Being an Atheist doesn’t make you an intellectual: On Horus and other silly things


Many memes about Christ, specifically linking him to ancient myths such as Horus, is as close to The Walking Dead as we’ll get in this life; it’s a dead thought, empty, that keeps coming at you no matter how many facts you use to shoot it down, feasting on the weak and unprepared, and leaving the survivors confused as to how such a thing can continue to persist on this earth. Eventually it’s nothing more than an annoyance to be dealt with, causing the occasional panic among the hopeless and lazy, but posing no threat to those who know what to expect in such a world.

Let me back up.

The greatest intellectual challenge to my faith ever (and currently) is found in a work of fiction by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Anyone familiar with theodicy or with his work knows where I’m pointing to; the conversation between Alexei and Ivan where Ivan names all the evils that have occurred without reason and Alexei is left without response. It paints a horrific picture of existence, one in where we commit the worst evils against each other, one where we have just cause to question if God is just, or even exists. Of course, Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and even based the character of Alexei off his friend Vladimir Solovyov. Yet, to me this poses a great challenge to my faith.

All that is to say that it’s okay to have challenges to the faith. It’s even okay to not believe. I have friends who are atheists (or agnostics) and have intellectually valid reasons for doubting the existence of God. They are challenging issues, ones without an easy answer, and worthy of inspection. There are others who realize that if God doesn’t exist we have quite a bit to account for (such as, since something exists, we need an ought for that something). They attempt to form epistemological theories, ethical theories, political theories, and so on sans God. While I think there are flaws, it’s a worthy attempt.

Sadly, what I described above does not seem to be the case for most self-acclaimed atheists out there. Most of them see a few youtube videos, see things on Facebook, read some stuff on Reddit, and if they’re really bold will read a book or two by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, and conclude from such extensive and scholarly study that God doesn’t exist. Oh, and if you do believe in God? Well you’re an idiot and stupid and have nothing worthy to say. Some “historian” says that Jesus didn’t exist and everyone concludes, “Well duh, of course he didn’t!” Never mind that there’s almost a complete consensus among historians of the time period that Jesus existed (they debate over the details), in this case expertise is dismissed for the words of…Michael Paulvokich. His book and main arguments are almost immediately dismissed by the majority of historians (from various religious beliefs or lack thereof), but it didn’t stop many “Reddit Atheists” from exerting how much smarter they are than Christians.

Let’s be honest, this new type of atheism isn’t so much about being an actual atheist as it is just about hating Christianity, or more, about feeling smarter than everyone else. I’m always perplexed that when I speak to people about philosophy, science, political theories, and so on, most people guess I’m an atheist. They either start to smile and go, “You’re an atheist, aren’t you? You’re really intelligent.” Or they frown and begin to witness to me (apparently Christians think people who are educated are atheists). It shocks people to learn that I’m not an atheist. It’s an outright scandal when I go further to say that I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, died, and rose from the grave. A lot of atheists I run into who discover this will just stop talking to me, saying that I’m not as smart as they thought I was. This new-found atheism is more about trying to say, “I’m smarter than you” than it is about discovering any actual truth.

Consider the following image I pulled from Facebook:  Continue reading


Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism

As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of the individual organism will favour the survival of the genes that ride inside it.  But different circumstances favour different tactics.  There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically.”
In this stirring piece of prose Dawkins skillfully uncovers the underlying foundations of naturalistic anthropology.  Through it we learn that man is but a passive composition of matter blown and tossed by the mindless and purposeless wind of biology (please note that you should ignore the teleological language he employees; words like “tactics” and the like).  We see that, at its core, altruism is rooted in pre-programmed instincts involuntarily thrust upon us by our “selfish” genes.  From this foundation he weaves a beautiful tapestry of possibilities–sure to make many a fair maiden’s heart pound with passion:     
“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship.  Second, there is reciprocation:  the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback.  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth . . . there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.”
In order to fully appreciate the profundity of the kaleidoscope of Darwinian explanations offered here we must pause to consider exactly what kind of love is being presented to us. 

The Four Loves

Classically speaking, there are four kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished between the different forms of love using four distinct words: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  Dawkins’ elaboration on altruism seems to fall within the realm of éros, and storgē–the forms of love that come upon us in waves of emotion entirely outside of our control.  For we undergo these forms of love as mere passive receptors.  They are the product of a diverse range of factors including our environment and, yes, even our biology.  Storgē is quite simply the feeling of affection that we have for our kin—e.g., the “fluttery” warm feeling experienced by a mother holding her child—and éros is the feeling of desire—e.g., a wave of sexual longing, or craving a succulent piece of steak.  While, according to the classical understanding, we can make choices that intentionally direct our lives toward things that engender these types of love, they are ultimately brought on by forces outside of our volition.  Thus, they stand in marked contrast to agápe (self-giving love), and philía (friendship) which are rooted in the will.
But Richard Dawkins, in a stroke of poetic genius, turns away from the classical veiw and paints a picture of a world in which true agápe and philía are but an illusion.  For him altruism can only be explained in terms of éros, and storgē: 
“What natural selection favours is rules of thumb, which work in practice to promote the genes that built them.  Rules of thumb, by their nature, sometimes misfire.  In a bird’s brain, the rule ‘Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes’ typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring  The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest . . .”
He goes on to explain:  
“I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity.  In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators.  Nowadays, that restriction is no longer there, but the rule of thumb persists.  Why would it not?  It is just like sexual desire.  We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes:  blessed, precious mistakes.”
In other words, true acts of love are glorious (?) mistakes; accidental properties of nature brought about by instincts and passions mechanically instigated by our genes.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this moves me to tears every time I think about it.  If you don’t feel the same, stick with me and I think you’ll change your mind.    

The Blessedness of Darwinism

Contrary to what some might think it’s clear that Darwinism, with its robust foundation of unintentional self-edifying desire, warm fuzzy feelings, and brute instincts, is a powerful platform upon which to build and explain deep, meaningful, expressions of love.  Take, for example, the Catholic priest in North Africa who is currently harboring nearly 700 Muslims in his church.  He’s literally risking his own life to protect them from an extremist group attempting to eradicate the Muslim population in their country.  Thanks to Dawkins we now understand that he is not intentionally laying down his life for his fellow man because they are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable.  And he is surely not acting in accordance with the virtues of courage or fortitude.  Rather, and I say this in the most beautiful and uplifting way imaginable, he is undergoing an evolutionary misfire.  Just dwell on that notion for a moment.
You see, in a strange and (to use the adjectives so aptly employed by Dawkins) blessed and precious quirk of fate this priest is mistakenly extending charity to Muslims.  Mind you, this is ultimately a meaningless and quit unintentional happening in the life of the universe–and I really don’t have to explain to you how heartwarming that fact is—but we can all appreciate the beauty of this utterly futile event!
Herein lies the real magic of Darwinism.  No matter how meaningless our actions are, we can make them sound nice by attaching uplifting adjectives like “blessed” or “precious” to them.  This is especially helpful when considering a variety of seemingly “self-less” acts performed my people every day.  Consider the gentleman who cared for and eventually married his invalid fiancé.  We all know the real reason he tenderly cared for her, after she had that unfortunate fall and became paralyzed from the waist down, is because of an irresistible sexual impulse built into him by his “selfish” genes.  You see, his brain mistakenly thought he needed to preserve her to bear children and preserve his genetic code (and possibly do his laundry).  The folk way of viewing love might have mistaken his actions as being actual acts of self-giving and service; sacrifices he intentionally chose because he valued her and recognized her personhood.  The folk way would even have us thinking he was acting in accordance with the virtue of charity.  But, in truth, he was just thinking with “the wrong head”—as my grandfather’s drill sergeant might have described it.  Now this might sound crass but there is really no need to despair because if we close our eyes and click our heels . . . we’ll soon see that this evolutionary misfire is the stuff of poetry.        

The Myth of Consciousness . . .

Consciousness Explained.  By Daniel C. Dennett.  Boston, MA:  Little, Brown and Company, 1991.  511 pages.

It is, by now, common knowledge that it is far easier to explain something which ultimately does not need to be explained.  Take, for example, the birth of Pegasus.  If you were to ask me to explain how it is that Pegasus was begotten from the blood spilling out of Medusa’s decapitated head, I should simply respond, “Pegasus and Medusa do not exist.  What is there to explain?  Perhaps, what you really want is a historical account of how this mythological tale came to be.”  One does not need to explain how a creature like Pegasus, who only seems to exist (i.e., whose existence is grounded in our imagination), is begotten from the blood of a dead goddess.  Likewise, if we are to accept Dr. Dennett’s stance, one does not need to explain consciousness—at least, not in the traditional sense.  For, according to his view, consciousness only seems to exist; it is mythology.  What we really want, when exploring the nature of conscious mental states, is a scientific, third person, account of how the notion of consciousness arises.  It is in this sense that consciousness is explained (or, perhaps, more fairly, explained away) in his book.

Setting the Stage

Dr. Dennett sets the stage by introducing the means by which he intends to “demystify” the notion of consciousness.  His first move is to reject Cartesian Dualism as a matter of principle.  It will strike some readers odd that, save for a couple of humorous comic strips and a handful of vague comments regarding the, all too cliché, problem of interaction, he seems entirely uncompelled to provide rigorous argumentation against the Cartesian view.  Most, however, will be sympathetic to the fact that it is far more economical in a lengthy work of philosophy to simply pronounce, ex cathedra, the death of an opposing point of view.  Such an approach, I might point out, makes the task of promoting one’s own view far easier.  To be fair, though, it must be conceded that Dr. Dennett makes several strong assertions about why we should ignore dualistic theories of the mind.  He declares that dualism is both unscientific and mysterious.  As he states:

[The] fundamentally antiscientific stance of dualism is, to my mind, its most disqualifying feature, and is the reason why in this book I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs.  It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up (37).

Rather than wallow in mystery (and, really, who wants to wallow?), Dr. Dennett proposes a more sensible way—materialism.  But not just any form of materialism, a materialism that faces the problem of consciousness realistically; without ignoring the key features of conscious mental states which render them so difficult to account for.  The bulk of his book, therefore, is spent attempting to provide a broad materialistic framework by which we might account for all of the features of consciousness.

From this standpoint, his book is essentially a conglomeration of various materialist theories on human cognition, neurology, psychology, physics, chemistry, and biological evolution pulled together to provide a cumulative case against those who might view consciousness as being at odds with a materialist ontology.  Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that his real goal is to undercut traditional assumptions about the nature of consciousness (ie., the ones that need to be explained), and thereby remove the obstacles facing empirical scientific approaches.  He achieves this by redefining or calling into question these assumptions—such notions as a “center of consciousness,” intentionality, identity over time, and qualia—which continue to mystify scientists.

The Death of Qualia

One key feature of conscious mental states that resists any and all materialistic explanations is what philosophers call qualia.  Material things can be described, almost exhaustively, from an objective or third person stance.  For instance, I can examine and explain nearly everything there is to know about a rock—its mass, weight, location, geological history, chemical makeup, etc.—without invoking any subjective or first person properties.  Conscious mental states, in contrast, seem to possess a quality that rocks, and all other material objects, lack.  As Dr. Dennett explains:

Don’t our internal discriminative states also have some special “intrinsic” properties, the subjective, private, ineffable, properties that constitute the way things look to us (sound to us, smell to us, etc.)?  Those additional properties would be the qualia (373).

Recognizing that subjective experience poses a serious problem to his materialist proclivities, Dr. Dennett spends a considerable amount of time on the issue.  I will highlight several of the more innovative approaches he utilizes to “disqualify” qualia as being a serious obstacle to materialism.

First, he wisely chooses not to quote any philosopher who makes a case that qualia is: (a) a legitimate property of consciousness and (b) a serious challenge to materialism.  This is a very smart move, because it frees him from having to deal, directly, with their arguments (an understandable choice to make, considering the book is already 511 pages).  Instead of engaging the literature on the subject, Dr. Dennett utilizes a fictional character named Otto (a.k.a., the Straw Man) to represent the opposing side.  He then proceeds to deconstruct the problem of qualia as it is espoused by Otto.  I will deal with this in greater detail in a moment.

The second approach Dr. Dennett uses, which proves to be very effective, is what philosophers call equivocation—the ambiguous use of a key term in an argument.  At the beginning of chapter twelve, Dr. Dennett correctly identifies qualia as being a “subjective, private, ineffable,” property that constitutes, “the way things look to us (sound to us, smell to us, etc.)” (373).  A couple of pages latter we see a subtle shift in his use of the term:

When Otto, in chapter 11, judged that there seemed to be a glowing pinkish ring, what was the content of his judgment?  If, as I have insisted, his judgment wasn’t about a quale, a property of a “phenomenal” seem-ing-ring (made out of figment), just what was it about?  What property did he find himself tempted to attribute (falsely) to something out in the world (375, emphasis mine)?

Note how seamlessly he shifts from qualia being an internal subjective property to an external property we attribute to something out in the world.  Such sophisticated sophistry is a rare gem.

Following this subtle shift in the meaning of the term, Dr. Dennett spends multiple pages discussing color and providing a very lively and entertaining third person scientific account of how various organisms perceive reflective light surfaces.  He then draws the following conclusion:

What property does Otto judge something to have when he judges it to be pink?  The property he calls pink.  And what property is that?  It’s hard to say, but this should not embarrass us, because we can say why it’s hard to say.  The best we can do, practically, when asked what surface properties we detect with color vision, is to say, uninformatively, that we detect the properties we detect.  If someone wants a more informative story about those properties, there is a large and rather incompressible literature in biology, neuroscience, and psychophysics to consult.  And Otto can’t say anything more about the property he calls pink by saying “It’s this!” (taking himself to be pointing “inside” at a private, phenomenal property of his experience).  All that move accomplishes (at best) is to point to his own idiosyncratic color-discrimination state . . . but not to any quale that is exuded by it, or worn by it, or rendered by it, when it does its work.  There are no such things (382-383).

If this passage leaves you feeling confused, you are not alone.  At first, Dr. Dennett seems to be discussing the “property of pink” and the “surface properties we detect with color vision” (i.e., external, third person properties); then, without warning, he declares the death of qualia.  It is impossible to appreciate Dr. Dennett’s argument because he does not make one, but I submit that we can admire this paragraph for what it is: a powerful form or rhetoric.

This leads us to the third approach Dr. Dennett utilizes to disqualify qualia: begging the question.  It should be noted that this approach is perhaps one of his greatest strengths.  Rather than disprove the existence of qualia (or, for that matter, any of the key features of consciousness) he simply assumes materialism is true.  With this assumption in place, it is all too easy to explain qualia away.  Consider, for example, how he handles the problem of inverted qualia.  Dr. Dennett starts with the assumption that materialism is true and that our subjective qualitative experiences are simply reducible to our “reactive dispositions” (392).  He then utilizes these assumptions to undercut the thought experiments propounded by those who consider inverted qualia a serious challenge to materialism.  For example, his response to one thought experiment which demonstrates that, even with perfect technology, “no intersubjective comparison of qualia would be possible,” is merely to point out that it, “provides support, however, for the shockingly “verificationist” or “positivistic” view that the very idea of inverted qualia is nonsense–and hence that the very idea of qualia is nonsense” (390).

It seems that by placing quotation marks around the terms verificationism and positivism, Dr. Dennett hopes to downplay the self-contradictory nature of both views.  Unfortunately, sarcasm and well placed quotation marks do not negate the fact that verificationsim and logical positivism are dead-end’s which have been abandoned by serious philosophers for years.  The reason being that both views promote a hopelessly limited epistemology.  Dr. Dennett, however, seems undeterred by these problems because, after all, in his view materialism is true; and, if materialism is true, there must be some empirical (i.e., materialistic) way to verify the existence of qualia (outside of the fact that we all have subjective qualitative experiences).  Naturally, if we accept this, our inability to compare our subjective experiences through some sort of third person objective standpoint leads to the conclusion that qualia is nonsense.

The process of question begging demonstrated above is utilized repeatedly, and with great rhetorical flare, throughout the chapter.  Consider Dr. Dennett’s response to Frank Jackson’s much debated thought experiment: Monochromatic Mary.  The point of the experiment is to demonstrate that Mary, a super intelligent color scientist who has never personally experienced color, learns something knew upon her release from her monochromatic prison.  Although she has learned everything there is to know about physical third person explanations of reflective light surfaces, human vision, neurology, and biology, she learns something knew upon personally experiencing a red rose for the first time.  This “something new” is of course qualia–her subjective qualitative experience of the outside world.

His response to the problem this story generates for materialism is merely to assert the truth of materialism.  He does this by telling his own version of Mary’s first color experience:

 And so, one day, Mary’s captors decided it was time for her to see colors.  As a trick, they prepared a bright blue banana to present as her first color experience ever.  Mary took one look at it and said “Hey!  You tried to trick me!  Bananas are yellow, but this one is blue!”  Her captors were dumfounded.  How did she do it?  “Simple,” she replied.  “You have to remember that I know everything–absolutely everything–that could ever be known about the physical causes and effects of color vision.  So of course before you brought the banana in, I had already written down, in exquisite detail, exactly what physical impression a yellow object or a blue object . . . would make on my nervous system.  So I already knew exactly what thoughts I would have (because, after all, the “mere disposition” to think about this or that is not one of your famous qualia, is it?).  I was not in the slightest surprised by my experience of blue . . . (399-400).

Note how his story simply assumes the non-existence of qualia–the very thing in question.  Admittedly, this method works very well to Dr. Dennett’s advantage.  Why argue for your position when you can simply assume it to be true?

Concluding Thoughts

The hard problem of consciousness, as it has been called by David Chalmers,  is exactly the type of problem one would expect to be solved in a book entitled Consciousness Explained;  ironically, quite the opposite is true.  It is, rather, the hard problem of consciousness which is explained away by Dr. Dennett.  The most significant features of consciousness, the one’s that incessantly resist materialistic explanation, are simply dismissed as being some sort of illusion.  Qualia, intentionality, and other irreducible features of consciousness are no different from mythology in his view.  Harking back to the analogy I presented in the introduction:  the story of Pegasus and Medusa is exciting, and even thought provoking, but at the end of the day it is not based on reality.  Likewise, for Dr. Dennett, our subjective inner qualitative experiences are a nice story but do not correspond to reality.  Reality, if we accept his understanding, is anything explainable in terms of evolutionary biology, neurology, cognitive science, and the overarching laws of physics; period.

As disconcerting as this may be, it is not quite as disconcerting as the means by which Dr. Dennett arrives at his conclusions.  Arguments against dualism (in any way shape or form) are completely absent from the text.  Materialism is, thus, taken for granted and consistently used as a defeater for any feature of consciousness that poses a challenge for materialism.  A great deal of time is spent providing third person scientific accounts of physical processes without directly addressing the actual arguments of those who would object to Dr. Dennett’s materialism.  For these reasons his book should not be considered a serious work of philosophy.  It should, however, be praised for its good humor and readability.  If anything, it is a shining modern example of sophistry and should be read diligently by anyone who seeks to learn how to make the weaker position seem strong.

Curing My Religion

From “A Clockwork Orange”. His “cure” fits what Dr. Taylor describes.

Dr. Kathleen Taylor seems to think that advances in neuroscience will allow us to one day cure people of “certain beliefs.” The hypotheticals she uses are radical Islam, cult ideology, and the belief that it’s okay to beat one’s children. She says in the future we can see adverse beliefs that are detrimental to society as a mental illness and then begin steps to curing that mental illness. Of course, the darker aspect of this statement is that what is viewed as “detrimental” to society or as “fundamentalism” is completely subjective to to that society.

For instance, what if Richard Dawkins was in charge of deciding what is and is not “religious fundamentalism” or “harmful to society?” What if he was in charge of what constituted abuse to one’s child? If that were the case, then he would most likely attempt to cure anyone who had religious beliefs and label nearly all religious beliefs as a sign of mental illness. Alternatively, what if Paul Golding of the “Britain First” party gained actual power and had control over what constituted a “fundamentalist” belief? In that case, any and all Muslims or those who believed in supporting the EU or immigration would be the subject of “re-education.”

What constitutes a threat to a nation is subjective to the individual or group talking about the threat. To the Communist, all fascists are threats to the nation and radicals. To the Fascist, all Communists are threats to the nation and radicals. To the Libertarian, both the fascist and communist are threats to the nation and radicals. To those who adhere to orthodox Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, they hold to a stringent belief that their religion is the only correct religion. Such a belief, once commonplace in the West and a quite logical position to hold, is considered a “fundamentalist” viewpoint in the modern world.

What Dr. Taylor seems to support is the forcible re-education of anyone society doesn’t like. In other words, if the majority of people find you to be a fundamentalist, then it’s off to re-education for you. It is the tyranny of democracy, the tyranny of the majority wherein the minority is no longer protected, but persecuted. It brings to mind the political abuse that the Soviet’s used in their attempts to re-educate opponents.

Science has tried its best to divorce itself from religion, but in doing so it has divorced itself from morality and common sense. Science is a tool in life, but not the guide of life. We need religion and morality to teach us that human beings hold innate value. Science cannot speak for or against such a teaching, we must leave this teaching up to ethical philosophy and philosophical anthropology. Likewise, perhaps one day we can “cure” those we disagree with via scientific discoveries, but we should have the ethical restraint to avoid doing such a thing as it robs humans of freedom and dignity. But perhaps that just makes me a fundamentalist in need of being cured.

Why P.Z. Meyer is Afraid

"Atheist Gothic"

Over at The Algemeiner, Rabbi Moshe Averick posted about the times he’s felt the wrath of P.Z. Meyer (which isn’t much of a wrath so much as it is a kid throwing a temper-tantrum in the middle of Toys R Us). The bigger issue that Rabbi Averick brings up is that atheists should really be embarrassed by the antics of P.Z. Meyer. After all, he openly calls people stupid, cusses out those who disagree with him, attacks the person rather than the argument (calling an argument “dumb” or “stupid” doesn’t really deal with the argument). One would think that atheists, who supposedly pride themselves on having a superior intellectual prowess compared to theists, would snub their noses at Meyer’s anti-intellectual approach to everything (including ID, where the argument Averick writes about, comparing ID to driftwood, is a weak argument).

Pictured: PZ Meyer Brute Squad

Yet, if you look to the comment section you’ll see that atheists not only aren’t ashamed of P.Z. Meyer, they’re in love with him and his tactics. Perhaps this is because Meyer released his brute squad on the website, but this begs the question of how his brute squad could be so big if atheists truly valued reason.

In fact, many of the comments go on to insult either the intellectual ability of Averick or just insult him as a person. But such tactics are becoming more and more common among atheists, to the point that one fears that if they were in the government they would be totalitarian oppressors, eradicating and removing the freedoms of anyone who is religious. After all, it’s not like fanatical secularism has cost the world millions of lives or anything. Of course, the greatest oppressor of the 20th century has been fanatics for secularism, which is what Meyer is, but we just haven’t learned our lesson.

At the core, however, what causes this blatant disregard for civility, understanding, and intellectual conversation? Certainly conversations can get heated or we can point to the ignorance of someone when speaking about an issue, but to start name-calling or using brute tactics in order to silent an opponent? Is that really intellectual? Other, more academic atheists, don’t seem to suffer from the same social disorder as Meyer does.

It’s not like disagreement should automatically cause people to be uncivil. For those who have kept up with my website, it’s no secret that I’m a conservative, orthodox Christian. Rabbi Averick and I would probably disagree on a few issues, namely the deity of Christ. Though I do not know Averick, I’d venture a guess and say that he and I could probably have a good discussion on the Deity of Christ (or lack of deity) without calling each other names or mocking the other’s belief. I could do this with a lot of Jews. I do have a few atheist friends where I could sit and talk to them about the existence of God without it ever turning into a series of ad hominem attacks. So it’s not as though disagreement itself requires us to insult those who disagree with us.

While I could point to certain philosophical underpinnings, I don’t think it would ultimately be helpful, for there are others who have the same underpinnings, but still act in a civil and respectable manner. So what is it that causes Meyer, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and their followers to be just downright nasty towards those who disagree with them? It’s not just one thing, but a multiplicity of things; they have no reason to be civil, they don’t really know what they’re talking about (on a philosophical level), they live in a world that lacks proper mystery, but most of all, they’re afraid.

Now not all outbursts are due to fear. Sometimes they come from being frustrated (this is often the case for me) because the other side just isn’t getting it. Other times it may just be because it’s been a bad day. But when your entire career and style is based upon insulting others, it’s generally out of fear. So what do Meyer and the new atheists fear? Quite simply, they fear the rise of Christianity in academia.

Prior to the 1960s it wasn’t thought that one could be a committed theist, much less a Christian, and hold a spot in a philosophy department. While such people did exist, they generally held their beliefs as a matter of private views, something that couldn’t be proven or shown to be reasonable. But we now live in a post-Plantinga world; it is through the works of Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and other early theists that in the modern age theism – in philosophy departments – is once again viewed as a reasonable position. Even Christianity, via our Roman Catholic brothers and their Thomistic traditions, is starting to make a comeback among the academic elite.

And this has the new atheists scared. They don’t understand how someone could believe in a “magic sky fairy” or a “flying spaghetti monster” and then declare such a belief reasonable. It’s because they don’t really understand theism, nor do they understand the arguments behind theism. And as is common among humans, when you encounter something you don’t understand, but are also afraid of it, you lash out at it. Look at how many evangelicals deal with Roman Catholicism (or alternatively how many cradle Catholics deal with evangelicals). Look at how many people deal with Muslims, thinking every single one is a terrorist, but also look at how Muslims from foreign lands deal with those different from them. When we don’t understand something, yet are afraid of it, we lash out against it.

The new atheists are no different. Sadly, though they pass themselves off as intellectuals, they really aren’t. They don’t understand the arguments behind Christianity or Theism even if they feign that they do. Rabbi Alverick is merely a proponent of a theistic system (Judaism) that ultimately isn’t understood by the new atheists, but in their minds theism has caused the Crusades, the witch hunts, Hitler’s Germany (yeah, they actually make that argument…tie that one to RABBI Alverick), and a whole host of other ills. In his BBC “documentary” Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins implies that religion and theism, specifically Christianity, is the root of all evil in the world. So when Meyer goes after Alverick, it’s no surprise that he attacks Alverick as a person and calls him stupid and cusses at him rather than dealing with the actual intellectual arguments that Alverick offers.

Keep in mind that these new atheists, most of whom lack training in philosophy (even Harris’ undergraduate degree in philosophy is laughable when comparing it to the multiple degrees from those he attacks), are calling “stupid” men and women who are some of the most respected names in the field of philosophy. Meyer has even gone after Francis Collins, who is one of the foremost experts on genetics and one of the most respected scientists of our time. Why? Because Collins believes in God, which is something that Meyer just cannot understand and doesn’t seek to understand. It’s far more comfortable to sit in a room full of one’s own ideas, lashing out at any different ideas, than to encounter and be challenged by opposing ideas. And that’s fine, no one is saying that Meyer and the new atheists have to leave their comfort zone, but stop passing it off as intellectual. They should at least be honest and admit that they’re an emotional overreaction to the inevitable; the belief in God will continue to exist and will never die out, because as a species we simply know better.

Is Religion the Ultimate Villain?

It’s popular, these days, to cast religion as the ultimate villain.  Ever louder we hear the herd screaming that religion is an unbridled danger to civilization–a parasite which has plagued humanity for far too long.  At least this is the picture painted by the so called “New Atheists” and nauseatingly perpetuated by many in the media.  Such an assertion, however, is so shockingly ignorant that one begins to wonder if we are currently experiencing a form of mass cultural amnesia.  Have we in the twenty-first century completely forgotten who we are and where we come from?

Whatever the case may be, one thing remains true: the fantastic claims of the “New Atheists,” regarding religions role in the perpetuation of evil, amount to nothing but mere anti-religious rhetoric. Let me make myself clear, I am not arguing against the fact that great evils have been perpetrated throughout history in the name of religion.  Such an argument, itself, would suggest that I was historically illiterate.  Rather, I am arguing for a fair and balanced portrayal of history–and this includes a serious appraisal of world events in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

More specifically, it involves facing up to some rather disquieting facts; to begin with, as Os Guinness has stated, with the fact that “more people were killed by secularist regimes in the twentieth century than in all the religious persecutions in Western history, and perhaps in all of history.”  David Berlinski, in his book The Devil’s Delusion, provides a chart outlining this staggering reality.  I have only reproduced a portion of this chart, so as to give you a taste of the unflattering legacy of secular ideology:

First World War (1914-18):…………………………… 15 million
Russian Civil War (1917-22):………………………..    9 million
Soviet Union, Stalin’s Regime (1924-53)………..  20 million
Second World War (1937-45):………………………..  55 million
Chinese Civil War (1945-49):………………………..  2.5 million
People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong’s
regime (1949-75):……………………………..   40 million
Tibet (1950 et seq.):……………………………………..      600,000
Congo Free State (1886-1908):………………………    8 million
Mexico (1910-20):………………………………………..    1 million
Turkish massacres of Armenians (1915-23):…….  1.5 million
China (1917-28):…………………………………………..      800,000
Korean War (1950-53):………………………………….  2.8 million
North Korea (1948 et. seq.):…………………………..     2 million
Rwanda and Burundi (1959–95):…………………… 1.35 million
Second Indochina War (1960-75):…………………..   3.5 million
Ethiopia (1962-92):……………………………………….       400,000
Nigeria (1966-70):…………………………………………     1 million
Bangladesh (1971):……………………………………….. 1.25 million
Cambodia, Khmer Rouge (1975-78):……………….. 1.65 million
Mozambique (1975-92):………………………………….     1 million

(For the full chart, I recommend you read his book)

Sadly, these numbers are only the tip of the ice burg.  To begin with, Berlinski excludes the millions of children who have been slaughtered by abortionists in the past two centuries.  According to analysts, doctor’s have performed approximately 1.37 million abortions a year (roughly 3,700 abortions a day), since 1996, in the United States alone.  Let these numbers sink in; then realize that this does not take into account the number of abortions performed prior to 1996 and in other countries.  If we added these numbers we would soon discover that more human lives have been taken through abortion in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than were lost in World War II.  Now, there are numerous reasons women get abortions–virtually none of which are religiously based.

Berlinski’s chart also fails to represent the staggering number of lives which are daily being destroyed through drugs and human trafficking.  Most of us are acutely aware of the amount of violence and murder associated with drug trafficking and, perhaps, even more aware of the number of deaths caused by drug overdose.  Nevertheless, I have provided a link for those of you who desire more specific statistics:  I must warn you, however, that as you research the drug industry you will soon find that it is not the Roman Catholic Church, or some religious ideology, which perpetuates this destructive operation; rather, it is money, power, and lust.  All of which, by the way, are secular motivations.

Many of you, however, are perhaps unaware of the fact that there are now more people enslaved than in any other time in history.  It is currently estimated that over 27 million people around the world are living as modern day slaves–victims of human trafficking.  It is estimated that every year one million of these victims are children being exploited by the commercial sex trade.             I think it is important to note that at least 244,000 of these children are American citizens.  Again I ask you, what is the root cause or source of these terrible crimes against humanity?  Is it the teachings of Jesus?  Or is it humanities insatiable lust for money, power, and sexual gratification?

Now, what is the point of this little diatribe?  Why have I taken the time to lay out all of these statistics?  Is my goal to convince you that atheism necessarily leads one to perpetrate heinous crimes against humanity? Of course not!  My aim is simply to point out, as Alister McGrath as so eloquently stated, that, “human beings are capable of both violence and moral excellence–and . . . both [of] these may be provoked by worldviews, whether religious or otherwise.”  It is simply idiotic hate mongering to suggest that religious worldviews are solely responsible for all of the evils in the world–and truly delusional to believe that secular humanistic ideologies have not significantly contributed to much of the world’s suffering.

In truth, all of this talk about religion and secular humanism has completely drawn our attention away from the true source of human misery–sin.  “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?” asks St. James, “Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill.  And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war” (James 4:1-2).  Is it not our unbridled passions which are the true source of evil?  Is it not our hate, our greed, our envy, our lust, our pride, and our slothfulness which has caused so much pain and suffering?

What truly motivates a clergyman to endorse the torture and murder of thousands of “heretics”?  What truly motivates a German soldier to participate in the mass murder of millions of Jews?  Is it not something dark and twisted inside of us?  Is it not our propensity for sin which ultimately leads us to death?  For, “the wages of sin is death,” says St. Paul (Romans 6:23).  And one thing is most certainly true, if the atheists are correct, if God does not exist, then death is simply all we have to look forward to.  As the Preacher so vividly describes: “the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.  They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

Thus, is the lot of man without God–his existence is utter despair and hopelessness and ends in total annihilation.  Without God, both life and death are simply meaningless natural phenomena.  There is no “cure” for sin, there is no end to pain and suffering, precisely because there is no evil, in the objective sense, at all.   Under the naturalist scheme, all of the suffering and pain and evil we see in the world, whether perpetrated in the name of religion or some secular ideology, is simply a normal part of existence.  Because there is no mind or purpose behind existence, concepts like ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are simply subjective values we superimpose on nature in our feeble attempt to ascribe some sense of meaning and dignity to our lives.

Under this framework, the Spanish Inquisition was not unjust or evil; it was a mere happening in the history of the movement of particles–men were just being carried along by the, “dance of DNA,” as Richard Dawkins would say.  The Holocaust was not unjust or evil it was just a regular natural occurrence–any value judgements you or I might make about such events are simply our own private opinions.  It is only if Jesus Christ is the logos, the reason or logic behind reality, through whom and for whom all things were created, that our existence has any objective meaning at all.  Likewise, it is only because of Christ–who is the standard and measure of goodness–that we can truly say something is objectively evil.

It is only if the logos became flesh and dwelt among us that man has any hope of overcoming evil.  It is through the death and resurrection of Christ that death has been conquered and man has the opportunity of being made new and being set free from pain and suffering forever.  It is upon Christ’s second coming that justice will finally avail–when all wrongs will be made right and the evil will be judged.  It is through his second coming that all of creation will be renewed and the world will finally be at peace.

The conclusion of the matter is this: religion is not the source of all evil–history has shown that any ideology, religious or otherwise, can breed evil and injustice–however, it is only within the framework of the Christian worldview that evil is properly accounted for.

Why Attacks on God’s Moral Goodness are Pointless

It is popular among atheists to use the existence of evil to disprove the existence of God. Lately, they have gone so far as to look at the attacks against the Canaanites to show that God is genocidal and not good. While I think we should explain both why evil exists in light of a good God and why He ordered the deaths of the Canaanites, I think that the atheistic arguments are ultimately pointless.

The arguments implicitly assumes that we are on equal footing with God when it comes to understanding justice and moral goodness. That is, we see God do x or allow x and assume that we can evaluate just as well (if not better) than God on if He should have done or allowed x to occur.

For instance, we look at the tsunami of Indonesia and ask, “If God is all good, why would He allow this to occur?” Or we can use Dawkins’ favorite chew toy and say, “If God is so good, why did He order innocents to die in the attacks on the Canaanites?”

But such an argument puts God’s goodness in a vacuum. It ignores that God is perfect in knowledge, meaning He knows what is ultimately good and what is ultimately just. Therefore, we must assume that any action He commits is perfectly good and perfectly just and whenever that action seems immoral or unjust to us, the flaw is in our understanding and not in God.

In fact, for the atheist to avoid this argument he must disprove that God is all-knowing, but to do so would mean that God is not really God (for by definition, if we accept Anselm’s argument, God must be all-knowing). That is to say, the atheist would first have to prove God doesn’t exist.

The atheist is left with two choices:

1) Prove God doesn’t exist, in which case attacking His goodness becomes superfluous (because He doesn’t exist)

2) If they can’t prove that God doesn’t exist (that is, that He isn’t all-knowing), then they can’t disprove His existence by pointing to supposed immoral actions

This is not an attempt at a cop out, but merely looking at the issue logically. If we take the whole of God into view when critiquing His actions, then we cannot critique His actions because we are lesser than Him and imperfect in our understanding of moral goodness and justice. Thus, we must prove that He is not all-knowing, that is, that He doesn’t exist before we can critique His moral actions. But if He doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to critique His moral actions.

While this doesn’t do away with the study of theodicy (as understanding why a good God allows evil is important), it does take away quite a bit of venom from the atheist’s charge against God.