Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why Bother?

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter ... (Ecclesiastes 12:3)

The 14th chapter of How to Know God Exists presents Ray's concluding argument.  He does not recapitulate his proofs of God, but instead warns us of just how important our decision is.  Death, he repeats and stresses, waits inevitably for each of us, and willy-nilly, we proceed closer to it with each passing second.  Death is God's punishment for sin (not ours, necessarily, since it befalls babies who haven't had a chance to sin yet, and animals and plants that presumably lack the mens rea to violate God's law, but the sin of Adam, visited on all his descendants in somewhat dubious accord with Ezekiel 18:20 "The person who sins is the one who will die").

The Bible, Ray assures us, provides absolutely accurate warning that each of us deserves Hell and will receive it if we do not repent and have faith.   Not "believe;" Ray assumes, or claims to, that we already believe, indeed know, that God exists.  Ray doesn't state Pascal's wager explicitly, but it's implied in his plea: even if we retain some doubts, the benefits of faith incomprehensibly outweigh its costs, and the costs of pride and rebellion are infinitely worse than their temporary and worldly benefits.  And we'd do best to accept the Bible's warning because, again, the benefits of skepticism are limited to this life's paltry span and pleasures even if we're right, and the penalties extend forever if we're wrong.

Now, back in chapter 11, Ray deals with the passage in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which prescribes that if a wife tries to rescue her husband from someone he's fighting by squeezing the other man's testicles, her hand must be cut off.  Ray suggests that this passage is, like Jesus' command to pluck out our eyes if they tempt us to sin, is hyperbole, not literal prescription.  And of course on his blog, if not in this book, Ray has insisted that, e.g. biblical references to the "windows of the sky" are purely figurative.  So technically, he's suggesting that not only is our only safe course to assume that the Bible is literally accurate, but to assume that "Hell" refers to an eternal conscious existence in an eternal lake of fire, even when it might speak figuratively.

Whether it's entirely safe to ignore the Koran's warnings of Jahannum for infidels (including those who worship Jesus as Creator) is not a subject to which Ray devotes space.  That any belief system could in principle "up the ante" and threaten Hell to unbelievers (the possibility did not lapse when the Koran was compiled) seems not to even occur to him.  Ray comes across as pretty sincere in this chapter: he notes that the horror of Hell impels him to try to rescue his fellow men from it (though even here, he spices up his litany of death rates from various causes with the observation that every 30 seconds a woman somewhere on Earth gives birth to a child, and obviously this woman must be found and stopped).  I can't quite shake the impression that if Ray was so very worried about getting us to turn away from our hellbound paths, he'd try a bit harder to engage the positions his opponents actually hold and have expressed to him, provide fewer jokes and sounder arguments.

Still, I should summarize the arguments he has actually presented:

    1. First Cause argument: the Universe cannot come from nothing, and hence must come from an Intelligent Creator.
    2. Design argument: no explanation exists or is possible for the mechanisms of life or the diversity and complexity of living things, except an Intelligent Designer.
    3. Argument from General Human Experience: human beings agree that some things are right and others wrong, that human beings don't live up to their own moral standards, and that human beings want something that can't be found in this world.
    4. Argument from specific Christian experience: True Christians know God personally, and you can too if you believe.
    5. Argument from Biblical Information: The Bible contains facts about nature and about future events that was not naturally accessible to humans at the time it was written.
    6. Pascal's Wager: Ten out of ten people die, and most of them don't want to. Let your fear of death humble your pride so that you can believe and repent.
    My attempts to analyze and reply to these can be found in previous posts on this book.


              1. Congratulations on finishing your review. I didn't avail myself of the opportunity to get a free copy of How to Know God Exists but did read the truncated Google Books version. From that reading and from your review, I recognize the arguments Ray offers to be the familiar ones we see regularly at Atheist Central.

                Comfort titles his book, How to Know God Exists: Scientific Proof of God then proceeds in Chapter 6 to discredit that whole notion by writing,

                Science is forever changing its mind. Many things science believes today will be laughed at in one hundred years. I'm sure you've been led to believe that science provides us with facts and proofs that we can place our trust in. But the field of science actually cannot give us any knowledge at all. (emphasis in the original)

                I wish Ray had told us this in the introduction!

              2. What's next? Don't leave us now Steven J!

              3. Well, Ray has launched the escape pod. Ray edited this post. In the original, his passive/aggressive personality was at full throttle:
                As we know, Steven is intelligent, and as with many intellectuals, he often talks above the heads of his hearers.
                How can I say this without losing his tends to become a cure for insomnia.

              4. I don't know how you finished Ray's book so quickly. I have yet to finish it, as reading Ray's pathetically simplistic assertions feels like an act of masochism that requires significant breaks between chapters.

                You seem to have a much higher tolerance for pain than myself...

              5. Thanks for the detailed review, I very much enjoyed it. It is a pity that Ray decided not to post the rest of on his blog as it actually made his posts entertaining in a good way as opposed to the usual "ooo look a car crash" style of entertainment usually on offer.

                I've been trying to read his book but as with "You can lead an atheist to evidence you just can't make him think" I have the urge to hurl it across the room every few lines. Every page contains some fundamental misunderstanding of reality that you find yourself marveling at the fact that Ray is able to dress and feed himself.

                Hey but on the plus side it got you writing a blog, something many of us over at Atheist Central have wanted for a long time. Keep it up and I look forward to reading your thoughts on various issues in the future.