5 “challenges” to atheism

Someone sent me a link to this video and wanted me to answer his 5 challenges. Since I’m relatively bored and feeling productive, I though I’d give it a try.

1) Is chance the same as “God in the Gaps” when explaining the origin of life?

If you can’t accept probability and chance, then you can’t accept reality. It would be swell if we lived in a deterministic Universe, but the simple fact is we don’t. Mutations in a organism’s DNA is a random process, and most of the time, these mutations aren’t beneficial at all. But because natural selection tends to favor mutations that provide some slight survival advantage, the element of chance is bred out, with only those mutations providing some benefit being passed on to future generations. So, although this guy would like to think evolution is the product of randomness, it is in fact only a mechanism of change, not selection. And unlike “God in the Gaps” which answers nothing, evolution offers us a model to understand how organisms change and adapt to their environment over time.

2) Why should there be something instead of nothing?

It’s a compelling argument, but the explanation a supernatural entity did it creates more questions than it answers. If everything needs a first cause, then who created God?

He also foolishly believes the Earth was somehow “manufactured” for us to live on it. This is kind of like arguing the reason your nose sticks out of your face is so you can wear glasses. We are suited for this planet because we evolved to adapt to its environment, not the other way around. To claim life bears the mark of “intelligent design” merely illustrates the fact the maker of this video has little or no education in biology.

3) Where do you get your morals from?

This is probably the most frustrating and annoying question religionists ask when they think they are being clever. I’m not going to argue most believers credit their religion for their morality. What I argue against is the truth of this assertion. You can believe something fervently even when it isn’t true. If religion really was the basis for morality, it still doesn’t explain where morals come from, since all modern religions are relatively recent inventions in our history as a species. Did our ancestors, who possessed the same cognitive faculties as us, suffer from a terrible lack of morality? Could they not experience love, suffering, anger and pain like we do? Could they not determine the consequences of their actions, and how those might be interpreted in the future? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that one doesn’t need codified religious laws to act morally.

In any event, it’s a far more serious problem to attribute morality to a supernatural being who apparently does not interact with the natural world in any measurable way. How are we to trust the “words” of such a deity? If God asks us to do something which seems wrong (like killing another desert tribe), then how are we supposed to know if it’s right or wrong? Is it right merely because of his say-so?

4) How did morals evolve?

This isn’t really a challenge for atheists, but rather a question an evolutionary psychologist should answer. Michael Shermer’s book, “The Science of Good and Evil“, and Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” attempt to do just that.

If you want the quick answer to the question, look at other social animals and how they have evolved behavior that allows them to function as a group. It’s not hard to imagine in the struggle for survival, cooperation would be beneficial, and our species would adapt to favor traits that would make us more trustworthy and empathetic towards one another (the more selfish and opportunistic ones presumably dying without passing on their genes).

5) Can nature generate complex organism, in the sense of originating it?

Do you get the sense that this guy would benefit from studying biology a little bit more? He’s not an idiot, but his points center on the fact he doesn’t seem to understand how natural selection works. We have a relatively chauvinistic way of looking at life; we tend to think we are infinitely more complex than other beings simply because we’re intelligent. But if you measure complexity by an organism’s genome, we’re no more complex than a mouse, and a lot less complex than some species of ferns. The point is evolution doesn’t mean improvement, and certainly doesn’t mean “increased complexity”. The e-coli bacteria that makes you sick is just as “evolved” as you are. The difference is the niche we exploit, and that’s it.

If you want to attribute intelligence to the working of some higher power, you’re free to do so. You should, however, realize this “explanation” only offers up more questions (where did God come from, why does he let bad things happen, etc). The insulting thing about the “God in the gaps” argument isn’t only that it’s not an adequate answer to anything; it also shuts down the impulse to find those answers. It’s good to ask questions, but rather than feel proud for asking them, you should seek those answers for yourself!

Comments (11)

  • avatar

    Godless Girl

    I wonder what would happen to this man’s faith if these objections (which you answered succinctly and very well) were to disappear from his go-to bag of arguments? If he, for example, recognized that morality evolved with social groups or finally grasped probability and its impact on natural selection… what would he object to instead?

  • avatar

    Isaac

    The thing is that in the description for this video he says that “atheists have reconsidered their atheism because of this video” and they “gave their lives to Christ”, which is close to the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what’s stupider, the fact that this video was made, or the fact that some people take it seriously. It’s the same dribble that has been debunked over and over and over and over and over and over and over…… and the fact that this is presented as a “CHALLENGE to atheists” as if this crap is something new is mind-numbingly incomprehensible.

  • avatar

    Brian Gregory

    GG – One can hope that he will open himself up to further education, but unfortunately he’d have to overcome the typical cognitive dissonance. I remember being a christian and being pissed at those arrogant intellectuals that had an answer for everything. I wasn’t interested in learning about the world, only in finding arguments to support what I already knew was true.

  • avatar

    LB

    Good grief, my grammar-nazi tendencies notwithstanding that is painful to watch.

    At least on the “morals” question we now have good evidence of what part of brain is responsible . With the proper application of magnetic fields morality can be tampered with. Now if only we could find a similar religious zone and hit the metaphorical off switch.

  • avatar

    Shawn Ross

    Thanks Jacob. I will regurgitate this to all of my baby bird christian homies for days to come. Also, thanks for the Shermer and Dawkins references.
    I heard this somewhere recently, maybe Zeitgeist Addendum: “Religion creates nothing except intangible emotional solace for those who require it.” I know this, everyone knows this, yet I have yet to hear it stated more eloquently.

  • avatar

    Hunter

    Go Jacob Go.

  • avatar

    Hunter

    Go Jacob Go.

  • avatar

    Hunter

    Go Jacob Go.

  • avatar

    joe botelho

    Fuck off this blog was not written by Jacob fortin. You sound like a totally different guy. Shit it’s happening the invasion of the body snacthers is real!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH save yourselfs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    Jeff

    Like Isaac, I too latched onto the “atheists have reconsidered their atheism because of this video” comment.

    First off, fuck this guy.

    Secondly, any self-described atheist who changed their stance simply because of this video is nothing more than a pho-agnostic looking for quick answers to big questions. God in the gaps is far too convenient and a pussy excuse.

    Also, I have to reemphasize one earlier point: if you haven’t read it yet, Shermer’s “The Science of Good and Evil” will blow your mind! His arguments against the existence of pure evil and pure good are worth your time.

  • avatar

    Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    By proclaiming that there is no God, the no-God theorists have made God imaginary. So their no-God theory must have an answer to the following two questions:
    Why should an imaginary God have to be spaceless and timeless? Why should an imaginary God have to be all-pervading, when He could have easily resided in His own heaven?
    This is because in almost every religion we find that God has been said to be all-pervading, spaceless and timeless.
    These are some of the basic questions that the no-God theory must be able to answer if it is really a sound theory. Otherwise we will have to think of some other theory in its place, as because no-God theory has failed to explain some most well-known facts. If no-God theory is a correct theory, then it is a fact that there is no God. But it is also true that man believes in God. So we can say: it is a fact that man believes in God in spite of the fact that there is no God. It is also a fact that man believes in a God who is said to be spaceless, timeless and all-pervading. As no-God theorists have made God imaginary, not us, so it has become their responsibility to show that their no-God theory does really have answer to the above two questions. Otherwise why should we accept their theory as a valid theory?

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