotes and personal opinions. Even more disappointingly, despite pages of rhetoric, you have still failed to grasp the basic concept that the entire structure of “weak atheism” is built upon: faith.

      To be clear, the precise logical process that you have followed to your atheism is exactly like that of a Christian. You state your conclusion that, “Jesus is unlikely for any number of reasons and therefore does not deserve serious commitment,” but a Christian follows the same process in the opposite direction: They accept Jesus as likely for any number of reasons and therefore conclude that he deserves serious commitment. As Christians make their decision in faith (rather than proof), so do atheists.They both lack proof for their positions, and in the absence of that proof, they lean on faith: faith about the stories, evidence and philosophies that they have been exposed to.

      There is no other way around it. Danny, if you have not faith, but proof, for your position, then I merely ask that you supply it. Do not confuse this with a challenge for you to prove that God does not exist. While the impossibility of proving a negative highlights the faith that atheism is built on, I would be content for you to prove your claim that you have no faith. Can you even prove that to me, or do you ask that we take it… on faith?

      Of course I could be overlooking something significant that will upend my thesis, and I invite Danny (or others) to take the conversation in new and challenging ways, but until then, the charge that atheists of all stripes rely on faith remains intact.

      Thanks for reading me,
      -Corbin Lambeth

  24. Pingback: For those who argue over the existence of language, God, or atheism « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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