Josh McDowell: Atheism Wins in a Fair Match

This piece in the Christian Post caused me much amusement:

Atheists and skeptics now have equal access to our children as we have, which is why the number of Christian youth who believe in the fundamentals of Christianity is decreasing and sexual immorality is growing, apologist Josh McDowell said.

The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,” said McDowell, who is author of two books on Christian apologetics, More than a Carpenter and New Evidence that Demands Verdict.

[…]I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”

Yes, folks, McDowell is saying that Christianity can’t compete on a level playing field. That if people are exposed to both Christians’ and atheists’ arguments, that the Christian ones fail. And if that’s not an admission that Christian apologists don’t have any good arguments, I don’t know what is.

But of course he’s right to worry about skeptics speaking out. Skepticism is all about how to figure out what’s true and what’s not; what sorts of methods of inquiry tend to yield valid results and which don’t.

Then, for some reason, the article turns to the topic of pornography.

The Campus Crusade staff also said around 90 percent of the 16-year-olds, according to the latest statistics, had viewed pornography. And 80 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds had had exposure to hardcore pornography. In a recent study, teenagers were asked if pornography was acceptable, and 67 percent of the men and 59 percent of the women said “yes,” he added.

Interest in porn is nothing new, and I don’t know any guy who hasn’t found a copy of Playboy or Hustler in his father’s nightstand (or something similar), so these are numbers without a context. There’s not enough information here to conclude that the Internet has turned us all into sex-crazed horndogs; it’s quite possible that we’ve been that all along. I also suspect that society has mellowed over the past few decades to the point where many more people are willing to admit watching porn.

At any rate, I’m not sure what this has to do with Christianity, except insofar as every major religion tries to control its members’ sex lives. (Hey, I said “member”, so it’s like a cock joke. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and tell me I suck.)

Bottom line, I think McDowell’s worried that his church isn’t the only game in town anymore. And with good cause. But unlike him, I don’t see that as a problem.

(Update: Oops! Forgot to give credit to Jesus & Mo for pointing me at this story.)

Thanks to No One

At this time of year, it’s traditional to say what you’re thankful for. And I’m thankful for a lot of things: that I know where my next meal is coming from, that I don’t have any debilitating diseases, that I have good friends and family… Heck, I’m thankful that the job I had to do after hours at work today didn’t turn into one of those nightmare jobs that wind up having you working all night.

But gratitude requires an object. To whom am I grateful? In some cases, it’s obvious: I’m grateful to my friends for putting up with me, and for doing all the things friends do. I’m grateful to my parents for raising me. I’m grateful to the nameless people who raised the food I’m going to enjoy tomorrow, the ones who hauled it here, and to the millions more who set up or aided the free market system that ensures that I have whatever food I want, whenever I want it.

What about the job tonight that went more or less according to plan? To a great extent, it went smoothly because I planned it carefully in advance. Should I feel grateful to myself, for having the foresight to solve a lot of problems before they came up, the experience to know what those problems are likely to be, and the knowledge to quickly diagnose and solve the snags that did come up?

Maybe. I’ve been known to do favors for my future self. But it still feels narcissistic.

And to whom should I feel grateful that I don’t have any debilitating genetic disorders? I suppose the obvious candidates are my parents. But they didn’t pick their genes, and didn’t decide how they would mix. They got lucky, as did I.

Shoud I thank the innumerable rocks flying around the solar system that none of them has decided to intersect Earth’s orbit and conk me on the noggin?

There’s an asymmetry here: on one hand, I can easily imagine an alternate universe in which I was born to parents who didn’t care about my upbringing and education, or one in which a stray C14 atom decayed at the wrong moment and gave me cancer at age five. And I’m glad for both. But in one case, there’s someone to thank, while in the other… the universe has failed to kill me, so far. It just worked out that way.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I have the same hyperactive agency detector as everyone else. Feeling grateful to some nebulous other for the random circumstances that went the way I like comes as naturally as seeing faces in clouds, and so I understand why people naturally believe in benevolent gods and spirits. And so I suppose there’s no harm in addressing thanks to someone or something for those things, as a way of satisfying an urge, long as it’s understood that that’s all it is. The universe. The flying spaghetti monster. Or, as George Carlin did, Joe Pesci, since he looks like a guy who can get things done.

So have a happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Don’t forget to thank the people — actual, living people — who have done something good for you, who matter to you. In fact, don’t wait until Thanksgiving, any more than you should wait until Valentine’s Day to tell your sweetheart you love him/her.

And if I hear you thanking Joe Pesci for the fact that the biscuits came out all right after all, I’ll understand.

(Update, Oct. 11, 2010: s/one/none/.)