I have been meaning for a while to compile a blog series on a 7 part video series I have seen floating around the interwebs titled “Is God even Real” by a man named Peter Heck, a Christian writer and high school teacher from central Indiana, it hits close to home because I am also located in central Indiana. I began seeing these videos shortly after I declared my apostasy to my friends and family, and really anyone who would listen. I thought it would be fun, as someone who is still relatively new to full blown atheistic thinking to explore this video series and share my thoughts, even though I’m sure people much smarter than me have given more satisfying answers.
Now despite the fact I have titled my series “To Heck with Peter Heck” (a play on Peter’s unfortunate last name that I imagine Peter would find tired and unoriginal) I by no means wish any harm or misfortune in Peter’s direction, despite in this first video alone Peter referring to Atheists a “petulantly suppressing the truth,” “intrepid little God deniers,” and using a nice little biblical passage to refer to atheists as dogs, apparently vicious little Chihuahuas. That being said, I know I often come across as a pretentious prick when I write about religion or politics, particularly in those dreaded Facebook debates that Peter mentions, so I’m willing to give him a pass there, you can make your own decision.
Even giving Peter a free pass on some of the more insulting things he says, it isn’t long before he has me scratching my head. At the 1:20 mark Peter poses the question “How can we talk intelligently about this to those who petulantly suppress the truth that we all know.” This is starting to become one of my biggest pet peeves when engaging with Christians, “the truth that WE ALL know.” Peter believes that everyone knows that God exists, but some people choose to take that knowledge and lock it away somewhere and pretend like it doesn’t exist, but still deep down they know it does. Peter has such disrespect for atheists that he believes he knows their beliefs better than they do. I find it can be really hard to have a conversation with someone who wants to tell you what you actually believe.
Peter continues to call asking for evidence of the existence of God an absurd demand. Unfortunately for Peter when it comes to proving the existence of something the burden of proof always lies with those claiming the existence. For instance if someone is claiming the existence of Bigfoot, should we give him the benefit of the doubt, or demand quality evidence?
Immediately after stating that asking for evidence is an absurd demand, Peter claims that evidence for God abounds, but there is a catch, atheists just think of other ways to explain it. Here he flashes a cartoon chart of the evolution of man and says “no matter how ridiculous that explanation may be.” Because of course we should trust a book that is thousands of years old more than we trust what demonstrable science is teaching us today (This seems like a good place to lament that Peter Heck teaches high school, fortunately he doesn’t teach biology). Back to Bigfoot, if this individual provides photographic evidence for Bigfoot, however I can prove with science (Gasp!) that the footage has been doctored and I know he has recently rented a gorilla costume, I am going to explain that so-called “evidence” away. Now Peter may have really good evidence that God exists, unfortunately he didn’t share that with us on this video, so we will have to wait and see if it comes out later in the series.
At the 2:50 mark Peter finally gets into the meat and potatoes of this video. He encourages Christians to follow up the “prove to me” question with a question of their own, “why is unbelief your default position” I think Peter makes a fundamental error in his assumptions about atheists here. For many atheists belief was their default position. I am a former Christian, belief was my default position. This is the United States of America, Tennessee is trying to make the Bible the official state book, you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who was raised as a Christian, and while the “nones” are growing, which means more people will begin life as “nones,” many, many atheists are actually de-converted Christians. So asking why unbelief is your default position discounts the experiences of those atheists that it actually took years of fighting the cognitive dissonance of logic, reason, and science intruding on religious belief to finally flip that switch.
In an attempt to prove that belief is everyone’s default position (again Peter thinks he knows your beliefs better than you do) Peter asks his audience to consider a chair. Peter says you automatically assume that the chair had a creator no one has to prove that, so why don’t we automatically assume the universe had a creator. I am not a psychologist or a neuroscientist, but I have to wonder do we automatically assume chairs have a creator? As a child, before I was even aware of the significance of creating something, I’m sure I saw a few chairs, or other pieces of furniture being assembled. Eventually I started assembling furniture myself. I could go to a factory and watch the parts for the chair I assembled being manufactured. I work at a university, the art school teaches a furniture design course, and if I were so inclined I could go and watch them both design and create chairs. No one had to prove to me chairs have creators because over my entire life I have been able to systematically compile evidence that demonstrates that chairs have creators. However I have not had the opportunity to systematically compile evidence that universes have creators.
It isn’t abandoning an instinct to question the existence of the “universe creator.” How chairs are manufactured is demonstrable. How trees grow is demonstrable, where babies come from is demonstrable. As the universe contains all of these things, it is completely unlike any of them so it is a perfectly legitimate response to say “hold up, how did this thing get here?” when considering the universe and forgive me if my initial reaction is not (anymore) some eternal, all-powerful, cosmic being wished it into existence.