Skeptical or Religious Bigotry?

Skeptical or Religious?
Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.

In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.

Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”

It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.

Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.

Maybe the starting place for discussions with a relative or friend who has rejected the existence of God is to ask whether there is anything that would change their mind. The question is whether they are being merely skeptical or religious. Has their unbelief become a religion? At the same time, we should be open to their skeptical questions, but we need to be sure that we are “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the reason for the hope that is within us, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and God

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and God
Why do people want to believe in extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), space aliens, and UFOs? It has been my experience that proponents of these things are people who reject Christianity and belief in the God of the Bible. Now there is scientific data which supports what my experience has indicated about extraterrestrial intelligence and God.

The scientific journal Motivation and Emotion published a study by North Dakota State University researchers showing that the more people believe in extraterrestrials, the less they believe in God. The researchers wrote, “ETI beliefs serve an existential function: the promotion of perceived meaning in life. In this way, we view belief in ETI as serving a function similar to religion without relying on the traditional religious doctrines that some people have deliberately rejected.” In other words, people believe in extraterrestrial intelligent beings to take the place of belief in God.

The research seems to indicate that believing in ETI provides a way to develop a view that gives meaning to life. The researchers say that belief in ETI “could make humans feel like they are part of a larger and more meaningful cosmic drama.” Even some scientists such as Nobel prize winner Francis Crick have advanced the idea that extraterrestrials planted life on Earth. It just goes to show that when you don’t believe in God, you will believe in anything. Atheist Michael Shermer who is the publisher of Skeptic magazine says “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God” (Scientific American, January 2002).

All of this confusion about extraterrestrial intelligence and God is the result of an unfortunate, mistaken concept of what God is. It also results from not looking at all of the evidence for the existence of God. It does explain, however, why many people desperately try to find a way to believe that aliens are our creators.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“What Is Truth, Anyway?”

Truth
Truth
I would suggest that the most prolific atheist of our time is Michael Shermer. Unlike Richard Dawkins, Shermer knows something about the Bible and Christianity. Shermer is a graduate of Pepperdine University, where he enrolled to become a preacher in the Church of Christ. Because of this education, Shermer understands the biblical account of Jesus. Even though his view of Christ and the Church has been altered by his embracing of atheism he does raise good arguments that are well presented and usually factually correct. He is the editor of Skeptic magazine and has a column in Scientific American which is almost always from an atheist/skeptic position. In the April 2017, issue of that magazine (page 78) Shermer has “What is Truth, Anyway” as the title of his column.

The problem Shermer and I would suggest that all of us face, is that truth has many meanings. In the Old Testament, the word truth was used in two senses: (1) Facts that may be ascertained to be true or false. (2) The existential and moral, or truth as the attribute of a person. The Hebrew word “met” is used for the former and “muna” is used for the latter and is translated “faithfulness” in some translations. In the New Testament Greek words for truth (aletheia, alethes and alethinos) are used in three different senses: (1) Dependability, truthfulness, uprightness of character applied to God and to men. (Romans 3:7 and 15:8; 2 Corinthians 7:14; and Ephesians 5:9) (2) Truth in the absolute sense of what is real and complete as opposed to false and wanting (Mark 5:33 and Ephesians 4:25). Jesus used this to describe himself in John 14:6. (3) Something real as opposed to a copy. (Hebrews 8:2 and John 6:32,35)

Much of the debate between creationists and atheists is rooted in what the two viewpoints are willing to accept as truth. Shermer says, “It is not impossible that the dinosaurs died a few thousand years ago as Young Earth creationists believe, but it is so unlikely we need not waste our time considering it.” I would agree with Shermer on this point because of the problems it poses, and we have discussed this in our publications many times. However, both sides in the discussion have made a decision of what they consider to be true, and both sides are unwilling to look any further at the evidence because they feel they have the truth.

Shermer moves from this scientific discussion to the question of whether Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. He rejects both of these suggestions because the claim is extraordinary and he doesn’t consider the evidence for the validity of the claim convincing since other explanations are possible. About these other explanations, Shermer says, “Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.”

The bottom line in Shermer’s argument is naturalism–that everything that has ever happened can be explained by science. By assuming naturalism, most atheists preclude any kind of evidence that cannot be falsified or tested experimentally. Shermer’s rejection of the resurrection is a rejection of historical evidence. He rejects the testimony of witnesses because they could be biased and cannot be checked, and yet that is true of all historical events. He doesn’t consider the logical problem of the apostles dying for something if they knew it was false. He rejects the effect Christ has had in the lives of millions of people as subjective and emotionally driven. When you demand scientific falsification of any true event, you preclude much of what we know of the past and even some of the present.

In John 18:36-38 Jesus and Pilate have a short discussion about truth. Jesus says, “Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate responds by saying, “What is truth?” Pilate doesn’t wait for an answer. In today’s world, many people complain about not knowing what is true, but like Pilate, they don’t want to consider the evidence and testimony of Christ. We used to have a joke in graduate school that said, “Always make sure your data conforms to your conclusion.” Of course, it was said in ridicule. In today’s world, many people have reached their conclusion about truth, and no amount of evidence will change their minds. All we can do is present the evidence and allow them to make their decision of what they will consider to be the truth.
Note: Data about the Old and New Testament words and concept of truth is from The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdman’s Publishing Company.
–John N. Clayton © 2017