Bad apologetics

I am going to do this here as a post since at Prayson‘s  site where the original post appears, the comments have been closed while I still think this is a matter that need to be given more hearing. I will first respond to his post and include one or two comments that appear on the post to help me in building my case against Prayson and his attack of New Atheists.

Before I do so, since it appears to me he is attacking new atheists, I want to start with a brief history lesson on the origin of the word atheism and to show that since the 18th century when we have people identifying themselves as atheists, the definition has not changed. Atheist then and now refers to people who lack a belief in gods. If the word New is used to refer to us who are alive now, then by all means use New but don’t use it as pejorative term! In the classical times, a person would be referred to as an atheist if they believed in gods different from the gods believed by the majority. It was used as  used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society. With the development of free thought and skeptical inquiry, the scope of the term narrowed. Atheists-those who lack a belief in gods– identified themselves as such since the 18th century.

The cry by many theists that atheists have become militant is misguided. If theists stop their evangelism then we atheists will have no need to show that theism is based on myths, ghosts and underscored with a deficit of evidence.

With that said, let us look at the claim our friend is making.

As New Atheist Mary Anne Evans, also known as G. Eliot, rejected the existence of God yet held to objective humanistic moral standard. Nietzsche notices that by getting rid of Christian God, a person cannot cling on Christian (Objective) moral standard. Nietzsche mounded ridicule upon G. Eliot and her fellow. Only “English Flat Heads” would not see the consequences of the death of God.

Here Nietzsche was right, god or no god there is no objective moral standard.

Nietzsche expounded the “English inconsistency” in rejection of supernatural reality and yet clinging to objective moral standard. He explained that “They [English Flat Heads] are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality […] By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands”(Nietzsche 1982: 69-70)

In all the works of Nietzsche that I have read, if there be any theme that runs across it is his disdain for christian morality and christianity in general. Here he notices the problem that most people do not take the argument to its very conclusion, that is, some people want to do away with god but keep christian morality. I can’t say I have met one such person though. A reading of Nietzsche, which I recommend, especially his polemic titled On genealogy of Morals he explores the origins of morality and does not start this study in the post christian era but goes back to the Homeric epoch. There is no where I find Nietzsche going easy on christian morality and if he does he only does so by saying we can’t blame the early christians for acting as they did, like in refernce to Calvin by whose order Dr. Severtus? was burnt at the stake.

What Nietzsche was trying to show, is that if God does not exist, then “There are altogether no moral facts”(ibid, 55) Morality explained Nietzsche “has truth only if God is the truth – it stands or falls with faith in God”(1968: 70). Though I would substitute “faith in God” with “existence of God”, since its ontological base of morality, and not epistemological that is in question, I believe Nietzsche is correct. With the death of God comes the death of objective moral values and duties.

Is Nietzsche wrong in this assertion? Are there any moral facts or are morals subjective? Isn’t it that the savage man realized by killing each other there will be none left and thus they agreed not to kill their own? The existence or belief in god has nothing to do with morals. Prayson fails to inform his readers here about Nietzsche’s views on the value of truth and whether we should be concerned with it.

The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.”(Sartre 2007: 28)

In reading the Brothers Karamazov, one does not find the words that have been wrongfully attributed to the famous author. Here is an article that supports the assertion that Dostoevsky didn’t write it and here is a dissenting opinion. We can, however, examine the truth value of the said words and I contend that if god exists then everything is permitted. All one has to do is to sin do evil on Monday to Saturday, and if he is a catholic attend confession, make a donation to the church, and be in church on Sunday to make it right with god or for the Muslim to genuflect in the direction of Mecca 5 times a day and hold a fast in the month of Ramadan and be square with god. On the contrary, if god does not exist then not everything is permitted. This is so because we don’t except a supernatural judge to make things right. We strive to do justice to our fellow men here.

If there is no supernatural or divine reality then there is no objective ontological ground to base a universal and objective moral standard. Naturalism, assumed by New Atheists, cannot account for the objective moral values and duties, if indeed objective morality exists. Wilson and Ruse expounded that; “ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes in order to get us to cooperate”(Ruse & Wilson 1989: 51). Ruse goes even further:

I could be wrong, but I think all atheists, new or old, assume a naturalistic world. Consequently, if an objective moral standard exists, then naturalism can account for it. Subscribing to the supernatural would not provide us with an explanation on the origin of the laws. If this deity were to exist, what business of its is it to dictate laws? Would these laws be changeable?

“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”(Ruse 1989: 268-9)

And here I agree with Ruse.

Ruse nailed it even further as he contended that “[t]he Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.”(Ruse 1998: 253).

Ruse is right here again when he says we have the illusion of objectivity. That is all it is and nothing more.

Holding a similar stance with Paul Kurtz and Julian Baggini, Richard Dawkins correctly reiterates, if God does not exist[no designer], then “at bottom,[there is] no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(Dawkins 1995: 85) He explained:

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all-purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

And I find no fault with Dawkins. I think he is right to say life just is.

C. S. Lewis pointed out what Nietzsche would call “English inconsistency” as he wrote “[a] moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race”(Lewis 2001: 59) Michael Ruse, though cannot be grouped with New Atheists, perfectly fits Lewis observation as Ruse contended: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, “2+2=5”.”(Ruse 1982: 275).

Here Lewis commits an error, to work for posterity,  education and revolution and the existence of objective morality are not mutually exclusive. The comparison I think he is making here is the why do we live? I wouldn’t ask you to die for humanity, you could be wrong. By quoting Ruse in an attempt to berate atheists, you unknowingly show the failure of the bible as a source of morals. In Genesis 33, we are told the son of Seschem slept with Dinah, Jake’s daughter. At no point are we told it was consensual. How is that as a guide to morality?

New Atheists, whom I believe Nietzsche would tag them “Flat Heads”, fail to see the necessity of drawing the consequences of the absence of God. If God does not exist, then there is no objective ontological ground for “a universal and objective secular moral standard.”

I know of no atheists who argue for an objective moral standard. This is a strawman you have created to attack without supporting evidence. You show me the evidence of atheists who talk of an objective and universal secular moral standard.

Are New Atheists Nietzsche’s “English Flat Heads”? I will let you decide as I wind up with Dawkins’ inconsistency, which I believe, is common in New Atheist’s “atheology”.

It would be good to show how Dawkins is inconsistent and after you show that you must also show why would his inconsistency should be applied to all atheists? Atheists have no figure-head in case you missed that part and no specific guide-book. What we  atheists agree on is that we lack a belief in gods and we can extend it to say we also believe in the supremacy of man and his reason.

As an academic scientist I am a passionate Darwinian, believing that natural selection is, if not the only driving force in evolution, certainly the only know force capable of producing the illusion of purpose which so strikes all who contemplate nature. But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs. (Dawkins 2003: 10-11)

If this is what you find inconsistent, you need to show me where this statement contradicts itself.

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Why I am against punishment

Punishment assumes responsibility, this thought or conviction arises from the illusion that we have free will. The proponents of punishment argue that we have been created by a god who has endowed us with free will and when we act contrary to what society commands, then we have chosen to act that way.

Current research in neuroscience, though still at earlier stages of development, shows that decisions are made in the subconscious mind before seconds before we perform an action. Neuro-scientist Sam Harris has a book by the title Free will which yours truly is yet to read but where he shows that Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. Any person who thinks we have free will argues that a person could have acted otherwise.

Our desire to revenge informs the desire for punishment and only till the society changes its understanding of human nature will we be able to move away from this desire. In this regard, we can’t take credit for doing what we call ‘good’ nor can we blame anyone for doing ‘bad’. We knowers need to understand the genesis of the words good and bad to be able then to guide our fellow men to a higher living.

And Nietzsche had this to say on capital punishment

How is it that every execution offends us more than a murder? It is the coldness of the judges, the painful preparations, the understanding that a man is here being used as a means to deter others. For guilt is not being punished, even if there were guilt; guilt lies in the educators, the parents, the environment, in us, not in the murderer- that is the motivating circumstances.

God belief as an insult to our collective intelligence

How gladly one would exchange the false claims of priests- that there is a god who demands good from us, who is guradian and witness of each act, each moment, each thought, who loves us and wants the best for us in every misfortune- how gladly one would exchange these claims for truths which would be just as salutary claiming and soothing as those errors! But there are no such truths; at the most, philosophy can oppose those errors with other metaphysical fictions. But the tragic thing is that we can no longer believe those dogmas of religion and metaphysics, once we have the rigorous method of truth in our hearts and heads, and yet on the other hand, the development of mankind has made us so delicate, sensitive and ailing that we need the most potent of cures and comforts hence arises the danger that man might bleed to death from the truth he has recognized.

Of course, any degree of frivolity or melancholy is better than a romantic regression and desertion, an approach to christianity in any form; for one can simply not engage in christianity, given the present state of knowledge, without hopelessly soiling his intellectual conscience and abandoning it to himself and to others.

F Nietzsche

Christianity is antiquity

As we have seen in other works of Nietzsche, he continues his onslaught on christianity with the same determination. In this aphorism, he deals with the question of evidence that is indeed lacking to support the god belief.

When we hear the old bells ringing out on a Sunday morning, we ask ourselves: can it be possible? This is for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was the son of god. The proof for such a claim is wanting.

Can we really believe the creation story and the fall of man and the at-one-moment story of the NT? That the priests tells us sin entered the world through one man woman and through the acts of another man we have been forgiven. How the christian religion has survived to date with such active critique this far is a matter that we need to spend much more time looking into.

Within our times the christian religion is surely an antiquity jutting out from a far-distant olden time; and the fact that people believe such a claim is perhaps the oldest part of this heritage. a god who conceives children with the a mortal woman, a wise man who calls upon us to work no more, judge no more, but to heed the signs of the imminent apocalypse: a justice that accepts the innocent man as a proxy sacrifice; someone who has his disciples drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of the afterlife, to which death is the gate; the figure of the cross as a symbol, in a time that no longer knows the purpose and shame of the cross- how horridly all this wafts over us, as from the grave of the ancient past! Are we to believe that such things are still believed?