First, a bit of background, from John Crane’s post entitled “Who Really Believes in the Virgin Birth”
Who really believes in the virgin birth?
A recent survey by the Barna Research Group, asked adults what they believed about the virgin birth of Jesus—Was this story literally true or not? Across all demographic spectrums most adults said they did believe in the truth of that biblical story. In fact, 3 out of 4 (75%) of all adults said they believe that Jesus was born to the virgin, Mary.
I have been intending to post something about this research myself, and John’s post gives me a good place to start. Both because his always well-written and well-thought-out posts are a very good summary of the Christian worldview (like there’s â€œaâ€ christian worldview…) but also because he consistently (though never maliciously) misunderstands the agnostic/atheist outlook of the universe.
Now, I don’t begrudge him this. I myself totally misunderstood what the universe must look like to those who do not believe in god, before I came to not believe in god myself. It is one of those â€œwalk a mile in their shoesâ€ kinda things — until you really experience life from this side of the belief fence, you can only take mad stabs at what unbelief is really like.
And, as usual, John makes some gross simplifications about how an atheist or agnostic will or won’t think about the world.
I would like to clear up some of those misconceptions here, because I believe they are common ones.
Let us get started, shall we?
John goes on…
As one might expect, a large majority of those who do not profess religious faith or belief in God did not believe the story to be true.
Here we agree. I also think that we can expect a large majority of those who do not profess religious faith to believe in a virgin birth. In fact, I think we can be downright suprised that there are any, but then, human beings have an incredible capacity to holding conflicting beliefs. In another recent survey it was shown that twenty-five percent of Americans believe both that the Earth is around 10,000 years old and that evolution is true.
That warrents a repeat: they believed both to be true, at the same time.
So we need not be all together surprised when we find that:
Only 15% of atheists/agnostics said they believe in the virgin birth as a literal story.
John then goes on to state:
But that is what is so particularly surprising, not so much because of the agnostic responses. One can understand a varying set of beliefs based on their â€œI’m not sureâ€ agnostic perspective. But it was more specifically the responses of the atheists which caught my attention. Shouldn’t the percentage of atheists who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ be?
Again, this surprises me as well, but do we have a breakdown of what percentage of atheists believe this versus the agnistics answering the question?
My conjecture is that few-to-none of the atheists expressed a positive belief in the virgin birth, while agnostics could have, and both are lumped together in the research.
Back to John:
I hesitate to conjecture too much about this,
…but I’m going to anyway:
but this inconsistency seems to indicate a desire to â€œhave your cake and eat it tooâ€ as it were. I’ve talked about this in the past as it relates to morality in particular, that those who don’t believe in God (and who interpret the world through the lens of evolution) then want to embrace aspects of the world that are desirable, yet inconsistent, with their belief system (e.g. the notion of altruism—that noble idea that one sacrifices him/herself without expecting anything in return).
Here’s where John’s conjecturing has led him down the wrong path. He has picked up the ball on the 20 yard line and run the wrong way back towards his own endzone.
He shows a simplistic understanding of evolution in general and in survival of the fittest specifically, and this has brought him to the wrong conclusion.
Altruism is a great concept for a sentient species to develop, and it is one of the main attributes humans display that has helped us survive and adapt and, yes, evolve, to be the species we are today.
Without altruism, and the ability to sacrifice one’s self for others, we as individuals would be so selfish that we would consistently make decisions that are ultimately harmful to the species as a whole.
Self-sacrifice helps humans get a next generation born and raised. Of course, if we all sacrificed our very lives, the specieis would eventually die out. But there’s plenty of evidence that humanity is not in any danger of becoming too willing to die for one’s friends.
The inherently Christian idea of sacrificial love for others…
Sacrificial love for others is an older idea than Christianity is. It was co-opted, not created, by Christians.
…(as epitomized in the death of Christianity’s founder, Jesus)…
It was Paul of Tarsus that founded Christianity, not Jesus of Nazereth. It happened almost a full two generations after Jesus suposed ressurection, of which Paul states clearly he did not witness himself.
The organization that eventually became known as the Christian Church would be wholly unreckognizable to Jesus, whom John sets up as its founder.
Anyway, John’s still talking about sacrificial love for others….
..is certainly desirable and should be lauded in our society. And indeed it is, by Christians and non-religious people alike.
But I still haven’t been able to figure out in my own mind how one can embrace this noble idea of sacrifice for the welfare of others while holding to the theory of evolution for the explanation of the world—a worldview which is inherently built on the guiding principle of self-preservation above all else.
This last sentence of his is the major telling factor.
I know of no human being who believes in â€œself-preservation above all elseâ€.
Every human being has an amazing drive to keep on living, just like every other living thing in the univsere that we have yet encountered.
But above all else?
Beleiving in evolution is like some magickal potion, in John’s view, that suddenly makes one selfish to the point of completely disregarding of life and other people’s right to it.
This view is clearly not squaring with reality, where athiests, agnostics, notional christians, Hindus, Muslims, and people of every kind of faith (or non-faith) exhibit laudable attributes every single day.
Morality is possible without belief in the Christian god, and to claim otherwise is to be unwilling to face the plain facts.