A Reasonable Atheist

a loose buckle on the bible belt

My answers to Lee Strobel's recent questions

Recently Lee Strobel sent a series of questions to the readers of friendlyatheist.com. Here are my answers to his recent round.

What argument is most convincing to plant the seeds of doubt (or, rather, faith) in an atheist’s mind?
Do you mind if I restate your question while retaining its original intent? It might be more interesting to phrase it this way: Atheists on this site have kindly submitted questions for me, but what questions would I ask an atheist? As I pondered that issue, I decided to send emails to some of my friends to get advice on what they would ask. Here are a few of their replies — all of which I agree would be excellent to ask a skeptic. If they’re considered fully with all of their implications, they might indeed plant some seeds:

Historian Gary Habermas: “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.”
These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.

Let's take these so called "facts" in order shall we?

  1. Assuming you can trust the accounts of Jesus existing and being crucified in the normal Roman way, I'll grant him this one. Be aware though that there are no ROMAN accounts of this. But the romans crucified lots of people, perhaps this one just didn't get recorded.
  2. Hrm, this is interesting, okay, I'll even grant you that the disciples might have believed he rose and appeared to them. But just because people believe things, doesn't mean they are true. People believe lots of incorrect stuff.
  3. Okay, so Paul believed to. I'm beginning to see a trend here.
  4. Ah, and so does James. Geez, that's almost 14 people so far!
  5. Okay, just for humor's sake I'll grant you an empty tomb. Of course, there are lots of explanations for that. Perhaps the tomb was looted? Perhaps these so called "believing" disciples believed so much that they faked the empty tomb. Both possibilities are more likely than any supernatural event... And that's just off the top of my head, there are probably dozens of more likely explanations that don't require magic.

Philosopher Paul Copan: “Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?
“And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?”

"ontologically haunted". LOL. (He means "there is a god", I think he just wants to sound smarter than he is, either that or he wants us to imagine god lurking in the shadows ready to jump out and go BOO.). Anyway, on to the point.

I don't know why people keep saying the universe is fine tuned for life. Have they looked around? There's a large portion of our planet that isn't very hospitable to life. Most of the solar system is downright hostile to life. Even probes sent to Venus MELT within a few minutes of landing. That's not to mention the vast miles of interstellar space, and all the stars, and black holes, and quasars, and pulsars and well, you get the point. The universe is pretty hostile to life.

As for his second point. I don't believe in the existence of objective morality in the same way I believe in the objective reality of say, a rock. Think about it this way. If there were no human beings. Would anything be EVIL? Good and Evil are concepts that humans use to describe actions and behaviors we like or don't like. That's it. I can't emphasize this enough. "Meaning" is something human beings assign to things. "Meaning" is not a thing like a rock is a thing.

Talk show host Frank Pastore: “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from non-life, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

Let's take these in order as well.

Something from Nothing:
Well, as nobody is really claiming this, I'm not sure what you mean. At least SCIENCE doesn't claim this. If you've heard a physicist talking about something coming from nothing, they were probably paraphrasing. The Big Bang is all about all the matter, time and energy being created from a single thing, a "singularity".. That's sure as hell not "nothing". As for where the singularity came from? We don't know. But we certainly aren't claiming we do know. Only theists do that.

Life from non-Life:
This is called the theory of abiogenesis. Much is not known of the actual process.

Mind from brain:
Well, where pray-tell do you THINK that the mind is? Floating in a cartoon bubble outside our bodies? In another dimension? In a supernatural realm? If so, how does it communicate with our body? Through what mechanism? Ah, you don't know. Then why are you making the claim? Also, see Functional MRI studies.

Moral from aMoral:
I guess the best answer to this is to say that humans are not the only creatures to have a morality. The great apes definitely have morality, and as you look around the animals kingdom you see lots of animals with differing moral "codes". I will say that you only see these in the social animals ( like the apes ). This was probably an evolutionary advantage long ago.

Historian Mike Licona: “Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt. Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

Actually, this is funny. I rarely doubt my "atheism". Once I had run through all the logical problems with God existing, I was kind of done. I had far more doubt when I was a Christian and Deist.

Author Greg Koukl: “Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?”

I'm not going into the something from nothing thing again. I'll just say it this way.

There's no such thing as Nothing.

Also, quit using a false dichotomy. You forgot the choice that science actually shows.. Everything came from a singularity. The singularity BECAME all the matter and energy in the universe. In other words. Things that exist, exist. Things that don't, don't.

I didn’t email Alvin Plantinga, considered by many to be among the greatest philosophers of modern times. But based on his assertion that naturalism is self-defeating, we could formulate this question (thanks to William Lane Craig for some of the concise wording): If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true? (By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)

Ah, Plantinga. I recently finished reading his tome "Warranted Christian Belief". He sure can fill up pages with words. I'll have a long post soon on his work. So for now I'll just say this. Learn how science works. Do some actual science experiments. (They can be simple ones) Think about how you know what you know. If you do the work, you'll eventually understand. Here's the trick. Human perception was evolved for survival and not for truth. We use the methods of science precisely because our senses and brains are so bad at discerning what is true. This is why we have things like double-blind studies. You trust the data, not your senses.

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4 Responses to “My answers to Lee Strobel's recent questions”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Oops, you better go back and re-read Plantinga again. "Science" doesn't rescue naturalism from the defeater. On the naturalist (i.e., atheist) view, the scientific method, which relies on cognitive faculties geared not toward truth, but survival, is without foundation and is undercut. Theism, however, provides the epistemological foundation on which science can be said to attain truth.

    See Plantinga's elaboration (at http://hisdefense.org/articles/ap001.html):

    "Could the adherent of naturalism get a defeater for this defeater: a defeater-defeater? Maybe by doing some science, by, e.g., determining by scientific means that his faculties really are reliable?

    But of course that would presuppose that his faculties are reliable. See Thomas Reid (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man):

    "If a man's honesty were called into question, it would be ridiculous to refer to the man's own word, whether he be honest or not. The same absurdity there is in attempting to prove, by any kind of reasoning, probable or demonstrative, that our reason is not fallacious, since the very point in question is, whether reasoning may be trusted.(276)"

    Is there any sensible way at all in which he can argue for the reliability of his cognitive faculties? Any argument he might produce will have premises; and these premises, he claims, give him good reason to believe in the reliability of his faculties. But of course he has the very same defeater for each of those premises that he has for the reliability of his faculties.

    So this defeater of naturalism can't be defeated.

    We could also put it like this: any argument he offers, for the reliability of his faculties, is circular or question begging. Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive faculties generally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of the argument.

    Hence the devotee of naturalism has a defeater for naturalism - a defeater, furthermore, that can't be defeated. So naturalism is self-defeating, and can't rationally be accepted.

    One who contemplates accepting naturalism, and is torn, let's say, between naturalism and theism, would reason as follows: if I were to accept naturalism, I would have a good reason to be agnostic about naturalism; so I shouldn't accept it.

    The traditional theist, on the other hand, has no corresponding reason for doubting that it is a purpose of our cognitive systems to produce true beliefs, nor any reason for thinking the probability of a belief's being true, given that it is a product of her cognitive faculties, is low or inscrutable. She may indeed endorse some form of evolution; but if she does, it will be a form of evolution guided and orchestrated by God. And qua traditional theist -- qua Jewish, Moslem, or Christian theist - she believes that God is the premier knower and has created us human beings in his image, an important part of which involves his giving them what is needed to have knowledge, just as he does.

    The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that the conjunction of naturalism with evolutionary theory is self-defeating: it provides for itself an undefeated defeater. It is therfore unacceptable and irrational."  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    On the naturalist (i.e., atheist) view, the scientific method, which relies on cognitive faculties geared not toward truth, but survival, is without foundation and is undercut.

    Why must faculties geared for survival and those geared toward truth be mutually exclusive?

    Wouldn't it be reasonable to think that knowing truths or approximations of the truth be very useful for survival?  

  3. # Anonymous Anonymous

    QUESTION: "Why must faculties geared for survival and those geared toward truth be mutually exclusive?

    Wouldn't it be reasonable to think that knowing truths or approximations of the truth be very useful for survival?"

    ANSWER: The problem is that evolutionary atheistic naturalism specifies only that cognitive faculties are adapted for survival. Any overlap with truth-attainment would be coincidental--all that matters is adaptation. And when the atheist attempts to construct a "true" argument that cognitive faculties are truth-attaining, he is using the very faculties that on the naturalistic view are adapted only for survival!

    Thus naturalism is self-defeating. Atheists owe us an explanation for why on their own naturalistic view our cognitive faculties (whether individually or through the scientific enterprise) are reliable at all for truth-attainment--and the atheists have miserably failed to meet their burden of proof here. See Plantinga's response to this objection below (at http://www.christianitytoday.com/global/printer.html?/bc/2008/julaug/11.37.html):

    "Perhaps the most natural and intuitive objection goes as follows. Return to that hypothetical population [which evolved strictly under atheistic naturalism]. Granted, it could be that their behavior is adaptive even though their beliefs are false; but wouldn't it be much more likely that their behavior is adaptive if their beliefs are true? And doesn't that mean that, since their behavior is in fact adaptive, their beliefs are probably true and their cognitive faculties probably reliable?

    This is indeed a natural objection, in particular given the way we think about our own mental life. Of course you are more likely to achieve your goals, and of course you are more likely to survive and reproduce if your beliefs are mostly true. You are a prehistoric hominid living on the plains of Serengeti; clearly you won't last long if you believe lions are lovable overgrown pussycats who like nothing better than to be petted. So, if we assume that these hypothetical creatures [who evolved strictly under atheistic naturalism] are in the same kind of cognitive situation we ordinarily think we are, then certainly they would have been much more likely to survive if their cognitive faculties were reliable than if they were not.

    But of course we can't just assume that they are in the same cognitive situation we think we are in. For example, we assume that our cognitive faculties are reliable. We can't sensibly assume that about this population; after all, the whole point of the argument is to show that if evolutionary naturalism is true, then very likely we and our cognitive faculties are not reliable. So reflect once more on what we know about these creatures. They live in a world in which evolutionary naturalism is true. Therefore, since they have survived and reproduced, their behavior has been adaptive. This means that the neurophysiology that caused or produced that behavior has also been adaptive: it has enabled them to survive and reproduce. But what about their beliefs? These beliefs have been produced or caused by that adaptive neurophysiology; fair enough. But that gives us no reason for supposing those beliefs true. So far as adaptiveness of their behavior goes, it doesn't matter whether those beliefs are true or false.

    Suppose the adaptive neurophysiology produces true beliefs: fine; it also produces adaptive behavior, and that's what counts for survival and reproduction. Suppose on the other hand that neurophysiology produces false beliefs: again fine: it produces false beliefs but adaptive behavior. It really doesn't matter what kind of beliefs the neurophysiology produces; what matters is that it cause adaptive behavior; and this it clearly does, no matter what sort of beliefs it also produces. Therefore there is no reason to think that if their behavior is adaptive, then it is likely that their cognitive faculties are reliable.

    The obvious conclusion, so it seems to me, is that evolutionary naturalism can't sensibly be accepted. The high priests of evolutionary naturalism loudly proclaim that Christian and even theistic belief is bankrupt and foolish. The fact, however, is that the shoe is on the other foot. It is evolutionary naturalism, not Christian belief, that can't rationally be accepted.  

  4. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Excellent elaboration by Joe Carter on "Science vs. Naturalism:
    Why Naturalism is a Self-Refuting Philosophy" at:


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