Monday, January 20, 2014

The Atheist's Fallacious Argument

Alice C. Linsley

"As we all know, for most believers religion, to be fully embraced as a way of life, must be based—at least in principle and in part—on evidence. But the absence of that evidence has given rise to the discipline of theology, which is based on the insupportable premise of rationality without reason."  (From here.)

The writer of this blog post is the author of a book on evolution and an atheist. He has gathered a following of youthful atheists of whose loyalty he is so certain that he shamelessly appeals to the fallacy of Ad Populum: "As we all know..." and insists on that basis that X must therefore be true.

From there, he attempts to assert an absence of evidence upon which to base religious faith. He seems not to understand that the true person of faith is also a person who pursues the evidence of faith. Religious claims, as with all truth claims, must be tested. No one is expected to believe claims without support.

Jesus understood this and provided evidence of His two natures as God-Man. The great apologists of the Christian faith are people who are able to connect the dots of evidence exactly because they have such a good understanding of Reality that they know what to look for and where they ought to look. If I do not believe that something is true I will not notice the evidence for that something's existence. 

The atheist is not able to have a reasonable conversation about the nature of faith and reason because he has dismissed the possibility that these might work synergistically. His mind is closed on this matter and he regards all evidence to the contrary as lacking in credibility. What we consider “credible” depends on our preconceptions and prejudices.

Persons of faith, especially self-proclaimed Christians, are characterized as ignorant, and indeed many are ignorant of the facts when it comes to evolution. In his characterization of all Christians as scientifically ignorant we encounter yet another fallacy: that of comparing things which are not comparable. When it comes to thinking scientifically, the average church-goer is no different than the average person who does not attend church. However, were we to compare religious people who are scientists with non-religious scientists, we would find that these two groups have much in common. Both think in terms of proofs, evidence, and rather quickly recognize the lack thereof. 

Consider, for example, the molecular geneticists who write for BioLogos, or the many Christians in STEM careers who are members of the American Scientific Affiliation. These have more in common with non-religious scientists than they do with church-goers who have no scientific training. Indeed, many of these Christians in science interpret findings through the evolutionary lens. They make the same claims concerning mutation, adaptation, natural selection, and common ancestry, yet one group believes in a Creator and the other group largely does not. 

Finally, the writer misrepresents the facts concerning the development of what he calls "theology." He has accepted the widespread notion that religion is the vestige of primitive superstitions intended to explain natural phenomena before the advent of the scientific method. It is an anthropologically inaccurate viewpoint. Instead, the evidence indicates that science developed out of religious concerns. The same can be said for technologies. The first "alarm" clocks were invented by monks so that they would rise at the proper hours for prayer. The earliest astronomers studied the fixed stars, constellations, solar cycles, and moon phases and recorded what they observed. They are credited with the development of sidereal astronomy as early at 4200 BC. They wanted to understand the celestial pattern because they believed it to be the pattern on earth: "as in the heaves, so on earth." Anthropologists have observed this mindset among primitive and tribal peoples around the world.

Sidereal astronomy is real science, based on observation of the arrangement and movement of the fixed stars and planets. This science originated among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors who had recorded information about the fixed stars and clock-like motion of the planets and constellations for thousands of years. By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had established a calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, they had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes and agriculture for thousands of years. The priest Manetho reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotic Africans had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. They shared this knowledge with the kings of Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians shared the knowledge with the ancient Greeks. Plato claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years. He studied with an Egyptian priest for 13 years and knew about Earth's Great Year. This is the time of between 25,000 and 28,000 years that it takes for Earth to complete the cycle of axial precession. This precession was known to Plato who defined the "perfect year" as the return of the celestial bodies (planets) and the diurnal rotation of the fixed stars to their original positions. The ancients understood much more than we moderns recognize, and as much it may pain the atheist's pride, they were people of faith.


Anonymous said...

Distinct from some Christian denominations, Eastern Christianity perceives science as revealing God, not deconstructing God. Faith in the eternal and immaterial cannot be circumscribed or quantified, however; humanity can and does attempt to quantify what it observes in the material world. Historically, our perception of the material world is continuously altered by deconstruction of what we know, new technologies, and changing paradigms in the sciences. The lack of an adversarial relationship with the sciences in some ways frees Orthodox Christians from engaging in discussions that are predicated on un-Orthodox dogmatic presumptions about Christianity in general. Coming from a foundation that does not view science with suspicion, Eastern Christians are well represented in many of the sciences as professors, doctors,and research scientists, where Christian ethics can be a positive, compassionate and necessary humanitarian voice in the sciences. We need more young people of faith to pursue careers in the sciences, so that love and compassion for our brothers may not lost in the progression of ethically and morally sanitized analysis and application of scientific data to our lives.

Alice Linsley said...

Yes, there is a difference between East and West on the faith-science question. For one thing, the Eastern Church read Aristotle in Greek, not through the filter of Latin. And the East retained Plato. Dr. David Bradshaw's excellent book Aristotle East and West (Cambridge Univ. Press) addresses this very well.

The youth are the most vulnerable because they are no prepared to respond to the atheist's claims. The mainstream media and the educational system do not provide them with the hard data.