Does Atheism Lower Crime and Make Us Happy?

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” –G.K. Chesterson

A minority of people claim this life is all there is and we should simply make the best of it while we are here. They believe that ultimately when they die they become a gourmet meal for maggots. They think they can be reduced to molecules in motion, machines that can be reduced to the periodic table that simply dance to the music of their DNA (page 133). They believe only material things exist without thinking for a moment that it took immaterial logic to come to that conclusion. Forget about trying to account for immaterial things like love, compassion, hope, justice, joy, and meaning. They think these things are illusory.

Most people of this type attempt to use their atheism to say that religion (specifically Christianity) poisons everything and atheist leaning countries are more enlightened, happier, and have less crime.  The countries cited by the atheist are usually in Western Europe or one of the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark.

Is Denmark really happy or is it artificial?

I have a couple of problems with this kind of thinking.  First, it has never been proven that atheism is the source of a less criminal culture and this notion should be flatly rejected until a level of evidence would tip the balance toward such a view. Second, when I hear someone make such a claim I begin to research some of the history myself and not simply take their word for it.  Thankfully, I have history resources and a number of friends who are educated in the area of European history as it relates to cultural evolution.

Thinking about the northern and western European areas, it’s important to see how the area changed over the centuries.  In a book by David Landes, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Landes writes about tenth century Europe and he describes it like this:  “In the tenth century, Europe was just coming out of a long torment of invasion, plunder, and rapine, by enemies from all sides.  So terrifying were these marauders [the Vikings], so ruthless their tactics (taking pleasure in tossing babies in the air and catching them on their lances or smashing their heads against the wall), that the very rumor of their arrival [sent everyone running]” (pages 29 and 30).

David Marshall said this about what happened to the culture (specifically Denmark) since then:  “So 1000 years ago, the ancestors of modern Danes were sacrificing maidens and cruising the North Sea looking to pick up some monastic bling. Now they’re riding bicycles to flower shops in Copenhagen. What happened?  To make history very simple, and maybe overly simple, the Gospel happened.”  Now there are obviously thousands upon thousands of pages that could be written on this topic and the evidence behind it but this is a blog, not a book.  The point is clear.

We know from history that indeed Christianity brought civility to this part of the world and later birthed science as we know it and what a Godsend these things have been!  To further the point would take far longer to develop but it is certainly not the decline of Christianity and the rise of atheism that has spawned less crime in western and northern Europe.  A couple of points come to mind.  First, many god-less countries legalize drug use and do not view it as a criminal issue which is a polar opposite stance of the United States.  This would include the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Denmark, and others (by the way, I’m not here to debate the politics of drug liberalization.  Clearly the “War on Drugs” has been a failure).  In addition to various drug deregulations, these countries also legalize many other forms of questionable behavior such as prostitution, assisted suicide, child suicide, bestiality, etc.  Moreover, some of these countries have extremely restrictive gun laws where oftentimes handguns aren’t just restricted, they are banned.  Yet none of this evidence points directly toward religion or atheism.  It has to do with decriminalization laws.  When you decriminalize actions and behaviors that once were criminalized, it stands to reason that crime rates will fall!  In this case, lower crime rates do not happen because you’re an atheist.  In this case, lower crime rates happen because of decriminalization.  How one interprets the data is what is important here.  Remember this:  the numbers don’t say anything on their own.  The people interpreting the numbers say everything.  

And to further the point allow me to punctuate it with the following exclamation.  Correlation does not adequately explain causation!  I could claim that America has NFL football. Then I could claim that America is the most charitable country on Earth. The consistent atheist may try to claim that NFL football increases charitable giving. Now we know that’s crazy talk but you can see that correlation does not equate to causation.

I want to end this post with this article in the New York Post.  Enjoy!

P.S.  I have three people awaiting a post from me on the subject of objective morality.  I apologize for not having it posted sooner.  When I’m doing a study I have to complete what I’m doing before moving on.  And on top of that, these things take time and I do not sit around and “blog” all day long.  I have a job, a family, and a life so please be patient with me.  🙂

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An Account of a Debate I Recently Attended

Pastors Steve Holder and Daniel Weeks recently hosted a debate at their church, Bethel Church, in Goldsboro, NC.  I attended the debate after receiving notice from a friend that his uncle was one of the debaters.  His uncle, Mike Manuel, is a noted Evangelist and Apologist traveling the United States preaching Jesus Christ.  The topic of the debate, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in the 21st Century?” peaked my interest.  My friend and I desired to attend and lend support to his uncle.  Mr. Manuel was to argue in the affirmative.  His opponent, Dr. Richard White, a science instructor at Wayne Early Middle College High School in Goldsboro, was to argue in the negative.

The following account of the debate is not meant to be a point-by-point account of every word that was uttered.  I’m attempting to provide the highlights while also striving to give the reader a comprehensive view of the positions staked out by both debaters.  My reporting will be offered in a “note-taking” format so as to make this account pointed and concise.  Because of this, do not be alarmed to see points not placed into proper sentence format.  Think of it as reading off my personal note sheets because that is essentially what it is.

This account will concentrate solely on the testimony given during the debate.  In light of this, I intend to remain objective and unbiased.  I will simply record things as they occurred to the best of my ability.  I desire to editorialize the event in order to offer my personal thoughts and critiques.  Because this is a long post, I will offer an editorialized review of the debate in a follow up post.

The debate lasted approximately 2 hours and the text below summarizes its content.  The text can be read much faster than it would take to listen to the two hour debate, but after reading the text, I encourage you to listen to the debate which can be found here.

Mike Manuel (seated) and Richard White

 

Background information of the debaters:

Mike Manuel:    Mr. Manuel is a noted Christian Evangelist and Apologist based in West Virginia who travels extensively throughout the United States preaching that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  Before Mike became a Christian he turned to a life of drugs & alcohol and became agnostic while attending Marshall University.  His road to salvation began when he reexamined the things he had been taught, which he found to be fallacious.  In 1975 he had an encounter with Jesus Christ and the Lord began to prepare him for a life of ministry. Mike pastored for 2 ½ years before transitioning to full time evangelism.  He is an ordained minister through New Life Church, Huntington, WV of which Dr. Darrell Huffman serves as the pastor.  He is the Vice President of Victory Ministries Incorporated, a ministry fellowship founded and chaired by Dr. Darrell Huffman.  He is the National Director for Evangelism for the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International, based in Dallas, TX.  Mike also serves as an international Board Member of the Full Gospel Fellowship.  Additionally, Mike is the founder of Revelation Power Ministries, a ministry centered on spreading the Word of God.  Mike has seen many people saved, filled, healed, and delivered through the anointed preaching of the Word of God.

Richard White:  Mr. White does not have a website but he provided some of his background information during the debate.  As noted above, Dr. Richard White is a science instructor in Goldsboro, NC.  Mr. White was diagnosed and treated for Hodgkin’s disease while he was attending Purdue University.  He was treated with chemotherapy which utilized a drug found naturally in a flower grown locally in the area.  One side effect of his treatment is that it damaged his heart.  Mr. White is waiting on a new technology that he hopes will repair and heal his heart. Because of his medical experiences related to the use of the drug found in the flower, he became interested in medicinal botany which serves as his primary area of research.  He is interested in science for other’s benefit and to educate curious young people.

“Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in the 21st Century?”

The format of the debate was that a question was posed to a debater so that he could offer a 5 minute response.  His opponent would offer a 5 minute rebuttal and then the original person to which the question was posed could offer an additional 5 minute response.  The questions to be asked were submitted in advance my Mr. White and Mr. Manuel.  The final questions were chosen by the moderator, Pastor Weeks.

The first question (directed to Mr. White) read, “How do you interpret the phrase, ‘viable means of origin?”  Mr. White thinks a particular model of origins is relative to a person’s worldview (Christian or scientific). He bases science on empirical data, lab testing, and hypothesizing, and relies on fossil evidence for things we cannot experience.  Claims science has no business dealing with “why” questions but should only deal with “how” questions.  We can only use what we observe.  Abruptly proceeds into age-of-the-earth issues and describes how the Green River shale formation in the western US provides evidence for an old earth.  Nevertheless, Mr. White contends that there should be two non-competing ways to view life.  Example:  if your car breaks down you may call a mechanic or you may pray.  The two solutions should not compete, they’re simply two different approaches.

Mr. Manuel responds to the question by saying he believes science and the Bible are simpatico.  We need the scientific approach and need to approach things in light of reality.  Contends a designed universe had a beginning and a builder much like buildings have a beginning and a builder.  Claims some scientists protest the term “Big Bang” because it resembles terminology used in Genesis.  Says scientists claim that the universe is expanding, if you track the expansion backward, we arrive at single speck.  Scientists get agitated when asked the origin of the speck.  Cites the 2nd law of thermodynamics and that the universe is losing energy and cannot be infinite.  Design evidence is everywhere.  Uses example that a criminal leaves traces of himself at a crime scene.  No one ever says the crime scene just appeared out of nowhere. Someone was behind it.  Describes how the first two verses of the Bible describe the five terms of science:  time, energy, space, matter, and motion.  Leans toward an old earth and pre-adamite society.  Says creation is plausible, rational, reasonable, compelling, and persuasive.

Mr. White discusses that scientists cannot investigate whether God created in a certain number of days, the notion is not in the scientific realm, we are left with what we can observe.  Admits “something” started blowing things apart.  Uses example that scientists have no interest in why the Ebola virus is here, but only interested in how it works so they can stop it.  Science cannot use origins to make scientific models.

The second question (directed to Mr. Manuel) read, “Since whatever begins to exist has a cause, and no effect occurs without a cause, wouldn’t there have to be an uncaused first cause?”  Mr. Manuel says logic and reasoning leads to that conclusion.  Says Christians need to be able to articulate this (1 Peter 3:15).  Example: if you have an empty steel chamber and leave it for 100 years and check it again, it remains empty.  There are laws of causation.  Mr. Manuel then discusses the anthropic principle and how the universe is fine tuned.  If any of the constants in the universe were changed slightly, we would not exist. Asserts that scientists use objective laws to make claims about anything.  Tells how the human genome was decoded in 2000 and that our DNA provides the info that will determine our features in advance.  Shows how the Bible already talked about this long before in Psalm 139:15, 16.  Says explosions (Big Bang) do not create order, they always create chaos.  There must be a master designer.

Mr. White says he is not equipped to answer the question, can only infer.  Theologians can say God began things but scientists cannot test that in a laboratory.  Agrees with Mr. Manuel on the complexity of life.  Offers a naturalistic explanation by saying some viruses are considered intelligent because sometimes they will not kill their host because that would prohibit further propagation.  Claims complexity was built over time.  Admits complexity cannot be duplicated in a lab.  Is quoted as saying it is possible God could have started all of this but it’s not a scientific answer, it’s theological.  One approach is not better than the other, they are just different.

Mr. Manuel responds by saying the reason science can make predictions is because of present order and design.  Moves on to say Cambrian period complex life forms appeared with no predecessors and no links to other life forms.  Says Richard Dawkins sees order and complexity in the fossil record but there’s no history of its evolution.  Speaks about Darwin’s doubt and fear of no transitional species in the fossil record.  We see variety and adaptation but not special crossover.  Debunks punctuated equilibrium and panspermia.  Talks about in Greek mythology, they thought men held the Earth on their backs. Says Bible told us years before science that the Earth hangs on nothing (Job 26:7).  Science didn’t figure it out until 1650.

The third question (directed to Mr. White) read, “Even the most basic biological mechanisms that we know are irreducibly complex. Nothing can be removed without disabling the mechanism. The individual parts are useless without the whole. The bacteria flagellum is an example. It has a whip-like part that allows it to move-much like an outboard motor-except this motor is water cooled. It features a universal joint, has gears for forward and reverse. It can reach speeds of 100,000 rpm’s, and can do self-assembly and repair. It has precision and economy of construction.  Do you feel examples like the bacteria flagellum suggest intelligence?  If not, how did it happen?”  Mr. White claims there are many transitional forms and that we see them from fishes to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to mammals. He claims they are all through the fossil record.  Says humans share genes with bacteria.  Says gradualism is simply a model.  Says punctuated equilibrium is a warranted claim.  Admits he doesn’t know how things became more complex.  Cites the now famous Penn U. RNA experiment.

Mr. Manuel responds by saying the bacteria flagellum suggests intelligence.  Why do we not have animals that are ¾ man and ¼ ape?  Says punctuated equilibrium came about because transitional fossils were never found.  Says mutations never create new features or appendages but only modified what was there.  Cites example of a scientist cutting the tales off mice for repeated generations but the descendants continued to grow tales.  Discusses fish growing wings and flopping on the seashore…they won’t last long.  Refers to the Penn U. RNA experiment and how the experiment was bunk because of the oxidation process and Dr. Miller admitted it.  Says men and apes are 98% related but men and earthworms are over 90% related, this shows commonality in the material but not the arrangement.  You can have 1000000 or .1000000.  The material is the same but the arrangement has huge implications.  Darwin’s finches simply adapted.

Mr. White claims evolution is not linear.  Cites examples of transitional features in facial features of apes and humans.  Says he’s not challenging that intelligent beings started the process.  He is only interested in how it works.

The fourth question (directed to Mr. Manuel) read, “Are scientific and religious views really that different and do you fell we must choose one view or the other?”   Says they’re not incompatible.  Says claims against Bible are often faulty and cites archaeological facts.  Provides facts about how scientists have repeatedly and falsely attempted to construct “men” from the fossils of animals.  Warns to take scientific reconstruction with a grain of salt because of their faulty track record.  Talks about whimsical climate predictions…in the 1970’s there was an imminent ice age approaching, now in 2014 we are told we are going to burn up.  Says science once thought the stars could be numbered but cites how the Bible has always said they’re innumerable.  Says overall, despite energy bursts from the sun, the earth is losing energy.  Shows how the Bible teaches this in Psalm 102:25, 26.  Says there is no incompatibility with the Bible and genuine science.  The evidence points to an intelligent designer.

Mr. White partially agrees and says there’s no need for conflict.  Says science underpins technology.  Says some scientists can get nasty.  He looks at life through a window of science.  God’s window should be in Sunday school.  People should decide for themselves which window to look through.  Mutually exclusive.  Desires to teach children how to look through the science window.  His education statement is, “I don’t care what you believe, I care what you understand.”

Mr. Manuel says naturalists and evolutionists have monopolized the educational system.  Only one view is taught even though many advanced scientists believe in creation.  Don’t compromise beliefs.  Admits that his side has some ogres.  Says scientists feel like they know more than others.  There is monolithic group think in the halls of academia.  Many teachers want students to believe what they believe.  Says creationists are afraid to speak out.  Moves on to talk about all laws have a law giver.  Order doesn’t come from chaos, life always comes from preexisting life.  Yet are told an amoeba came about on its own and divided itself.  He asks how male and female developed.

The fifth question (directed to Mr. White) read, “How can we build bridges between people of differing views in terms of how the world was created?  More specifically, the Bible teaches us that God created the world.  If this is not true then what the Bible says about Jesus is also possibly not true, therefore the topic of creation is of profound importance.  Is it possible for us all to adhere to what we believe and yet come to some type of manageable disagreement on the topic of creation?”   Mr. White says the topic is important.  Says he doesn’t want to punish students for their beliefs, but doesn’t teach about beliefs, teaches understanding.  Says religion extends itself beyond things we can touch and measure.  Pursue curiosity.

Mr. Manuel says we are to love people we disagree with.  He says scientific hypothesizing extends beyond what we can see…that is beyond empiricism.  Cites Arthur Keith’s forward to the 100th edition of Origin of the Species and how he said evolution is unproved and unprovable, we believe because the only other alternative is unbelievable, and that’s creation.  Christians should reach out and pray for unbelievers.  Build bridges but still retain our faith.  Says we need God and creation in the public domain.  Cites 3 different textbooks saying earth is 5 billion, 7 billion, and 12 billion years old.  Scientists often just say things.  Carbon 14 dating dated oysters to be 27,000 years old but they were still alive.  They assume carbon breaks down at the same rate as now.  Hopes this debate is building bridges and says Mr. White is a nice man.

Mr. White says scientists live with uncertainty and second-guessing.  Claims creationists are not in mainstream science.  He says publish or perish.

Audience questions  

I’m not going to post each audience question but rather give a summary of the answers that each debater offered.

Mr. White’s answers to the audience:  Believes the earth is old, cites Pangea.  Read the Bible when he was young.  Raised Presbyterian/Methodist.  Wife is Catholic.  Likes to explore in the woods.  Says Bible has good standards for living.  Beliefs do not disqualify or qualify his friends.  Lived a “free” college life.  His mother arranged an exorcism to be performed on him when he was younger.  Admits not knowing how to reach God at a Campus Crusade retreat, and can’t explain why he can’t reach God.  Will not teach ID because he says it’s not based on reputable research.

Mr. Manuel’s answers to the audience:  Leans toward an old earth view.  Says evolution needs lots of time and the chance of evolution happening are so high and the evidence for evolution does not add up.  Believes in absolute moral values.  Kept pet insects as a child and was very inquisitive.  Says most of the world’s greatest scientists believed in God.  Says many don’t want to believe in God because of rocky relationships with fathers, especially children of preachers.  Naturalists often speculate, “could have” or “should have.”  Says Christians should hold on to true science.

 

Stay tuned for my personal critique of the debate…  

The Historicity of the Bible (and an answer to a skeptic)

In my previous blog post, a reader said that he didn’t believe the gospels to be “accurate, historical documents.”  When I challenged him on his claim, he gave a few reasons that I will show have absolutely no validity at all.  This person has sadly been misinformed about that which he speaks regarding the gospels.  I’ll address his charges point by point.

  1. He says the “writers of the gospel [sic] were not eyewitnesses.  They didn’t even live at the same time.”  This is simply false information.  Matthew and John were both disciples of Jesus and knew him personally.  Mark was not a disciple because of his age, but he worked closely with Peter (a disciple of Jesus) as his closest adviser for many years.  Luke was a friend of Paul, a man who knew the apostles and encountered Jesus himself.  Luke interviewed eyewitnesses in order to write his account.  So again, this charge is just absolutely false.  Two of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses and the other two knew the eyewitnesses.[1]
  1. He says, “the events have not been discussed in any other source” except Josephus, “but not that he did some really great stuff, etc. [sic].”  Again this is false information.  There are several non-Christian places where events involving Jesus have been recorded.  These include works by Jews, Romans, and Greeks.  The list is as follows:[2]

–   Josephus, (Jewish)
–   Several portions of the Talmud
–   Lucian of Samosata (Greek)
–   Mara bar Serapion (Greek)
–   Thallus (Roman)
–   Tacitus (Roman)
–   Pliny (Roman)
–   Suetonius (Roman)
–   Phlegon
–   Celcus

  1. He alleges supposed contradictions but never elaborates on the point.  It should be pointed out that the alleged contradictions that many skeptics refer to simply reflect natural variations that occur when a story is told by two different humans.[3]  The differences in the way the accounts are recorded do not in any way change the intended meaning of the event.  Nearly all supposed contradictions can be attributed to minor transmission error or that the Bible is based on eyewitness accounts that complement one another, not contradict each other.  Indeed if the Gospels were not the Gospels, they would be hailed the world over as the world’s most reliable text of the ancient world.[4]  The works of the New Testament are incredibly more reliable than any other ancient work in the history of the world as evidenced by the following chart:

Picture 2

This chart was found at http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence

After looking at this factual chart, if one dismisses the bible as historically reliable, then one must dismiss all writings of ancient history because they do not come close to the reliability of the bible.  So as we can see, the reader’s charge about contradictions is absolutely false.

  1. He claims the authors of the Gospels were “primitive shepherders [sic].”  This could not be further from the truth.  I would love to know the reader’s source on this!

There are many, many, many other truths that prove the New Testament and the Gospels to be accurate, reliable, and historical.  The archaeological discoveries made thus far in human history have confirmed everything the bible has said about such things.  The New Testament shows that Jesus fulfilled all the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament such that if left to chance, the chances of a man fulfilling those prophecies by accident would be as great as the universe exploding into being out of nothing!  So I hope and pray that the individual making these erroneous charges will lift the veil of his presuppositions from his mind and see the truth of the bible.

[1] Markos, L. (2010). Apologetics for the 21st Century. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, p. 153.
[2] Turek and Geisler (2004). I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.  Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, p. 270.
[3] Groothuis, D. (2011). Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, p. 453.
[4] Markos, L. (2010). Apologetics for the 21st Century. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, p. 151.