The arrogant atheist

Posted on September 28, 2011

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Originally posted on An American Atheist.

“Atheists are so arrogant!”

This phrase can frequently be heard on the lips of religious people.  What this accusation really boils down to is the fact that atheists, when speaking on various topics, either claim to know something based on evidence, or remain hesitant to make affirmative claims until they have amassed sufficient knowledge or evidence.  In other words, atheists don’t just make things up.  This should leave one asking themselves, “Well, what’s so arrogant about that?”  To which they should immediately realize and answer, “Nothing.”  In fact, what religious people call arrogance is really just intellectual honesty driven by curiosity, and placing importance on what is demonstrably true, or at least what can be inferred.  Religious people, on the other hand, tend not to be as intellectually rigorous in this sense.  They do just make stuff up.  Let’s look at an example regarding both an atheist’s and theist’s answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”

The atheist’s response (from WikiAnswers in Atheism):

When you die, your heart ceases to beat, your brain stops functioning, and eventually your body will decay. This happens to all people, regardless of belief.

You, in words, will cease to exist. It is impossible for anyone to grasp this concept entirely because the ‘experience’ itself is an entire lack of experience. The concept of nonexistence can be compared to the lack of existence of a human before being conceived or brought into the world – The universe was here before you were born and will continue when you are gone.

Whatever personal belief you hold will dictate what you think will happen to yourself or others – but what we do know to be fact is that we do not know what happens after death. We may think we know (in the form of theories, practices, beliefs, etc) but we do not really know, since you are alive, and whatever you believe will happen, might only happen after your death. (So, hence, you do not know what will happen until you die.) This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in your faith, or necessarily that your faith is wrong; it only means that we, as flawed beings, cannot be certain as to what awaits us after death.

This response is extremely measured, reasonable, and full of qualifiers.  It basically describes what death is in a biological sense (i.e. that your heart stops beating and brain activity halts), followed by a discussion regarding the epistemological difficulties surrounding this topic.  One would be hard pressed to find the slightest tinge of arrogance, or any intonation of superiority for that matter, in the atheist response to the question.  But let’s now turn to Greg Laurie’s answer, a contributor to The Christian Post, in a recent article.

 When a Christian dies, it is a direct flight to heaven; there are no stopovers. The moment we take our last breath on Earth, we take our first breath in heaven. We go into the presence of God. . .

So when we get to heaven, will we have the same bodies? The answer is not exactly. Our resurrection bodies will not be our earthly bodies merely resuscitated, but will be the likeness of the earthly body glorified. God will recover from the dust a body with a definite relationship to one’s earthly body, but transformed to suit our new environment.

Did you notice a difference?  Going to heaven after death is assumed!  Not only does he start with this unsubstantiated an onerous assumption, but he then goes on in more detail about the precise state of affairs that take place in heaven once you arrive.  And what evidence is offered to bolster these claims?  Nothing at all, just a bunch of Bible quotes which are, again, merely assumed to be inspired by God.

I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.  (1 Corinthians 15:53)

One definition of the word arrogant is “overbearingly assuming.”  I think it would be difficult to find a more overbearing assumption than the existence of heaven and an afterlife, not to mention all the minute details regarding the properties of our “transformed” and “glorified” new bodies after crossing over.  As Carl Sagan has so famously said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  And so far, regarding Heaven and the afterlife, the evidence garnered for such a realm is nil.  So, who’s being arrogant?

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Posted in: Atheism, Religion