-- posted to an online forum.
I'm an atheist, but I take strong issue with your claim that Christian cosmology is patently ridiculous. Have you seriously studied Christianity or are you simply saying, "I know a bunch of people with absurd beliefs"? I certainly know plenty of people with absurd beliefs. I know people who believe that science has proven that ESP exists. This doesn't mean science itself it absurd. It just means that some people are ill-informed about science.
Let's examine your claims more closely:
1) It's absurd that God is immortal. Why? Mortality isn't a physical law, like the speed of light or gravity. We die because things go wrong with our body. It should be possible, at least in principal, to construct an immortal being. So why is the very notion of an immortal being absurd?
2) It's absurd that God is a space alien. I don't know any Christians who claim that God is a space alien. Most Christians that I know -- unless they are very small children -- don't locate God "up in the sky." Perhaps you meant "space alien" as a metaphor for non-human. Well, there are plenty of non-human creatures on Earth, so clearly the idea of non-human isn't absurd. Do you think non-terrestrial intelligence is totally out of the question? If so, you're in a tiny minority. Most scientists believe extra-terrestrial intelligence is at least possible.
3) It's absurd that God is a Superman. A Superman is a being that is similar to a human but who has special powers that normal humans don't have, right? I don't think this is exactly the Christian conception of God, but what is absurd about this possibility? If we one day discover alien life, surely it will be different from human life -- with different abilities. Some of these abilities might be superior (super) to human abilities.
4) It's absurd that God hears your thoughts. Why? Thinking is a physical process. We are starting to develop machines that can tap into the brain and perform a crude kind of mind reading. Why couldn't a more advanced "creature" have refined this process?
5) It's absurd that God grants wishes. DOES God grant wishes? I know very few Christians who believe that if you ask God for a new car, he'll give it to you. Sure, SOME Christians believe this, but they may not be very educated about their own religion. Most Christians do pray to God, but prayer != wishing. Praying is talking to God. The chief point of Christianity is forming a relationship with God.
It DOES make sense to ask Christians, "Why do you believe in all that stuff?" Their beliefs aren't patently absurd, but just because something isn't absurd, that doesn't make it true or even likely. There's nothing absurd about claiming that there's a small island in the Pacific called Farmer's Island, but why should I believe in it?
Many Christians would say that they believe in God because (a) they FEEL that He exists and (b) believing in Him makes their lives better.
Well, I don't think feelings are a good basis for judging facts about the natural world, but if you force me to ground all my factual knowledge in first principals, at some point I have to admit that I base my knowledge on my senses. And sensory data is -- like feelings -- untrustworthy. (Yes, I base my knowledge on scientific findings, but how do I KNOW about those findings? By reading about them and hearing about them. Reading and hearing are things that I do via my unreliable senses.)
And I'm happy for them that believing makes their lives better. Unfortunately for me, I can't force belief on myself. Too bad. I would like to be happier.
My friend John, an observant Christian, read all this and wrote me the following email:
The only one of your responses I'd qualify a bit is #5.
If someone claims Christians believe that every request they might make will be granted, that is obviously untrue. By logic alone, if Christian A asks that P come to pass, and at the same time Christian B prays that not-P comes to pass, it is certain that at least one of them will be disappointed.
What you go on to faintly imply, however, is that no serious Christian really asks God for concrete things, but rather prays only as a means of communion. That would be misleading. Petitionary prayer is an essential part of Christian life. Our Lord specifically instructs us to do this. He does it Himself (and is at one point refused by the Father).
But you are right that, even when we don't (apparently) get what we believe we have asked for, that does not necessarily phase a Christian, for two reasons. One is the reason you said: that prayer is not a shopping expedition. Even when we our petitions go ungranted, the very act of praying brought us close to the Lord which we discover each time was more important than getting what we want. The other reason is faith. If a child and parent are in perfect relationship at a particular moment, the child will have faith in him. Faith = trust. So ideally we trust that God has some reason for this, a reason that is not simply abstract or intellectual or removed, but a reason rooted in infinite and tender solicitude for me in particular.