J.T.’s underwhelming critique of Christianity: Part One

Critiques of the Christian worldview are a dime-a-dozen in the vast expanse of the internet. The majority of them are deep on rhetoric, insult, and wow-factor presentation while being incredibly shallow on substance, critical thinking, and sound argumentation. As a lay apologist, I frequently come across various critiques and refutations of Christianity in one form or another scattered across the Blogosphere, Facebook, or YouTube. One such critical assessment of Christianity is the presentation, “Why the arguments for god’s existence suck,” given by J.T. Eberhard at the Freethought Festival in Madison, Wisconsin last April. A video of the presentation was shared on YouTube, here, and has received nearly 15,000 views and over 700 “likes.” Co-founder of Skepticon, a skeptics conference held annually in Missouri, J.T. is also a member of the Secular Student Alliance and speaks at events across the country sharing his atheist worldview.

The main focus of my response to J.T.’s presentation will be to establish whether or not he has offered a sound, valid, and substantiated refutation of the arguments he specifically addresses and the Christian worldview in general. As often as possible I will format my critique in a way that follows the flow of the video allowing you, the reader, to locate the material within his presentation more easily. I will also parenthetically notate the time in the video associated with each quote to provide direct-from-the-source accountability. Now, on to the main event.

First and foremost, I’d like to take a moment and express my appreciation for J.T., the passion he displays in doing his activist work for atheism, and his strong desire for public discourse on serious issues surrounding the most important question mankind has ever asked: Does God exist? While we certainly disagree on the answer to this question, we stand on common ground in desiring to share our beliefs with others and in encouraging those with whom we agree to equip themselves to evangelize more effectively. J.T. insists that we should “tell people what you think…” in order to “…help them to be better, reasonable people” (6:05). On this, I could not agree more. Speaking to his audience, he says, “We need to be holding them to the reasons they believe these things” (6:24). This, too, is an area of agreement. So, is J.T. in fact reasonable, consistent, and, most importantly, correct? I don’t think so.

Starting off his presentation about why we must argue, J.T. shares the tragic story of 11-year-old Madeline Neumann who died from a treatable form of diabetes after her parents refused to get her medical attention and, instead, only prayed for her to be healed. After relating the story to the audience, he claims, “If the word ‘bad’ is to have any meaningful definition, parents who watch while their child dies are bad” (2:18). Here, J.T. makes a qualitative statement regarding the moral duties of Madeline’s parents; one which I would agree with and have a firm foundation to ground it upon. On atheism, however, there are no objective moral duties because morality is simply grounded in the opinion of persons and social institutions relative to their time in history and geographic location on the earth. So, not only is what Madeline’s parents did not objectively bad in any sense on J.T.’s worldview, but would be morally acceptable if he were in a different social, temporal, or geographic context. This type of buffet-morality is on full display as he explains, “If you have good intentions, it is a moral obligation for you to try to be as reasonable as possible to make sure that your good intentions are borne out in the results you see” (2:53). Moral obligations to whom and on whose authority? Unfortunately, J.T. operates as though he affirms the reality of objective moral duties while espousing a worldview incompatible with this belief. Is his position more reasonable and consistent than that of the Christian? Not in the least.

Moving to whether or not arguments work in changing people’s minds, J.T. asks the audience members to raise their hand if they were once religious. He then tells them to keep their hand up if they were personally persuaded to change their mind by an argument or book such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (3:56). Ironically, J.T.’s mentioning of Dawkins betrays his moral statements made only one minute prior. For it was Richard Dawkins, in his book River out of Eden, who said, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (p. 133). Atheism leaves no room for purpose, moral value, and moral duties which one could qualify as good or evil. He then tells the audience that you do not choose your beliefs and that no one is capable of choosing to believe in Jesus as Christianity claims (4:11). His reasoning? “Your brain is an engine that generates this map of reality based on whatever facts are in your skull…” (4:17). He also adds, “So once we get the right facts into someone’s head, they’re powerless” (4:37). Did you hear that? The “right” facts. Perhaps unwittingly, he precludes the possibility of facts about the gospel accounts being introduced into someone’s skull in order for them to form a rational, warranted belief in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Christianity. So ask yourself, is this a reasonable position to hold or one adhering to intellectual honesty? Again, I would say no on both accounts.

J.T. then begins discussing some of the tricks and tactics Christians will use to avoid talking about their beliefs or to distract the atheist from the conversation. Addressing the response about the possibility that God exists, he says, “But we’re not arguing about possibility, we’re arguing about plausibility” (7:00). This quote will be important to remember for subsequent parts of my critique, so file it away in your memory banks! Finally, before diving into his critique of the different arguments for God’s existence, J.T. begins by saying, “There is one argument they need to address; one argument, period. And that is, there is no evidence for the existence of God!” (8:00). At best, J.T. is simply ignorant of the mountains of scholarly work throughout thousands of years of history providing evidence for God’s existence. At worst, he is simply being intellectually dishonest with his audience in order to stir their emotions and pander to their presuppositions. In either case, he is wrong, and evidence for God’s existence is readily available to be assessed by serious inquirers seeking truth (such evidence will eventually be part of my blog; in the meantime, however, please review my blog’s Bookshelf, Blog Network, and visit the links provided in the sidebar). Part Two coming soon…

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Dwight Stanislaw

Dwight is a second-year religious studies student with a passion for apologetics, philosophy, and theology. He loves to read, write, spend time with family and friends, and cheer for the professional sports teams of Colorado. His personal blog, Man on Mars, can be found at http://themanonmars.wordpress.com

  • Rachel

    This was great, I’m truly looking forward to part 2.

  • donsevers

    >J.T. operates as though he affirms the reality of objective moral duties while espousing a worldview incompatible with this belief.

    This is a distraction. JT’s views are irrelevant to theism. When JT says ‘bad’, he is arguing on theism. It is a fallacy to switch arguments from theism to atheism in the same sentence, as in this paraphrase:

    ‘An atheist errs in accusing God of evil on theism because, on atheism, there is no evil.’
    It simpy doesn’t matter what the speaker believes when arguing on theism, or any other basis.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/changing-horses-midstream/10151077358334005

    • http://twitter.com/ComradeVolizden Stephen Fullerton

      “When JT says ‘bad’, he is arguing on theism.”

      I thought you said what you said but just in case I went to you’r link at the end and read there:

      “Wm Lane Craig, loves to say that atheists can’t say there is a
      problem of evil on theism because, on atheism, there is no good or
      evil.”

      Horse Hockey!!!

      let us start with a simple postulate from an atheist world view, that being,
      1. No god –> no after life
      2. Just this one life to live.
      3. Natural Death OK, untimely Death BAD (EVIL?)
      (one step further)
      Because I want to live a long life and I don’t want to be Killed
      by extension naturally.
      4. OTHER PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO BE KILLED

      See what I showed there, how BAD can be reached WITHOUT GOD or THEISM.

      “This canard is red meat for theists and has gone unchallenged even among atheists.”

      No it is NOT a good basis of an argument for theists, Harris Ignored it in his debate because its RIDICULOUS (which I just showed above), Not to mention has been counter argued successfully several times.

      • donsevers

        Of course, there are many ways to have evil on atheism, but that is irrelevant to a discussion on theism. To state it more carefully, Wm Lane Craig would say “IF there is no evil on atheism, then atheists can’t discuss the problem of evil on theism”. Changing horses midstream is the fallacy, whether there is evil on atheism or not.

        • http://twitter.com/ComradeVolizden Stephen Fullerton

          Wait so in your reply you state:
          “Of course, there are many ways to have evil on atheism,”

          But then say according to Craig:
          “IF there is no evil on atheism, then atheists can’t discuss the problem of evil on theism”

          You just contradicted unless you weren’t clear in your statements.

          See what I am saying?
          “IF there is no evil on atheism,
          (Of course, there are many ways to have evil on atheism,)
          then atheists can’t discuss the problem of evil on theism”.

          and WTH does Evil ON Atheism mean anyway? Using atheism to determine if there is Evil?

          • donsevers

            The point is, even if I contradicted myself, it would be irrelevant to a discussion on theism. Maybe this will help:

            “If I am 10′ tall, then I am the tallest person in the world. On theism, it seems God could have created a kinder world.”

          • Maryann

            Stephen, “on” is the same as “according to” when someone says “on atheism”. Some atheists think evil is real, some don’t. If they don’t, they can’t use it to argue against God’s existence.

            • Myk Dowling

              “Evil” on atheism is shorthand for “purposeless suffering”. Suffering is an empirical phenomenon. And purpose is assumed to be absent sans evidence.

              • http://www.facebook.com/dwight.stanislaw Dwight Stanislaw

                Myk: “Evil” denotes a qualitative statement regarding morality. So, if what is meant is “purposeless suffering,” then that is what should be said. Also, because “purposeless suffering” is an incredibly subjective classification, what criterion would one use to determine whether or not purpose is evident or absent? And although suffering itself is an empirical phenomenon, statements *about* suffering are grounded in moral judgments reflective of one’s worldview.

                • Myk Dowling

                  Just as “on” denotes a physical relationship relating to a gravitational field direction. So, if what is meant is “according to,” then that is what should be said. I already said purpose is assumed to be absent sans evidence. Provide evidence that an actor has intentionally caused suffering in order to achieve a benefit (such as a surgeon cutting in order to effect a cure), otherwise we must assume purpose is absent.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dwight.stanislaw Dwight Stanislaw

      J.T. most certainly was not, at this point, arguing on theism. His words were given in the context of why there needs to be an argument/discussion with theists and the worldviews they espouse. This was J.T.’s moral compass coming out pointing to something as being objectively bad while adhering to a worldview incompatible with this notion. There was no switch here from theism to atheism.

      • donsevers

        Ok, you’re right, JT was not arguing on theism.

        The point is that the problem of evil on theism has nothing to do with evil on atheism. JT’s views just don’t matter. And atheism doesn’t matter. In fact, it never matters who is talking or what other views say. All that matters is how concepts within a view hang together. JT could be a centaur or a computer program and it wouldn’t affect his claims about theism at all.

        If we care about the truth, we won’t squirt ink when confronted. We will do everything we can to face challenges head on. Of course, this is tricky stuff and we’re all learning all the time, so we have to be patient with each other.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dwight.stanislaw Dwight Stanislaw

          I would disagree here as well. The problem of evil on theism has everything to do with evil on atheism because it is the argument of atheism, whether the logical or probable version, in the affirmative of the claim that “no god exists.”

          I would, however, agree that the truth is something we should care about deeply and that the challenges we face should be met head on. Thank you for the comments.

  • http://twitter.com/motow Adam

    He is not “arguing on theism” or borrowing from that worldview, in any sense, what so ever. Theism still has no answer to Socrates’ questions: Is something right because god tells it to us or does god tell us what is right. Theism has no “Objective Standard of Morality” only diving fiat theory, which isn’t objective at all it is God’s subjective standard. The fallacy is switching the meaning of objective. It is essentially a type of Goal Post fallacy. Even if Christians could explain their moral ontology (they can’t) there is zero (0) agreement on moral semantics, which also renders the Christian moral worldview completely empty.

    • Maryann

      Adam–something is morally right because it is justified by good reasoning, and corresponds to a good being. I can justify the Golden Rule with good reasoning, and point to God as the good being to which it corresponds (which it describes, iow). Treating the Other as Self (the Golden Rule) was beautifully demonstrated in Jesus’ switching perspectives on the cross. Agreement is not required for truth…it’s true whether or not there is agreement.

      • http://twitter.com/motow Adam

        You did not address anything in my post. Thanks for the response though. I will engage your points anyway. What standard do you use to say that god is “good”? This still goes to the dichotomy that I brought up. Is god good because he says he is good, or is that some other standard by which we determine god’s goodness?

        • Maryann

          I did address you actually. There is a standard (Golden Rule) which corresponds to and describes God (the goodness of his being), rather than being separate or above him. The Golden Rule can be justified with good reasoning (I can link you to my work on that, if you like)–but, unless there is a being to which it corresponds, it can never be true. Do you know of any being defined by the Golden Rule? I do. :)

  • Anthony Magnabosco

    Looking forward to seeing your evidence! It will rock the world!

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