Antony Flew was one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century. He wrote over thirty books opposing religion and was a professor at the University of Keele and at Oxford, Aberdeen, and Reading. Flew changed his mind about the existence of God because he said, “You have to go where the evidence leads you.” In his final book There is a God he describes the failures of modern atheism:
1) Atheists refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God’s existence.
2) Atheists do not address the central grounds for positing a divine reality.
3) Atheists fail to address the issue of the origins of rationality embedded in the fabric of the universe, of life understood as autonomous agency, and of consciousness, conceptual thought, and the self.
4) Atheists show no awareness of the fallacies and muddles that led to the rise and fall of logical positivism. The “new atheism” is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy.
5) The excesses and atrocities of organized religion have no bearing whatsoever on the existence of God.
Are you carrying around some vestigial conviction that God is good, or that Nature loves you? We guarantee that our newest nominee, the Guinea Worm, will fix that in one easy lesson. –From an atheist website.
Many atheist sites promoted the Guinea worm as the ultimate example of how one cannot believe in God because of terrible things that exist in the creation. It also shows how far atheists will go, and how much sarcasm and derision fills most atheist sites. A frequently quoted phrase is this one: “God’s plan [for the Guinea worm] is … carefully engineered pain machines, self-sustaining, spreading ever wider and deeper through the world … the worm is the very incarnation of god’s plan.”
A careful study of this situation is useful not only to answer the challenges of atheists but to better understand the design issue and how God functions in the world. The Guinea worm is a creature that is unquestionably a real horror story. This animal begins with Guinea worm larvae in ponds or rivers being eaten by small lobster-like water fleas. The embryos mature inside the water fleas. When humans drink the water, the water fleas with the larvae get into the human stomach where the fleas are digested, but the Guinea worm is not. They will find their way to the small intestine where they burrow through the wall and pass into the body cavity. During the next 10 to 14 months, the female worm will grow to as much as 31 inches (80 cm) long and as big around as cooked spaghetti. It will migrate to the lower limbs of the human. The worm will chew its way to the surface of the skin where it will emerge from a blister which causes a painful burning sensation. The only way to get relief is to put the foot or leg into water. When this is done, the female will release a milky white liquid with millions of larvae into the water contaminating the water supply. Once the worm emerges through the skin, you can pull it out, but you can only move it a few centimeters each day. If you pull too fast and break the worm, it will cause massive infection in the human body. It can take weeks to pull a worm from a person’s body. A person who has this parasite is likely to have many worms in his body and can be totally incapacitated and in severe pain. A person does not develop immunity and can be infected multiple times.
Our purpose is not to “gross you out” as my high school kids liked to say, but rather to look at the question of why such horrific creatures exist and how issues like this relate to the concept of a loving and compassionate God. Many other examples could be given from mosquitoes to the AIDS virus, and the points we want to make here apply to all of them.
It is important to understand that many things that exist in the world were not created by God, but they are a consequence of something else. As a simple example, God did not create war, but because God created humans with free will, there is war. Similar statements would apply to pornography, sexual abuse, and any number of other social issues. In the biological arena, there are many things that exist because good things have been mismanaged, misused, or are a product of a human-corrupted environment. Humans have many times caused nature to function in a way it was not designed to function. There are many examples of animal behavior that turn out to be aberrant, caused by the duress of captivity or other human activity and not by the normal function of the organism. In other cases, natural processes have caused changes with negative consequences. Seventy-five percent of all mosquitoes are pollinating insects that feed on nectar and plant juices and do not depend upon blood to survive. However, in many species, the mouthparts of the females have adapted to pierce the skin of humans or animals. Many virus mutations have caused changes in what was a positive organism and turned it into a negative one. Genetic studies of the Guinea worm have shown it is related to other worms which have positive roles in the environment. It appears that this terrible parasite is a mutant. Our point is that assuming that the Guinea worm is something God created to torture humans is an assumption that is due to the vested interests of those making the claim, not what the evidence shows.
Guinea worm infections are due to misuse of the environment. The worm is totally transmitted by humans drinking from contaminated water. Filtering water to remove the water fleas would stop the disease. Drinking from underground water sources would prevent it. The water sources given to the Israelites in the Old Testament would never have allowed the Guinea worm to exist. Not allowing humans to enter water supplies would stop the disease. For the most part, the disease has occurred where war has forced people to extreme situations and conditions.
God gave humans instructions on how to live. God told the first humans to have dominion over the Earth and all that is on it, and to “take care of the garden, to dress it and keep it.” Mismanagement of the natural world has caused massive hardship for humans, but to attribute this to a design or plan of God is to simply be dishonest. Christian organizations have led the battle against the Guinea worm. Atheist complaints against agents like the Guinea worm would be much more convincing if atheists were instrumental in helping to alleviate the suffering. The Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter began attacking the problem in 1986 when there were almost a million cases. Since then the number of cases has decreased each year until there were only 25 in 2016. Many Christian organizations have worked to supply clean drinking water to people in impoverished and war-torn nations.
One of the more convincing evidences that the Bible is inspired and not the work of human minds is the fact that it gives a proven, workable, testable, logical standard of conduct that improves the condition of all humans and brings real meaning to life. Skeptics and atheists do not like to hear that, and they will argue vociferously against it. In modern times, we have had a parade of philosophers from Ayn Rand to the secular humanists of the American Humanist Association that have suggested alternatives, all based on the “virtuous nature of humankind.” It is easy to show from a historical standpoint that such standards are doomed to failure.
Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia in 1819. Jefferson dreamed of a public college which would have no regulations nor rules. Students of “good report” would be admitted and expected to practice “good will and judgment” that would respect the rights and property of others. Jefferson called it the “Grand Experiment” in which democracy and public education were brought together. It is important to note that it had a faculty and student body composed of the “cream of the crop.” There were no religious values imposed on the students and no rules concocted by previous generations that could be construed as an attempt by elders to manipulate, control, or restrict the younger generation. The University of Virginia offered an opportunity to see where highly educated, intelligent people would go with a lack of external rules and regulations.
The University of Virginia experiment of the 1820s was a total failure. Students did not go to class, drinking became a major problem, all kinds of offensive sexual conduct was carried on, and violence escalated. One night, 14 students high on alcohol went on a rampage assaulting professors with bricks and canes. The trustees of the University held a special meeting with the 82-year-old Jefferson in attendance. In his speech, Jefferson called the grand experiment “the most painful event of his life” and sat down with tears of grief unable to finish his speech. The board of trustees then enacted a series of rules and regulations along with a code of conduct that was rigidly enforced.
One might argue that a total lack of rules and regulations is unworkable, but that the Christian system is only one of hundreds of systems which will work equally well. To see the fallacy of that argument, look at what other systems have done. Look at what communism, as practiced in Russia, China, or North Korea, has produced. See what monarchies over the millennia have done to and for their subjects. Consider how women have been treated in Muslim cultures or how science and technology have fared in animalistic ancestor-worship cultures. While it’s true that some horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, those atrocities were done in diametric contradiction to Christ and his teachings.
It has been said that if you don’t believe in something, you will believe anything. Many teenagers today have been turned off by religion. For a large number of these kids, the problem is that religion doesn’t make sense. They see adults preaching one thing and living in diametric opposition to what they are preaching. They find that when they ask questions, those questions are not being answered.
Recently someone sent us a copy of a teen magazine which is also on the web. One of the articles that caught my eye was highlighted with “people are trying to grasp on to something higher than themselves.” The article then quotes the Pew Research Center data we have discussed in this journal saying that Americans are becoming less religious. They then promote “rock stars” which are crystals which they say will “de-stress, boost energy, and brighten your mood.” The minerals they list are hematite which they say will help you sleep and rose quartz which they say “will open you up to platonic and romantic love” (and they don’t explain how love can be both platonic and romantic). They also have amazonite which has turquoise which they say will help with accountability, and amethyst which will cure addictive behaviors. These, of course, are all common minerals which you could find in your backyard. To call them “magic stones” and promote their use as a solution to teenage issues in the twenty-first century is an out and out lie.
This journal has generally taken a skeptical point of view. What we mean is that we do not accept something unless there is evidence to support it. All of our presentations deal with evidence, and we have had numerous articles dealing with and debunking all kinds of claims in various areas of life that do not have evidential support. That has included scientific claims, claims in the paranormal, and claims of a religious nature.
In the early 90’s an organization was founded called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Its stated objective was “to promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” In 1995 they began a bimonthly with articles from skeptics about all kinds of issues. In the beginning, their articles were fairly even-handed, and they did a great job of looking into all kinds of bogus claims including some religious claims. In recent years their treatment of religious issues has drifted into constant attacks on any claim for evidence of the existence of God with a heavy bias against Christianity.
Many people regard Richard Dawkins as the leading atheist in the world. His books such as The God Delusion have been touted as the best atheism has to offer. We have reviewed many of Dawkins’ arguments in this journal as have writers like Alister McGrath (The Dawkins Delusion) and others. Several years ago Dawkins began his own organization called The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote his radical atheism.
As of January 1, 2017, these two organizations have merged with Dawkins being on the Board of CFI and RDFRS becoming a division of CFI. One stated objective is to “continue the struggle for the full equality of atheists and other religious dissenters.” Secularism is the religious viewpoint of this merger, and the number of attacks on churches and individuals who argue for God’s existence will certainly escalate. There is a need for an unbiased investigation of all claims, secular and religious. However, personal comments against belief in God and ridicule of religion which has been typical of both organizations makes this merger an affront to those who want even-handed and fair investigations of all claims. Data from Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2017, pages 4 and 5.