Inconsistent Atheism Better Than Atheism

The other day I had an exchange with an atheist friend on Facebook. We’ve had a couple exchanges in the past, so there is a context to some of the things being said. He posted a graphic of a Christian ditty-response (in other words, not the best kind) to the recent school shooting up in Connecticut, and expressed outrage at the audacity of Christians to suggest that God did nothing to help because He’s “not allowed in schools anymore.” In any case, I attempted to draw out some inconsistency between what he said he believed, and the outworking of that belief in the face of something like this tragedy. If at times my words seem careless or irreverent, it’s merely for the sake of argument, and constructed to elicit a response. The following is our exchange. His name has been changed to protect his identity:

Me: One bunch of meaningless atoms ends the life of another bunch of meaningless atoms and we’re supposed to act like it’s something other than natural selection happening… I’m glad there aren’t many really consistent atheists.

Bro: It is a form of natural selection in its broadest sense, but we don’t have to live by natural selection if we can all look out for each other. And what makes everything so meaningless? Because I happen to think my life and atoms have plenty of meaning. And besides, what does natural selection have to do with this post?

Me: The outrage isn’t justified. If atheism is true.

Bro: Why not? People’s lives were taken. The only life they have was taken. That’s the only tenet of atheism that may exist, so it’s clearly justified.

Me: Well I suppose you can call anything “justified” if atheism is true. There aren’t any rules. Only what bunches of meaningless atoms individually find “meaningful,” whatever that means. Maybe the killer thought he was justified.

Bro: Yes, it is what people find meaningful. What I find meaningful, others will not. And that’s totally awesome. Maybe the killer did think he was justified, but that’s not for the greater good of humanity. When you have mental instability, there’s a lot of crazy stuff you are going to think of that normal humans just aren’t going to consider or will never go through with.

Me: Perhaps. In all honesty, I’m glad that you aren’t a consistent atheist, Bro.

Bro: I don’t know even where consistency doesn’t take place. Atheism: the lack of belief in a God. I’d say I’m pretty consistent with that. Any other thoughts are superfluous and have nothing to do with atheism, that’s just me being a human being with thoughts.

Now my question to you is….if these kids are in heaven (as most people are saying via posts, memes and interviews….plus the general concept of them not breaking any vital rules simply because they’re too young to), what’s the tragedy then? If they can have their mortal lives terminated and live with God forever, with no chance of ever going to hell because they can no longer be “tempted by evil or sin,” then honestly, isn’t that a great thing? Because I’d say so, if Heaven really is the main goal. And furthermore, shouldn’t we be praising the terrorist for getting them to heaven and carrying out God’s plan for them?

So idk, if you wanna talk about things not being justified, I don’t see how a believer can think these kids are in heaven AND think it’s a tragedy. That, to me, sounds like the real inconsistency.
 
Me: I guess that’s one thing that always confuses me. Some say atheism is no belief in any god, some say it’s a belief that no god exists, others say it’s belief in no god but one (“i contend that we’re both atheists…”). The point is that you hold things of value for which your atheism ultimately cannot account. I don’t expect atheists to go out and randomly murder everybody. But that’s not because atheism is true. If atheism were true, that would tick off a lot of people. But, it would also please lots of other people. Thing is, there’s no legitimate way for one group to tell the other they’re wrong. Maybe the one group doesn’t care about the “good of humanity.” Atheism doesn’t *require* them to.
 
No one should rejoice when sin happens. Christianity doesn’t teach that either.
 
“Because I’d say so, if Heaven really is the main goal.” ~ And it’s not, of course.
 
I guess, to put it most simply, atheism doesn’t tell people what they *should* believe. I think you’d agree. Atheism also doesn’t tell people what they *shouldn’t* believe. If there really is something people should or shouldn’t believe, then, atheism is insufficient to the task. As you said, people make their own “meaning.” The only consistent atheistic position is nihilism: there is no value or meaning, and any construction of “value” or “meaning” is a mere illusion, ultimately.
 
Intuitively, we reject this notion. But if atheism is true, we shouldn’t care. We reject meaninglessness because we know there is meaning. There is purpose. There are values humans should hold, such as the value of human life. We know this because God values life, and we reflect his character.
 
It’s a horrible thing the killer did, and he will face justice. But not because atheism is true. The families will grieve for their lost loved ones, but not because atheism is true. We will call this act absolutely evil, and others like it, for years to come, but again, not because atheism is true. You hold values not given to you by atheism. This means there’s more to your belief than atheism.
 
Bro: Well atheism is simply no belief in God. That’s it. It’s not even an assertion that there is no god. That would be gnostic atheism, which there is NO WAY to tell if there isn’t a god. And like I said, I’ve resigned to that. However, I think it’s painfully obvious that the gods we see (Christian god, allah, etc.) cannot exist. As I’ve said many times, the only god that could exist is a deist god who no one’s ever heard of before. Because the characteristics and attachments of these gods we see cannot exist (Eg, if Christianity is correct, then the world was created 6,000-10,000 years ago….that is obviously wrong so right off the bat, that god can’t exist.)
 
So when the argument against the Christian god comes from an atheist, it’s not really a denial of any god existing or an assertion that there can be no god….it’s just that particular god cannot exist. And that, yes, I will hold true to. And that’s why I ask the question about heaven.
 
I’m not saying to rejoice, but logically, there is no tragedy if these kids really are in heaven. So something is wrong with this situation. Maybe you don’t believe these kids are in heaven, but I think most people are going to say they are. Maybe you think the killer will face justice like you said….but is punishing this guy FOREVER really the answer, especially from a so-called loving God? No, I can’t believe that will do anything either. I think by the 10,000th year of eternity, Adam Lanza would be sorry and the families of of these kids (who were in heaven anyway, so again, there really was no tragedy) would eventually have to say enough is enough.
 
I have the fury and sadness because no of this is going to happen. I don’t believe in the safety net of heaven for these kids and that this is it. 20 kids….gone forever. Some might’ve grown up to be great people, some might’ve grown up to be killers themselves. We’ll never know but that has to play out. Taking away that option because he was mental is a horrible, horrible thing.
 
And if heaven isn’t the main goal, then what exactly is? Because if it’s just being a good person, hey, I’m being a good person too and I don’t need god to do it. There are Muslims who are doing good too, and they’re going to spend an eternity in fire-filled hell if you are right. How does that not make heaven with the clouds and living with God the main goal?
 
Me: “(Eg, if Christianity is correct, then the world was created 6,000-10,000 years ago….that is obviously wrong so right off the bat, that god can’t exist”
 
And the *Bible* says this, where? Who cares what Christians say. The Bible is what sets the standard for Christianity. Not Christians. One day you’ll understand this, I hope. What you consider atheism is different from what the next atheist considers atheism. There’s no book of atheism by which we can set the record straight, so your opinion is tossed into the pool with all the other opinions. But none of that is the point anyhow.
 
The highest goal in Christianity is God and his glory. This does not always mean getting to heaven. Don’t tell me how you either don’t get that or don’t agree, because I already know. I’m just correcting that point for you.
 
You did admit, though, that your anger stems from the lack of justice to be done. I think the notion of justice legitimately quells the feeling of futility in the face of evil. Families of victims have “closure” when murderers are brought to justice, so this isn’t an alien notion. While you disagree that eternal punishment is a good answer, atheism’s lack of an answer is nothing less than despicable. If atheism is true, this deranged killer got off easy. He didn’t have to suffer. He killed as many people as he wanted to and now he can “rest in peace.” If that isn’t an evil belief, I don’t know what is.
 
Bro: Well then you’re saying Christians are making stuff up? If so, talk about an opinion being tossed in the pool with others. That was just one example. You have Noah’s Ark and plenty of other things that just weren’t feasibly possible to allow for this to be justified as nonsense.
 
Well how can the goal be God and his glory if you’re not with him for eternity? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Wouldn’t you need to be with him and NOT in Hell for that goal to be achieved? It’d make zero sense if you lived a life devoted to God and then when the time comes, you get sent to Hell (for clearly unknown reasons).
 
I’m not angry about the lack of justice, I’m just saying that’s a fact of life. Because if Lanza lives, we take him to jail for the rest of his life or give him the death penalty. That doesn’t erase what happened. Nothing will erase what happened, especially for these families and this community. And yes, there’s some “closure” when murderers are brought to justice, but that’s nothing more than vengeance, which is just as evil of a concept. Like when we caught and killed bin Laden. Did that REALLY do anything to alleviate the matter? I don’t think so.
 
And besides, if you told me that Lanza was going to suffer ETERNALLY for this, I’d say that’s way too much. That’s not justice, that is evil to me. Sooner or later, especially in a non-human, soul form or whatever the hell you’d like to call it, he’s going to be sorry. And that moment is where the punishment should end (not to mention, God would know when that moment is….).
 
And actually, as far as I’m concerned, the killer didn’t get off easy. He ended his life. The one thing he has is gone too. He has paid the price, it’s unfortunate he took so many people with him. That ultimately becomes nothing more than a self-inflicted death penalty, which may have been his sentence anyway if he were alive. That or he’d be in prison for life. Ultimately, as long as these people are out of the public and not able to inflict more damage, that’s what needs to be done. Unfortunately, Lanza was just one grain of sand on the beach because there are plenty of others who can shoot up a mall or school tomorrow as well. It’s possible to combat this, I’m just not sure how. One thing is for sure…prayer is not going to fix it.
 
Me: I’m saying not everything Christians believe is a teaching of Christianity (“1+1=2” is not in the Bible, for instance). God is glorified in many ways that don’t include going to heaven. I won’t reproduce every instance in the Bible where that’s the case. Just read it. I don’t think you’d find anyone that agrees with you that justice equals revenge. Again, I don’t know how atheism lets you consider anything “evil” to begin with. If the end of life is an adequate punishment for the murder of children, then all the philanthropists who have died have received nothing less than the punishment for murdering children. And vice versa.

22 Comments

Jnani

I would like to see your answer to his question because it looks like you avoided it.

” If they can have their mortal lives terminated and live with God forever, with no chance of ever going to hell because they can no longer be “tempted by evil or sin,” then honestly, isn’t that a great thing?”

Do you believe all the children went to heaven?

What about the shooter, how do you know the shooter wasn’t regenerated right before his death?

Matthias McMahon

Jnani,

Thanks for the comment.

One reason I didn’t answer that question is that it doesn’t reflect what I believe on the issue, and I wasn’t going to entertain his mistaken notion regarding the issue yet again. This is my most recent in a long line of exchanges with him, where I’ve explained that very thing.

I don’t believe, necessarily, that all the children went to heaven. I don’t think it’s impossible that they did. However, it’s not “great,” either way, that their lives were taken from them. Is it better to be afflicted with cancer, or die from it and thus be no longer afflicted? You’d be hard-pressed to come up with an easy answer. While it may be “great” that they’re no longer tempted by evil, it’s not “great” if they’re in hell. This is something my friend routinely either ignores or forgets.

I have no reason to believe he was regenerated right before he was killed, but I won’t speculate on it. God is capable of regenerating anyone, and only he knows for sure. Some things, you’ll find, I simply trust God with 🙂

Hope I answered adequately,
Matthias

Jnani

I’m having a hard time seeing where in your WV you could consider the shooting anything near a tragedy. You mention that their lives were taken from them, but that doesn’t seem to work with your theology since everyone lives eternally either in heaven or hell. Its as if the material world is just a stop on the way to a destination. I assume also that you believe in special election and that those children that were elect would be in heaven and those that were not would be in hell. If this is the case then where is the tragedy? Maybe it is only a tragedy for the ones that are not elect and therefor they were unable to live out their lives in this world before going to an eternity in hell. However, this would mean that they were deserving of such a punishment so why would anyone in your WV feel any sorrow for them.

Thanks for your answers.

Matthias McMahon

Jnani,

Surely you’re aware of Biblical passages where Jesus weeps for his friend Lazarus, and over Israel? And the command to “weep with those that weep”? What about the Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah weeping over Israel? The Olt Testament prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15) fulfilled in the New Testament (Matthew 2:18) when Herod ordered that all the male children up to a certain age be killed? The blessing on those who mourn, with the understanding that they will at last be comforted? All these things compose the Christian Worldview.

One needs to go to great lengths to ignore that the Bible makes provision for mourning over tragedy.

That being said, contrary to atheism, Christianity provides the only comfort through such a tragedy. It also issues a warning to all those from whom God has NOT taken life, in an act of mercy by allowing them time to repent.

The fact that a child goes to heaven does not mean a father or mother will not miss the child, and suffer tragedy. The fact that the child goes to heaven (or hell) does not nullify the evil nature of the act performed, over which we are commanded to mourn. A Christian father and mother can be comforted *through* the tragedy by having confidence in God’s promises to bring them into his presence. We are not fatalistic. We are optimistic. It is true that the atheist has no such hope without relinquishing his atheism and embracing his Creator.

Matthias

Jnani

I wasn’t suggesting that you cannot mourn however what is exactly you would be mourning about is of interest. Surely you would mourn for the family and friends of the victims, but why in the CW would you be mourning for the victims? For those victims that wen’t to heaven then they are better off so why mourn for them. For those that go to hell, why mourn for them if it is merely justice being carried out for those not deserving of heaven?

You said: “contrary to atheism, Christianity provides the only comfort through such a tragedy”.

What comfort is there in knowing that a lost child may be suffering an eternity in hell. This is what your WV has to offer. Only a possibility that a loved one is not suffering in hell. That doesn’t seem like much comfort to me. How could one even sleep at night knowing that their child may be enduring such pain forever.

Atheism on the other hand provides the comfort that our loved ones that are no longer living are not suffering one bit. In fact the dead don’t feel anything and don’t experience anything. What seems more comforting; your lost child may or may not be suffering an eternity in hell or your lost child feels no more pain and doesn’t even know they are dead?

Matthias McMahon

For the same reason anyone would. That loved one you held close fellowship with, you no longer can hold that fellowship with, for a time (assuming you both are Christians); that your loved one was the victim of a crime. Both legitimate things to mourn over, as I said earlier. But I suppose there is no comfort to be had if your loved one ultimately goes to hell. Rather than making those sorts of pronouncements, however, we prefer to trust God that whatever he says is good, is good.

You may not find the comfort sufficient, but what comfort does a mother have that her daughter is safe over in Europe, when in reality the plane crashed into the Atlantic on its way over? False comfort is no comfort. You may presume that your loved one is no longer suffering, but you can never know that for sure. Not unless someone were to come from the dead and tell you that… the possibility of which, I suspect you’d deny.

This is what your worldview has to offer.

Jnani

I think you are missing the point. From within the atheist WV one can know that the deceased are not suffering. From within the Christian WV however you cannot know that your deceased loved ones are not suffering. You can only hope that they are not, but as you said “False comfort is no comfort”. Saying that whatever God says is good, is good does nothing to solve your dilemma as I would suspect that if you knew your loved one was suffering an eternity in hell it would be a rather horrible situation for you. It seems to me with regards to this topic, atheists live much more consistently with their WV. Of course, I cannot speak for all atheists.

Matthias McMahon

I think an atheist can merely suspect that his loved one is no longer suffering, because generally atheism holds that there is no supernatural, and thus there can be no knowledge of the supernatural (I’m assuming you consider any life after death to be supernatural).

A Christian can have trust in God in spite of the well-being of his loved one, regardless of whether you can comprehend that. There is no dilemma, because a Christian’s comfort does not primarily come from our knowledge of the well-being of our loved ones.

Perhaps an atheist can presume that his loved one is no longer suffering. But why consider it a tragedy that he died in the first place? If there is no meaning or purpose to the universe per se, don’t you think it’s delusional that we both act as though there is, even on the individual level?

Jnani

Its not merely suspecting but rather that it is true within my world view. I don’t consider there to be any life after death so its neither supernatural or natural, only imaginary.

“There is no dilemma, because a Christian’s comfort does not primarily come from our knowledge of the well-being of our loved ones.”

Well, we have been talking about the comfort that we may have related to the well-being of the deceased so you seem to be trying to change the topic.

“But why consider it a tragedy that he died in the first place?”

I consider it a tragedy because this is the only life we get and that life was taken from the victims. Of course, they don’t know that they are dead. You also have the people that are left behind that are suffering the loss of their loved ones so that is a tragedy as well.

“If there is no meaning or purpose to the universe per se, don’t you think it’s delusional that we both act as though there is, even on the individual level?”

Meaning is subjective and since we are all subjects, there is plenty of meaning in the universe. It’s only delusional to see meaning where there is none which I would contend the Christian WV does. Of course you probably disagree with that.

Matthias McMahon

I do believe I said from the beginning that we ultimately trust God with respect to the well-being of people involved in the tragedy.

“Meaning is subjective and since we are all subjects, there is plenty of meaning in the universe. It’s only delusional to see meaning where there is none”

I don’t know what you mean by this, but if you’re saying people see their own meaning in whatever they want to, how can you possibly fault Christians for doing this? They see meaning where you “can’t,” perhaps, but how does this entail they see it “where there is none”? I might label any view contrary to mine “delusional” but I won’t get as far as you have, conversationally. “Inconsistency” comes to mind.

Jnani

“how can you possibly fault Christians for doing this?”

It’s not that I “fault” them for doing it, but rather I just think they are mistaken.

“They see meaning where you “can’t,” perhaps, but how does this entail they see it “where there is none”?”

That’s the point of disagreement now isn’t it. I say you see meaning where there is none and you say I cant see it. This is just pointing out the differences in our world views.

“I might label any view contrary to mine “delusional” but I won’t get as far as you have, conversationally”

I was only reusing your term delusional. It is rather harsh though.

Matthias McMahon

“It’s not that I “fault” them for doing it, but rather I just think they are mistaken.”

I find it odd you wouldn’t consider being mistaken a “fault,” but wouldn’t the correct way to say it be, “their meaning doesn’t coincide with my own” then? And if this is the case, why bother saying anything? Unless pontificating is something your worldview considers meaningful. I don’t mean to be snide.

I suppose the question needing asked is, are there objective values in your worldview that exist apart from (or above) what individuals find “meaningful,” such that you can point to someone who *doesn’t* share your values and tell them they’re wrong or mistaken, and have that be taken as “meaningful”?

I see you saying meaning is subjective, but then speaking as if there is meaning that isn’t subjective.

Jnani

Technically I suppose being mistaken is a “fault” however I think in the context that you put it in originally made it seem more like ad hominem and I wanted to clarify that is not my intent.

“Objective values” is a contradiction. Value implies subjectivity so your question doesn’t make sense.

No where have I spoken as if meaning is NOT subjective. I thought I made it pretty clear upfront that meaning IS subjective. You originally asked about meaning and purpose. For brevity I’ve been leaving off purpose. I hope that wasn’t causing any confusion.

Thanks

Matthias McMahon

Oh, ok. I do think I was misunderstanding you. And, I’ll have to think of a different word than “value,” if that’s subjective for you too. Let me rework a couple things, and I’ll reply when I get some more time.

Matthias McMahon

While there are no “objective values” as far as you’re concerned, are there values every subject *should* hold?

Jnani

I don’t think we can say someone *should* value something. Either they do value something or they don’t.

*Should* is also a problematic term on its own. It implies there is reason behind it. If there is no reason behind it then *should* is arbitrary. That being said, once a subjects values are known you could use the prescriptive *should* within those values.

Matthias McMahon

Does that mean it’s possible, given the killer’s values, that he “should have” killed people? If not, why not? If so, how do you propose to solve the problem of conflicting values?

Jnani

While I cannot know what was going on in the mind of the killer, based on his actions I would suspect that he had lost all sense of value. It appears that he did not even value his own life. I can say that if one values the life of others then they should not kill others. You may notice in the above statement that while *value* is subjective, the statement can be objectively evaluated. In many cases we assume others share our values and would just say they should or shouldn’t do something. Valuing life is just one such example.

As for solving the problem of conflicting values, we do it all the time through legislation.

Matthias McMahon

Perhaps he didn’t lose any sense of value, and was simply acting on his own values in his own way. I think in the sense you used “value” originally, he most certainly did “value” his own life. Just, differently than you or I would, as far as I can tell. With legislation, what’s simply happening is that one person’s (or group’s) values are being set up as the standard, and others are being forced to conform or risk punishment. (What we “do all the time” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what we *should* do. I think of the ancient practice of blood-letting when one had a disease.)

Or why not? And where we assume others share our values, and then consider those things to be “objectively evaluated,” how is that *not* an ad populum appeal?

Jnani

You will need to explain how you think he “certainly did value his own life”. As I said, I cannot know what was going on in his mind so we can only speculate.

I never said that what we do all the time is what we *should* do. You asked how I would propose solving the problem of conflicting values and I merely made an observation of one way we do it now.

It’s not clear what you are asking with “Or why not?”.

What I was saying was that we tend to assume others share our values and therefor will use language like *should* and *should not* without qualifying it with the reason. It is only an observation on how we use the terms.

Matthias McMahon

I mean he must have held specific values concerning his life. You seemed to be using “value” in two different ways: 1) relative values, regardless of whether they entail something negative or positive, and 2) “value” as in “held to be important,” which assumes positive value. Originally, you seemed to be using value 1, while in your statement, “he did not even value his own life,” you’re using 2.

With “or why not?” I was simply wondering if you’d disagree with my formulation of your position with respect to legislation, and if so, why. If there is nothing objectively good or bad, how is one group of people justified for putting their values into law, while others don’t share their values?

Also, what do you mean by “objectively evaluated”?

By the way, if following this comment thread is becoming too tiresome, we can meet up in the chat channel if you’d like. (I tend to think it’s easier to converse in real time.) I noticed you were in the other day, but I missed you I guess. I’m McFormtist.

Jnani

Since Mr. Bolt decided to do a whole blog post about my comment that meaning is subjective, and he does not allow comments on his posts I’m responding here since it is still relevant.

“Meaning is subjective.”
“Would Jnani apply this claim to itself? Is the meaning of, “Meaning is subjective” merely subjective ? If so, then Jnani’s claim is self-referentially problematic. The meaning of the claim is itself subjective, rather than objective, and no one need accept it.”
Mr. Bolt is equating two different forms of “meaning”. When I say “meaning is subjective”, I am only pointing out the nature of meaning as related to things like purpose and intentionality which is ontologically subjective. Mr. Bolt is falsely equating linguistic meaning with a more philosophical meaning as in purpose, intentionality, and “meaning of life”.

“Actually, if meaning rests in the subject, and we are all subjects, then there is “plenty of meaning” in us. It’s not out there in the universe. Jnani implies that meaning is external. That it exists in the universe apart from subjects.”
No where do I imply that meaning is external from the subject. If Mr. Bolt would pay attention to the context of the conversation he would know that when I say “meaning is subjective” I am referring to the ontological nature of meaning. If meaning is ontologically subjective as was the intention of my statement then it obviously does not exist apart from the subject.

“He should not have written, “there is plenty of meaning in the universe” when what he really means is “there is plenty of meaning [in us as subjects].””
I was responding to a question containing the phrase “meaning or purpose to the universe“. It shouldn’t be hard to spot my not so clever attempt to highlight a difference (“to” vs “in”) in the two world views that were being discussed.

“The two are very different claims.”
Actually they are not very different claims. One just happens to be more specific than the other. If meaning is ontologically subjective and we are subjects and we are in the universe then there is meaning in the universe.
The rest of Mr. Bolts post is based on the false assumptions and misrepresentation I have already pointed out so I will not bother to go through it.


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