I recently picked up Dan Barker’s book Godless again. I know some people get really confused by my atheism. Why would someone in their right mind deny the existence of God? Barker does a wonderful job in his book of explaining why people aren’t atheists because they reject God, but because a supernatural being has never been proven to exist. In fact, there has never been a single bit of scientific evidence to support the existence of a supernatural being. All of the proofs used for God’s existence to date have been shown to have perfectly natural explanations. The probability of God’s existence can be placed at zero. This lack of evidence does not prove God does not exist, but clearly it means there is no evidence for a God’s existence or a reason to hypothesize about the existence of God. There is no reason to assume a God MIGHT exist.
The chapter “Why I became an atheist” stood out for me the last time I read Godless, and again this time browsing it, so I thought of sharing it here:
[M]ost non-philosophers do feel that there is a wealth of evidence for a god. Miracles, changed lives, fulfilled prophecies, biblical revelation, the resurrection of Jesus, unsolved scientific questions (which they mistake for evidence), coincidences they say could not have happened by chance, inner experience, selfless acts of kindness and so on all prove to the believer that God exists.
Some offer attempts at rational arguments. Since many of these believers cannot imagine themselves as nonbelievers, they try to detect some ulterior motive for atheism. Rather than accept the straightforward statement that there is no evidence for a god, which allows the implication that their worldview might be wrong, many Christians have claimed to guess the “true” cause of unbelief.
Here are some of the ad hominem arguments I have heard:
“You resent moral guidelines and want to be free to live a life of sin and selfishness.”
“You dislike authority.”
“You want to be different and stir up trouble.”
“You are arrogant and hate God and want to be higher than God, like Lucifer (Satan).”
“Your heart is in the wrong place.”
“You have been hurt by Christians, or offended by certain nonrepresentative immoralities and crimes in the Church.”
“You are impatient and disappointed that not all your prayers are answered.”
“You feel let down by God, who didn’t answer your prayers the way you wanted.”
“You are cold, empty and pessimistic.”
“You are an angry person.”
“You are too stupid, blind, limited or afraid to see what is obvious to everyone else.”
“You have been seduced by scientists into refusing to accept the possibility of miracles.”
“You are an atheist because you don’t know the true meaning of love.”
None of these accusations is true. None is relevant. A strong clue that a person is arguing from a position of weakness is when they attack character rather than arguments and facts.
Bertrand Russell pointed out that ad hominem is a last-ditch defense of the losing side. My atheism has nothing to do with any of this. Even if it did, how would it add to the evidence for a god?
By the way, an ad hominem argument is not the same as a character attack. Ad hominem is when you use the character of your opponent to dismiss his or her argument. It would not be ad hominem to say that “My opponent is a thief,” but it would be to say that “My opponent’s conclusion is wrong because my opponent is a thief.” My opponent might be a horrible person with ulterior motives, but that would not make his or her reasoning or conclusion wrong.
The only times the opponent’s character is relevant in a debate are when the specific topic is morality, when it is fair to examine possible hypocrisy, or when eye-witness evidence is being offered and a history of dishonesty might weaken credibility. In those cases attacking character is not ad hominem.
The Catholic Church, for example, claims that believing in Christ makes you a better person, then it is not unfair to point to the clergy sexual abuse scandal as evidence against that claim. (Who should be more representative of the religion than the priests?) It would be ad hominem and inappropriate, however, if I were to say, “Don’t believe anything the Church teaches because their leaders are pedophiles.”
When Peter (if the story is true) told his friends that he saw the resurrected Jesus, the fact that he had recently lied by denying that he knew Jesus lowers the credibility of his testimony. It is not ad hominem to point this out because it is not part of a logical argument; it is an assessment of the reliability of a witness.
The claim that I am an atheist because I don’t understand “love” is particularly ironic. I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian.
Love is not self-denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your fragile ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity or submission.
It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.
The argument about “anger” is equally intriguing. There is nothing wrong with anger if it is not expressed destructively. Paul said believers should get angry (Ephesians 4:26). Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5).
Christians get angry often. I am rarely angry, certainly never when I am discussing atheism with believers, but many Christians project their own feelings back toward me and claim that I am angry when I quote horrible bible verses or level criticisms of Christianity that make them angry.
What if I were to say, “The reason you are a Christian is because you are an angry person”? Many atheists, as well as believers, are often justifiably angry at the way religion clouds judgment and leads to dangerous behavior, but that is a result of reason and ethics, not a cause of it.
The word “atheist” is not a label; it is merely a description. (Although, of course, any word can be made into a label for PR reasons.) Since I do not believe in a god, I am by default described as an atheist. If there is evidence for a hypothesis, then I will gladly look at the data. If the claim itself is illogical, however, or if it is based on something other than honest investigation, it can be dismissed as wishful thinking, misunderstanding or a lie.
Theists do not have a god: they have a belief. Atheism is the lack of theism, the lack of belief in god(s). I am an atheist because there is no reason to believe.
To read more of this chapter click here: http://www.thescavenger.net/feminism-a-pop-culture/why-an-evangelical-preacher-rejected-god-615.html