Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Easter is a time for Christians to celebrate and recognize the core of our faith: The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. While I love Cadbury cream-filled eggs just as much as the next person (probably more), Easter is obviously about something much greater. In fact, Paul went so far as to say that if the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:17). So are there good reasons to place our hope in this event?

This Easter season I came across an article written by professional atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer (read it here http://www.michaelshermer.com/2017/04/how-might-a-scientist-think-about-the-resurrection/). He’s not a fan of the resurrection. Let me be clear: I like Shermer. I follow him on Twitter, I find his personality winsome, his writing is clear (I disagreed with the theses of The Moral Arc and The Science of Good & Evil, but I thought they were interesting and helpful reads), and his approach as a public atheist is engaging (he is a former Evangelical, so he understands us 328476 times better than someone like Dawkins, who probably couldn’t find 2 Corinthians if he started in 1 Corinthians). That being said, I found his arguments against the central event of the Easter narrative unconvincing. Here’s why…

He first points out that “Jews and Muslims, along with the world’s other four billion religious people, do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” While he admits that the truth of an event cannot be authoritatively determined simply by how many people believe it, he offers little else to support this argument. He basically says if there was good evidence for the resurrection, then more people would believe it. First of all, he’s assuming that all these other religious believers have heard about the resurrection and the evidence for it (arguably, most Christians haven’t even heard the best evidences for the resurrection). Many of these religious believers have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel at all, and you cannot actively reject what you’ve never heard. Second, since when have people believed true things based solely on the evidence? Shermer of all people should understand this. It is to his own great frustration that many people seem to believe things despite the lack of evidence. As fellow atheist Jonathan Haidt claims in his book The Righteous Mind, people mostly believe things on intuition, and later use their reasoning to justify what they had previously accepted on emotion.

His second point is, “resurrecting someone back to life who was truly dead would be one of the most unusual events to ever happen in history, given the fact that to date approximately 100 billion people have lived and died before us and not one of them has returned to life.” Um, yeah. I don’t know any Christian who would claim that the Resurrection of Jesus is normal or natural. A miracle, by its very definition, is not a common occurrence. He is pointing to an unusual event and saying it didn’t happen because it’s unusual. But that is not a good reason to assume it is false! One might even argue that every event is unique, as it is not exactly like any other event. The resurrection is improbable, but it is only impossible if there is no God. So in the end, this point goes back to the age-old debate of 1. Does God exist, and 2. Can He do miracles? Regardless of what David Hume might have claimed, these are not closed cases. You cannot assume that the very event you are questioning is false to make the case that it’s false. If the resurrection happened, it was a miracle. So the greater debate must go back to the possibility of miracles and the existence of God.

Shermer’s third point assumes the “principle of proportionality,” which states that the more extraordinary the claim the more evidence is needed to prove it is true. While this is a good rule for a courtroom (when lives and life sentences hang in the balance!), it is not a hard-and-fast rule about the truth of any event. People might need more evidence in order to believe such claims, but limited evidence does not change the truth of the event in question. Shermer is the one claiming the resurrection lacks evidence. There are many who not only see evidence for the resurrection, they see convincing evidence (see particularly the works of Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig). In the words of Blaise Pascal, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Fourth, Shermer claims, “there are no reliable extra-biblical sources documenting Jesus’s resurrection.” He assumes that the Romans would have made extensive records of such an event. Maybe they did. Does any historian pretend to have all the ancient accounts of common executions? Crucifixions were common in the Roman empire, and although we think the events of Jesus’ life and death are important, this does not mean that the Romans themselves thought they were any more significant than an isolated religious disagreement among the Jewish people. Also, he casually uses a word like “reliable” to dismiss the evidence that is there (such as Josephus and Tertullian). Finally, why is it that skeptics continually dismiss the eye-witness accounts of the gospels themselves by requiring “extra-biblical” sources? This is like dismissing all the firsthand witnesses of a robbery from a courtroom so that you can rely on the testimony of those who heard the news secondhand. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (which virtually all New Testament scholars believe to be authentically written by Paul), Paul claims that over 500 witnesses, including the disciples, the skeptic James, and himself (who actively opposed the preaching of the resurrection) were witnesses who could verify the appearance of the risen Jesus.

Fifth, Shermer states, “the biblical sources we have for the resurrection are not dependable.” He notes that the gospel accounts were written several decades after the events they describe. However, people tend to remember the most significant events of their lives, even after many years have passed (ask a couple who has been married 50 years to describe their wedding day). Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not our earliest sources for the resurrection. First Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly lays out what the first believers were teaching, likely within 2 years of the actual events (Paul received this doctrinal creed sometime after his conversion and before he met with the other disciples, which means this teaching was passed down to him by those who were already preaching the resurrection immediately after the event happened). Shermer goes on to claim that perhaps the disciples (all 500 of them?) saw post-death apparitions of Jesus due to their grief. But hallucinations are not group phenomena, and Paul (who himself claims to have seen Jesus) was not in a state of grief at the time of his experience. Also, this fails to explain why the disciples, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose, would face persecution and certain death based on nothing more than a ghost citing. Finally, Shermer suggests that religious people may have added these miracles into the story years later in order to boost the credibility of their own faith. The problem is, as 1 Cor 15 again shows, these miracles were being taught immediately after the events.

Finally, Shermer notes that the Catholic Church teaches, “Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t feel the need to defend their doctrine. However, all this seems to be saying (after admitting there is evidence) is that the spiritual importance of the resurrection is far greater than simply an event in history. Indeed, Christians believe that this event carries with it a significance that goes beyond a basic recollection of unconnected historical events. The resurrection is central to our faith because of what it did. It gave us peace with God, removing the guilt of our sin so as to mend our broken relationship with our Creator. The spiritual significance of the resurrection is greater than anything recorded in a dusty old history book or dug up from the sand. Our spiritual salvation, while not the kind of “evidence” Shermer is looking for, is certainly the most real to us, as we experience it every day. The resurrection is not less than historical; it’s more.

Happy Easter everyone, we’ve got reasons to celebrate.

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What do you think of when you hear the term “Satanist?” You might imagine a group of people dressed in black robes, wearing pentagrams around their necks, offering a human sacrifice to the lord of the underworld (while, of course, listening to heavy metal…). It might surprise you, then, to see that modern-day Satanist actually have more in common with atheists than they do ancient pagans. Let me start by giving you some background on a very disturbed individual…

Anton Szandor LaVey never really fit in with those around him. He didn’t play nicely with the other kids, and he always seemed to stand out. He was born in Chicago in 1930, but eventually moved with his family to San Francisco. He became enthralled with dark literature such as Dracula and Frankenstein, and learned of many superstitions from his Eastern European grandmother. He possessed extraordinary musical ability, and would later earn an income playing the organ. It was here that he began to notice the hypocrisy of many Christians. Under the name “The Great Szandor,” he would play the organ at carnivals on Saturday nights, and then for tent evangelists Sunday mornings. This is how he describes those experiences:

On Saturday night I would see men lusting after half-naked girls dancing at the carnival, and on Sunday morning when I was playing the organ for tent-show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of carnal desires. And the next Saturday night they’d be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian Church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man’s carnal nature will out!”

From there, LaVey would go on to become a part-time investigator of alleged supernatural phenomena. What he found was that most situations had a natural explanation, but people were inclined to believe the supernatural. People would often rather believe the “other worldly” explanation than the reasonable one. This further moved him away from the belief in any form of religious supernaturalism.

LaVey eventually gathered together an inner circle of like-minded individuals, and in 1966, on the last night of April (Walpurgisnacht, the most important festival for believers in witchcraft), LaVey shaved his head and declared 1966 as year one, Anno Satanas (the first year of the age of Satan). The Church of Satan was thus founded, and has since included personalities such as Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Manson, and Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio.

What few people actually realize about Satanism is that it is a purely atheistic and materialistic worldview. They do not believe in God or the devil. In fact, they took “Satan” (which, in Hebrew, means “Adversary”) as a symbol of anti-religion. Just as Satan is the traditional opposition to God, so also does he now represent a movement in opposition to all supernatural religions. Where the Bible teaches such things as turning the other cheek, abstinence from sin, kindness to those who don’t deserve it, selflessness, and the exclusive worship of God, in Satanism’s “Nine Statements” they support the complete opposite. Man is an animal, and so his highest goal is the pursuit of selfish pleasure. The church, in scaring people away from Satan, has tricked the masses into fleeing their natural desires to seek refuge in their sanctuaries. LaVey saw it as his mission to free people from this oppression.

So how, you may ask, is Satanism like atheism? There are several similarities…

1. They don’t believe in the supernatural. This is one of the primary soap boxes that modern-day atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet preach from constantly! They say that we are now beneficiaries of “The Enlightenment” which showed us how foolish it is to believe in the supernatural. In fact, both Satanists (see #7 of the Nine Satanic Statements) and atheists (see Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) insist that there is no fundamental difference between us and the animals. They say that we are simply highly evolved animals. It should come as no surprise that atheistic sexual ethics are becoming more and more like those held by Satanists. Satanism “…encourages any form of sexual expression you may desire, so long as it hurts no one else.” (Satanic Bible, pg 69) Influential atheist ethicist Peter Singer has come under controversy for claiming sex between humans and animals, although considered taboo, presents no ethical prohibitions as long as the animal is not hurt. It seems extreme, and most atheists will likely disagree with Singer, but it shows the dangerous places you could theoretically go when you abandon the biblical distinction between humans and animals, and Satanism and atheism both share this belief.

2. They believe that self is the ultimate authority. When you do away with the existence of God, you are left with no ultimate authority besides yourself. In The Satanic Bible, LaVey writes: “The Satanist feels: ‘Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself?’ Every man is a god if he chooses to recognize himself as one. So, the Satanist celebrates his own birthday as the most important holiday of the year.” (pg 96) On the atheist side, Richard Dawkins claims “…that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” (The God Delusion, pg 72) Dawkins insists that if God exists, He should be explainable through science alone. But what does this say? It says, “If God exists, he must be explainable in a way that I can understand.” When we can understand something it gives us power over it. Dawkins will not admit that there may be a God that we cannot fully comprehend. In this way, atheists promote themselves as God. In both Satanism and atheism, the human individual ultimately occupies the place of god.

3. When we are the ultimate authority, then we determine our own ethics. If God does not exist, then who becomes the authority on ethics? We do. Without God, we are left to determine our own ethics. For the Satanist, nothing is greater than the pursuit of pleasure. LaVey writes, “The FLESH prevaileth and a great Church shall be builded, consecrated in its name. No longer shall man’s salvation be dependent on his self-denial. And it will be known that the world of the flesh and the living shall be the greatest preparation for any and all eternal delights!” (Satanic Bible, pgs 23-24) Ethicists like Peter Singer are “Utilitarians” who believe in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for the greatest number of people. Indeed, if there is no God, and all we have is this physical life, then why waste time in pursuit of the spiritual? Why not engage in the physical pleasures available to you? Unless you borrow from Christian morality (which atheism almost always does), you are left with nothing to determine your morality except the pursuit of pleasure over pain.

4. They are both strongly opposed to religion.

This is perhaps the greatest similarity between the two. One of the biggest themes running through the Satanic Bible is a disdain for religion. Modern-day atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens have been anything by subtle over their thoughts on religion. Whether it is claiming that religion is child-abuse (Hitchens, God is Not Great, chapter 16, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, chapter 9) or holding rallies specifically to “ridicule and show contempt for faith” (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2012/03/-atheists-richard-dawkins-reason-rally/1#.UDfn6ER9kzo), today’s atheists have made it clear that they are against religion in all its manifestations.

So, why do I draw attention to the similarities between Satanism and atheism? Simply to say that it should come as no surprise that the biblical adversary to the Christian faith would have his name attached to a cult that ultimately reflects the polar opposite of faith. People cringe when they think of Satanism but are a little more understanding when they hear “atheism.” However, when you strip away the scary rituals and dark robes, the two are essentially the same at the worldview level. They both deny the existence of God (or anything supernatural), they see humanity as the ultimate authority, they are Darwinian in their ethics, and they both oppose religion. The Bible is clear that there is a spiritual world that is very real, and it only has two sides (Ephesians 6:10-17). If you reject God, you inadvertently side with the devil. So which side are you on?