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…