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November 14, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Dr. Benjamin Wiker

side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar I have a confession to make. I like Sam Harris. I think he may well become my favorite atheist. Someday, I hope to meet him. He’s the kind of guy you could have a knock-down argument with, and then go knock down a Guinness together.

Sam’s not a nice guy. That’s why I find him, in great part, so likeable. Nice atheists pretend that Christianity is all very well for people with softer brains, and consequently, nice atheists treat Christians with condescending public pats on the head, even while, in private, they consider such belief to be the sheerest, most ridiculous fairy-tale bunk.

But there’s no such duplicity in Sam: “if one of us is right, the other is wrong.” And Sam makes no bones about it. He believes Christianity is dead wrong, and he’ll tell you to your face.

So why do I—a Christian in my very bones—find an atheist’s candor to be so refreshing?

Let me go further, and say that his candor is not only refreshing, but helpful to Christians. So helpful, in fact, that every Christian should write him a thank-you letter back.

In fact, I think I will.

Letter From a Christian in Your Nation.

Dear Sam (if I might),

I just read your Letter to a Christian Nation, and as one of the addressees of your sundry jousts and barbs, wanted to thank you on behalf of all my fellow believers. You may find this a bit shocking, since you complain in the introduction that after your last book you received thousands of hate letters from irate Christians which revealed them to be “deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.”  But let me explain.

First of all, you take the beliefs of Christianity more seriously than most American Christians. You rightly dismiss the mushy mainstream, the complacent cultural Christianity that stands for nothing because it has long ceased to stand on anything firmly. Such “religious liberals” or “religious moderates” as you call them “are Christians who have no fear of hell and who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus.” As you rightly point out, they have given up such definite beliefs, and instead offer an entirely indefinite and airy faith “about mystery, and meaning, and community, and love” which offends no one and seemingly can include everyone—even atheists!  Who is against meaning?  What would it mean to be for meaning?

But you refuse to be swept up into the circle of such nonsense. Instead, you make clear that the only Christians worth arguing against, are those who actually believe what Christianity proposes.  In doing that, you force us to take Christianity more seriously ourselves.  Since we are—or perhaps were—a Christian nation for so long, we have become smug, and the Christian faith has suffered the kind of degeneration that occurs whenever a blessing is taken for granted. So, we thank you for you honest shock therapy.

Having said all that, and presuming that you do indeed mean what you say about the merits of “intellectual honesty,” you will not mind my probing your argument. After all, if I am to become an atheist—which is the stated result you desire in writing me a letter—then the reasons you provide for becoming an atheist must be compelling enough for me to drop Christianity.

Where to begin?  Well, I suggest that you better use arguments that rise above the freshman philosophy level.  “As many critics of religion have pointed out,” you remark, “the notion of a creator poses an immediate problem of infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God?”

Come now. All inferences in regard to the origin of the universe are faced with this problem, even and especially the arguments of atheists. If God didn’t create the universe, then what do we put at its origin? Is the universe self-caused and eternal, as many have tried to claim? But why is that bare assertion more rational than to argue that God is self-caused and eternal?

Or perhaps, it all started with the Big Bang.  But what came before the Big Bang? Another expanding and contracting universe? And before that? And that? An infinite regress!

But there are other, more worrisome contradictions in your Letter. Please help me sort them out. For example, you argue that (statistically speaking) somewhere in the world today, a little girl will be kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed.  God, if He existed, watches it happen in benign neglect.  Therefore—and here there are a few missing steps in your logic—you are an atheist.

“An atheist is a person,” you righteously proclaim, “who believes that the murder of a single little girl—even once in a million years—casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.”  Poignantly stated. And so, you inform us, you have embraced evolution as the cause of it all.

But, my friend, later on in the book you say that “There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape,” meaning by this that the prevalence of rape is a sign that it “had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors.” You make clear that you think rape is indeed evil—I am thankful for that—but this worthy response clashes with your atheism in two ways.

First, given your Darwinian presuppositions, “good” can only mean “had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors,” and these evolutionary advantages are the very source of our being here now as its beneficiaries. Thus, on your own terms, either rape is good or our contemporary existence rests on the very kind of evil that you have just claimed “casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.” Indeed, the very “benevolence” of natural selection consists in its continually and savagely cutting down the weak by the strong.

Following directly upon this, it should be clear your rejection of God—oddly enough—depends upon His existence. If you really take God out of the universe, then you are left with only evolution to blame.  But evolution cannot be blamed. It is not immoral but amoral.  From a purely evolutionary perspective, the desire to kidnap, rape, torture, and kill may or may not be traits that confer advantages to particular kin groups swimming in the same gene pool as they do inevitable battle in the struggle for existence against other kin groups. But either way, you can’t blame a rapist.  The desire to rape, according to neo-Darwinism, is simply a randomly-derived genetic trait.

What else? You chastise Christians for “expend[ing] more ‘moral energy’ opposing abortion than fighting genocide” by handing out free condoms to “fight” AIDS. But abortion is genocide, and on a scale that dwarfs all other more visible forms of genocide ever committed.

Sam, I must stop here.  There are so many other difficulties, I cannot put them into a single letter. But perhaps someday, we’ll get together and, cheek by jowl, settle this great debate.

Very sincerely yours,
Ben

Responses to Who Made God?:

Though you made some good points in the article and I generally agree, the tone was offensive. It was condescending, at best. “Degrading” or “disparaging” are better descriptions. Articles like this only provide fuel to those who do not believe in God. If I were an unbeliever, I would refuse to have any kind of dialog with you because of the tone of articles of this sort. - Dr. William "Chip" Kooi Associate Professor of Theology Oklahoma Christian University

While this debate may sound to many much like little children say, "No, my daddy can beat your daddy!"... The point in the cause and effect line of thinking is missing a very important point. While every effect indeed needs a cause, God is not an effect! He is a person, and while He can 'cause an effect'...He doesn't need a cause. - William Donelson, PhD

I usually try to turn the topic of the origin of the universe in the direction of personal choice and the responsibility that we personally have for every choice that we make. A hypothesis that some form of matter/energy (or its precursor) has always existed presents us with exactly the same problem as a hypothesis that God has always existed. Since neither our minds nor our mathematics can handle infinity very well, and since none of us were around at the time to see what actually happened, both of these choices must be based upon faith. If "faith" is defined as belief and trust that is based upon good evidence, then the question for the atheist or agnostic becomes, "Have you looked at any of the objective evidence that is available for the existence of God? " In most cases they have assumed that there is no such evidence, or have dismissed at least some of that evidence on the basis of their understanding of the second law of thermodynamics. For example, when I asked one of my scientist friends to put aside his preconceptions and imagine that a true miracle of gigantic proportions (which he calls "a violation of the laws of nature") had occurred in his presence, and then asked him whether he would accept that particular miracle, he said "No, because miracles are quite impossible". He's a very stubborn man! We have had similar discussions for over 20 years! - J.C. (Jim) Kennedy, MD, PhD Professor Emeritus, Department of Oncology Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Thanks for keeping lively topics in my inbox. But I'm not sure your reponse answers the corny scientists' argument. The person taking a number is working backwards before they can go forward. The universe is said to be a foreward flow of causation. Plus,you are allowing them to put you into their service. The simple answer to who made God is that we can't know and it is irrelevant. If they allow for God, it doesn't matter who or if anyone made Him. He is there and we must therefore respond to him. It's like desperately trying to figure out who designed the truck that is about to mow you down. Simply get out of the way! It is a bigger physical reality than you. Your preoccupation with its origins will miss the point quite severely in a few seconds. Laws of motion and science will do work on your body if you don't move! Much the same, if God is there it doesn't matter how He got there, we must deal with Him or face the consequences. He will not care about our clever questions. If they don't allow for God then they still are accountable to the "infinite causation" that formed them. At that point they would have to account for consciousness and the quest for meaning. If the universe is driven simply by causation, then why do we care? Why would the "creations" of infinite causation pause to reflect at all? They would simply continue the chain of causation, mimicking the mindless eternity of existence. They also have trouble accounting for greater complexity developing. When raw forces simply bump into each other we don't see many examples of greater complexity resulting; certainly nothing like consciousness. Another question: How can it be infinite? Why would a concept like infinity exist in a universe of simple causation? I think it would tend toward finitude under this construct. So they still can't really factor God out completely. Something like God is still required for the model to work. What keeps the flow of causation going? Once you have any infinite force or being you are still accountable to it. Finally, there does seem to be a purposefulness to this causation, culminating thus far in the human quest for meaning. How do we account for this? They are under obligation to provide a better model than God. In fact, in my opinion, they still have a god (the infinite stream of causation) they just don't want to call him that. They owe their existence to this infinite flow. It created them. Their purpose is bound up eternally in what it caused them to be. They are not their own. Sounds a lot like God to me. Once they have anything infinite beyond themselves, they have God, or at least part of Him (think: the ground of all being, etc...). They haven't explained away anything. They still have to deal with ultimate causation and decide how they are responsible to it (him). If their lives are truly meaningless, then why would they attempt to explain them at all? They are merely playing a semantic game, as theologians also sometimes do. Well, that's how I see it anyway.... Peace, - Tim

I appreciate your attempt to address the most powerful argument contrary to atheism. Your excursus of Aquinas failed to mention the most important point of his argument. The contingent cannot ultimately come from the contingent, that part you got, but ‘is’ sourced in Being of a wholly different non-contingent order. That existence is so other to contingents, like humanity, that it is transcends the finitude of human reason into the infinitely intensive beyond. God’s speed, - Jerome R. Wernow Ph.D., R.Ph. executive director Northwest Center for Bioethics

Responses to other tothesource articles:

Finally I’m getting around to the "D’Souza Responds”. He knows his history well enough to paint with a detailed brush. His “trees” are sharply defined and his sense of “forest” seems to follow. I would step a little further back in order to clarify an even bigger picture. D’Souza demonstrates that agendas with power are inclined to use those powers. This often happens at the expense of lives lost. He points out accurately that even “our side” has inflicted such loss on others. Even Israel started with violence. Christianity during various periods was violent. And so, on and on. (In a way this is pretty basic. Nothing will happen unless some degree of power is involved. We wouldn’t know about any wars if power had been non-existent.) Somehow, this is such an obvious lesson of history I wonder why it is so little understood. Once understood, a different dynamic logically assumes dominance. If it is true that agendas with power will push for expansion, it seems to me that the most important question to ask (and answer) is the following. Which agendas winning will give humanity its best future? By facing this question honestly we can apply judgment in order to empower the better agendas and weaken the lesser. Imagine a spaceship arrives on earth and claims possession. With possession, these spacemen attempt to organize humanity so that great health and wealth proliferate and a kind of Garden of Eden becomes truly possible. However, in order to make this happen will require that all the present inhabitants of earth cease their devotion to current religions and dogmas. The multiple reasons many would fight to the death against this change for the better is the explanation for such suffering. Consider the possibility that many are emotionally addicted to traditions and dogma and are truly incapable of adjustment. Certain structures of society may also be too cumbersome to allow for easy transition. (For example, communist bureaucratic redistribution created a lot of dependencies. Some faith-based charities also create types of dependencies.) Aside from addiction to tradition and dogma, another reason many would fight to the death against this change would be their lack of knowledge as regards the gains possible. Uncertainty about the reward ahead would cause many to balk at change. In a way, it could be argued that the UN was the spaceship landing a very productive Israel into the midst of an impoverished part of the world. It could be argued that the U.S. is engaged in an effort to restructure Iraq for greater health and productivity. The fact that there is resistance demonstrates the addictive and ignorance factors at work. And then, maybe our way is not the best! Without absolute knowledge our guess may be wrong. And then again, the evidence of history and current measurable performance lends strong probability to our guess being accurate. That is one of the reasons why we ought to (powerfully) press our agenda forward. - Don Spencer

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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Ben Wiker  Trans Benjamin Wiker
Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), and Thomas Aquinas College (CA).

He is now a Lecturer in Theology and Science at Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH), and a full-time, free-lance writer. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and a Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He writes regularly for a variety of journals.

Dr. Wiker has written four books, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (IVP), The Mystery of the Periodic Table (Bethlehem), Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius), and most recently, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (IVP).
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