It appears I've been on vacation from blogging for about a month and I have yet to contribute a post to the "Planet Atheism
" blog roll. I have been doing a bit of worthwhile commenting around the
blogosphere so I will be reposting those exchanges over the course of the next few days. Fletch_F_Fletch
(FFF) came up with a list of ten arguments from the New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sam Harris (SH) that seemed the most worthy of further consideration amongst fellow Christian thinkers. FFF said he was focusing on objection six at the time I got started, so I thought I would give my input on just that one to keep things simpler. So far, four more Christians got involved in the conversation (in addition to Travis, who is FFF) and so I'll be going at it with all of them.
Basically, SH notes that Christians claim to know more than scientists do about the what the universe is for based on faith all the while criticizing the science establishment for being arrogant about its own claims. Vox Day (VD), the author of "The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, And Hitchens
" sets up the argument below. Basically he tries to divert attention to other verses advocating humility in order to cancel out the prerequisite epistemic overconfidence.
Vox Day (link):
Travis requests responses to what he considers to be five of the New Atheists' most effective arguments:
#6 (Occam’s Razor) Sam Harris says, "Any intellectually honest person will admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer." While I think this can be turned on the atheist it certainly cannot be turned on the agnostic. Being a Christian means one has to presuppose to know things that he/she does not know. Shouldn't one accept the least amount of beliefs that cannot be provided with sufficient evidence? Holding to unneeded presuppositions leads to bad conclusions to the things we do know or should know.
That is a very stupid statement on Harris's part and serves to demonstrate his ignorance of the Christian religion, among others. First, on what basis does Sam Harris claim that arrogance is reprehensible? Second, what evidence does Sam Harris actually offer of any religious claims explaining why the universe exists? In contradiction, I note that in both the Old and the New Testament, the Bible is very clear that Man CANNOT understand God's reasoning or His purposes in Creation.
Job 36:26: "How great is God—beyond our understanding!"
Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly."
On the other hand, many atheists, including Sam Harris, deny nihilism even as they claim there is no basis for any belief in purpose in life. This is both philosophically incoherent and, to the extent that one knows
it is philosophically incoherent but pretends otherwise, inherently dishonest. I further note that one should always be suspicious that Sam Harris doesn't know what he's talking about and is simply making something up when he writes "in fact".
Now, as for the remark about arrogance, this appears to be psychological projection as well as a good example of the deceitful atheist predilection for redefining words. Arrogance means "offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride." Synonyms: haughtiness, insolence, disdain. Antonyms: humility, modesty, diffidence. How, one wonders, is the Christian worldview an offensive display of superiority or self-importance? Indeed, there is no religion that places more explicit importance on humbling oneself before God or more completely stresses that all are fallen, including the believer. And are very few things more haughty, insolent, and disdainful, very few more ostentatious and overt displays of claimed superiority, than the New Atheist insistence that every religious, agnostic, or atheistic criticism of their reliably incorrect assertions is based on stupidity, evil, or ignorance. This is why I am forced to distinguish between atheists and New Atheists, as any neutral observer must admit that the New Douchebags would have been an equally fitting title for the latter.
Should one accept the least amount of beliefs that cannot be provided with sufficient evidence? Why? Parsimony is for scientific logic, not belief. No one, including the New Atheists believes anything this way; as one who is well-read in both economics and military history, I can easily demonstrate that each of the New Atheists and virtually every single atheist is badly guilty of harboring beliefs in direct contrast to all of the available evidence
. To single out Christians and Creationists while letting millions of Labourites and Democrats off the hook for refusing to accept the Law of Supply and Demand, the logical impossibility of central planning, or the failure of public education is a reprehensible double-standard. #6 isn't just a spurious and baseless argument, it is one that is damning to the New Atheist, not the religious believer.
Travis asked me to comment.
In regards to number 6, VD's answer amounts to misdirection. It's understandable misdirection, since humility before God is the doctrinal highway most Christian minds frequent and readily acknowledge.
However, as an outsider, we readily see that this humility is predicated on the not-so-humble defense of the unknown. In other words, you can't have one without the other, and pointing to the humility part doesn't magically cancel out the epistemic arrogance part necessarily.
To support the misdirection, VD quotes some Bible verses that talk up the ignorance and humility factor, but fails to address other Bible claims such as that the heavens declare the glory of God. Obviously most Christians believe that everything that happens is all about God's glory, so it naturally follows the universe exists for that purpose and SH's claim is accurate. The book of Hebrews also seems to directly say that everything was created by, through, and for Jesus and therefore the Christian salvation scheme. To avoid/ignore that conclusion is outright blasphemy, if I'm not mistaken.
In addition, VD piles on several other issues as though SH doesn't give his defense of a basis for natural morality elsewhere in his books and talks online (link
). That's just another contentious debate which isn't being addressed currently and one simply has to play to the crowd's prejudices for it to have any impact. Rather than pretending SH totally ignores the issue, or that it isn't just another big debate, it would make more sense for VD to link to his side of the argument instead if he bothers to bring it up at all.
I'm not familiar enough with the various historical and economic opinions of the people being discussed to comment one way or the other. To the extent the neoatheists are avoiding scholarly consensus just to degrade Christianity, I'm sure they should be reprimanded. To the extent VD is pointing to other contentious debates in those domains, he probably shouldn't declare unargued victory here. And to the extent VD's apologetic defense of historical Christian claims (like the resurrection, for instance) violate those same scholarly standards, I would think this issue totally backfires for him.
It should also probably be noted that SH is directing his claim at the Christian majority who probably prop their epistemic claims on faith and in addition look down upon the "wisdom of the world" in the scientific community from a distance. For those theists that do actually defend the claims with reason and evidence (even if they are mistaken in their conclusions), I don't think this argument of his so readily applies. I take it that VD is probably one of those Christian evidentialists who believes he has solid arguments for these things that don't rely on faith. So he probably should take less offense, if he is taking any, and realize SH is addressing an actual Christian temperament that is prevalent to whatever degree. I'm sure VD has met plenty of hypocritical atheists, and is aware there are plenty of hypocritical Christians as well. SH's observation could be turned into an actual advertisement or lead in for Christian apologetics, but VD doesn't seem to take that route.
Regardless, it appears that VD avoids the issue, grossly misrepresents his own religion while blaming SH for the intellectual crime, all the while calling SH stupid. He also accuses atheists of projection, deceit, and stoops to name calling ironically while trying to rebut character accusations. Now, I don't think VD is being deceitful, even though he should probably know better. I just think he's reacting first and thinking second and a lot of bias is getting in the way. There's no need to jump to conclusions. It would be nice if VD were as charitable with the neoatheists. I don't think VD or SH is stupid. I think we're all just human and disagree on difficult topics.
There's my 2 cents, Travis. :D
Since I wrote an entire freaking book on the New Atheists, it's quite reasonable for me to NOT bring up things that I've already written about in detail before... and this isn't "just another big debate", I'm
answering Travis's question.
But for those who haven't read TIA, Sam's happiness/suffering metric as a basis for morality is illogical, outdated, and idiotic. It's the ignorant atheist's version of the utilitarianism that philosophers gave up as untenable some time ago.
This is a blatant strawman argument. Neither you nor Harris offer even the slightest speck of evidence that this is the case. It's very amusing how the self-nominated defenders of science ignore it and simply make stuff up out of thin air whenever it suits them.
You, and everyone else, are also ignoring the fact that everyone, including Sam Harris, base almost all of their claims, opinions, and beliefs on faith, not science. Just to give one of many, many examples, Harris and Hitchens advocating war in the Middle East in complete ignorance of all military history and science. But suddenly, when it's a belief that has some connection with religion, pure science suddenly becomes absolutely necessary. Harris doesn't even have any science to support that basis for natural morality you mentioned.
His arguments aren't just based on ignorance and illogic, one often contradicts the other. He's a nice enough guy, but a rather muddled thinker, which is why he is inevitably complaining that he's misunderstood in every debate. He writes something with a perfectly clear interpretation and then claims that it's not what he meant to write. Whose fault is that?
If it's not just another big debate, then I don't see why you'd even cover it in your book. I get why you might neglect to say so, but it does poorly set up Harris on the spot. I'm won't be picky though.
I'm really having a tough time understanding where you are coming from on this as though 9 out of 10 Christians are intellectual apologists for their worldview. How many times does a nonbeliever have to argue someone into a "well, that's where faith comes in" cop-out when the arguments come up short in addition to noting their low view of science when it comes to things that clash with doctrine? That's just a norm, dude. What world do you live in? Cuz there's a great deal more than a "speck" of evidence here in my half of the delusion-sphere. Maybe I'm wrong and most Christians are avid apologists these days, but as is, it seems like you are denying that the sky is blue.
I can't speak for the four horsemen, but I'm all ears. I started reading your book. I imagine you'll get more into this? From my understanding, it just seems people want to go all one way or the other and I'm
sure a complicated understanding of the many aspects of what is causing our problems in the Middle East is called for. Religion is a part of that and I see nothing wrong with people calling some reasonable attention to it. The excesses of religion are just one of many human problems we face, so I don't feel the need to overly demonize it if it doesn't happen to be causing the problem in any given scenario. But the actual arguments remain to be seen. So I'll hold off comment.
Just about everyone has personal moral experience to pull from and in the broadest strokes we have a reasonable place to start. I'm not sure exactly what the overwhelming "faith" aspect is for us. You want to say here that we can't even understand "arrogance" by mere appeal to the norms of human psychology. Seems a bit obtuse to me. If someone is so debilitated that they can't even understand that without appeal to religion, then I don't see how they could even hope to discover that a religion is true. SH at least wants to start a science of morality research program. And it's not like he's the only one (example
). I doubt SH's theistic competitors will be doing something similar in order to get at a science of God's moral essence.
I thought you were talking about my take on Travis's question; my point was that I was merely answering his questions not adding to what I wrote in the book. So, clearly I don't understand specifically what you are referring to here. Feel free to elucidate, if you wish.
Here's where I'm coming from: Most people, Christians, atheists, and followers of Nzambi Mpungu alike, are idiots who have no idea why they believe what they believe. They don't know what science is, they don't know much about their faith or unfaith, and they don't reason their way to any of their opinions. Most of them don't even read. To claim that all of these people should have a scientific basis for all of their beliefs, a basis that Harris himself does not have for most of his beliefs, is incredibly, jaw-droppingly stupid and requires a near-complete unfamiliarity with the existing human race.
Neither do I. But that's not what Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have done. They know nothing about war or the Middle East and have attempted to blame most historical conflict on religion, which is
Science hasn't even demonstrated the existence of morals, so you can't even claim that anyone has any personal moral experience at all, let alone attempt to build a universal morality from it. And even if it had, that doesn't mean Sam Harris's personal metric for distinguishing between that which is moral and that which is immoral is relevant to anyone else, nor should it be confused with the sort of scientific basis that is required for belief... according to Sam Harris.
What does Harris's desire to start a program have to do with anything? I want a pony. Both desires are of equivalent scientific value.
What you've written in the comments clarifying at least let's me (and other readers) know where you are coming from in regards to SH's views on morality and in context that acknowledges he at least *tried.* I didn't necessarily think you needed to get into it in this post or every post it touches on (that is tedious, I know), but that's what footnotes and links are for n stuff like that. "Read my book. Chapter # to see what a craptacular job SH does on natural morality."
I recognize you were focusing on an explicitly sympathetic audience (Travis), so that's why I'm not being too picky even though I thought it was worth mentioning. This isn't a private email to him, after all. Other eyes have to burn while looking at it. hahaIt could still be a fact that most Christians do in fact think their faith grants them the epistemic rights to suppose they know what the universe is for even though mainstream science in all their learning is hard pressed to touch the topic. *Further* information about the defunct egotistical epistemologies of the rest of the human race doesn't magically negate the Christian situation being addressed or the particular impact it may or may not have on our culture. It just proves Christians are as human as everyone else. So your original response (and clarification above) really confuses the issue, imo.
If I were you and I took in the full scope of what you appear to be affirming, I would have said something like, "I agree Christians need some epistemic humility and that science deserves more respect than it is getting. In addition, I think just about everyone else needs some epistemic humility, too. Here are examples x, y, and z, and here's a sensible approach I think we can all agree on to tackle the general problem..."
But you don't really appear to be going there and I think the rest of the backlash against the neoatheist books falters in a similar way. SH isn't advocating scientism, but he is advocating more respect for science as a better method over faith in dogma and he's pointing out all the places he thinks that goes wrong that matter. It's easy to exaggerate that into something it's not, or just pick on the places where he gets it wrong, but it seems foolish to push just as hard as you seem to think he is in the other direction. If you do a better job of this in your book than you appear to be doing here, I apologize.
That's pretty extreme language there as though there is not even one thing any of them have pointed out that actually counts as a legitimate excess of modern religion in our society. I would greatly respect a book that gives credit where credit is due, to the extent that it is due, without negating the specific negative impacts of religion, and then moves on to *own* the problems with real solutions moderates, liberals, and secularists can agree to work together on. There's a lot of complicated topics and debates on the table and having a reasonable counter-perspective would be a great asset for moving forward. I think perhaps the evangelical backlash underestimates how easy it would be to shift the focus onto productive conversation. There are lots of non-religious people that the "four horsemen" make very uncomfortable even if they agree with many of the social issues they bring up. I think even Sam Harris has noticed this, since he's tried to avoid advocating unbelief as much as he is reason, and he desires to rope in the more reasonable crowd across religious lines to focus on important issues. Too little, too late for him, maybe, but I wonder if the neoatheists could have been left in the dust had the opposition done something more productive with the ball. Mostly, it seems, what we see in response has been reverse finger pointing at the expense of serious issues.
It seems you have some very different ideas about what the "existence of morals" means than I do. You think the brain exists? You think behavioral patterns exist? You think pattern recognition exists? Do you think there are objectively destructive and non-destructive ways to tend the human experience? Do you think ideas exist? Do you think we can take the previously mentioned things to distinguish better ideas than others towards the ends mentioned? You could take this into the mind/body debate, but we've exited the domain of strictly morality at that point. In my view, the entire recipe for an objective morality exists independent of God and Platonism. I don't see why science in addition can't be used to tell us about some of the more complicated relationships that personal experience doesn't shed a lot of objective light on.I like turtles
. Oh wait. What were we talking about again? ;)
The fact is you have *many* desires and some of which are more foundational than others. These are the more virtuous desires you apparently ignore when thinking about naturalistic morality, but then use to
go looking for divinely instated morality. But such desires exist on either worldview as far as I know and you can't satisfy your entire economy of desires by focusing solely on ponies. I also find it hard to believe you can make a convincing argument for your own moral paradigm to a literal ponist. Someone like that who honestly desires ponies above all else at any expense has a broken brain and cannot be reasoned with by anyone.
In reality land, I imagine you are trying to say that different people subjectively want different things. Obviously I agree. However not every subjective emphasis of desire yields the same results and different life strategies have objectively different long term pros and cons that people actually care about whether they are able to connect the dots or not. If you pick the wrong desires or combination of desires to emphasize in your life, you can be sure to bring on higher probabilities of misery and suffering on yourself and those around you. In addition to desiring ponies and turtles, humans have all sorts of desires, even moral desires that can only be satisfied with moral behavior. And in fact, to appeal to your own experience, I'm sure you've noticed the many benefits of consistent moral living and perhaps even consider it a *selling point* for your worldview. Aren't sinners foolish to run after petty and fleeting desires for instant gratification? Do you really put everything on treasure in heaven or are you keen on pointing out all the secular benefits as well to show the superior moral wisdom of Christianity?
I don't think I need to educate you on morality. All I want to do is point to all the things you already know about it, and then connect the naturalistic dots that completely bypass theism to create the basics of a coherent and functional naturalistic moral paradigm. It'll be a lot easier to figure out why atheists live so "inconsistently" with their worldview when you take these things into consideration. At which point, we could start the dialog on who is taking these basics more seriously and to their actual logical conclusion.
I'm sure there will be more, so stay tuned. I'll post updates.