Atheism is not a choice

Picture this: your colleague is in a wheelchair. She broke her back years ago, and is completely paralyzed from the waist down. There are some nasty people who claim she is not paralyzed after all, she can walk. You scoff at this: haven’t you seen with your own eyes how helpless she is? Hasn’t she explicitly said she is totally incapable of moving a muscle from the waist down? Then you go for a run one day and come across your supposedly paralyzed colleague doing the same. You’re stunned, shocked to the core, question your senses. Convince yourself you were mistaken. But you see her running again, and again, and again. You come up close to her and talk to her, question her in hope that it’s a case of mistaken identity. This is definitely the same woman you work with every day, who goes around in a wheelchair claiming to be paralyzed. She can walk, in fact, she can run, and this is not a doppelganger.

Your belief that she can walk – is that a choice?

If you were to claim my belief no gods exist is a choice, you would be making the same kind of claim. Where choice comes in, is if you’re faced with evidence and choose to run away, to stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalala instead of facing the truth and its implications. Choice also comes in where you choose how to interpret what you observe. This is a complicated and delicate aspect of choice, which deserves a thorough examination of its own. Suffice to say that there is a difference between taking a certain perspective and living in denial. In my case, I lived in denial for at least a year before finally accepting the truth.

Let’s hope Lou will one day turn around at just the right moment, and do the same.

Liar, Adulterer

This was originally posted to my old blog on 4 May 2014.

Ray Comfort is a(n in)famous street preacher who has used the same routine in public confrontations for years. First, he asks whatever random stranger agrees to talk to him whether they’ve ever told a lie, then, whether they’ve ever lusted after someone in their hearts. He then asks them what you call someone who tells lies, and what you call someone who commits adultery, aiming to get the answers: “A liar; an adulterer.” He then claims that by their own admission, they are a liar and an adulterer. Ray of course controls the cameras and posts the footage, and we seldom get to see those folks who don’t play the game.

There’s a problem with the liar, adulterer thing. Firstly, a person who has told lies is not a person who tells lies. I occasionally drink wine or beer, that doesn’t make me someone who drinks -> a drinker -> an alcoholic. In fact, I think of myself as someone who doesn’t “drink” because I enjoy a drink so rarely. Ray’s assertion that someone who has told a lie is a liar, is just stupid.

There’s also a problem with the adultery thing, but it’s a bit more complicated, and a bit willfully silly. Yet if Ray insists on taking the tack of pedantic interpretation leading to anyone who has told even one lie is a liar, one has to consider this problem. He can’t use a strict interpretation of the meaning of words in one assertion, then do an about-turn to make the second assertion work.

The heart is an organ that pumps blood. You couldn’t commit adultery with it if you tried, and committing adultery in it would be impossible for the person the heart belongs to. Unless, of course, you perform a heart transplant, preserve the removed heart, and when the patient has recovered, they commit adultery in the midst of the chopped-up pieces of heart. Messy, and not exactly erotic. Also, even then, arguably not possible as “in” would strictly mean inside, and no two human beings are going to be small enough to fit inside a human heart.

So to me, Ray’s spiel doesn’t make sense. No doubt those who find themselves on his side may wish to look at the original Hebrew of the related verses or whatever to argue the point (and many Christians think Ray Comfort is an embarrassment and harmful to their cause), but Ray makes many of his arguments based on the English translation of the bible as we know it today. What’s equally intriguing, watching his videos, is what an angry man Ray is. How sad must you be to go around trying to convince random strangers that you are better than them.

For one of the best, clearest explanations of the theory of evolution that I have ever come across, listen to Matt Dillahunty explain it to Ray in this video. It’s really long, but it is extremely interesting and the exchanges are polite and clear. It gives Christians an understanding of the views of most atheists and the workings of science – which are so often misunderstood – so worth watching no matter what your beliefs are.