A Response to Ron Rhodes

by Dawson Bethrick

 

Introduction

Christian apologist Ron Rhodes has written a brief essay Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists which is published on the Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries website. This paper is apparently supposed to be a kind of primer or guide for Christian believers who have occasion to "dialogue" with atheists. At the foot of the page, a note states "The above article is an example of the quality materials produced by Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries." In this paper, I will examine the content of Rhodes' piece in order to assess its quality. Upon completion readers will have, per the words of the Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries itself, an indication of the quality they should expect to find in other papers published by the same source.

The note at the bottom of the essay also states that it comes from "the Witnessing Tips column of the Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1989." This most likely explains the fact that throughout his paper, Rhodes comes across as preaching to the choir. In other words, he is telling believing readers exactly what they want to here, which apparently are reasons affirming why they should deem themselves more "logical" than atheists presumably for believing in invisible magic beings and corpses which rise out of their graves and "show themselves unto many." (cf. Matt. 27:52-53)

 

Rhodes' Misconstrual of Atheism

Rhodes begins his essay with the following statements:

No one is born an atheist. People choose to become atheists as much as they choose to become Christians. And no matter how strenuously some may try to deny it, atheism is a belief system. It requires faith that God does not exist.

Now, how would someone go about proving the claim "No one is born an atheist"? Rhodes himself does not support this position. In fact, I would say it is not supportable in the least on the basis of an objective definition of the concept 'atheist'. Since theism is defined as any form of god-belief, a theist is someone who holds to a god-belief. By distinction, atheism is properly defined as the absence of god-belief, and an atheist is someone who has no god-belief.

Essentially, by claiming that "No one is born an atheist," Rhodes seems to think, for some unknown reason, that infants are born with a god-belief. Perhaps he just wants to think this, or perhaps he just wants his readers to think this. But how would one go about proving this in the case of one infant, let alone all infants? Rhodes does not even hint at the enormity of the implications residing in his claim, let alone at how he would tackle them. Instead, he comes across to this reader as wholly aloof of the very nature of such a position, and the kind of support it would require in order to be rational, and ignores the fact that positive claims require support.

Rhodes even undercuts this very position when he states, "People choose to become atheists as much as they choose to become Christians." Not only would many Christians take this claim to task (cf. Calvinism), it admits that one holds to god-belief by choice, which calls his previous assertion into question. If one chooses to become a Christian, what was he before he was a Christian? Indeed, one could say "He was a non-Christian." But that only tells us what the person was not; it does not say what he was. Could it be that, prior to choosing to become a Christian, the new believer was an atheist? The point is that god-belief is not possible until it becomes an option, and Rhodes' own position that Christian theism is a matter of personal choice clearly supports this point. Furthermore, theism cannot be an option until one is exposed to it in some manner.

What is likely confusing Rhodes on these points is the fact that so many Christian parents begin the religious indoctrination of their children at so early an age that most believers who have been raised with such early indoctrination assume uncritically that their god-beliefs have been present all their lives, even from the womb itself, as Rhodes himself seems to think. Part of this confusion is a consequence of the Christian's own conditioned animosity towards atheists. Christian parents never want to find themselves in the position of having that animosity for their own children. If a Christian were consistent in their animosity against atheists, they would have to have this same animosity towards their own children if they thought that their children were atheists upon birth. This animosity could not be abated unless and until the child clearly became a theist. This would obviously conflict with the Christian parents' love for their children.

Since the claim that people are born with theistic beliefs already in place (which amounts to the claim that people have knowledge no how - i.e., without means) is untenable, we should recognize that at some point in one's life he is exposed to theistic claims (however crude or uninformed they may be), whether it is in one's own very early youth, or at a later time in one's life. Until this exposure takes place, one does not have the choice to accept or reject god-beliefs. However, by virtue of the fact that he has no god-belief, he is, by definition, an atheist all the same.

Unfortunately, many young people do not realize that their god-belief is an option, contrary to Rhodes admission that god-belief is a matter of choice. Children of adult Christians are very frequently compelled to believe that there is a god long before they have developed any substantial reasoning skills necessary to comprehend or question what it is that their parents repeatedly instruct (or order) them to accept.

In other words, a young child is philosophically defenseless in the face of virtually any set of claims their parents insist them to accept, religious or otherwise. In this way, parents may unwittingly be misusing their children's trust. Some precocious children may initially find some theistic claims unbelievable, but parents often get beyond such impediments by repetition and even by making threats ("you will go to hell if you don't believe"). Parents, like the priests who indoctrinate them, very frequently rely on fear tactics to embed their god-beliefs into the minds of their children. Most children are so impressed by the fear itself that very few find the courage to question the operative assumption that threats ensure the truth of religious claims. It is usually not until at least early adulthood that any believer might pause to question the fear tactic and recognize that, if theistic beliefs were so true, they would not require threats and fear tactics to accompany their teaching. One of the fallouts of this kind of indoctrinating is the unfortunate symptom of viewing genuine truths as a threat to one's mind. In this way, inculcation of religious ideas can only stifle a mind's ability to reason.

When Rhodes then states that "no matter how strenuously some may try to deny it, atheism is a belief system," it should not surprise us that he does not defend this claim. And in fact, recognizing the fact that atheism is not a "belief system" unto itself does not require strain, as Rhodes suggests (he uses the word 'strenuously' here); indeed, it merely takes a dose of reason to do this. Again, atheism is properly defined as the absence of god-belief, or lack of theism. Contrary to Rhodes' claim, atheism is the absence of a particular kind of belief or belief system. When one identifies himself as an atheist, he simply tells you what kind of beliefs he does not hold; it is not enough to identify what kind of ideas he does hold when he identifies himself as an atheist.

One's rejection of an idea or set of ideas is not sufficient to tell us what ideas he does accept and endorse. One may reject god-belief, but affirm another variant of mysticism in its stead (such as a non-theistic form of Idealism). Another may reject god-belief as well as all other forms of mysticism and embrace an objective view of reality and knowledge in place of religion. Both are atheists, but they do not ascribe to the same "belief system," as Rhodes would have us believe.

The rejection of theistic beliefs is not the same thing as the affirmation of positive philosophic positions and doctrines. The absence of theistic confessional commitments does not automatically inform a positive worldview. Rejecting god-belief does not necessarily mean that one accepts objective reality on its own terms, or rational epistemology, values-based moral positions or a rights-affirming view of politics. Informing these positions is the task of philosophy, not the task of atheism as such. In fact, since atheism is essentially the absence of a particular kind of belief, one cannot assert or assume that atheism as such has any task. It is condition only by contrast to the possibility, presence or affirmation of theistic beliefs. If no god-beliefs existed and no one were a theist, the concepts 'atheist' and 'atheism' would be superfluous and unnecessary. All these points seem to have been missed by Rhodes when he make such claims as he does.

Notice how Rhodes' misconstrual of atheism as a "belief system" enables him to presuppose that atheism as such is necessarily invalid. He says that

When dialoguing with atheists, it is helpful to point out the logical problems inherent in their belief system. If you succeed in showing an atheist the natural outcome of some of his (or her) main claims and arguments, you are in a much better position to share the gospel with him.

Naturally, one is "in a much better position" to show the problems of one's position if he has detected those problems. But, also naturally, one must have some firsthand familiarity with that position is before one can set out on the task of finding problems, assuming in fact that there are any problems to begin with.

The point is that Rhodes' advice here obviously assumes the knowledge that the non-theistic in question actually has logical problems. Entering into a dialogue with this presupposition may blind one to the possibility that a particular non-theistic worldview might in fact be demonstrably sound, and additionally may compel one to find problems where in fact there are none. The ambition to uncover problems before they've actually been detected may cause one to criticize a view rather uncharitably, so that the critic may overlook ideas which he might otherwise find valid and beneficial. Indeed, such presumptuousness may give the theist license to misrepresent a non-theistic worldview in order to facilitate criticizing it. The problem then, however, is that the theist's criticisms do not apply to the non-theistic worldview to which he wants them to apply.

And, supposing that one does successfully identify problems with a particular non-theistic philosophy, this would not be sufficient to suppose that all non-theistic philosophies commit the same error, nor would this support a theistic worldview.

One of the sad consequences of practicing advice such as Rhodes' offers here, is that believers who are completely unfamiliar with Objectivism, a philosophy which dispenses with god-belief, will dismiss it as wrong even before they've given themselves the opportunity to examine it. Indeed, most believers (I would think the vast majority of them) chose to accept their god-belief commitments (even Rhodes himself admits that theistic belief is the result of personal choosing) in compete ignorance of Objectivism. Few theists have likely chosen to embrace god-beliefs after having fully examined the foundations and tenets of the philosophy of reason. Consequently, theistic confessional commitments are accepted without benefit of the philosophical defense of rationality and objectivity.

I recall an occasion when a Christian admitted that he was completely unfamiliar with Objectivist philosophy. After he had read a one-page synopsis of Objectivism's fundamental positions, he asked, "What's so bad about this? It all seems reasonable to me." When his theistic comrades pointed out to him that Objectivism rejects any and all forms of theism, he suddenly changed his attitude and proceeded to try to find something wrong with it. But it was already apparent at this point what the problem was, namely, that Objectivism will not endorse god-beliefs, because it holds that god-beliefs are irrational. Sadly, this man rejected Objectivism to spite himself.

 

Countering Atheist Positions

Rhodes then identifies what he considers to be two "logical problems inherent" in atheism. The first arises from the claim "There is no God," and the second has to do with the problem of evil. Let us examine each one of these in turn to see if a) the position he ascribes to atheism is necessarily shared by all atheists, and b) whether or not the points he raises against them are valid criticism.

 

The Claim "There is no God"

Concerning the claim "There is no God," Rhodes writes:

Some atheists categorically state that there is no God, and all atheists, by definition, believe it. And yet, this assertion is logically indefensible. A person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say from his own pool of knowledge that there is no God. Only someone who is capable of being in all places at the same time - with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe - can make such a statement based on the facts. To put it another way, a person would have to be God in order to say there is no God.


First note that, while apparently not all atheists make the claim that "there is no God" explicitly, Rhodes does hold that "all atheists, by definition, believe it." At the risk of appearing to be preoccupied with petty semantics, I will raise an immediate objection. I do not agree that "all atheists, by definition," hold that "there is no God." Holding to the definition of 'atheism' which I provided above (namely, absence of god-belief), I would simply say that, if we go by definition, all atheists lack the belief that there is a god. A belief takes up space in the brain; the absence of a belief does not. Atheism, by definition, is essentially a negation, not a positive; it is a condition denoted by the absence of a specific kind of belief, namely theistic belief. While to the sensitive theist the outcome of my proposal here and Rhodes' position that "all atheists, by definition, believe" that "there is no God," are the same, they are not exactly the same. On Rhodes' conception the atheist would necessarily have a belief which takes up space in his brain; on mine, there is no god-belief in the mind which takes up space in the brain. Many atheists obviously do have many strong opinions and convictions against god-belief; but these represent a species of atheist, not the genus itself.

Next, Rhodes holds that the claim "there is no God" is "logically indefensible." He reasons that "a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say from his own pool of knowledge that there is no God." He thinks this would have to be the case because he apparently thinks that a person must be "capable of being in all places at the same time - with a perfect knowledge all that is in the universe" in order to "make such a statement based on the facts." In short, says Rhodes, "a person would have to be God in order to say there is no God," since, presumably, only God has the rightful claim to omniscience.

I submit that Rhodes' concern here is not so much a concern that one should not believe the claim that "there is no God," for his reasoning here has much wider implications than those which affect the issues pertaining to god-belief. Instead, given Rhodes' reasoning here, his concern is that thinkers not make any claim to certainty. Essentially, he is saying to the atheist here, "don't be so certain!" By implying that certainty is only possible when premised on omniscience, as Rhodes' reasoning here clearly does, Rhodes ignores the contextual conception of certainty, which is the objective view of certainty, in preference for a view which is intrinsic in nature. By linking certainty with omniscience, he is essentially saying that no one who is not omniscient can achieve certainty. And yet, this view is based on an improper view of concepts.

The problem with the intrinsic view of certainty is that it ignores the overall contextual nature of knowledge and the role of integration in reaching conclusions which may be accepted as certainties. Rational knowledge is contextual in nature; new knowledge must be integrated with and upon the standard provided by the sum of previously validated knowledge. At the base of this body of knowledge are the axioms which anchor that knowledge to reality. Those axioms are, according to Objectivism, existence exists, existence is identity, and consciousness, as consciousness of existence, is identification. All thoughts, reasoning, propositions, inferences, conclusions and convictions presuppose, at least implicitly, these fundamental bases. But not all claims to knowledge are consistent with them or with their logical implications.

The principal implication demanded of the Objectivist axioms is a principle known as the metaphysical primacy of existence. It holds that existence exists independent of consciousness. In other words, it is the fundamental view that reality does not conform to consciousness, that reality is what it is regardless of what the contents of consciousness may say it is, and that consciousness, as a faculty of identification, must conform to reality if its contents are to have any truth value.

The axioms are the starting point of our certainty. Every time we perceive something, we can be certain that we perceive something that exists. We might not always identify it correctly, but we can be certain when we identify that this something exists. For instance, when I perceive the keyboard on my desk, I am certain, by virtue of sense perception, that it indeed exists. Already we see that certainty, when based on perception of objects, is possible to man at the foundation of his knowledge.

This enables us to arrive at the following principle: the identification of reality as an input-dependent process. In other words, in order to make statements about reality, we need information from reality to substantiate it. And the way we gather this information is by means of perception. This is the epistemology of reason, which is "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses." (1) Since man's mind has identity, it must operate in a specific way. Objectivism identifies the way in which man's mind operates reason, and recognizes that it is the only way knowledge is possible to man, since knowledge is a mental grasp of reality, and that mental grasp of reality must begin with man's awareness of reality, which is his senses.

When I perceive an object, it is on this basis that I am able to identify that it exists. Even in the case of mistaken identity, I must have additional perceptual input a) to determine that my initial identification was incorrect, and b) to correct the mistaken identification which I originally made. For instance, when I see a haze in the distance and initially I think it is a body of water, if I do not gather any more inputs from my perceptual environment I would not be able to determine that what I see is actually not a body of water. With a little more data input, for instance, I approach the object, I can determine that what I see is not water at all. With the additional input I can determine that what I see indeed exists, however, for it turns out to be a distortion of light due to heat radiation off the ground in the distance, what is called a mirage. So even in the case of a mirage, it is not the perception that is in error, but our identification of what is perceive which is in question.

When it comes to the claim that God exists, however, what inputs enable a person to arrive at this identification? To weigh the claim that God exists, we must have some idea of the nature of the inputs which lead the theist to make this claim. However, while the theist does claim to have possession of the knowledge that there is a god, it is unclear what he considers to be a good reason for claiming this knowledge. To be sure, it may not be based on inputs at all, or it may be a mistaken identification of the inputs which he does have. In fact, when we examine the theist's claims a little closer, and see that he says that God is invisible, then we know that, by definition, he has already eliminated one source of perceptual input to provide any possible basis for his claim; he has ruled out vision as the perceptual basis of this claim.

A theist may claim that the input which leads him to his god-belief is auditory in nature. He may claim that he has heard God speak to him, as Abraham apparently did when he thought he received instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac (cf. Gen. 22). But this simply raises more questions. For instance, what does God's voice sound like? How does the theist know what God's voice sounds like? How does the theist distinguish what he thinks is God's voice from other auditory inputs, such as the squeaking of a door hinge or the screech of a car suddenly putting on its brakes? Without some kind of objective criterion on which to make such distinctions, what enables the theist to identify what he has heard as a voice belonging to God and not, say, a bird or simply his imagination?

In fact, this is the question which claims about reported Jesus sightings bring to mind. For instance, a housewife in New Mexico claims that she sees the image of Jesus in a tortilla she has prepared. But how does she know that the image on the tortilla, which may bear striking resemblance to a human face, is that belonging to Jesus and not, say, to Rasputin or Lysander Spooner? If we allow for the superstition of miracles, it may just as well be entertained that the image appearing on the tortilla is that of Poncho Villa who is stirring enraged in his grave, and the housewife has mistaken it for Jesus. Unless she knew what Jesus looked like in the first place, how could she make claim to the knowledge that the image appearing on the tortilla is that of Jesus, if in fact it is truly supposed to be that of a human face to begin with? What inputs is she integrating in order to arrive at such a claim? Could it be that she simply wants to believe it is Jesus, and is not being fully honest to herself that she doesn't really know for sure?

When we go through the list of the senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, we learn that the theist does not claim to have any verifiable perceptual input to support his claim that God exists, and what little perceptual input which he might claim turns out to be inconclusive at best, as the examples given above suggest. Instead, theists typically like to claim possession of the knowledge that God exists on the basis of some kind of mystic insight, which he might call faith or just knowing. But by referring to this "insight" as "knowledge," the theist ignores the fact that the proper identification of reality depends on perceptual inputs, as we learned above.

However, can it be the case that the theist is in possession of a faculty other than reason which apparently and somehow enables him to make the claim that God exists? Since rationality is essentially "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action" (2), the theist's claim to possession of the knowledge that God exists cannot be rational if it is not a claim which is ultimately based on reason. Rationality is the commitment to reason as one's only means of knowledge; the claim to some alleged means of knowledge other than reason is consequently irrational. So the theist who claims to have knowledge that God exists is found to be delinquent in his task of establishing how he could possibly know this to be the case.

Furthermore, as we examine more of the theist's claims, namely the attributes and actions which he attributes to this thing he calls "God," we find that none of them are compatible with the primacy of existence view of reality which is the fundamental implication of the axioms, as explained above. The theist essentially claims that this "entity" he calls "God" is in possession of a consciousness capable of creating and manipulating reality. Rather than building his worldview on the understanding that the task of consciousness is not to create its objects, but to discover and identify them, the theist has instead assumed at the basis of his worldview the belief that consciousness has metaphysical primacy over existence. He claims that God created the universe ex nihilo (literally, "from nothing") by an act of will; as is often said, God "spoke" the universe into existence. This is known as the doctrine of creation in Christianity, and it is a fundamental doctrine in that worldview.

But the theist can only "know" this by imagining it, for he cannot claim to have actually witnessed such an event. However, the imagination is not a faculty of validation; rather, it is "the ability to rearrange the things he has observed in reality." (3) But clearly the theist has misused his imagination, for he is rearranging elements which he has observed without integrating the law of causality into the context of that rearrangement. To be sure, he has observed that there is a universe, and he has observed that there is such a thing as consciousness (indeed, it is the faculty which enabled him to observe that the universe exists in the first place), but beyond this he misuses his imagination as "a faculty for escaping reality," not as one "for rearranging the elements of reality to achieve human values." (4) He has not observed objects coming into being by means of an act of consciousness, so clearly this part of his imagination is pure invention on his part, and it is, ironically, not very imaginative.

Just as the unimaginative author invokes the notion of magic dust in order to "explain" how Peter Pan can fly, the theist invokes the notion of the supernatural in order to "explain" the fact of existence. In both cases, it is because no explanation can be given that the author in the case of Peter Pan, and the theist in the case of the doctrine of creation, must appeal to magic and supernaturalism. And to be sure, in the case of a children's story like Peter Pan, which otherwise exemplifies a benevolent sense of life, such appeals to magic are contextually innocuous; stories of this nature are intended to entertain. But the theist is not interested in entertaining his audience. On the contrary, he desperately wants his audience to accept his stories as having genuine value as knowledge. What he fails to recognize is the fact that existence does not require an explanation. Indeed, one would have to appeal to something that exists in order to produce any explanatory worthiness. But what then has he explained? If his goal was to explain the fact of existence, then pointing to something which exists would get him nowhere.

That's where the notion of God comes in: existence, thinks the theist, can be "explained" by positing an existence-creating God, an omnipotent being which can create existence by an act of will. But little does the theist realize that just in positing the existence of such a being, he is using the very concept which he has set out to explain, and thus his would-be explanation is conceptually worthless. It is no better than using a term in its own definition. Furthermore, by suggesting that existence is a creation of consciousness, the theist commits the fallacy of the stolen concept, i.e., he asserts a concept (namely consciousness) while denying or ignoring its genetic roots (namely existence). Since consciousness is consciousness of something, i.e., of existence, the concept 'consciousness' necessarily presupposes existence. Thus by making existence to be a creation of consciousness as the theist's doctrine of creation would have it, the concept 'consciousness' is asserted while its genetic root, existence, has been denied (since existence is supposed to come from consciousness, rather than consciousness coming from existence).

So, clearly, there are impenetrable reasons why one should reject the theist's claim that God exists, if indeed the kind of god discussed here is the kind of god which the theist claims exists. Rhodes, however, wants to say that one must be omniscient in order to achieve this certainty. But clearly he is operating on a false understanding of knowledge. And indeed, we can be certain of certain negative existential claims (i.e., claims which state that something does not exist). For instance, we can be certain that there is no second moon which is orbiting the earth. Our knowledge confirms that one and only one moon orbits the earth. We can also be certain that there is no ocean between the east and west coasts of north America. We can be certain that there is not an eighth continent located north of Australia and between North America and Asia. That region of the earth is occupied by the Pacific Ocean and the Hawaiian Islands. I can be certain that there is no skyscraper situated on the location where my house is built. I can be certain that there is no such thing as an eighteen-legged cat. I can be certain that there are no adult men who breathe water. If he could breathe water, he would be other than a man. I am certain of these things, and yet I do not claim to possess omniscience. In fact, since my mind is armed with reason, I do not need to pretend the fantasy of omniscience.

Moreover, Rhodes' life of argument suggests that God of his theistic commitments plays hide and seek throughout the universe. Why else would there be a need for one "who is capable of being in all places at the same time - with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe"? Does Rhodes hold that one must be omniscient to be confident that Blarko does not exist? Blarko is the Wonderbeing which is greater than any God. In fact, even the Christian God is aware of this, ony he does not want His believers to know about Blarko, because, as Exodus tells us, the Judeo-Christian God is a Jealous God. Being so consumed in His Jealousy, the Judeo-Christian God is threatened by the existence of Blarko and by the mere possibility that Christian believers might discover Blarko's goodness (Blarko does not seek to rule men by fear or threat of eternal torment), and forsake Him in preference for Blarko. This possibility disturbs God to unimaginable degrees.

It is not likely that the Christian will believe this, and in fact he will likely say that this is patently false and emphatically claim that Blarko does not and cannot exist. He will say that, "by definition," no such being can exist, which is ironic, because if the theist were to slap a definition to what he calls 'god', he would expose its dependence on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics and make the very same case against his own god-belief. However, the point is, is that it is unlikely that the theist will claim omniscience in order to substantiate his denial of Blarko's postulated existence. Instead, he will attempt to offer reasons why his rejection of Blarko's postulated existence should be accepted as reasonable, most likely by trying to show how the claim that Blarko exists conflicts with other knowledge claims which he accepts as valid (e.g., "there can be only one infinite being," etc.).

Similarly, the atheist can show his reasoning why his rejection of the Judeo-Christian God's alleged existence should be accepted as rational as well. As shown in the discussion above, from the Objectivist position (a position with which the theist himself may be completely unfamiliar), one can show how the theist's god-belief is invalid by virtue of its contradiction of the Objectivist axioms and the principle of the primacy of existence, a principle which the theist himself implicitly while explicitly denying it when he claims that a form of consciousness ("God") "created" the universe. Even though a criticism of such fundamental impact as this may be completely new to an unsuspecting theist, his confessional investment will typically compel him to argue against it (since he detests the conclusion of such reasoning) in spite of the fact that he has yet to consider the Objectivist metaphysical and epistemological foundations and the ironclad reasoning it makes possible when applied to atheological counter-argument. When it is pointed out that just by asserting that the claim "God exists" is true commits him to a performative inconsistency, he will likely abandon the topic (perhaps by raising irrelevant objections) or the discussion altogether. Care should be taken to ensure that the theist fully comprehend the Objectivist critique of theism and how precisely it demonstrates the invalidity of theistic belief (since the principles involved are so fundamental in nature and since theists in general are typically unacquainted with them). (5)

Rhodes attempts to support his reasoning by offering the following illustration:

This point can be forcefully emphasized by asking the atheist if he has ever visited the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Mention that the library presently contains over 70 million items (books, magazines, journals, etc.). Also point out that hundreds of thousands of these were written by scholars and specialists in the various academic fields. Then ask the following question: "What percentage of the collective knowledge recorded in the volumes in this library would you say are within your own pool of knowledge and experience?" The atheist will likely respond, "I don't know. I guess a fraction of one percent." You can then ask: "Do you think it is logically possible that God may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?" Even if the atheist refuses to admit the possibility, you have made your point and he knows it.

Reasoning of this nature would make it impossible for a person to reject arbitrary claims. What Rhodes offers here could in principle be applied to any claim which lacks a basis in perception, not just the theist's claim. Again, one could claim that Blarko exists. Going by Rhodes' reasoning, one would not ever be able to confidently eliminate such claims from consideration as legitimate knowledge.

But even more fundamental, such reasoning ignores the fact that we must have good reasons to accept a claim as knowledge. To accept a claim as knowledge, there must be evidence, even perceptual or conceptual in nature; the claim must be consistent with itself (i.e., it cannot contradict itself at any point); and one must be able to consistently integrate the claim with the knowledge which he has already validated. The claim that God exists fails to meet all three of these standards. In fact, one must be willing to contradict the foundations of rational knowledge in order to accept the claim that God exists, and there are no good reasons to do this. Scenarios such as what Rhodes offers in order to substantiate the arbitrary idea that one must be omniscient in order to be certain that a postulated entity which contradicts the fundamentals of reality cannot exist, ignores this fact.

What theists like Rhodes must do if they really want atheists to accept their god-belief claims, is to show that it is rational to accept such claims. But we should not be surprised that they fail to do so.

 

"I don't believe in God because there is so much evil in the world"

Next, Rhodes considers a common objection to god-belief, namely the so-called "argument from evil." As Rhodes puts it, "Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: 'I know there is no God because if He existed, He never would have let Hitler murder six million Jews.'"

To be sure, the fact that there is evil in the world, if this fact can be proven, can only cause conceptual mischief to the premise that the world was created by a perfect and wholly benevolent creator. A perfect creator does not create imperfections, and a wholly benevolent creator creates only goodness. If there is evil in the world, so-called proximal causes of that evil can only be traced back to the creator postulated in God as the ultimate origin of that evil. As creator, God enabled whatever serves as a proximal cause of evil to cause that evil. The presence of evil in the universe can have only adverse implications for a creator which is said to be perfect.

Rhodes, however, suggests that this objection against god-belief can be countered with the following course of reasoning:


A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: "Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil? By what process do you distinguish evil from good?" The atheist may hedge and say: "I just know that some things are evil. It's obvious." Don't accept such an evasive answer. Insist that he tell you how he knows that some things are evil. He must be forced to face the illogical foundation of his belief system.

Rhodes suggests that the problem of evil can be countered by challenging the atheist to validate his use of the concept 'evil'. And indeed, an able thinker should be able to do this. Rhodes is correct to suggest that we not accept what he rightly calls "an evasive answer," but he is wrong to presume that the atheist cannot validate his use of the concept 'evil' in a logical manner within the context of his worldview. And to be sure, theists like Rhodes should be careful not to come across as advocating the use of force in the manner that his advice implies; theists should not try to "force" atheists to do anything. Instead, they should choose a course of rational persuasion, but this is not to be expected since theists have rejected rationality (as shown above). Thus Rhodes' recommendation of the use of force by theists when interacting with atheists is not surprising; their worldview has no principles in place to stop such violence (which is quite ironic considering the discussion is about the "problem of evil"!).

Rhodes seems to think that the typical atheist who attempts to validate his use of the concept 'evil' will "struggle with this a few moments," and then suggests that theists "point out to [the atheist] that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good." But once one characterizes a "reference point" as "absolutely good," he has identified it to have a specific nature, and thus contradicts his presumption that this "reference point" is also "infinite." This is yet another instance of the theist's misuse of the concept 'infinite'. Therefore a correction is necessary. Observe:

There is a use of [the concept] "infinity" which is valid, as Aristotle observed, and that is the mathematical use. It is valid only when used to indicate a potentiality, never an actuality. Take the number series as an example. You can say it is infinite in the sense that, no mater how many numbers you count, there is always another number. You can always keep on counting; there is no end In that sense it is infinite - as a potential. But notice that, actually, however many numbers you count, wherever you stop, you only reached that point, you only got so farů That's Aristotle's point that the actual is always finite. Infinity exists only in the form of the ability of certain series to be extended indefinitely; but however much they are extended, in actual fact, wherever you stop is finite. (6)

Rhodes obviously wants the "infinite reference point," which he thinks will provide the standard for the concepts 'good' and 'evil', to be his God, which of course he must think is an actual being, since he makes the claim that it exists. But as the quote above makes clear, "the actual is always finite," and the concept 'infinite' "is only valid when used to indicate a potentiality, never an actuality," and then only with regard to its application in mathematics. Christians do not typically consider God to be merely a mathematical series; they want their God to be a conscious, living being which transcends nature and reason. Consequently, the common claim made by theists that God "is infinite in being and perfection" (7) turns out to be conceptually self-contradicting.

Now that we have corrected this error, we can now examine what concern stands behind Rhodes' appeal to this "infinite reference point," to see what exactly his concern may be. He suggests that, if one does not appeal to an "infinite reference point," then "one is like a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass (i.e., there would be no way to distinguish north from south without the absolute reference point of the compass needle)." Putting it this way, we can certainly see the need for a reference point. But the illustration which he presents to support his assumption that the reference point needed must be infinite in nature, states that the reference point in question must now be absolute. In his illustration, Rhodes has switched his qualifiers. Did he intend to abandon 'infinite'? Absolute does not mean infinite; the two terms are not conceptually equivalent. Therefore, it seems that Rhodes must make a decision: is the reference point which provides the standard basis for judging good and evil supposed to be infinite, or absolute? Indeed, while Rhodes' point of illustration suggests the need for at least a reliable reference point for determining such things, it in nowise suggests why that reference point must be infinite in nature.

I will concede that the reference point given for judging good and evil must be absolute in some sense for it to serve as a standard for judgment, even though Rhodes himself has not provided an argument for why this would have to be the case. Indeed, even in an example of a boat at sea which is equipped with a working compass, the standard points of the compass, north, east, west and south, are relative points in that they have meaning only in contrast to each other and to the axis of the earth. If the earth existed in any other relationship to the stars which litter the heavens, we would still have the same points; the stars could change, but the points on the compass would not.

I will take an absolute reference point to be one which is not subject to change by result of our desires or intentions. I see no reason to suspect that an absolute reference point cannot also have a nature which is also relative. In the case of the reference point of time keeping, for example, we have the relationship between the earth and the sun. This relationship is absolute in the sense that no amount of wishing on the part of man will change it (it will remain fixed regardless of our whims), but as a reference point it is clearly also relative at the same time, since it depends on the relationship between two objects. In the senses I give here, it should be clear that absolute and relative are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

The question now becomes, then, is there an absolute reference point for the judgment of good and evil to which the atheist can point in order to validate his use of these concepts? Most theists seem to have the impression, for whatever reason, that the atheist has no such reference point at his disposal in the context of his non-theistic worldview. But of course this is wishful thinking on the part of the theist, and it is typically repeated as a matter of dogma which cannot withstand sustained criticism. For in fact, the atheist does have such a reference point, if in fact he ascribes to rational philosophy. That absolute reference point is man's nature as a living being. Put in the barest terms (i.e., without digressing to a discussion broader implications such as those dealt with in the branch of philosophy known as politics), by 'good' one means that which is beneficial to man's life, and by 'evil' one means that which is harmful to man's life. The good is that which works for man's life, and the evil is that which works against man's life.

Man's life is the standard of objective values. To say that something is good is to imply that it is good for a reason. Why is food good, for instance, and poison not good? In what context is food good? In what context is poison evil? Obviously, we say these things are good or evil in context of their relationship to man's life. "Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil." (8)

The concepts 'good' and 'evil' and their relatives, then, can only be fully and properly understood in the context of a code of rational morality. Morality is "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions - the choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of his life." (9) Since man must act in order to live, and since his actions are chosen actions, he requires a code of values which serves as a guide for those actions. A code of values requires a standard, or "reference point" to use Rhodes' term, and that standard is man's life requirements. Since man's life is the standard of his values, it is readily seen that food is an important value to him, and thus food is good for him. So long as man chooses to live, his life is his own standard of values and thus the standard by which he judges things and actions as good or evil.

The theist, however, will not want to accept the rational viewpoint, even though he most likely values food himself and consumes it on a regular basis, because it renders the religious monopoly of such terms irrelevant. Indeed, rational philosophy is the most effective weapon against religion's monopoly of morality, since rational philosophy rescues those concepts which have been stolen by religious thinkers and returns them to a rational philosophical context, as my points about the concepts 'good' and 'evil' above make very clear. And, to make matters worse for the theist, he attempts to defend his god-belief by claiming that non-theists cannot defend their use of such concepts. Clearly, the theist has not given these matters much honest thought.

Now that we have been assured that an atheist can indeed, on the basis of a rational philosophy, provide a solid defense of his use of moral concepts, let us proceed with Rhodes' advise to believers. He writes,

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of "absolutely good." If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

It is curious how some people seem to be satisfied by such empty statements as these. What does it mean for something to "exhaust the definition of 'absolutely good'"? What does it mean to "exhaust" a definition? And how exactly does "the person of God" provide any kind of standard "for distinguishing good from evil"? What relevance could any of this possibly have for man's life? Apparently Rhodes and other theists do not consider man's life to have any relevance in determining what is "good" and "evil" for the reference of these terms have been removed from his life and projected into the air. Rhodes claims that "If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something (or someone) as being evil." But it is unclear why he would think this; indeed, he provides no basis for such a position other than his assumption that this "God" somehow serves as an "infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil," yet even this turns out to be an empty claim. Indeed, as pointed out above, the notion of an "infinite" anything, if that anything is said to be actual, is conceptually contentless.

In fact, whether or not a god exists is irrelevant to man's life and his need for moral values. Even if it could be proved that God exists, man's life still requires that he act volitionally in the pursuit of those values which make his life possible. Since moral values according to a rational philosophy are objective in nature (i.e., they exist independently of desires and whims), no commandments can change them or the nature of their basis. A God could do nothing to change the fact that man's life requires values. Besides, Rhodes seems to ignore the fact that a proof of the claim that God exists would be entirely fatal religion. Leonard Peikoff eloquently makes this point when he writes that, "a God susceptible of proof would have to be finite and limited; He would be one entity among others within the universe, not a mystic omnipotence transcending science and reality. What nourishes the spirit of religion is not proof, but faith, i.e., the undercutting of man's mind." (10)

Rhodes then goes on to say "if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler." But of course this is not true. As I just pointed out, whether or not God exists is irrelevant, since moral values, on the basis of a rational philosophy, are objective in nature. Besides, Hitler's actions are to be judged not only on the basis of the fact that they were harmful to human life and therefore evil (cf. the rational definition of 'evil' provided above). In addition to this, they must be judged on the basis of the philosophical ideas on which motivated them. Hitler's philosophy was essentially religious in nature, and it shared with Christianity every fundamental philosophical position. Like Christianity, Hitler's philosophy consisted of metaphysical subjectivism (the idea that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness, a direct and explicit expression of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics); mysticism (the view that "special knowledge" is available to chosen elites on the basis of "divine revelation" or "faith"); altruism (the view that the individual has an inherent obligation to sacrifice himself and his values to others); and collectivism (the view that the individual does not have the right to exist for his own sake).

In fact, to make things even worse for Rhodes, there is strong evidence that Hitler was a Christian! Jim Walker has compiled a long list of quotes from Hitler's book Mein Kampf showing that the despotic German leader fancied himself a servant of God and thus was no atheist, as Christians often seem to think. Walker notes that Hitler "certainly believed in the Bible's God," and that "his belief in God and country never left him."

Rhodes proceeds with his advice to believers with the following:


At this point, the atheist may raise the objection that if God does in fact exist, then why hasn't He dealt with the problem of evil in the world. You can disarm this objection by pointing out that God is dealing with the problem of evil, but in a progressive way. The false assumption on the part of the atheist is that God's only choice is to deal with evil all at once in a single act.

Here is another non-answer which only serves to dodge the essence of the question posed by Rhodes' hypothetical atheist. If it is the case that "God is dealing with the problem of evil, but in a progressive way," what exactly is God's position with regard to evil? God is said to be omnipotent. If God did not want evil to be in his universe, it would not be here, flat and simple. Clearly the theist wants to have it both ways. But even granting with the theist that God's creation went wrong somehow (which could only mean that God did not create something perfect in the first place), and that "god is dealing with the problem of evil, but in a progressive way," then we should see a gradual improvement of the human condition over the course of history. What, then, can possibly serve as evidence that evil is on the retreat? In fact, theists are hard-pressed even to offer a legitimate definition of 'evil', let alone comprehend the concept in the context of a rational philosophy. Rhodes' statements here, then, are nothing but an evasion; they do not address his hypothetical atheist's question by referring to anything in reality whatsoever.

What does Rhodes offer instead of reality-based evidence to support his position? The following statement should make his alternative to rationality very clear. He states:

God, however, is dealing with the problem of evil throughout all human history. One day in the future, Christ will return, strip power away from the wicked, and hold all men and women accountable for the things they did during their time on earth. Justice will ultimately prevail. Those who enter eternity without having trusted in Christ for salvation will understand just how effectively God has dealt with the problem of evil.

Here Rhodes says, on the one hand, "Godů is dealing with the problem of evil throughout all human history" (even though he fails to provide any evidential support for this claim whatsoever), but on the other hand, that "one day in the future, Christ will return, strip power away from the wicked, and hold all men and women accountable for the things they did during their time on earth." So, which is it? Is God "dealing with the problem of evil throughout all human history" - i.e., in the past, OR is God going to deal with it in the future when "Christ will return"? Rhodes cannot have it both ways. Either it is being dealt with "throughout all human history," or it will be dealt with in the indefinite future? Or, perhaps it won't be dealt with at all, at least, not by divine means (since the notion of the 'divine' turns out to be anti-conceptual).

For 2000 years, Christians have been led to believe that "Christ will return." Christians assure us that this will happen. Throughout the history of Christendom, believers have prophesied this return, sometimes assigning specific dates for the "second coming," and forever being let down. Yet in spite of the empty promises in the Bible (passages, such as Matthew 16:27-28, make it clear that believers at the time of the writing of the New Testament thought that Jesus would be coming back in their lifetimes, which have long passed into antiquity), modern-day believers still expect - or claim to expect - that Jesus will one day come back. Some have even abandoned the idea that this will happen in their lifetimes, which is an obvious attempt to compromise the idea that believers should live their lives every moment as if Jesus could return in the next instant, as Paul made clear in numerous passages of his writings (cf. Rom. 13:11; I Cor. 7:29; Rev. 12:12, et al.).

To be sure, with every passing day, for those who would put any stock in the Bible in the first place, its repeated claims that "the time is short" (I Cor. 7:29) lose any credibility they could have any hope of possessing. All of these points provide us with the following lesson: We dare not leave matters of moral import in the black box of "faith" or in the hands of the religious chosen, for this is the choice to evade matters of moral import and abandon them to those who have renounced reason and are thus impotent to deal with them on a rational basis.

Rhodes then offers another example of the impotence of his worldview to endure critical examination:

If the atheist responds that it shouldn't take all of human history for an omnipotent God to solve the problem of evil, you might respond by saying: "Ok. Let's do it your way. Hypothetically speaking, let's say that at this very moment, God declared that all evil in the world will now simply cease to exist. Every human being on the planet - present company included - would simply vanish into oblivion. Would this solution be preferable to you?"

First of all, it should be noted that this is by no means an argument. In order to deal with the objection, Rhodes suggests that the theist appeals to the atheist's preferences about what God should do in order to deal with the problem of evil. But the atheist has no god-belief! In essence, Rhodes' advise here only highlights the inability of his worldview to address even simple questions which arise in response to the arbitrary claims which it promotes. This is hardly reasonable! And yet this is how Rhodes thinks his religious beliefs can and should be defended. If they are so true, why are the responses which he recommends so flimsy and contentless?

Rhodes then suggests that the atheist might actually have given these matters a little more thought than the theist (which is not surprising; after all, an atheist is an atheist for a reason). Rhodes writes:

The atheist may argue that a better solution must surely be available. He may even suggest that God could have created man in such a way that man would never sin, thus avoiding evil altogether. This idea can be countered by pointing out that such a scenario would mean that man is no longer man. He would no longer have the capacity to make choices. This scenario would require that God create robots who act only in programmed ways.

In an attempt to rebut anticipated criticism from atheists, Rhodes shows that he misses a fundamental point which has drastic implications for his god-belief. He suggests that the atheist might contend that, to avoid the problem of evil, "God could have created man in such a way that man would never sin, just avoiding evil altogether." And clearly this is acceptable, given the theist's own assumptions. Had God created man such that he would never sin, evil could not enter into the world through man. But Rhodes does not like this. He says that "such a scenario would mean that man is no longer man," which only suggests that man's distinctive trait is that he sins. Predictably, Rhodes seems to think that not being able to sin means that man "would no longer have the capacity to make choices," and that such a scenario "would require that God create robots who act only in programmed ways."

But is such an outcome the only one possible given the solution suggested by Rhodes' hypothetical atheist? It is unclear why this would have to be the case. After all, Christians typically claim that God is a "free agent," and yet they also claim that God is incapable of sin as well. But do they then say that their God is a "robot who acts only in programmed ways"? If God can be be a free agent, have free will, not be a robot and still not sin, why can't man? Rhodes does not appear to have considered this matter very deeply.

Furthermore, Rhodes appears to be assuming an unargued dichotomy: either one has free will and therefore necessarily sins, or one cannot sin and therefore cannot have the free will to make choices. But not only do Christians not lock their own God into this dichotomy (for God is said both to have free will and refrain from ever sinning), there seems to be no good reason to suspect that the only expression of possessing free will is to sin, which is clearly implied in Rhodes' rejoinder to the hypothetical atheist.

Then, as if he had exhausted the issue, Rhodes states the following:

If the atheist persists and says there must be a better solution to the problem of evil, suggest a simple test. Give him about five minutes to formulate a solution to the problem of evil that (1) does not destroy human freedom, or (2) cause God to violate His nature (e.g., His attributes of absolute holiness, justice, and mercy) in some way. After five minutes, ask him what he came up with. Don't expect much of an answer.

The answer to the problem of evil is very simple, and it entails placing the responsibility back where it belongs, if we assume Christian theism, which is squarely on the creator's shoulders. The free will defense fails because it misses the point. God may have created man with free will according to the Christian mythos, but free will without good judgment is like handing a loaded weapon to chimpanzee. In terms of the Genesis story of Adam's fall, punishing Adam for sinning is no more just than punishing a chimpanzee for firing a loaded weapon that had been given to him. It would be ridiculous to expect a chimpanzee to know not to pull the trigger of the loaded weapon, and even more ridiculous to desire that the chimpanzee be punished for having discharged the weapon.

If Adam had been created with perfect judgment, he could have avoided sin without any problem. But the story element portraying Adam as having sinned is sufficient evidence to tell us that, per the story's own details, Adam could not have been created with perfect judgment. Had Adam been created with perfect judgment and yet still performed an action deemed sinful, then there must have been a design flaw which was outside of Adam's control. To punish Adam for something that was outside his control is certainly unjust. Either way one looks at it, unless Adam were intended in the first place to sin, we cannot conclude from the story that Adam was created perfectly. Obviously, the creator screwed up big time if it were his intention that his creations never sin. And since a perfect creator does not create perfection, either the creator made an error when he created Adam, and thus cannot be said to be perfect, or he created Adam with the specific intention that he sin, which means that the creator is neither benevolent nor just.

The solution to the problem of evil, then, is that God should have created Adam with perfect judgment to guide his free will. Given the details of the story as they appear in Genesis, God did not do this. And there seems to be no reason to suspect that an omnipotent creator, a creator which has created angels which supposedly have free will and yet are completely sinless, could not have created Adam with perfect judgment to righteously guide his free will and avoid sin. Nothing Rhodes says in his discussion of this matter suggests that he has considered these points. Instead, he seems to prefer the cheapest route to preserving his god-belief rather than seeking out genuinely rational alternatives to the anti-rational quandaries of his god-belief. Clearly he's not concerned about truth or human, but rather about protecting his confessional investment. We can know this because even on the theist's premises, God has no concern for human freedom or for observing man's right to choose. For it is said that this God will send sinners to hell, which He will clearly do against their will. So the free will defense's appeal to God's magnanimity for giving man free will turns out to be nothing more than hypocritical lip service. If the theist really believes these things, he must place very little value on the content of his mind and the quality of his thought.

What motivates all of these evasions and faulty courses of reasoning which apologists peddle to other believers? Rhodes gives us a hint when he writes,

Your goal, of course, is not simply to tear down the atheist's belief system. After demonstrating some of the logical impossibilities of his claims, share with him some of the logical evidence for redemption in Jesus Christ, and the infinite benefits that it brings. Perhaps through your witness and prayers his faith in atheism will be overturned by a newfound faith in Christ.

Notice that Rhodes' concern is not for the spread of reason, but of that which disables reason, which is faith. As an apologist, Rhodes' entire enterprise is geared towards destruction: "tear down the atheist's belief system" and "share with him some of the logical evidence for redemption in Jesus Christ." In other words, coax the believer into rejecting reason and sacrificing himself to Christianity's labyrinthine mind-game.

 

Conclusion

Apologist Ron Rhodes postures himself as having concern for "logical problems" which he thinks are "inherent" in atheistic worldviews when he authors an article to offer advice to Christians on how to "dialogue" with atheists. He begins by repeating a variety of errors commonly accepted among religious believers, such as "no one is born an atheist" and that "atheism is a belief system." While it is the case that atheists have "belief systems" (i.e., they cannot escape the need for philosophy as such), it is certainly not the case that atheism as such is a belief system, nor is it the case that "no one is born an atheism." Rhodes then proceeds, in very shabby form, to identify what he takes to be two problems with the atheist's worldview (as if there were only one form of non-theistic philosophy).

Rhodes claims that the position that "there is no God" is untenable because, he says, "a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent" in order to know this. But of course, it is not necessarily the case that atheists make this claim; many atheists simply do not accept the theist's claim that there is a God. This is not the same thing as saying that there is no God. Furthermore, consistently applying Rhodes' contention that one must be omniscient and omnipresent to have such knowledge as a principle of reasoning, one would be unequipped to rule out arbitrary claims as such. One could make the claim that a man with 52 eyes was born in China, and on Rhodes' principle we would have no way of justifying our non-acceptance of such a claim. Beyond this, I have shown that Rhodes' ignores the objective nature of knowledge and the need for new knowledge to be consistently integrated with previously validated knowledge, including the axioms, an issue with which Rhodes demonstrates no familiarity.

Next Rhodes attempts to prepare his believing readers with tips for combating the argument from evil, which rightly points out that there is a contradiction between the assertion of a omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, and the fact that evil exists in the world. Rhodes' first point of advice to believers is to challenge the atheist to justify his use of the concept 'evil' which he uses in his argument against the Christians' god-belief. Rhodes errs in assuming that this is not possible in the context of a non-theistic philosophy. It is shown that, according to rational philosophy, man's life requirements provide the objective standard for moral value, and that even if it could be proved that God exists, this would not overturn man's need for reason and a code of values which reason makes possible. It is on this basis that an atheist has epistemological rights to concepts such as 'good' and 'evil', and since religionists themselves reject reason and despise the idea of man's life providing the standard of moral value, they do not have such rights to these concepts.

Rhodes also seems to have confused the concepts 'infinite' and 'absolute', apparently suffering from indecision on which concept properly pertains to the nature of the "reference point" or standard for values. These problems are shown to be superbly and eloquently resolved from the standpoint of rational philosophy. Contrary to Rhodes' contention that "if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler," rational philosophy is shown to provide non-theists with all the intellectual armament they could possibly require. Besides, it is uncertain why Rhodes would be concerned about who has the sufficient basis for judging the crimes of someone like Hitler, for not only did Hitler consider himself to be a doer of God's work, Matthew 7:1-2 prohibits believers from judging others in the first place.

After attempting to deal with the issue of whether or not the atheist has any basis to object to the theist's conception of God on the grounds of its conflicts with the presence of evil in the universe, Rhodes then advises believers to put the atheist in charge of the problem, and to ask him what he would do. This of course is not an argument, nor is it a defense of the Christian god-belief; rather, it is simply a symptom of the theist's own intellectual surrender. When Rhodes entertains the possible non-Christian contention that "God could have created man in such a way that man would never sin, thus avoiding evil altogether," Rhodes snaps back with the tired, outworn retort that to do this, God would not have been able to create man with "the capacity to make choices." Rhodes provides no argument for this position, and simply says that such a solution "would require that God crate robots who act only in programmed ways." But indeed, Rhodes himself likely thinks that God is neither a robot nor as an entity which can "act only in programmed ways," but it is doubtful that he would concede that God does not and cannot sin. Indeed, if God can create angels which are free agents and yet do not sin and are not thus robots, why couldn't he have made man similarly? Rhodes apparently has not considered this.

So, in the end, we have a believer peddling very cheap criticism and counter-arguments to hypothetical atheists. The obvious conclusion is that Rhodes has no concern for reason or rationality, for he nowhere defends these virtues. Instead, in offering such weak advice to believers, Rhodes virtually admits that he has little esteem, either for his own mind, or for those believers who might take his advice.

 

Footnotes

1. Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20.

2. Ibid.

3. Ayn Rand, "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made," Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 25.

4. Ayn Rand, "The Montessori Method," The Objectivist, July 1970, p. 7.

5. Regarding the performative inconsistency inherent in the claim that a god exists, I am indebted to Anton Thorn for pointing this out in his essay How the Theist Checkmates Himself. For a brief but solid argument proving that theism is irrational, see CJ Holmes' essay Why God-Belief Is Irrational.

6. Leonard Peikoff, "The Philosophy of Objectivism" lecture series (1976), question period, Lecture 3.

7. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II: Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.

8. Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 23.

9. Ibid., p. 13.

10. Leonard Peikoff, "'Maybe You're Wrong'," The Objectivist Forum, April 1981, p. 12.

 

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