The Thanksgiving Dilemma

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

John F. MacArthur writes, in his article The atheist’s Thanksgiving dilemma, that “Thankfulness is one of the distinguishing traits of the human spirit.” Many of us certainly know this feeling. Ironically, the article is subtitled: Whom to thank when there’s no recipient?

MacArthur goes on to write: “We furthermore perceive that we are indebted to (and accountable to) a higher power than ourselves — the God who made us. According to Scripture, everyone has this knowledge, including those who refuse to honor God or thank Him.” This is a classic example of the logical fallacy known as Begging the Question. MacArthur assumes that Scripture is the word of God, of whom everyone is supposed to have knowledge. MacArthur is undoubtedly thankful he’s not burdened with logical thinking.

There is much for an atheist to be thankful for. The atheist can be thankful for parents who gave him life. The atheist can be thankful for the love of family and friends. The atheist can be thankful for James Madison who wrote:

Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance.

MacArthur then delves into the realm of probability when he quotes Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod: “Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.” MacArthur claims this means that chance has “the power to determine, order and cause everything that happens.” MacArthur fails to notice the  contradiction between blind chance and determination. MacArthur also claims that chance has no power to “design an ordered universe.” That’s because the universe is not designed.

There is an innate need for the human mind to believe in things that actually exist in reality and not just in our own imaginations. The atheist is a constant reminder to the theist that his beliefs could be imaginary. In an attempt to to buttress his belief in God, the theist quotes Scripture, without realizing the question-begging illogic of this action.

When writing about an atheistic claim, that it is not rational to believe in God, MacArthur does not defend any rational arguments for God but rather attacks atheists:

After all, the starting point for atheistic materialism is the equation nobody times nothing equals everything. What could possibly be more irrational?

Making up an imaginary being to account for everything would be more irrational. Making up more claims to support the original claim piles irrationality on top of irrationality.

Science provides much more compelling answers to both the origin of the universe and the origin of species than the answers provided by a young-earth creationist like MacArthur. Whenever MacArthur, or a member of his family, is sick, he does what any atheist would do, he makes a bee-line for that bastion of Methodological Naturalism, viz. science-based medicine. When it comes down to saving his miserable life, the theist’s beliefs in immaterial causation miraculously disappear.

H/T: Austin Cline, Dana Hunter.

27 thoughts on “The Thanksgiving Dilemma

  1. The assumption that atheists can’t be thankful, since they don’t believe in a god to be thankful to, is very like the assumption that we lack a moral compass because religious belief and observance are the only possible framework for an ethical code of conduct.

    To me, a spirit of gratitude is, above all, an admission that I am the recipient of good things that have come my way through no virtue or good works of my own. I am grateful for the mat.erial abundance into which I was born. I am grateful for my good health, for my intelligence, and for a rational brain that rejects the notion that it could only have been created by a god whose existence it would tend to doubt.

  2. To the Believer it may be that G-d, however they interpret It, created the ability to make medicines, intelligence to learn, etc.
    Those who do not ‘Believe’ have Mother Nature, the Universe, etc to thank, the ground that brings up the veggies, feeds the birds, etc.

  3. “There is an innate need for the human mind to believe in things that actually exist in reality and not just in our own imaginations. The atheist is a constant reminder to the theist that his beliefs could be imaginary.”

    Gratefulness, which is an emotion that makes life much better than it otherwise could be, is unrelated to the reality or unreality, the existence or non-existence, or even the CONCEPT of “GOD” — and it’s amazing that anyone manages to find a connection between them. Furthermore, it wouldn’t matter if god were in people’s imaginations, in terms of their gratefulness. They could be equally grateful for a god as for a world without any gods. And they could be equally ungrateful for everything in their lives that is good and wonderful whether or not they were believers. We have all seen extremely religious people who are not filled with gratefulness and who are obviously of the opinion and emotional status that they are entitled to a perfect world and those around them damn well better deliver it immediately or they’ll be sorry (the opposite of gratefulness).

    I fail to see any connection at all but if there is one, I’d say that being extremely religious in a god-centered religion makes a person less grateful because the person feels that he has good things simply because they are god-given and thus, he deserved them because god cannot have gotten it wrong.

  4. I was grateful for coming home yesterday from the 3 day stay in the heart ward. And I remembered Gunnar, 87, charm troll left there. We had consoled and laughed together.

    So Malisha has it right when saying that thankfulness needs no direction other than inwards. And letting that feeling expand and halo the lives of others around you.

    NAL’s take was excellent too.

  5. Malisha, I am of Faith but what you write resonates with me. I cannot stand when people, like the cheerleaders in I think TX are given permission to use Biblical quotes on the field. If the quotes were just about being grateful they can play, well okay (maybe…well not really) but they are about being victorious. When athletes pray ‘let our team win’ or ‘Thank you G-d for my win’, to me that is definitely oppositional to what prayer is about. I also doubt G-d with the condition the world is in really cares which team win or wants one over the other.
    That kind of thinking is what lets people say ‘It was G-d’s will” when someone dies. Really? Why did that person perish in the accident but the other guy did not, did a drunk driver not get injured or worse because G-d wanted him to survive but not the person he hit? (Or was it because when drunk evidently the increased ‘relaxation’ allows them to avoid injury or worse injury then they may have suffered?

  6. “Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. In spite of its religious form (giving thanks to God for a good harvest), its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production. Abundance is (or was and ought to be) America’s pride—just as it is the pride of American parents that their children need never know starvation.”

    Ayn Rand on Thanksgiving

  7. ID, Glad to hear your out of the hospital. The longer you stay in the hospital the higher the risk of contracting a nasty virus. And, I’m w/ you on being thankful. We are a family that believes in God. Some are in an organized religion[my wife is an elder in our local Presbyterian church], most are not. We go around the table and give our personal thanks. They are almost never thanking God, but being thankful for someone @ the table or deceased for how they have enriched their life. We all have an appreciation of God and his gifts, but we almost always give thanks to people. I’m thankful I’ve gotten to know an iconoclast in Sweden.

  8. Bron, Great point about hunger. My deceased mother grew up in a dirt poor family of 13 w/ an alcoholic, mostly absent father. They often just had a pot of beans on the stove and had no lunch for school. She didn’t wear the hunger she suffered and rarely spoke it. But when she did speak of it the tears would well and you could see she actually relived the pangs of hunger. She would softly say, “Until you’ve been hungry, for an extended period, you’ll never know the physical and emotional pain.” Like all Depression people, she was always frugal in not wasting ANYTHING, even when we had abundance. I fear the good point you made will be buried in who said it.

  9. I don’t need to thank God for the thanksgiving dinner. I thank my wife and my kids, and my grandchildren for joining us on that wonderful day. I do not think thanksgiving is a religious holiday, but a family holiday to rekindle the meaning of family.

  10. My daughter said a wonderful prayer of gratitude for our thanksgiving grace. Don’t think she mentioned god, though.

  11. Nal,

    Great post….. There are many godless folks out and about….. There are many things to be thankful for….. You just don’t have to believe in a god humanly created…..

  12. LJC and NickS,
    Thanks both. All who live have reason to be thankful.
    Am glad that LJCs was painless, and yours was warming to me with the round the table individual thanksgiving.
    Many happy to all.

  13. “It is a producers’ holiday.”

    Bron,

    Perhaps then 47% of the population shouldn’t take part in a holiday that doesn’t include them. I the alternative maybe that 47% should use Thanksgiving to thank the “Producers”.

  14. There is a great need in humans to find some great or over all creator of life and humans in particular. On Tanksgiving they seek to thank each other for the year past and to thank God for their survival. Some of us leave off part II of that sequence. We instead go home from dinner full and sassy. We pet our dogs and thank dog for our year successfully just passed.

  15. Did I miss something? I thought the Pilgims were thanking the Indians for helping them survive. When you are thanking your fellow humans for their help why does God have to come into it?

    It is amazing how Chritians and other religious groups thing the have a monopoly on morals.. Have they looked around at their fellow religionists lately? Murder, child rape, just to name a few. How blind can they be?

  16. I agree with rafflaw. As an atheist, I believe any credit ever given to God for anything is misplaced, usually the actual credit goes to some human that gave some minutes of their life or fortune to make life easier for somebody else.

    Thank the firemen that have died saving lives, the police that have died stopping criminals that would have preyed upon you, the soldiers that have died to protect you. Thank the parents and grandparents that endured hardships and loss to give you a better life, thank the siblings, aunts and uncles and relatives that have stepped up when they were needed. Thank the myriad engineers, doctors and lab technicians that have made your safety and well being their life’s work, thank the tiny percentage of people with the courage to donate their bodies to science to help humanity make progress and extend life.

    There are plenty of people to be thankful for, some of the debt we owe to others cannot ever be repaid to them. What we can do instead is repay their kindness to us by passing it along to others.

  17. Nal writes:

    Science provides much more compelling answers to both the origin of the universe and the origin of species than the answers provided by a young-earth creationist like MacArthur.

    Are you satisfied by the papers on the origin of intelligence?

    I do not think that current notions of biotic evolution are capable of answering it alone, I think it requires much more consideration of abiotic evolution to understand it.

    There is too much religious faith in pop evolution today.

  18. Nick:

    my grandmother and grandfather used to tell me stories. Man, that was some human catastrophe. It affected both until the day they died. It must have been horrible. The sad part is that it was unnecessary.

    many people today dont have that memory. Zeus protect us if we ever have another event like that.

  19. I was in a debate in a high school class, the topic was legalization of marijuana. I was pro, and had some actual experience. (may have had something to do with my underachievement) ….. Anyways, the anti guys main argument was that smoking pot could get you arrested, and getting arrested was bad. (!!!!!!!) I countered that point 3 X with the small fact that our debate WAS about legalization……. %$#&^%$#. ….. WTF

    Circular logic perhaps?

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