Saturday, April 30, 2011

Atheists are Great!

A good article which leaves you scratching your head as to why anybody in their right mind would actually dislike an atheist. Atheists prove to be the most reasonable, amiable, charitable, intelligent, compassionate, independent thinking, good problem solvers, humane and prudent of people tested in various demographic studies. Makes one wonder why atheists are so hated, right?
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-do-americans-still-dislike-atheists/2011/02/18/AFqgnwGF_story.html

Secular Superstions

We are all prone to supernatural bouts of thinking. It's just the way our brains are wired to process information. We detect patterns that aren't always there. Such flawed reasoning is extremely obvious when it comes to superstitious customs and practices. Even so, the common belief that religion is the only place for this sort of blinkered reasoning is not necessarily true. Religion is not the only place that contains obviously silly superstitious beliefs (e.g., you will go to hell if you don't believe in God, eating a cracker and some wine turns into the literal blood and flesh of a 2,000 year old dead Jewish dude, etc.) In fact, the secular world is chock full of superstitious beliefs. Here are a few of them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Quote of the Day: Richard C. Carrier

"Though I am an atheist, in the basic sense that I do not believe there are any gods, you will find... that whether God exists or not really doesn't matter all that much. Every component of my philosophy can be arrived at independently, and stands on evidence and reasoning that would not change tomorrow if a god announced himself to the world today. Rather than being a starting assumption, my atheism is but an incidental conclusion from applying my worldview to the current state of evidence."
                                                                         --Richard C. Carrier

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Countdown Begins!

What is SK3?
Stay tuned for future updates!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Damn it All to Hell: I Get Mail


I've been having the weirdest non-blogging vacation. It seems I can't stop blogging. Especially when I get caught up in riveting conversations like the following (which I'm currently having in the comments section of my old post Demon Haunted World). And by riveting I mean: fairly amusing. Damn it all to hell--I just can't seem to help myself.


What follows is a follow up to a previous series of comments. However, I felt responding to this person deserved a little more consideration than a simple comments blurb could allow.

Some Stats. Wow!

I'm sure this post will bore most of you. But I just thought it was insane how many page hits I received from PZ Myers plugging my blog. Over 2,041 page-views streamed in from Pharyngula in just a few days. 

Until that digital avalanche, my average weekly traffic ran about 300 page views a week. My single highest (most often) viewed blog was my "Fringe Science!" blog with a whopping 139 page-views. And by whopping I mean depressing compared to the new number one highest viewed blog which blew that one out of the water. 

That's the power of word folks!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quote of the Day: Douglas Adams

"The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'..."
                                                                              --Douglas Adams

Is Hell Dead?


Excellent Times article about the controversial liberal Pastor Rob Bell's denunciation of the Evangelical Christian concept of Hell. Christians fighting among Christians about theological concerns is one reason we know that Christianity is doomed to go the way of Zeus and company.


Is Hell Dead?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Don't Panic!


I'm going to be taking a month off from blogging. The main reason is that here in Japan the largest spring holiday, called "Golden Week," will begin soon and I will be taking my family to Okinawa for part of the vacation. We still need to pack and get all our passport stuff in order. 


Also, I am going to read through Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, since I've never read them. I'm already six chapters into the first book and loving it. Very funny stuff.

The last reason for taking a break is that I need to recharge my batteries. I have a couple of writing projects going on that require a lot of time and energy and, well, blogging, as fun as it is, doesn't pay the bills. So I need to focus on some other things and at the same time try and get my breath back from the year and a half sprint I've been doing here. 

(Although, if some smaller posts trickle in don't hold it against me.)



Before I go though, I'd like to give a shout out to the ever kind PZ Myers, who plugged my blog on his popular Pharyngula blog, and increased my traffic like a hundred fold! Now I'm ditching you all. 

Bwah-hahaha! Anyway, thanks PZ!

So enjoy the blog archives, leave comments and feedback, and remember, don't panic. I shall return before you get your next paycheck!

--Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R. Joseph Hoffmann Needs to Apologize to Atheists

R. Joseph Hoffmann Needs to Apologize to Atheists

R. Joseph Hoffmann is a religious historian I admire for his profound knowledge of religious history, nevertheless he seems to be too caught up in his own misguided view of what atheists ought to be (or at least aspire to) instead of what atheists are. His confusion probably stems from the fact that he views himself as an atheist (more or less) but is certainly still extremely sympathetic to the religious position (more or less). There is nothing wrong with being sympathetic toward the religious or with regard to religion, but it’s not a prerequisite of atheism.

Much of Hoffmann’s blog, the New Oxonian, is devoted to regularly bashing and ridiculing atheists with the zealousness of a religionist gone mad with sanctimonious certitude in his own self righteousness, and he constantly defends those poor dimwitted religionists, because as everybody well knows, they couldn’t possibly defend themselves against those cunning, cold as a nuclear winter, atheists. Hoffmann’s blog, however, is filled with vitriol toward atheists he doesn’t see eye to eye with, and when criticized for his unsympathetic views he insists the atheists are “throwing tantrums.” Instead of trying to explain where he differs with other atheists and why, however, he spends most of his time flinging mud.  

The strange thing is, between his meandering atheist rants and his savvy religious commentary, it sometimes seems as if Hoffmann is privy to rare moments of philosophical clarity.

The big distinction between the old and the new is that the old atheism depended on a narrative, based in philosophy, and linked itself to a long tradition of rational decision-making. Not choosing to believe in God was an act of deliberation, not a foregone conclusion. At its best, it was studious and reflective. At its worst, it was purely negative, abrasive and sometimes nihilistic.

But the rest of the time it just sounds like Hoffmann is whining like a spoiled diva who didn’t get everything exactly as she requested—with a personal sense of entitlement which has since become exceedingly annoying. The question is, why should we even bother listening to Hoffmann’s bloated opinion? Presumably, he knows a thing or two about religion (I’m not denying this), for that reason, however, he feels his opinion about atheism should matter too. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

All the same, by the sounds of things, Hoffmann doesn’t seem to give a fig about most atheists—since he is too busying taking them apart every single chance he gets. He calls Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris (who launched the new wave of atheism, i.e. New Atheism) “unkind” and “mean.” Hoffmann affirms that most New Atheists are “strident,” “lack manners,” and if denigrating the New Atheist spokesmen weren’t enough he takes personal pot shots, singling out PZ Myers, calling him a “super-jerk.” Really, this is what Hoffmann thinks: about the “new” atheists (which are basically the same as any other atheist. Which makes one wonder, is he saying all atheists are all a bunch of ill-mannered, strident, mean spirited, unkind, super-jerks? Wow. Petty much?)

Personally, I think Hoffmann has gone far enough with the atheist bashing. I find the New Atheists refreshingly candid. They aren't mean, they’re earnest. They aren’t unkind, they’re brutally honest. Their tough criticism could, if taken personally, be viewed as strident, I suppose. It seems to me that their manners are superior to any of the religious they engage. Hoffmann’s accusations are baseless—but he insists nevertheless.

Hoffmann couldn’t be any more irritating if he tried. Even so, in his recent article “Atheist Tantrums” he offers a particularly telling ad hominem attack against PZ Myers, which sounds awfully passive aggressive, especially considering PZ recently criticized Hoffmann for comparing him to that religious book burning extremist quack Terry Jones. Rightly so, I might add. Needless to say, one might mistake the fact that Hoffmann is harping on PZ—yet again—for a somewhat petty agenda to get even. It appears Hoffmann couldn’t be bothered to find any other examples of atheists who speak their mind? Somehow I doubt it.

Even as Hoffmann, himself, claims there is no real distinction between “old” and “new” atheism, he goes on to claim that the New Atheists are “stupid” and “loud” and that “The new atheism is a catechism of conclusions reached, positions taken, dogmas pronounced.” I often hear this derisive talk coming from theists who want to bash the lofty claims of the New Atheists that science is more enlightening than bogus holy books and superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Not so fast, they say, your faith in science is the same as our faith in God. Soon enough Atheism is made out to be a pseudo-religion and just as quickly unthinking theists begin attacking it, by parroting the atheist criticisms of theism, but superimposing them incorrectly back onto a non-theistic philosophy—thus you get wild accusations that all New Atheists are enamored with scientism (yet even this proves that the accusers are more ignorant than initially presumed—since scientism is merely a pejorative term tossed around by those wholly ignorant of real science). Of course most atheists just sigh, turn away, and go on ignoring the idiots—but Hoffmann should know better.

Hoffmann becomes unbearable to listen to when he quips, “What’s now being called “new atheism” or atheist fundamentalism is really nothing more than the triumph of the jerks. Unsubtle, unlearned (but pretentious), unreflective (but persistent)…” This is right before he calls PZ Myers, a distinguished Professor of Biology, a “super-jerk.”

Obviously Hoffmann doesn’t know anything about the education of the New Atheists. Sam Harris is a philosopher turned Neuroscientist, and holds a PhD in modern Neuroscience from UCLA. Richard Dawkins is a world renowned evolutionary biologist and he was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. Christopher Hitchens is an infamous atheist intellectual, a savvy journalist, and graduated from Oxford University. Meanwhile, Hoffman groups other atheists into this “unlearned” category when he adds the abbreviation for and company (i.e., et al.) to his list of passionately despised New Atheists. So I can only assume he means other “uneducated” men like Dan Dennett (Philosopher, PhD), Victor Stenger (Physicist, PhD), Richard Carrier (Historian, PhD), David Eller (Anthropologist, PhD) among plenty of others. For the life of me I cannot seem to figure out how these men reflect the unlearned and unreflective side of New Atheism.

Hoffmann’s reasoning seems to be either not particularly refined or else dysfunctional—since even an uneducated, pretentious, fundamentalist atheist like me can see that he’s talking bullshit. This pretentiousness raises a pertinent question, why are we supposed to care about Hoffmann’s opinion, again? Oh yeah, because he is so much better than these other fools—these so-called New Atheists.

Criticizing atheism, mind you, is a good thing. It helps us persistent, loud mouthed, fundamental atheist types check our arguments and hone, refine, and improve them. Criticism only seeks to make us stronger critical thinkers. We can learn from positive as well as negative criticism, and criticism allows us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, perchance to grow better and learn to reason better. But Hoffmann isn’t offering advice; he’s being a dick. 

Whether or not Hoffmann is humble enough to accept criticism from a fellow nonbeliever, I wouldn’t presume to know (he may just passively aggressively stereotype any atheist who stands up to defend atheism, who knows?), but the next time he feels the overwhelming need he to come down on atheists I might suggest he try to temper his language more. Mostly because ad hominems are bad form, they usually suggest that you are either lacking any worthy argument, or that you’re just generally cantankerous, and either way being a dick isn’t going to vindicate your position that all those other atheists are “mean.” As a wise mother once informed, “If you point the finger of blame at somebody else, you only have three more pointing back at you.” It sometimes helps to look who’s talking.

The bottom line is I’m tired of Hoffmann’s constant whining and name calling. It’s plain ole spiteful—and it’s growing old, fast. His droning on and on about how crap the New Atheists are has become obnoxious, and I wouldn’t blame other atheists, new or old, for branding Hoffmann a sympathizer, not of reason, but of religious quackery. This bi-partisan “I’m really an atheist but I love religion sooo much, so don’t you dare attack it or I’ll attack you ” mentality is juvenile. After all, many atheists may be “cranks and angry old men,” as Hoffmann claims, but they espouse humanist and enlightenment ideals. They fight for rationality, critical thinking, free inquiry, and scientific progress. Whether it’s Robert G. Ingersoll or Richard Dawkins, Thomas Paine or Sam Harris, G.W. Foote or Christopher Hitchens, it doesn’t make any difference, “old” atheist or “new” atheist, Hoffmann needs to stop pouring on the scorn and attacking atheism, he needs to stop denigrating others, and he needs to apologize to atheists for his unwarranted mudslinging. Maybe if Hoffmann took a break from his caterwauling long enough to find a mirror, he’d see who the real “crank and angry old man” really is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

all your smartz is belongs to me!

All Your Smartz is Belongs to Me!
Everybody has guilty pleasures. Mine happens to be watching B-movies. B rated movies are rated “B” because of their “badness.” As far as film making goes as an art, B-movies are the best of the worst. They have horrible scripts, bad acting, and usually generic special effects. Often times, however, they are so awful that they make you laugh out loud.

Recently, I was pointed to an opinion piece posted on FoxNews.com which was so awful, so painfully ignorant, so utterly ridiculous as to constitute the best of the worst of news articles I have ever read. And I thought I would critique it here, if not to correct the misinformation, then as a way to show that given a little incentive, one can track down the truth and find the answers to the questions they have. Opinions are, as the saying goes, like assholes. Everyone has one. And like assholes uneducated opinions usually stink. Needless to say, the article “Does the Bible Matter In the 21st Century” by Vishal Mangalwadi is a real stinker.

Vishal Mangalwadi (from here on referred to as VM) seems to be living in a strange parallel dimension where logic does not apply, where facts do not exist, and where people will believe anything you say simply because you say it. VM’s essay is so loaded with socio-political gerrymandering, discombobulated moral views, unreasoned statements, and poorly researched subject matter that it barely reads as coherent. It’s that barely part which, admittedly, makes reading it a guilty pleasure.

The Discombobulation Prognostication
I shall now go through the article line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and correct the misconceptions, address the faulty reasoning, and take issue with everything which is wrong with the piece. VM begins, as all right wing nut jobs are want to do, by talking a whole bunch of nonsense and making much to do about nothing.
“In his quest to change oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush argued, “Everyone desires freedom.” True. Everyone also desires a happy marriage: can everyone therefore have one?”
To answer VM’s question, I feel obliged to quote the 80’s rock band Journey, who wisely offered the advice that “Some were born to win and some to lose; others were born to sing the blues.” What should not escape our attention though, is that VM misses the point. Freedom is a basic, inalienable, human right. Marriage is a social construct. The two are quite different. Freedom is a human rights issue whereas marriage is a privilege of those who decide to practice such a social custom.

His next sentence baffles me, as it does not connect to the prior sentence or the following, and although it mentions freedom I don’t know what he means by it. He mentions “secular ideologues” should be warned that “freedom does not flow from the barrel of a gun.” Okay, sound advice. But what does he mean by secular ideologues, is what I’d like to know. In passing VM mentions Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, and Libya, so perhaps he is thinking of failed regimes run into the ground by corrupt dictators. But an ideologue is merely a person who prescribes to some sort of dogma, just as it seems our author does. At any rate, the sentence is largely incoherent, so we’ll stop trying to make sense of it and move on.

You Want Me to Kiss Your…What?!
VM next asks us, “Why do most American presidents place a hand on the Bible to take the oath of office?” Although there is a very obvious answer to this, let’s see where he takes it first.
“Secular education has made that a meaningless tradition, but the tradition exists because the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom.”
Actually, that’s the wrong answer. The reason most American Presidents place their hands on the Bible is because it was a tradition started by George Washington. However, Washington didn’t place his hand on the Bible—he kissed it! The customary tradition of kissing the Bible was broken by Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969) who opted to say a personal prayer instead of making out with the King James Bible. Meanwhile, VM’s comment that the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom is awfully dubious at best. Many of America’s founding fathers weren’t even Christian. The most notorious of them were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. All of them were strictly deists, but in the case of Thomas Jefferson I am willing to argue that he probably viewed himself as more of an atheist, just like Abraham Lincoln did, even though such a term carried heavy baggage back then and so was prudently avoided.
           
Personally I wouldn’t say secular tradition has made the gesture of placing the hand on the Bible meaningless—any more so than putting your lips on the Bible is meaningless. The fact that much of the Bible has been relegated to a meaningless status by Christians, who tend to ignore the majority of its teachings anyway, suggest that the reason the Bible has been devalued is that there has been a shift in the religious attitudes about the relevance of the Bible.[i] Secular opinion has largely remained the same, so could hardly be to blame.

Beware the Nazi Curse!
“Forget the Bible and America will go the way of the first Protestant nation—Nazi Germany.”
If by this our author means that because Germany was a Christian nation it was therefore prone to all the Christian follies, then he is correct. Indeed, it was because of Hitler’s devout upbringing and conviction in Jesus Christ which helped breed an unhealthy Anti-Semitism.[ii] Adolf Hitler was a devout Catholic who felt he was obliged to rid the world of Jews because they condemned Christ to death. In a speech given on April 12, 1922, Adolf Hitler had this to say: 
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison and as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942).
Nevertheless, what we have here is Hitler’s own testimony to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ! VM’s is distinctly a religious attempt, once again, to tie all things secular to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler rather than the religious beliefs directly compelling his depraved ideology. If you’re under the impression that Hitler wasn’t, as he himself claims to be, a pious Christian—then you are mistaken. Obviously Christians have every right to feel uncomfortable with the admission that Hitler was one of them, after all, he was a dogmatic, zealous, evil, psychopathic, theocratic bastard.

As controversial as it is though: 1) Hitler was raised a devout Catholic, attended Catholic school in a Benedictine cloister in Lembach, and even sang in the church choir; 2) The Nazi party prescribed to Positive Christianity (as Point 24 in the Nazi Party Program indicates) and held to an age old Christian tradition of Anti-Judaism; 3) The Nazi plan for Jews is nearly identical to Martin Luther’s seven-point plan to rid the world of Jews in his (extremely sinister) essay On the Jews and Their Lies, and moreover, Luther’s anti-Jewish tract was the basis for anti-Jewish policies implemented by Nazi Germany (which even leading Lutheran scholars agree, e.g., Martin H. Bertram); 4) Hitler praised Martin Luther (who’s theology initiated the Reformation) in Mein Kampf as one of his three main influences; 5) Many of Hitler’s speeches pay lip service to the Christian God and the savior Jesus Christ, and often mimics the Jewish extermination rhetoric of Pope Innocent III; 6) On April 26, 1933 in a conversation with the bishop of Osnabruck, Hermann Wilhelm Berning, Hitler stated he believed he was doing a continuation of what Catholic policy had done for 1,500 years, something which Holocaust historian, Geunter Lewy, has also keenly pointed out; 7) Hitler cited the 1933 Concordat between the Catholic Church and the Nazi Party as helping to further his cause; 8) I refer you previous quote in which Hitler calls himself a Christian and references the Bible for support (a habit most Christians have); 9) Regardless of what anyone may think, by any other definition, Hitler was a believing Christian; 10) On top of this, the old canard that Hitler was following out an atheistic or Social Darwinist agenda is patently false. Hitler never once mentions Darwin (or any of Darwin’s works) in any of his speeches, writings, or dinner conversations which rule out any ties to Darwinism, meaning that Christianity was most likely the main contributing force behind Hitler’s superstitious reasoning and religious ideologies.[iii]

Hitler was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and anybody who contends otherwise must have some pretty swaying evidence—evidence which I am completely unaware of. The excuse I hear is most often is the refrain that since Christians are supposed to be caring, compassionate, loving and any Christian who doesn’t show compassion towards others isn’t a real Christian. However, this is not a valid rebuttal. After all, history if chock-full of the exploits of appalling Christians—Hitler was simply echoing the long standing tradition of the Christian “sinner.”

I know it’s a lot of information to take in, but I just wanted to correct VM’s misconception that if you didn’t have a Bible you’d automatically turn into a Nazi, or something. It seems that most Nazis did read their Bibles, in fact, the Nazis wore belt buckles emblazoned with professions of Christian faith, which read “Gott Mit Uns” which means “God With Us.”

It’s Greek to Me
Our intrepid philosopher of many blinkered insights then ventures into the classics, asserting:
“Plato saw Greek democracy first hand and condemned it as the worst of all political systems. That’s why the spread of the Greek culture, called “Hellenization,” did not stir a struggle for democracy. In AD 798, the English scholar Alcuin summed up the then European wisdom to Emperor Charlemagne: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.” Indeed, the voice of a corrupt people is often the devil’s voice.”
VM might as well be speaking Greek, or more precisely Latin, because much of what he says just doesn’t make any sense. Plato wrote a small, yet important, book called The Republic, which outlines his opinion on democratic thought. Plato didn’t condemn the Greek ecclesia, or democratic assembly, per se. Plato rejected the idea of democratic rule, as he felt that only a few are fit to rule, stating that reason and wisdom should govern.
“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils… nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republic 473c-d)
Basically, Plato disagreed with the Greek ecllesia, which was open to all citizens in Athens—at least all male citizens older than 18 that is—who could vote for electing officials, going to war, and various reforms. At its best it was a mess, where 43,000 members gathered in assembly every month to vote, but Plato thought this disorganized and ultimately dangerous—as uneducated farmers and peasants may not know what is in the best interest for the state. In essence, Plato was calling for localized government at a state level.

It wasn’t that Plato condemned democracy—he wanted a better democracy—a Republic lead by competent leaders who were educated and wise. In other words, he was arguing for a system that resembles the modern day U.S.—a federal constitutional republic comprised of fifty states—this was the Republic Plato dreamed of. Thus, it appears VM isn’t aware of the histiography of the term democracy, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have actually read Plato, otherwise he wouldn’t have mistaken the sort of antiquated democracy of Athens during its “Golden Age” (480-404 BCE) for the sort of Democracy the United Sates was founded upon—because both are entirely different forms of democracy.

The Devil Made Me Do It!
VM’s quote by Alcuin is off topic and out of place. Worse than this, however, is that our author reveals himself to be frighteningly delusional when he states that “the voice of a corrupt people is often the devil’s voice.” I don’t think he is speaking metaphorically here. It sounds as if he literally means the devil’s voice has misguided the people—thus driven them to corruption and madness. VM actually believes a little red man, from an alternate dimension, with a pitch fork and pointy tail is causing people to go wrong.[iv] I don’t know about you, but I find the fact that people can believe this sort of nonsense a little off-putting, to say the least. At the same time, I absolutely delight in the fact that I don’t have to work to discredit VM because he does such a good job of doing it himself.

The School of Spirituality: How I Gained My PhD in Political Science
Our author’s next quote is a really exasperating series of jumbled thoughts, full of digressions and faulty reasoning, and is completely unrelated to his title “Does the Bible Matter in the 21st Century?” Even so, the next paragraph is so poorly written that I have to break it down line by line.
“The cancer at the heart of America’s political economy is cultural.”
Okay, fair enough, but perhaps an explication instead of a band wagon appeal is required here. Instead of just asserting his opinion, VM might want to try backing it up with some basic data and hard won evidence. I know, I know, this means doing real research. But what can I say, if you want to convince me of your truths, let alone want to get me to listen to them, they have to be supported first. VM’s statement may not be wrong, for all I know it could very well be correct, but the point is there is nothing to qualify it as being correctas it is, it’s entirely unfounded—therefore specious.
“This great nation was built by an ethic—a spirituality that taught citizens to work, earn, save, invest, and use their wealth to serve their neighbors.”
Strange, it seems to me, that a nation’s ethical values could be built by a school of spirituality. Although I think I get the gist of what he’s trying to say (sort of). But he’s wrong primarily for two reasons. 1) VM probably doesn’t know what he’s trying to say any more than I do. 2) In the following sentence he refers to this ethic of working hard, earning, saving, investing, and using one’s wealth to help others as a “biblical ethic.” I can only assume he means the Christian ethic—as derived from the teachings of Christ (since that is mainly what it means to be a Christian—a follower of Christ)—but he’s wrong precisely because Christ never taught these things—he preached the exact opposite!

Jesus and his disciples were infamous for their loitering about—while most of them were fishermen, none held traditional jobs. In reality Jesus wasn’t even a carpenter, this is merely a misappropriation of an Aramaic term which gets confused due to its resemblance to the Jewish term tekton (contractor). According to Biblical scholar Geza Vermes, the identification of Jesus as a carpenter was an early error. Stanley E. Porter has informed, “the Greek word for ‘caprenter’ in the gospels actually stands for an underlying Aramaic term that is used metaphorically in the Talmud to denote a scholar.” New Testament scholar Robert M. Price concurs, stating it was a Gentile misunderstanding of the Jewish acclamation that he [Jesus] was an erudite rabbi, skilled in scripture exposition.”

On top of all this Jesus did not advise his followers to save, rather, he taught “sell everything you own and give to the poor” (Mark 10:17-22). Nor did Jesus instruct his followers to invest, as he explicitly says “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). In fact, Jesus condemned the wealthy altogether, stating “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24) yet this hasn’t deterred Christian leaders from declaring a tax exempt status and becoming some of the wealthiest charlatans ever to populate the face of the Earth—from the Pope on down to the mega-church pastors like Rick Warren.
“This biblical ethic has been replaced by secularism’s entitlement culture that teaches people that they have a right to this, that and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve.”
Actually, as we saw above, this is blatantly false. Moreover, this so-called ‘entitlement culture’ sounds more like the elite status of the religious Oligarchy and Demagogues than it does the average hard working blue collar American. While my mother, a working class Christian, strives from paycheck to paycheck trying to make ends meet, the Pope owns his very own country and lives in a veritable palace paid for by truer Christians than he (i.e., Christians who are, in fact, giving all they can so that he may live like a king of kings). Frankly, I don’t see how secularism even enters the equation. Most secular models of economics are based on political science, organizational theory, and cater largely to the overarching capitalism we are accustomed to. There is no such thing as a “Christian Capitalism” any more than there is such a thing as a “Christian bicycle” so I fail to see how a secular position connotes any anti-conservative right wing agenda. It seems our author simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“This new culture forces the state to take from productive citizens or borrow from other nations and spend it on manmade rights.”
This sentence is incoherent. What does manmade rights mean? What new culture is he speaking of? What is being borrowed from other nations and what does this have to do with taking from productive citizens?
“This corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but can democracy allow leaders to go against the voter’s voice?”
I don’t presume to know what this corruption is, as it hasn’t been clearly described, or how it is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but to answer the last question about whether or not a democracy can allow leaders to go against the voter’s voice, the answer, as Plato would have it, is yes. If the average voter is as uneducated and incapable as our author, then this is a good thing. Why? Because as Plato affirmed, it is better to have wise and educated leaders than let the country go to ruin because you gave an idiot too much power. Ironically enough, in Athens the Greek word idiotes was a derogatory term for someone who did not vote—probably because they were politically ignorant. It now refers to someone who is just plain ole ignorant.

The Theology of a Xenophobe
Next our author moves onto discuss some history and theology.
“The people’s voice began to be honored as God’s voice only because the sixteenth century biblical Reformation began saturating the hearts and minds of the people with the Word of God.”
Actually, the reformation was due in part because Martin Luther disagreed with the Church on the matter of the sale of indulgences. Meanwhile, the reason it saturated the hearts and minds of the people is because of Luther’s translation of the Bible into German (1522-34) he made the Holy Bible accessible to the layman. Until this time the people never actually heard God’s voice, but only heard from the holy sanctioned spokespeople of God, the Papacy.

After some meaningless professions of faith, which have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of his article, or the content for that matter, our author adds:
“Not Just Islamic, but every culture that rejects the kingdom of God condemns itself to be ruled exclusively by sinful men.”
This sentences is not only uninformed, it’s rude, as it is meant to denigrate Muslims. Little does our author know, however, he has completely misrepresented the religion of Islam. Muslims believe whole heartedly in the kingdom of God, and they worship Allah (the Arabic word for God) above all things. In fact, their faith in God rivals that of any Christian, past or present, and so it seems more than a little disparaging to imply that Muslims are condemned to be ruled exclusively by sinful men. Is this what our author really wishes? Is it what he really believes? I can’t help but feel this sentence shows a pent up xenophobia seeping out of our author’s bloated ego.

The Ramblings of a Chauvinistic Egoist Know-Nothing-Know-It-All
As hurtful and insensitive as his Islamaphobic comments are above, he now turns his attention to the fairer gender, women. It should come as no surprise that after disparaging other cultures, races, and worldviews that VM would, predictably enough, finally make his way to disparaging women too.
“Almost everyone desires a happy marriage, but without the Bible, America cannot even define, let alone sustain marriage as one man-one woman, exclusive, and life-long relationship. The West became great because biblical monogamy harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, women, children, and men.”
I shall first address his misconceptions about marriage. Traditionally, marriage was not meant as a means to happiness. In the Biblical sense, marriage was a means to an end. Women were views as chattel, property of the man, to be sold and bartered with. This enterprise ensured that the household would remain strong, and marriage was usually a political means to ensure the economic stability of the household and the continued existence of the family. Hence women were viewed as chattel, dowries were bartered, organized marriages were arranged, and bargains were struck.

When it comes to Christian marriage and other forms of marriage, what we need to realize is there is relatively little difference. China had dowries and arranged marriages the same as Jews did. Women, regardless of where they were born, were the unlucky heirs to a patriarchal tradition. 

Christianity has a long sordid history with oppressing women and suppressing women’s rights. Annie Laurie Gaylor, feminist crusader and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, reminds us that:
“The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women’s right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth (since the bible says women must suffer in childbirth) and woman’s suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women’s social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion.”[v]
I need not remind you of the Biblical passages which enslave a defiled woman to her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). God even allowed his people to practice human trafficking and own sex-slaves (Exodus 21:7-11). And on occasion God even commanded the rape of women (Zechariah 14:1-2).

The New Testament regard of women is not improved much from the Old Testament. According to the NT women should cover their heads, be subservient to the man, and must be abused if she fails to exhibit the utmost docile commitment and humility to her superiors (1 Corinthians 11). Women must not be allowed to teach, for like a viper she cannot be trusted, her ideas and opinions are the cause of all treachery (according to 1 Timothy 2). Wives are the “weaker” partner, not equal to their husbands, and must be treated accordingly (what patronizing condescension! 1 Peter 3). Wives, under all circumstances, must submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5).

Paula Kirby has written a wonderful piece in the Washington Post in which she affirms, “This is the highest ideal to which a Christian woman may aspire: a cardboard cut-out of womanhood, a mere handmaid, silent, submissive, a vessel for the production of babies, passively and gratefully accepting her fate.”

A 2009 study at Baylor University showed that women are still made the sexual targets of male clergy and of faith leaders in general. Christianity’s regard for women hasn’t improved much since biblical times. In 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention made the decree stating “wives should submit graciously to their husbands.” To this day women are not allowed to be pastors, ministers, or priests in most Christian churches. Perhaps more controversial still, according to a 2008 Barna report, Christians have higher divorce rates than atheists and other non-believing secularists. Maybe these Christian women just weren’t submitting enough to their husbands? Maybe this religious demand for the woman to be a submissive trophy wife is driving her away? Regardless, all this seems to suggest that we should perhaps take it with a grain of salt whenever a Christian starts talking about the “sanctity of marriage.”

When VM talks about “harnessing sexual energy” I can only assume he means abstinence only policies which promote the notion of chastity until marriage. One of Christianity’s biggest experiments in trying to curb the human biological urge to mate with multiple partners has been an abstinence only policy—but a 2008 study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that there was no significant impact of abstinence only policies on teen sexual activity. Additionally, a similar report by the U.S. Mathematica Policy Research showed that abstinence only policies are not only an abysmal failure—but it also found that youth in these programs were no more likely to have unprotected sex. None-the-less, Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family continue to push abstinence only problems—and continue to put their children at risk by doing so.

The Bible is an artifact of Bronze aged mindset, which has fossilized the chauvinistic attitudes of a God appointed patriarchy, and this is the setting for which our author believes one woman must be put into bondage to one man for as long as she can muster breath to serve him (after all, that’s what life-long means). Yet what kind of marriage is this? There could be no more sinister a agenda than to deprive women of the same rights given to men. Opportunities such as education, independence, leadership, control over her own body, and so on should not be the business of Churches but solely the personal affairs of the woman—and to deprive her of this or any other prerogative is a form of subjugation and is criminal. It is obvious that the Biblical concept of marriage is not at all compatible with our civilized, modern, Western notions of marriage. In today’s societies women enjoy the free choice to marry whom they wish, out of love, not out of paternal obligation. Women are free to be sexual and sleep with whoever whenever they please.[vi] It not only seems we have redefined marriage as a more egalitarian custom, but it seems that in order to allot the respect women deserve, we have no choice but to purge ourselves of the failed biblical ethics and stop adhering to religious customs which seek to impoverish, enslave, oppress, and hinder a woman while continually restricting her basic human rights. In this sense, the Bible is out-dated, a shoddy relic from a Bronze Age long ago forgot, and has no precedence in the 21st century.

Conclusion
Vishal Mangalwadi is living in an upside down world, one which is morbid, depraved, and iniquitous. Vishal Mangalwadi appears to be deeply disturbed, deranged, and/or deluded. These are not meant as ad hominems, they are not attacks on Mangalwadi’s character, they are simply observations of his character. Although we can simply laugh off the imbecilic comments and poke fun at his narrow-minded worldview, we cannot be aware of how dangerous this sort of thinking is.

Whoever allowed this opinion editorial to be published, in my opinion, ought to be fired. First since one of the jobs of an editor is to make sure there is a certain level of political correctness to a piece. However, this article was not only defamatory, it was also inflammatory, and many of the author’s opinions pushed the boundaries of what it means to be controversial. Whether or not he was aware of the finer nuances of what he was advocating, is beside the point.

The bottom line is, Mangalwadi attacked other cultures, races, religious beliefs, worldviews with an uncouthness that was astounding, to say the least. His values are wanting. Mangalwadi ends with a subtle, yet not entirely hidden, chauvinism toward women while sponsoring an archaic form of Biblical sexism. The insinuation that the Bible provides the only valid definition of marriage should tip us off to this fact. I for one feel that the Bible provides a very poor model for marriage, one both wholly unfeasible and obsolete, and another thing we can be sure about is that it’s not at all concerned with the happiness of women. Furthermore, the actual topic of the article, if you haven’t already forgotten, was supposed to be about whether or not the Bible is still relevant in the Twenty-first century. This was never addressed. But I guess Fox news was just trying to be “fair and balanced.” After all, the nutters and religious wackos have opinions too.



Notes


               [i] Read The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos (Prometheus Books) 2007.
            [ii] The link between Christianity and anti-Semitism is well documented. See: Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of anti-Semiticism by Rosemary Ruether and The Origins of Anti-Semetism: Attitudes Towards Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity by John Gager.
            [iii] The Biblical scholar and historian Hector Avalos has put this issue to rest in his essay “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust” (which can be found in the anthology The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, ed. John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2010).
            [iv] According to a 2009 Barna poll just over one-quarter (26%) of American Christians believe in Satan.
            [v] Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nontract #10, “Why Women Need Freedom From Religion,” available online.
            [vi] Healthy and mature sex education does improve our sexual understanding and views sex in a positive light, thus reducing the guilt related to the heavily stigmatized religious premarital “sex is sin” myth, which runs unchecked in Christianity, and often stunts or cripples a person’s sexual maturity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quote of the Day: Wes Morriston

"If one were to draw up a list of things that make us special, it would probably include things like these. Humans are (or can be) self-conscious, capable of rational reflection and deliberation, of making plans and carrying them out. They fall in love, they have children, form family bonds, and care for one another. Some of them write poems or compose symphonies or discover proofs of deep mathematical theorems. Others understand and appreciate those poems and symphonies and theorems. Non-human animals share some, though by no means all, of these characteristics; and none are shared by rocks.


"So why aren’t characteristics like these – all of which could be found in a Godless universe – sufficient to make us ‘special’ ? That we are the ‘accidental by-products’ of mindless natural processes, or that we haven’t been around very long, or that we won’t be around all that much longer, or that we are tiny in comparison with the universe is entirely beside the point. What matters to
our worth is what we are – not how we got here or how long we will be here. If that’s right, then no matter how much angst an atheist may experience in the face of a mindless, unplanned, unguided, silent universe, the unvarnished facts of her condition do not deprive her of worth. "

--Wes Morriston ("God and the ontological foundation of morality," Religious Studies, Cambridge University Press [2011], p. 9-10)

What is the Moral Landscape? A Short Explication


What is the moral landscape? 
The moral landscape is the world of values we live in. A world inhabited by sentient, conscious, beings aware of right and wrong and all the subtleties in-between. Sam Harris has called the best possible existence, the one which is the most ethical, brings the greatest amount of happiness, and allows for the most flourishing is, subsequently, the best level of well-being we could achieve. Therefore, the goal is to mark out this moral landscape and try to work toward better echelons of human well-being.  It is here where we will find an objective morality. 

By the way, although I need not point this out, Sam's concept of a moral landscape is fully compatible with the definition of morality. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English (2005) morality consists of principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior, and/or is a particular system of values and principles of conduct. It seems that marking out the moral landscape would necessitate testing various meta-ethical philosophies all the while discovering the various distinctions between the various shades of right and wrong, good and bad, in what Sam calls the peaks and valleys of the moral landscape. But more on this in a bit. 

Does Morality Stem from God? 
First, let us consider where we do not find morality.


God.


That's right. Contrary to what many religious adherents espouse, morality does not come from God. This is a fact. How can I be so certain?


God is not a concept that has been proved.


Are you to tell me that our morality stems from an unproved concept? I don't think so.


God believers often assume that morality is evidence for God. But this is the wrong way around. Morality is something which exists, because it is exhibited in the behavior of sentient, conscious, beings such as ourselves. But to misconstrue it as evidence for God is a conflation of prior convictions with the evidence. Christians hold that God is all good, so naturally morality would stem from this sort of being. However, the problem is that Christians are forcing the facts to fit the theories when, in actuality, it should be the theories conforming to to facts.


In other words, before you can prove God is a moral being, or that he is a source of morality as assumed, you first have to prove God. When somebody says morality comes from God, all we need say is: prove it--but first, if you don't mind terribly, prove God. If you can't prove God exists beyond a reason of a doubt, not only does this falsify your premise (i.e., no god = no morality therefore renders the assumption that god equals morality invalid), but it also raises the obvious question: then where do our moral values come from?


Presumptions Galore on top of Faulty Causality
If the believer posits God (even as there is utterly no evidence for such a being) they have merely gone in a circle. Their reasoning being circular, they have based their conclusion on a false premise, and this is faulty causality on top of circular reasoning. Furthermore, they are relying far too heavily on conjecture, i.e. they presume God exists, they presume God is all good, they presume he is a moral law giver, so presumably infringing his laws would be wrong, thus divine command theory suggests we ought to be good because God is, presumably, the source of all moral goodness and the authority by which we are obliged, or duty bound, to act morally. All this mind you, on the mere assumption that God is real. But this is far too much speculation to base definitive conclusions on. 

Moreover, even if we give them the benefit of the doubt (pardon me as I clear my throat to avoid laughing out loud) and assume God is a moral being (never mind that this bald faced assumption is contradicted by the very fact that the character of said God has been demonstrated to be downright immoral, in their own religious holy book none-the-less, or by the very fact that believers fail to act more moral than nonbeliever--even as they are tapping the supposed source of all morality--and so is a negation of the very thing they are seeking to establish in the first place)--even if we assume God is moral, this doesn't give us any reason to believe moral imperatives follow from him. God could, theoretically speaking (of course), be good independent of human morality. It's only because of divine command theory that a theist can lay claim to the idea that we ought to obey God. 

The Problem with Divine Command Theory
The problem I have with divine command theory is that while it may seek to ground the nature of ethical demands in the commands of God, they are only representative of a God which is already good. Which means good must be ascribed to God in order for divine command theory to even make any sense. But then, this means they have to prove the existence of said God in order to show he is moral. Instead of working as evidence, or proof, for their idea of God it backfires by throwing up a major tautology. God is good so goodness proves God thus we ought to be good, and since God is the foundation of all morality this proves God exists. And, well, you can see the problem. 

Not only this but divine command theory is not without controversy. Needless to say, divine command theory is itself an assumption, and before we automatically assume the theory is valid it has to pass a series of objections, such as: the omnipotence objection, the benevolence objection, the autonomy objection, the pluralism objection, the problem of free will and so on and so forth. As you can see, divine command theory has not met all the challenges put to it and so cannot just be assumed as a working theory. 


This brings up back to the moral landscape as posited by Sam Harris.

The Moral Landscape Revisited
One might object, and say, that's all fine and well that their exists a moral landscape, but how do you know what moral imperatives to follow? How do you know what is right and wrong? How can you distinguish between good and bad, if not for some external moral sense? Who says? Easy. Nobody says we must be good but ourselves. Morality is hardwired into us. It's a side-effect of our biology and the way we have adapted to the world around us. It's an evolutionary trait. 


We feel pain and suffering, therefore we know that pain is bad--and that too much of it is certainly a bad thing. Pain hurts. It causes us to be unhappy. And in many cases it can prove to be lethal. Thus we tend to want to avoid pain altogether, quite naturally. 

This is why Sam's suggestion makes so much sense--it stems from the above observation. If we are sentient, conscious, creatures, then, we can be acutely aware of our fellow sentient and conscious creatures suffering. 

Knowing that we would not wish to endure undue suffering ourselves, we can sympathize with our fellow creatures. This empathy, then, allows us to envision ourselves in their shoes, so to speak, and more than this, from experience, we can imagine exactly what it would feel like. This mental anguish, caused by our very anticipation of the suffering and the empathy we share with our fellow beings, compels us to act instinctively, as we would if it were us who was suffering. Usually it compels us to actively seek to help alleviate the suffering of others. It is our very nature which drives us to do good. 


Granted, we are also selfish, often petty, beings. A weakness of being mere biological animals. Sometimes we malfunction, and our brains don't function properly and sociopaths and psychopaths lose touch with what constitutes suffering. Often times these failing compound and cause us to behave badly, counter to the above example, but we are not intrinsically evil--because if anything our instincts have been honed for our survival. Thus in normal, healthy, individuals we have the moral imperative programmed into us at the biological level to avoid suffering and desire flourishing. We will therefore, more often than not, desire the healthy course of increasing our well-being over indifference or death.

The only thing that is left to do is start planting flags as we mark out the moral landscape, and with luck, leave a map for following generations so that they may continue the process of discovering higher echelons of morality as they continue to work toward increasing their overall well-being and happiness.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quote of the Day: Erasmus

On Christians:

"They speak many things at an abrupt and incoherent rate, as if they were actuated by some possessing demon; they make an inarticulate noise, without any distinguishable sense or meaning. They sometimes screw and distort their faces to uncouth and antic looks; at one time beyond measure cheerful, then as immoderately sullen; now sobbing, then laughing, and soon after sighing, as if they were perfectly distracted, and out of their senses."

--Erasmus (Praise of Folly)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Krauss, Kagan, & Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: General thoughts on the Debates

I don’t know, but it seems to me that Krauss offered a lot of good solid information. Meanwhile, WLC just stuck to his guns and did what he always does, spout off orthodox Evangelical conviction with that ever annoying constant appeal to authority. I mean, I already know what Christians think. I was one for three decades. Move it along.

At the end of the day, however, I feel I learned more from Krauss than Craig. It seems to me most WLC fans are just taking the devotional tract and agreeing whole heartedly with Craig because he is simply reaffirming what they already purport to believe. Besides this, I think much of what Krauss was saying may have gone over many audience member's heads.

For example, Krauss' comment that infinity adds up to a finite number seems to have been lost on most people. Certainly Craig seemed to be unaware of the implications, and how it renders his A theory of time argument to establish a first cause moot, as he let it slide. Or maybe Craig showed some restraint knowing better than to argue advanced theoretical physics with a real physicist of Krauss’ caliber (although, admittedly, it wasn't at all obvious if he did). Obviously Krauss was struggling to dumb it down enough for the lay audience to grasp, given the short time frame and restrictive format, but even so he still offered interesting morsels of knowledge, like the infinity thing. Meanwhile, one has to wonder how many more times Craig is going to tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. Um, yeah. We get that’s what Christians believe. Anything new to offer in the way of convincing evidence for the existence of said God? No? Well that says a lot right there.

There's only so many times you can flog a dead horse before even the most ardent believers must admit it's never getting back up. But I guess it shows how powerful the confirmation bias really is. And that's what it felt like watching the debate, knowing all the Craig fans will agree with him that the horse is alive and kicking, while all the people who paid close attention to Krauss will realize that Craig never offered anything tangible in the way of evidence--just conjecture and more appeals to authority.

If your tally it like a high school debate, the winner receives points for answering each argument with an official rebuttal, then Craig clearly won. But notice how Craig loads his comments so they all have dozens of points, making it nigh impossible for anyone to ever properly score against him. Yes, Craig is good at winning the debates by this measure, but if you're talking about winning actual arguments, well, Craig fails every time. Craig is a debater, not a dialectic, and so for him it's about the appearance of winning--not actually having any valid arguments or justifiable truths.



Then there is the Sam Harris debate. The full debate can be viewed here after the jump.

One thing I might point out is that Craig is merely ascribing "moral goodness" to God. He's not, by any means, empirically verifying it in the real world. While I agree Craig is talking about an ontological grounds for morality, his proving it remains another matter.

It doesn't matter how he words his comments, or whether or not he dodges the Euthyphro dilemma, because he's not really talking about anything more than a theological concept within the active constraints of his own theology. A theology which preaches God is good... even when such a claim is certifiably contradicted within his own religion's Holy Book. Sam brought this up several times but Craig insisted he was merely changing the subject of debate.

The only reason WLC believes God is morally good is because he is a Christian, and that's one of the peculiar things Christians believe. But the God of his own Holy book is not so moral, all one need do is read the OT to learn this. Sam made a few quips about cutting out Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and got a few chuckles, but Craig didn't seem to get the joke. So, it seemed to me, Craig's assumptions about God's goodness, or God equating goodness, are merely being ascribed and are, in actuality, without basis.

And people actually claim Craig wins his debates. Again, claiming objective morality exists is different than proving your God concept is the embodiment of this fundamental morality. Craig went through some philosophical demonstrations to show how he derives a moral law giver from the revelation of objective morals in reality, and stated that if there was no moral law giver we wouldn't have morality. This comes back to Divine Command theory, but Wes Morriston has shown how absurd Divine Command theory is when trying to claim God is the basis for an ontological morality. Morriston raises all the same objections I have with Craig's version of ontological morality and God, so check out his paper when you get the chance.

Sam's entire point that, contrary to Craig's position, there is a way to describe a moral landscape where objective morality is, in theory, not only recognizable but also practicable seemed not to have any sway on Craig who sat jotting down notes for his rebuttal. Craig then accused Sam of failing to establish an ontological basis for morality, or rather, said Sam had ducked the responsibility. Maybe Sam didn't explain his concept clearly enough, or maybe Craig just wanted to score more points against the opposition, but Sam's entire basis for ontological morality rests on human consciousness. Meaning, if we were unaware of the suffering and flourishing of sentient beings we wouldn't be aware of right and wrong, or good and evil, either. But Craig seemed to (perhaps deliberately) forget he was talking to a bona fide neuroscientist--and Craig believes objective morality would exist in a universe without humans, since God would still be the arbiter of morality. Whether or not Craig was aware of it, Sam demolished this notion by painting an example of a conceivable universe which was only populated by rocks, which could neither feel pain nor be aware of it. Thus, Sam's suggestion is that moral awareness can only come from sentient beings with consciousness, like ourselves.

In this respect, I feel Sam Harris definitely won. He not only gave perimeters for a pragmatic objective morality, but his book The Moral Landscape also backs up the claim with a plethora of up to date cognitive research. Craig spent a surprising amount of energy misrepresenting many of the arguments in Sam's book, but Sam politely reminded the audience to pick up a copy and read the quotes in context.

Craig's claim about God and morality is based on whether or not you buy into the supernatural claims of Christianity, derived from a tenuous and archaic text which has very little to do with morality, which was one of Sam's points. Craig says this line of reasoning had nothing to do with the debate, that he wasn't arguing Scriptural validity but, rather, arguing for a comprehensive good which can be derived from God's goodness, i.e., an ontological morality. Right and wrong exist, and Craig used the analogy of light and darkness, something we all know what it means even before we know exactly what it is. But his argument that goodness exists objectively, therefore forming an ontological basis for morality, therefore must stem from God is merely an attribution of goodness onto God. If God was not good, as Sam stated numerous times, then logically such a conclusion couldn't be made. But Craig feels that since he attributes God with a certain goodness, that this accounts for the goodness we find in reality. Or to state it Craig's way: goodness exists in reality therefore evidence for a moral law giver.

Luckily, nobody questioned Craig on the syllogism, and he was able to say Sam hadn't yet provided any counter arguments to his claims. Actually, Sam had. Sam had denied the attribution of moral goodness to God. So Craig then attempted to explain how God's nature is ultimately good just by our awareness of right and wrong. He attempted to do this with his second point about is and ought statements, but this is where the syllogism became obvious for those paying attention and taking notes. One of the questioners caught Craig on this, but Craig brushed his question aside and simply reiterated his second points again. Thus Craig never actually answered how God's goodness provides reason for why we ought to be good (should a good God exist). That is to say, even if God was good, what imperative is there to act good? Sam views the imperative as the desire to avoid hell, but Craig denied (several times) that this has any sway on the questions of God's innate goodness. Denying it doesn't make it so however, because as Sam pointed out, a God who would condemn innocents to suffer eternally couldn't, in point of fact, be a good or loving God. Therefore, contrary to what Craig may think, one can't simply attribute God with goodness because he believes in God's supposed goodness. Yet Craig spent a lot of time stating the two claims were not mutual... that hell has nothing to do with God's nature. Sam didn't fall for the red herring and kept on track.

I'm no moral philosopher, but it seems Sam definitely has mapped out a plausible way for morality to be tested, which would supply the ought. And if morality is concerned with human suffering and well-being, then our flourishing would be the ought which brackets our objective moral understanding. Meanwhile, Craig seemed vehemently to try not to understand this point.



After the debate with Harris, Craig posted a series of baffling comments denigrating the audience members and atheists in general. Apparently Craig thinks everyone is stupid. At least Krauss' Facebook comments after debate attacked the faulty reasoning and Craig's syllogisms, not the audience members.

Reading Craig's comments struck me as peculiar in more ways than one, because he claims the audience members asked stupid questions, and then blames it on the secularists in attendance, even as it was more than apparent that it was the Christian audience members who asked the most unintelligent (or unintelligible) questions (remember the one about bleeding crackers, and that guy who had visions from God about the moral sanctioning of sodomy--classic). Craig even appeared to get flustered by the questioner's comments and berated his fellow Christian, telling him that he was stupid for asking that and then called him a faker--implying he wasn't even a real Christian (although the kid looked like he was about to cry). Mike over at the A-Unicornist has a breakdown of the mud flung by Craig and his flurry of ad hominems, worth reviewing here.

Mike's closing comment is golden, and needs repeating. Reflecting about the folly of Craig, Mike writes:

"But remember Isaac Newton: He gave us the laws of motion, the laws of optics, universal gravitation, and differential calculus. He was also an alchemist. You can be very smart in general, and very right about many things, and still hold misguided beliefs about certain things. Craig's intellectual hubris, in my view, belies the fundamental weakness of his position; if his reasoning were better, he wouldn't have to resort to self-aggrandizement and the denigration of his intellectual antagonists."

Personally, I'd like to see WLC sit down with Sam Harris and discuss moral issues one on one, as he recently did with Shelly Kagan. I think Craig is out of his element when he has to rely on his actual brain power and not the audience's general credulity. Also, I have to hand it to Kagan who handled Craig extremely well. Given a similar situation, I'm sure Harris would have devastated Craig with hard core facts along with Sam's trademark intellectual prowess.

In conclusion, Craig is good at scoring points and "winning" debates, but he suffers miserably at winning arguments. Ultimately, I guess it depends on what you're hoping to get out of watching a debate like this. Personally, I just enjoy it to hear the new ideas, which rarely come from the Christian camp. Their ideas are all well established--and there isn't really anything novel to gain from them. That's why I think the New Atheists are succeeding... they are offering food for thought.


Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist