Sunday, December 16, 2012

If atheism was true (part 2)

Please find part one and the background [here].

If Atheism Was True It Would Have A Coherent History [link]

Atheism, the author claims, struggles to explain how the Hellenic world became Christian.  Even today the Hellenic philosophers and scholars are very well respected; their work and their thought laid the foundations of  Western civilization. They cannot be simply dismissed as being hyper-credulous or illiterate iron age savages. But once converted to Christianity, these formerly respected scholars are dismissed by atheists for accepting the story of Christ and his miracles.   Perhaps they are correct to accept the evidence of miracles and the atheist wrong?  How can atheists explain their conversion if miracles did not actually occur? 

Atheism struggles to explain when and how western civilization came off the rails and became Christian. They love the Greeks. They were not really atheists but they valued reason more than any society before. Then Athens and Jerusalem got together and produced Rome. How did that happen? What did a Hellenistic empire find so appealing about Christianity? If reason is superior to religion why was that not clear to people back then?
But if atheism is true then there should be a actual true history out there that makes sense. Christianity is simple. People responded to real miracles. People responded to real truth. People discerned the inadequacy of pure reason. From an atheist perspective people were responding to nothing at all. They were accepting a very demanding religion that could get them killed for no apparent reason.

Then they allowed that religion to exert a dominating power over society for thousands of years. You can assume they never really questioned it but there is a lot of evidence they did. Evangelism was constant because doubt was constant. People kept coming back to the faith. Not just the stupid people but many very bright minds. The kind of people who were capable of declaring that the emperor had no clothes. Anyway, looking at the history of the middle ages is another topic but it is another period of history that atheism cannot make sense of.

I find this a very strange claim to make. The late 19th century saw of the rise of scholars treating religion as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective. This new approach gave birth to several fields such as religious studies and comparative religion whose accounts are compatible with atheism. These fields approach the subject from the outside, which is to say, they do not resort to supernatural explanations like miracles or holy spirits and they offer coherent account of how "western civilization came off the rails and became Christian".

Atheists can explain the Roman transition from paganism to Christianity.  Entire libraries could be filled with the subject -  even Gibbons classic "Decline and fall of the Roman Empire" offers such an account.  Of course a Roman Catholic will probably disagree with this volume of work and academic field of scholarship, but he cannot claim it does not exist.

The claim that atheism does not have a coherent history is very strange indeed, not least because the author has in mind the Roman transition to Christianity and not a history of atheism itself. He clarifies his position in his comments :

Religious studies does not create an historical narrative. It sneers at historical documents that talk about miracles. It just rejects them because the miracles are obviously impossible. That is an philosophical assumption they bring to their work. But they ignore the other problem. The reaction to the miracles changed the world. How can a reaction to nothing change the world? They have no plausible answer. 

An alleged reaction to miracles does not prove the miracles themselves took place; nor does the conversion of certain philosophers prove miracles took place.  Suppose a respected scientist called Bob believed David was told by an extraterrestrial alien that world would end.  That Bob believes this does not prove David was actually contacted by an extraterrestrial alien. Nor does Bobs reaction of selling his house to help David build his own UFO.