Let’s look at attacks on the atheist position from a Muslim source: the problem of evil, religion is cultural, science wins, and childish definitions of "God."

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Here’s something new—apologetics from a Muslim source. The article, “Nine not-so-good reasons to be an atheist” is from Pakistan Today. Since Islam is the official religion of Pakistan and 96+ percent of the population is Muslim, we can assume that this article is defending Islam. Nevertheless, with the exception of a few British spellings, this is just what an American Christian apologist would argue. Since the focus of my column is Christianity in the West, I will respond to these arguments as if they came from a Christian apologist.

Here are nine “not-so-good reasons to be an atheist” that, in the words of the author, “leave a lot to be desired.” See if you agree with me that the problem has been overstated.

The first not-so-good argument for atheism:

“1. There’s so much suffering in the world.”

This comes in many forms: There’s no justice in the world. Faith is rewarded to the same degree as unbelief. The resources are so unjustly distributed among people. If an omniscient, omnipotent and an all-good God doesn’t choose to prevent evil, He’s not all-good; if He is unable to prevent evil, He’s not omnipotent. All these arguments feature anthropomorphism—casting the deity in the image of man.

Read your Bible—God is very much cast in the image of man. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ ” Think of all the ways God and man are similar: God walked in the Garden of Eden like an ordinary man. God regretted making Man. God lied. God got a good thrashing by Chemosh, the god of Moab. Abraham changed God’s mind on Sodom. Moses talked with God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

The Bible evolved over time. In the early years, the Bible’s religion was polytheistic. Yahweh was similar to the Greek and Roman gods, only gradually becoming omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

But anthropomorphism isn’t the issue. Some of these atheist arguments are valid. The Problem of Evil is indeed a problem for Christianity. An omniscient god could achieve any purpose he wanted without causing any pain. And a god who desired a relationship with humanity wouldn’t be hidden—excuses for his hiddenness are what you’d see if the god were manmade.

Good and evil are themes of mankind, not of God. Good and bad (like hot and cold, beneficial and harmful) are relative terms…. An Absolute God cannot be judged according to something else.

What absolute god? You give me a proposition such as “Yahweh is a good god,” and I must evaluate it. I judge claims for Yahweh, just like the Christian or Muslim would judge the claims for a god foreign to their worldview. And when I judge claims that Yahweh is good, he fails that test by his own holy book (read more on Yahweh’s failings in the areas of genocide, evil, human sacrifice, and slavery).

“2. Belief in God is an accident of birth.” 

You would probably believe in Allah if you were born in Pakistan, probably in Jesus if born into a Christian family, in Krishna or Vishnu if born to a Hindu Brahmin. In much the same way as the Greeks believed in Zeus, or so the argument goes.

Yes, that correlation does indeed exist. I make this very argument: “Your Religion Is a Reflection of Your Culture—You’d Be Muslim if You Were Born in Pakistan.”

Here’s the author’s concern:

The fallacy at play here is called the genetic fallacy: trying to invalidate a position by showing how a person came to hold it. The accident of birth theory—whether true or false—in no way invalidates all belief in God.

The genetic fallacy is about the origin of something (think genesis). Here’s an example: “Hitler was a bad man, and he was a vegetarian. Therefore, vegetarianism is bad.” There is no plausible cause-and-effect link.

But the argument here doesn’t fail for that reason. “You would probably believe in Allah if you were born in Pakistan” is obviously a true statement. More than 96 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim, and a baby born there today will likely grow up to be a Muslim adult. People tend to mirror their environment.

We can clumsily shoehorn correlations like this into an absolute statement like “People tend to reflect the religion of their environment so therefore all religious belief is false and a mere cultural artifact,” but that’s not my claim. I say instead that people tend to reflect the religion of their environment, and this gives weight to the naturalistic hypothesis that religious belief is a cultural artifact. There’s no fallacy here.

“3. I am throwing in my lot with science.”

While science is wonderful in many respects, it’s a mistake to think that it addresses all aspects of humanity…. [For example,] there’s no matter-only explanation of consciousness yet. Probably there never will be.

Let’s assume that this is correct, and science will never fully explain consciousness (which I doubt, but forget that). So what? You think that supernaturalism will? Science may not be able to explain everything, but supernaturalism has never explained anything that we can verify as true. Countless supernatural “explanations” have been overturned by reliable scientific explanations based on evidence, and the opposite hasn’t happened once.

“4. How can one believe in flying gods and the like?”

Starting with the question of whether to believe (or not believe) in God means that one has already skipped a vital question; namely: what does one mean by the word ‘God’?

Yes, that is an important question. There are 45,000 denominations within Christianity with their own answers. Even Islam, which isn’t as fragmented, has more than just the well-known Sunni and Shia divisions. Like Christianity, there are also nondenominational Muslims who don’t fit into the handful of large denominations.

But that was an aside. The author has a different concern:

It pays immensely if this is addressed and the childish concepts of gods are ruled out.

So childish is your concern? You’re living in a glass house. Are there god concepts that are not childish?

Yes, there is much metaphysical or philosophical dust thrown up about God, but that doesn’t mean it’s not at root childish. I remember hearing world-famous theologian William Lane Craig argue that the noncanonical gospels didn’t deserve to be canonical because they were nutty. He asked, Did you know that the Gospel of Peter has a walking, talking cross?!

But Craig also needs to avoid throwing stones. Has he ever read his own stuff?? It’s ridiculous—floating ax heads, talking donkeys and snakes, raising the dead, three gods who are instead just one god, and an “all-good” god who condones slavery, demands human sacrifice, and drowns everyone.

Try seeing Christianity or Islam as an outsider. Only because you’re accustomed to your own view do you not see that it looks as childish from the outside (in its own way) as all the others do.

(h/t commenter Tawreos.)

This list of nine arguments will be concluded next time.

He’s your god; they’re your rules—
you burn in hell.
— seen on the internet

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...