Top critical review
God Claims Make No Sense
Reviewed in the United States on June 28, 2019
Preface: Tim: “Believers and nonbelievers in god alike arrive at their positions through a combination of experience, faith, reasoning, and intuition.” I disagree that non-believers coming to their position using faith and intuition. (Faith: 1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something; 2. Strong believe in god or the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.) Based on these definitions I do not have either. What I do have is reasonable level of confidence based on the information and evidence to which I have access. (Intuition: The ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reason, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.) Based on this definition I would not rely on intuition to determine the truth because intuition is not a reliable pathway to determine if a proposition is true (factually accurate). As for experience; we receive all of our information through experience (input to your brain through your five senses) and use reasoning to make sense of that information. These two elements are what I use. Tim goes on to redefine a word to fit his agenda. Secularism: 1. Separation of church and state. 2. In describing individuals: A secular person is one who does not know if there is a god or any supernatural realm beyond the natural world. Everything, in this view, has a scientific explanation. (I agree with not knowing if a god, or anything supernatural exists; or it could be better stated as not knowing if the claims humans make that a god exists are factually accurate. However, not everything has a scientific explanation currently. 3. In describing a kind of culture with its themes and narratives. A secular age is one in which all the emphasis is on the saeculum, on the here-and-now, without any concept of the eternal. Meaning in life, guidance, and happiness are understood and sought in present-time economic prosperity, material comfort, and emotional fulfillment. (I disagree with the “here-and-now comment.” We do look to the future and future generations and work to ensure the future of humans and our planet are better. We humans can understand the concept of the eternal however we have no means to demonstrate anything is eternal exists. Yes, humans strive to have more wellbeing. A life with less suffering is generally better than a life with more suffering.)
C1: Isn’t religion going away? According to recent research religious belief is declining in countries where greater access to higher education is available. In countries with low levels of higher education the religious population is growing (in some part due to birth rates). So, is religion going away any time soon? Probably not. However, it may decline over time as our education, technology and scientific discoveries improve. Tim goes on to state “Another explanation is that great numbers of people intuitively sense a transcendent realm beyond this natural world.” I agree that some people “feel” that there may be something transcendent but that does not demonstrate that something transcendent exists. Tim then goes on to say that reason & science cannot adjudicate morality. Tim appeals to emotion by referring to all of the violence which occurred in the 20th century. Human have always been violent to other humans. In the 20th century we had greater capability to do so because of improved technology. This has NOTHING to do with secularism. The bible (god) advocates violence in many ways. I don’t see how it is any better. Tim moves on and states, “But if we assert, which virtually everyone does, that love, meaning, and morals do not merely feel real but actually are so - science cannot support that.” Love, meaning and morals exist in human minds and are part of the functions of our physical brains. They do NOT exist outside of human brains. Tim states: “Secular reason, all by itself, cannot give us a basis for sacrifice, redemption, and forgiveness.” Yes, it can. We are social animals. We desire being with other people because it is in our best interest to be part of the group. If we do something of which the group disapproves, we may be ostracized. Seeking redemption and forgiveness for our bad behavior can bring us back into the group. We understand pain and, as part of the group, want to prevent the pain of others for whom we care. None of this requires a supernatural explanation. Tim moves on to the beginning of the universe and provides a quote; “How can it be that this world is the result of an accidental big band?” First, using the word accidental is unfair because we don’t know the cause at this time; and this applies to every human who has ever lived. If someone want to posit an explanation of how the universe came into existence, that person must demonstrate their explanation is factually accurate. Just stating or implying a god did it is not enough. Tim moves on to the argument from beauty. He uses the example that some people are moved by Mozart’s Requiem. Yes, it does move some people emotionally and others are not move at all. But this is a completely natural emotional reaction. What one person finds beautiful others may not. This is completely subjective. It seems Tim is implying that these emotional reactions are being provided on a supernatural level. If these emotions somehow exist external to a physical brain it must be demonstrated. Next, Tim appeals to stories of people’s personal experiences. Personal experience is not a reliable pathway to truth because it is not possible to determine if someone’s personal experience is, factually, what they thought it was. Ask yourself, will you believe every claim anyone makes if they appeal to their personal experience? Could they be mistaken? Tim then states: “Strick secularism holds that people are only physical entities without souls, that when love ones die they simply cease to exist, that sensation of love and beauty are just neurological-chemical events, that there is no right or wrong outside of what we in our minds determine and choose.” As far as we humans can determine most of this statement is true. There is no evidence to demonstrate we are anything but physical entities, nor evidence to demonstrate a soul exists, nor evidence of an afterlife. We can demonstrate our brain reaction to feelings of love and beauty which indicates they are, in fact, neurological-chemical events.
C2: Isn’t religion based on faith and secularism on evidence? In this section Tim is trying to push that nonbelievers have just as much faith as the religious. As Tim mention above, the religious rely on faith and intuition along with experience and reasoning. Whereas I do not rely on faith nor intuition. I do use experience and the evidence it provides. At one point, Tim states that we cannot determine if our reality is “real.” This is accurate. We can never know for certain that our senses are accurately assessing our reality; however, we can verify what we are experiencing with other humans. Ultimately this is the only reality we have, so we must accept it and live as if it is real. Tim goes on to state that secular people cannot believe in ethical behavior because it can’t be proven in a laboratory. This is ridiculous. We can demonstrate that human ethical behavior exists and that it is beneficial to overall human wellbeing. Tim states, “..reason depends on the faith that our cognitive sense…are not tricking us.” No, there is no faith involved. We can demonstrate and verify that our cognitive sense is accurate in our shared reality. Ultimately, this entire chapter is an attempt to push faith-based belief onto nonbelievers in order to move the burden of proof away from the religious. But it fails. Not being able to accept a claim as being factually accurate due to lack of evidence is not faith. Later in the chapter Tim makes this statement: “However, if we are just a decaying piece of matter in a decaying universe and nothing more significant than that, how does it follow that we should live a life of love toward others? It doesn’t. Why shouldn’t we live as selfishly as we can get away with? How do beliefs in individual freedom, human rights, and equality arise from or align with the ideal that human beings came to be what they are through survival of the fittest?” We humans survive because of our social and cooperative nature. We all work together to make a better life for all. Evolution makes sense here as the more cooperative we were the more successful we were which allowed us to survive and thrive. Christianity did not invent these natural human qualities. These qualities predate Christianity and all other religions.
C3: In this chapter Tim speaks of the meaning of life. Then Tim speaks of “created meaning” vs “discovered meaning.” He claims that “inherent” and “assigned” meanings exist and these are provide by a god and we can discover them. Whereas secular people have not discovered, but rather created their meaning in life. So, what mechanism can we use to differentiate between a person who claims to have discovered her meaning in life and a person who has a created her meaning in life? The only difference between the two is how the person feels emotionally about what they perceive to be their meaning. Tim goes on to speak of moral authority. Simply put, human wellbeing is how we determine our shared morals. Human morals evolve over time. We can use the bible to demonstrate this fact. The bible, and thereby god, sanctions owning other people as property and never renounces it. Yet, over time humans arrived at the conclusion that humans owning other humans as property was not conducive (and it was often detrimental) to human wellbeing. If god has placed morals in us this claim must be demonstrated to be true.
C4: A Satisfaction That Is Not Based on Circumstances. In this chapter Tim uses many quotes from other people to support his claim that our current society is somehow less happy than ancient societies. There is no way for Tim to demonstrate this claim to be true, as no statistics were kept regarding happiness in ancient societies. He is simply speculating. What we do know is the ancient world was far more primitive and dangerous to humans than today. Tim goes on and on about how unhappy our current global society is in our current age. Yet, he doesn’t provide any statistics to back up this claim. Then he spends the majority of this chapter attempting to convince his readers how horribly unhappy (discontent) we all are. I have seen this tactic before. He is first trying to convince us that we all have some problem (not being happy). He then tells us that other philosophical & religious beliefs won’t help us. Then, at the end of the chapter, he pushed his cure for the problem. He tells us that accepting and following his very specific religious doctrines (Christianity) will cure us. Yet, he does not demonstrate this is true. As a matter of fact, many Christians do suffer from depression and many do commit suicide. Also, some surveys show that Hindus and Buddhists are happier than Christians. So, Tim is demonstrably wrong. I am not a religious person and yet I am extremely content with my life and find happiness in so many things. If you find happiness in your religious beliefs, I am glad for you. However, Tim should not be pushing religion as a solution because it is not a magical fix.
C5: In this chapter Tim discusses how we, as humans, are tied to other humans. I have covered much of this elsewhere in this review. Tim goes on to say that whatever you love the most becomes your ultimate master. This is a ridiculous claim! Then Tim states that “…whatever is the source of your meaning and satisfaction in life is what you are worshipping, though you may not acknowledge it as such.” (Worship: [noun] The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. [verb] Show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.) Why does Tim find it necessary to claim that every human has some form or religion like he does? I am NOT worshiping anything! I have things I must do to survive and thrive in this reality. Tim goes on to exaggerate his claims by stating, “If anything threatens them, you get uncontrollably anxious or angry. If anything takes them away, you can lose the very will to live.” Yes, if something threatens the safety and security of me or others I will get anxious and angry. That is completely natural, and it would drive me to prevent these bad things from happening. However, if they were taken away I would find a way to move on with my life over time. Tim states, “If there is no god, you will have to turn some created thing into a god to worship…” NO! This is simply wrong. There is a huge difference between worshiping something and requiring something (a job), or enjoying something (a hobby), or seeking something (long term good health). If someone takes these things to an unhealthy level it will ultimately have a negative impact to his life and that person will have to deal with the consequences his actions here in the real world.
C6: In this chapter Tim covers identity or “Who am I?” Tim attempt to separate our attitude toward a group and the individual. However, most people can fall into both categories depending on circumstances. He implies that the individual one is somehow selfish and wrong. We need to be good or ourselves just as much as we should be good to others. Tim states, “Secular thinkers, however, attack the very idea of a cosmic, normative moral order, and this created major problems…” I would question how Tim could demonstrate this cosmic, normative moral order exists. This implies that this moral order exists outside of the minds of humans. Yet again Tim is painting a bleak picture of how humans feel in this chapter. Does Tim realize that this happens to everyone? Sometimes we must give up on something we want to get something else? Tim states that we all focus only on internal validation when this is not true. We need to appreciate ourselves and we need social acceptance. We all receive a combination of both. If we don’t like ourselves this is a problem we need to address because it can have a negative impact to our lives. If others criticize us we may want to examine why and if those criticisms are valid we should consider making some changes. Tim is greatly oversimplifying our identity. It is far more complex than the simple examples he provides. Take all the aspects of a person as a whole and you would have a much better idea of who she is. Yet, people change aspects of themselves all the time. We grow and develop over time. So, who a person was in the past, who a person is right now, and who a person is in the future can all be different based on voluntary and/or involuntary changes. Tim states: “Ironically, the apparent freedom of secular identity brings crushing burdens with it.” Really? How so? Again, Tim is pushing his tactic of trying to convince us we have a problem and he has the solution (Christianity).
C7: This chapter is a continuation of the last chapter. Tim goes on and on about how being a Christian is the only way someone can have “identity” where you feel good. Tim states: “but there is a third option – there are people who, as it were, look neither outward nor inward but upward.” How can anyone differentiate between looking upward (to a belief in a god) and looking inward (what exists in your mind)? These are the same thing. Tim continues to paint an overly bleak picture of anything other than Christian belief, “The modern self is crushing. It must base itself on success or achievement or some human love relationship, and if any of these things is jeopardized or lost, you lose your very identity.” This is ridiculously overstated. We humans are resilient both physically and emotionally. If we don’t get what we had hoped for, we mourn and move on! People can lead fulfilling lives and have a positive view of their identity without religion. Then Tim states, “Only love of the immutable can bring tranquility. Only the unconditional love of a god will do.” Again, Tim is demonstrably wrong. How can we differentiate between this love and our own feelings?
C8: Tim speaks of suicide rates going up. Yes, suicide rates tend to go up under certain circumstances. However, Christians suffer from depression issues and Christians commit suicide. Tim states: “We cannot live without at least an implicit set of beliefs that our lives are building toward some end, some hope, to which our actions are contributing.” I can somewhat agree with this statement. We all have goals, desires, and needs. Hope is an emotional desire for something. We all hope for things we want. Again, Tim claims that without Jesus our hope is futile. He claims, to have a “better life” we must be a Christian. This formula is getting tedious. We all have goals. But these goals evolve over time. We achieve some and do not achieve others. We all deal with this on an emotional level and most people deal with this just fine. This book should have been titled “The Only Way Your Life Won’t Suck is If You Convert to Christianity.”
C9: Tim is going to cover morality, which in his opinion exists outside of human minds. The argument boils down to the standard apologist moral argument: 1. If there are objectively binding moral obligations, then God exists. 2. There are objectively binding moral obligations. 3. Therefore, God exists. Ultimately there are no objectively binding moral obligations. All morals are subjective. We humans do have shared moral values because we are human. We understand how it feels to be human. We understand what feels good and what feels bad. We understand that other humans (for the most part) feel as we do. We understand the potential benefits of making others feel good and the potential consequences of making others feel bad. This is call empathy. The basis of our morality is human wellbeing.. Human morality has evolved over time which demonstrates that is not objective and provided to us by an external source. Is owning another person as property morally wrong? It was in the past (Exodus 21 & Leviticus 25) but it no longer is in most countries of the world. Is killing someone because they had consensual sexual contact with someone of the same gender? It was in the past (Leviticus 18 & 20). If there were moral absolutes which exist outside of human minds our morals would not have evolved over time, yet they did.
C10: Tim rehashes the moral argument in this chapter and then tries to demonstrate that the Christian form of morality is really the only one that works because it is based on commands. Yet he only focuses on the “Love thy neighbor” command and ignores all of the other commands in the bible (parents killing disrespectful children, killing homosexuals, slavery being morally acceptable, etc)
C11: In this section he again claims that Christians do not have the burden of proof to demonstrate their god exists because non-believers have a belief. He finally adds that this is for people who claim there is no god. I do NOT claim there is no god. I simply do not have enough evidence to be convinced by the claims people make that a god exists. So, in this case the burden of proof does belong to the Christian to prove their claim is true. Then Tim moves to some standard Christian apologetics arguments which I don’t have space to cover, but some have already been covered in earlier chapters.
C12: In this section Tim uses the bible to attempt to prove the bible to be true which is a text book example of circular reasoning. The bible is the claim which must be demonstrated to be true. He does nothing to demonstrate the factual accuracy of anything stated in the bible. He is simply appealing to emotion.