Napkin Religion

Atheist visual joke:

[Image] The Napkin religion is the one true religion because it says so tight here on this Napkin.

 

Ha ha.  The Bible doesn’t prove anything about God, an atheist might contend, because it is not self-authenticating.  Whatever it says about God is just something someone wrote down.  Even if its words include the assertion that the words are God-inspired, how do we know that to be true?  Anyone could write anything.  Didn’t Muhammed do some writing, too?  And Joseph Smith?  And myriad others?  We don’t take words as being true just because they’re in writing, or because their writer says the words are true.

Reliability of the Bible

If you believe the Bible, your first instinct might be to argue that the Bible is different.  It has the ring of truth.  Its writers were not self-serving.  Many early followers went to their deaths rather than deny the truth of Jesus’ deity.  The old testament was the result of unusually scrupulous care in making copies – it was an act of worship.  Copies of the new testament are authenticated better by far than any other ancient document that we routinely accept as genuine. See, e.g., Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Faith Enough to be an Atheist, ch. 9.

And yet, true as those things may be, arguing the reliability of the Bible probably should not be the first reaction. That gets into many details of history and scholarship and man’s ability to record revelation of ultimate truths that are beyond our full understanding in this life.  A better approach might be to look at the truths about God that are available simply to our reason.  Here are a few.

Existence

Pretty simple. Too simple, an atheist might say.  How can it be that the mere existence of stuff proves the existence of God? 

Well that’s ultimately what the ancient (pagan) philosophers were saying, when they reasoned that there had to be one initial uncaused-cause to every subsequent contingent event.  That uncaused-cause was not merely the first domino in a long string of dominoes that constitutes the totality of vectors of space and time to this moment.  Instead, as Michael Augros noted, that initial cause is continuous; borne out in every reaction within space and time.  See his Who Designed the Designer.  David Bently Hart developed this idea of existence-as-proof, in his essay on “Being,” in his Experience of God/Being, Consciousness, Bliss

Try as they might (as with Lawrence Krauss’ failed effort), atheist apologists cannot explain how there is something rather than nothing. And they don’t attempt to explain why there is something rather than nothing, because they already assume purposelessness.  

Consciousness

No materialist has convincingly explained how human consciousness can be a product only of external stimuli and internal neuronal sparks.  The materialist model does not explain the irreducible qualia of subjective, internal, human experience.  One conceptualizes abstractions necessary to bring order to what would otherwise be a chaotic bombardment of sense impressions.  Our consciousness provides a framework within which to receive what presents to our senses.   

Our ability to reason requires a logical framework that pre-exists our neuronal “hard-wiring.”  A chemical or electrical event in our brain can occur as a result of physical necessity, such as in response to external stimuli, but not as a result of logical necessity.  There has to be a conceptual structure, or logical syntax, that precedes material causes and effects and enables successive logical inferences.  Abstract thinking precedes experience, it cannot be merely the result of experience.

Consciousness is more than merely passive reception of sense impressions. The mind actively imposes on the perception an idea of what that sensory perception is about.   Consider in this connection Philosophy of Mind, by Edward Feser, especially his chapters on consciousness.

Morality

It’s tricky business, bringing up morality in the context of a discussion of the existence of God.  A lot of baggage there, many atheists believe, for Christianity.  But the point is not that belief in God makes one more moral, and that moral behavior is good.  That would be an argument based purely on pragmatism, and not a convincing argument at that. 

Rather, one should consider simply the fact of our moral sense.  As with the other sub-topics above, this need have nothing to do with the Bible.  There is obviously a moral law written on our hearts in some way, by some means, and it is the same moral law for all of us. 

That’s not to say that there is no disagreement about some moral principles, for example about homosexuality or abortion.  What we ought to see, looking past contemporary debates about specific issues, is that everyone, even those on both sides of issues like those, argues their position from a moral standpoint.  One who is pro-life argues the value of life, and one who is pro-abortion argues that the value of liberty is paramount, but both argue for values of life and liberty, and do so with the presupposition that morality is absolute and universal. 

Even in our disagreements about moral issues, we indicate that we all subscribe to belief in an absolute moral law.  That’s why our arguments about moral issues can be heated or uttered with indignation.  That absolute moral law implies a Giver of the law.  No one really believes that we author our own morality.  See Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Faith Enough to be an Atheist, ch. 7 (Mother Theresa vs. Hitler).

Theism

These are some of the reasons that there must be a God.  Note that none of them require referring to the napkin. 

If we conclude from these observations that there has to be a God, then it seems unlikely that He would create so impressively, and then look on that creation passively.  It makes more sense that He would interact with His creation.  We should ask how.

Christianity

If we take an honest look at ourselves and begin to understand our moral limitations (and the necessary absence of such limitations in the moral law-giver) we may come to see our deep moral need for the Giver of that law. 

And then if we come to appreciate the love we find in the world, despite man’s moral depravity, then we might see the inevitability of that ultimate act of love:  God redeeming us to Himself. 

And if God did that, would He not also reveal Himself more specially so that we might find the bridge that He has built for us?  We might find the Bible to be consistent with how we have come to understand God, and further, that what the Bible says about the advent of the Christ must be true; even that it had to happen that way.   

8 thoughts on “Napkin Religion”

  1. If I had my father’s brain, before Alzheimer’s took over, I could read this and understand the deeper meanings of your writings. However I do get the gist of the writings, and I enjoy reading them. The one about the transgender wanting to use the girls’ locker room I understood, of course, and agreed with it 100%.
    I have known a few atheists and they cannot come up with anything that makes sense. Brad Pitt proudly announces that he is an atheist. But don’t try to converse on any level with him on atheism. He also thinks he is a great architect. There you have it.

    1. Thank you very much first for reading, and second, for responding. The responses are immensely encouraging, even if, unlike yours, they’re critical. My fear is that we go to church and learn more and more about the Bible each week, but it’s all within a certain paradigm that is not shared in the culture at large, and as a result, it feels like we walk out of church and into a world that feels hostile and alien. Which it unquestionably is. We need to understand why we believe what we say we believe, beyond just pointing to the trustworthy text. We’re surrounded by people who have no preconception that the Bible is “the gospel.” Remember when “the gospel” was a phrase we took to mean “absolute truth,” rather than just its literal translation: “good news?” It’s because the secularists have taken the culture and run away with it. We see wrack and ruin on all sides. I don’t fully grasp the vision of secularists, but somehow they’ve got it into their heads that it’s better than a Christianity-infused culture. The main problem with their view point is that they don’t see it as opposed to Christianity, or even as being a doctrine on its own merits. But of course it is. It’s not “neutral.” The atheists you know who don’t “come up with anything that makes sense” are in an uncomfortable position, whether they’re fully conscious of it or not. It’s easy to take potshots at Christian belief; much harder to come up with a defense of atheism as a systematic belief system. And that’s what this site is intended to expose, God willing.

  2. Is it believable, is it reasonable, and is it probable? All the many religions in this world are not compatible so there is only 1. Is it Christianity? And what are the odds that Christians have it right?
    There are many many reasons and arguments that are reasonable to suggest that Christianity and all the other religions are just false. So we paint colorful arguments about why we “love” and why we “feel” and chalk it up to a deity or a god without any evidence of it.. I know, I know, you have a philosophical point of view that “explains” the beauty in the world. The atheists arguments are based on logic and reason, so to suggest “they don’t understand something” is frankly a little offensive. Some of us have come to these conclusions from serious study and contemplation to land on a position that only makes sense. I challenge anybody to allow themselves to get out of the Christian bubble long enough to read about it and think about it, but don’t wave a bible at me and tell me I’m wrong because I don’t think like that. I personally have never claimed to be “neutral” but simply have adopted a world view based on reason.

    1. Thank you for commenting. Bear with me, here, you’ve given me much fodder for explaining the purpose of this site.

      You ask: “Is it believable, is it reasonable, and is it probable?” This is a mantra that is provided by the New Atheist pseudo-intellectuals, and I know because I’ve read them all, and have read this same question applied by them, to theism, many times. I only ask this. No, I beg you. Please, for God’s sake (and I mean that quite literally, not sacreligiously) turn the question around. I mean, turn the same question on atheist materialism. Is it believable, is it reasonable, and is it probable? It is not. It defies every rule of logic and reason that has ever been devised.

      You say that “All the many religions in this world are not compatible so there is only 1. Is it Christianity? And what are the odds that Christians have it right?” Well, totally agreed that many of the religions of the world are not compatible, and that there is only one that is true. But add your belief about reality to the list. Yours is atheism: the belief that there is no supernatural reality whatsoever. You do yourself a disservice if you do not subject your own set of metaphysical beliefs to the same rigor you would apply to the various religions. Why would you do that? Isn’t it obvious that yours is just as much a set of beliefs about absolute reality, as any person’s who subscribes to a religion?

      Moreover, the fact of there being many religions suggests the opposite of your thesis. Many are false, of course, because many are mutually exclusive, so they can’t all be true. But doesn’t it concern you that every single one of them is in opposition to your point of view, that there is no supernatural reality whatsoever? Rather than looking at the only negative inference that is possible — that none are true – why wouldn’t you look at the significant positive inference: that they all point, however haphazardly, at the truth of the supernatural?

      Indeed, the fact of many religions suggests that there is a nearly universal belief that there is a supernatural reality of some sort. They can’t all be true in their particulars, but they are all entirely opposed to atheist materialism. Yet that’s the point of view you adopt! You say that there are lots of religions with points of view about metaphysical reality, so they must all be false. Maybe. Certainly some are false. But what about yours? You believe that there is no supernatural reality of any kind. Defend that metaphysical point of view. You’ll find it harder than you realize to say what you do believe, instead of taking potshots at what you don’t believe.

      You say that “there are many many reasons and arguments that are reasonable to suggest that Christianity and all the other religions are just false.” Well of course there are. So what? The fact of there being arguments doesn’t make them true. You have to decide what makes the most sense, from your innate reason and experience. You seem to be saying that theistic arguments are based on feelings, and atheist arguments are based on “logic and reason.” I invite you to review the posts on this site and as you do so, repeat to yourself this phrase “logic and reason.” If you’re not seeing logic and reason in what is said here, then you’re only listening to the logic and reason of one side of the debate.

      And related to that, how could you in good conscience (or open-mindedness or logic or reason) say that there is “no evidence” for the claims of theism? What counts as “evidence” for you? I invite you, again, to peruse the posts on this site, or read with an open mind arguments set out for the opposition of your point of view. I would suggest Geisler and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist,” but there are plenty of other resources, including books advertised on this site. This word “evidence” pops up again and again in my review of atheist polemics (I’ve read dozens, at this point) and usually what they really mean is a constricted definition of “evidence” to game their argument. They mean empirical evidence, which is defined to mean that which is scientifically provable. News flash: science isn’t about questions beyond the natural world. It is by definition confined to natural reality. It would be like me saying prove the existence of the tree in your front yard, but you can only look inside your house for evidence of it.

      Moreover, many of the claims of atheists are not provable by evidence even under their purposely limited definition of “evidence.” For example: why is there something rather than nothing? No answer is given by materialists, though every once in a while they try but embarrassingly fail, as pointed out on this site in connection with Lawrence Krauss’ 2012 book. No materialist has ever given a plausible explanation of how life could have been created from non-life, despite many decades of scientific opportunity to address exactly that conundrum. This is not a complete list of atheism’s failures, of course, but it’s certainly enough.

      I’m sorry if you’re offended that I say “they don’t understand something.” But I stand by it. They’re wrong, which means, by definition, that they don’t understand something, regardless of their level of good faith. That’s the point on which we disagree. It shouldn’t be taken as offensive, unless you mean that any disagreement is offensive. If that’s where we are, then we’ve cut off the inquiry altogether. Scientists (including atheists among them) are famous for having disagreements; in fact, it’s a point of pride, for scientists. Surely they’re not all walking around offended all the time.

      You say that “Some of us have come to these conclusions from serious study and contemplation to land on a position that only makes sense.” Good. Agree. We’re doing the same thing here. You should continue to engage in serious study and contemplation, and I will, too. This question is the most serious thing; maybe the only serious thing, that we will grapple with in our lifetime.

      “I challenge anybody to allow themselves to get out of the Christian bubble long enough to read about it and think about it . . . .” Me, too.

      “[D]on’t wave a bible at me and tell me I’m wrong because I don’t think like that.” I hear you. But there’s something deeply ironic about this. Please don’t be offended by me pointing it out. You’re writing in response to a post called “Napkin Religion.” That’s a reference to an atheist meme suggesting that bubble-bound Christians believe the Bible because the Bible itself says it’s the word of God. The point of the post was to say that the Bible is NOT the only reason to suppose that there is a God, and then it went on to describe several (to my mind, irrefutable) arguments for the existence of God that do not depend on the Bible whatsoever. That was exactly the point.

      If you’ve been insulted or abused by Bible-wavers in the past, that’s a good reason to be skeptical about the claims they make. Christians or ostensible Christians can certainly be odious in their self-righteousness. But that doesn’t mean the Bible is false. And it doesn’t mean there is no God.

  3. Also, couldn’t the same things be said about the Shruti, the Tripitaka, the quran, the book of mormon?? I suspect this blogger does not follow the teachings of these but do they “get a pass” because they at least believe in a god, as apposed to not believing in a god? I reckon “a darkling plain” is an “atheist” regarding these gods.

    1. Good point. This purpose of this site, though, isn’t to refute the “Shruti, the Tripitaka, the Quran, the Book of Mormon.” It’s to refute the claims of atheists, and hopefully, to incite in those who slide into a shrug-of-the-shoulders agnosticism a sense that this is a crucially important issue. Those religions don’t get “a pass,” exactly, they’re just beyond the scope of what we’re doing here.

      That’s certainly different than saying we’re an “atheist” regarding those belief systems, however, and I’m glad you phrased it this way. The word “atheist” and the beliefs that go with it are not equivalent to saying “I don’t believe in x.” They’re equivalent to saying “I don’t believe there is any supernatural reality of any kind.” The difference between these two propositions is all the difference in the world, so please take careful note of it (and forgive me in advance if I read too much into the way you’ve phrased it).

      We’re not “atheists” regarding those gods. It would make no sense to say that we are. “Atheism” means a belief that there is no God or gods or “fairies at the foot of the garden.” Those works you cite just indicate a misunderstanding of God. It’s not “atheism” if you believe one religion is true, and another false. It’s “atheism” if you believe that there is no supernatural reality whatsoever; nothing real other than what presents to our sense impressions; or, in some variations of atheism, that plus ideals that are derived by the workings of evolutionary biology.

      “Atheism” doesn’t mean “disbelief.” If I’ve accomplished nothing else with this site, I hope I’ve successfully conveyed at least that truth. Atheists certainly have beliefs about these most important questions. They just don’t recognize what their own beliefs are, very often. They’re so focused on what they don’t believe that they never get around to subjecting their own beliefs to reason.

  4. Atheists, scientists, or materialist don’t make stuff up. To me it’s simple. Did the earth move because of an unstable fault line, or is god mad? We know the answer to this. Also, I recognize that this comes from the “god of the gaps” argument as presented by the “new atheists” many times, but there is a reason. I don’t think you can pin arguments that make perfect sense to a, what you might call a movement of atheists, as though there is no credibility for it. The atheists believe in a material world, true. They just don’t chalk up to a deity what they don’t understand. I know, another movement argument. I think the reason that the “new atheists” are getting ground is because “they” make sense, it’s that simple. I reckon, I’ve chosen to follow another “religion” outside of Christianity with my apposing world view according to this sight, but that’s not how I see it. You say, an atheist cannot not believe in something and take a position of neutrality, and they have to believe in something, whatever that something is. Ok, so what? I believe in that other thing, whatever that other thing is. In my case, it’s that the universe exploded from the big bang and evolved to where it is by the nature of it. I know you would say, “but something had to create it”, this might be true, and your previous posts are very compelling and make for interesting and thought provoking reading and I could be on board with this. I do not, however, go along with “if something created the universe, therefore religion”.

    1. Of course earthquakes are traceable to fault lines. That does not somehow disprove a Maker of the fault lines and the earth in which they’re found.

      I’ve re-read your comment several times and I think the underlying theme has to do with this idea of the “God of the gaps” argument which materialists put forward. It works like this. First, they merely assert that all the stuff of the universe and all the events occurring within it have natural causes only. That is in fact a good working definition of materialism. It is basically an assertion (certainly not proof) that materialism is true.

      Then they go on to criticize the theist position by setting up an easily-defeatable straw man. The straw man is the “God of the gaps” idea, which is what materialists identify with theism. Here’s how they do it. They characterize theists’ arguments as amounting only to attribution of natural phenome to God. Atheists say that theists say that God explains the gaps in scientific knowledge. They dismiss the entire theist position on the basis of this ill-conceived God of the gaps idea.

      Look. The “God of the gaps” argument is of course bogus. Superstitious people who don’t have an understanding of natural phenomena will sometimes just chalk it up to God, and say that God directly caused it. That’s incomplete and betrays an unfortunate lack of curiosity about natural workings. It should of course be avoided. We should instead have avid curiosity for the natural phenomena we experience.

      On the other hand, the lapse into “God of the gaps” thinking is somewhat understandable given that those who adopt it are partially right, in an indirect way. God indirectly causes everything, so while we can directly attribute an earthquake to the movement of tectonic plates, we can indirectly attribute it to the Maker of the tectonic plates and the earth in which they reside. If there is a supernatural reality which is transcendent of natural reality, then natural and supernatural phenomena are not entirely separable. Miracles are the exception to natural processes which prove the usual rule. Natural phenomena are ultimately subject to supernatural reality. All of natural reality is under God’s control. But the God of the gaps argument which atheists gleefully assign to theists is sometimes wrongly used by theists to wrongly suggest that there aren’t intervening natural events in the chain of causation for natural phenomena.

      Now, having said all this, there is something deeply ironic about atheist crowing “God of the gaps,” such as what you have said in your comment. What is really going on is that materialists “prove” their assertion by assuming a “materialism of the gaps.” Here’s what I mean. Materialists simply state, and never prove, that everything in space and time that we experience must have an exclusively material explanation. Why? Well because the material is all there is, of course! You see? It’s a tautology. It’s circular reasoning.

      The reality is that there are ultimate questions that materialists ought to recognize cannot possibly be explained by materialism. They would recognize this if they applied logic and reason, instead of misguided blind faith in the religion of materialism. Materialists absolutely do “make stuff up.” They chalk up to purely natural causes anything they don’t understand. Instead of admitting that some things cannot be explained solely by movement of material in time and space, they just assert that it is anyway, and that someday science will explain it. For example, no amount of materialist conjecture can explain how (much less why) the big bang you mention originated. When they try, they assume a set of natural laws, and never manage to explain where those came from.

      Your last comment is intriguing. This site has been all about there being a supernatural reality of some sort, and that it materialism is the denial of any kind of supernatural reality. The word “religion” is used here mostly only in that limited context. If there is some cause of the big bang that is outside the purely natural order, then that is supernatural reality.

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