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.

A commentator wrote

I love a thought-provoking debate! If morality is not objective being founded in that which transcends existence, then morality is merely subjective whims of temporal value volitionally granted by the individual or the group.

Human rights are based on ethical truths, but if ethical truths are only a result of temporal evolutionary progression – then there are no ethical truths.

Effectively – if there is no basis for ethical truths that transcend mankind, then the very ethic for how we treat mankind will be left to the whims of the individual or the group.

Everyone knows that individuals often justify an evil deed with a natural desire, and everyone also knows that governments (groups of people) often justify murder and oppression through assuming power.

If these are to be the sources for the present ethics of men – our fate is grim, indeed.

This appears to be cool reasoning but it isn’t. He ought to show how morality is objective and provide evidence for a transcendent being who authors laws, while at the same time showing that morality is not a product of group dynamics.

Great article! The absence of God leads to only one logical conclusion; self-preservation. We see it all the time. Typically, the other side of the equation is a belief in evolution and that’s where self-preservation comes in. A moral law, which is set by God’s existence, takes away from the concept of survival of the fittest. For example, Hitler ascribed to the thought of evolution and he tried to eradicate all those who were inferior beings. our actions are dictated by our beliefs. A belief that God does not exist only brings about actions that are void of His moral standard.
That being said, God did create us in His image and therefore, as much as we can try to run from it, that likeness will show itself. Tribes who have never heard the Gospel have shown an aptitude for morality based on God’s laws. The Bible even tells us that He writes His laws upon our hearts. What man does is try to rationalize his own desires of immorality by denying God and therefore pacifying their conscience so they can continue in their pursuit of immorality. In the end we must all put aside the notion that God does not exist and stand before Him on judgement day. That is why we are so in need of the Gospel.

This respondent invokes the name of Hitler while ignoring the fact the he[Hitler] was a practicing Catholic and believed to be doing god’s work all through. Even those who believe in god are driven by self-preservation. You want to go to heaven and act in a way to ensure your entry into heaven is guaranteed. This is a moot argument. He then goes ahead to say we are created in god’s image. If this is the case, why did he create us with a sinful aspect? Is he also evil? If he is the creator why do we free god from this responsibility?

Since this post is already longer than they usually are, I hope it gives us enough material for debate.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

19 thoughts on “Bad apologetics

  1. john zande says:

    “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.”

    I am going to steal this! Brilliant, simply brilliant!

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  2. Nick says:

    Very interesting. I also do not agree with the idea of an objective morality imposed upon us from some external source. However, do you think there is some standard of universal morality, defined by ourselves, that we should strive to live by? For example the golden rule?

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  3. poppies says:

    A few questions for you, to get some clarity:

    – What do you believe to be the fundamental unit of human evolution, the gene, the individual, the social group, the whole human race?

    – If group dynamics generate morality, how is the group to make a “moral” decision when two human lives conflict, given that different human lives are incommensurable?

    Thanks.

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    • makagutu says:

      The fundamental unit of human evolution is the gene.

      This is how I see it, if we consider a hypothetical situation where you live alone in an island, you need not make any laws, there will be nothing evil or good but when two human lives conflict, issues of group/ social constraints begin to play a role so that if a conflict arises between two individuals of equal stature, they can agree to stop further aggression but whereas if there is an imbalance of power one person ,the master, will see his actions as good and the other will see the other’s actions as bad immoral to the extent to which it causes him harm.
      I also think it is the powerful who makes the laws, in the early christian period, it was the priest or the magician and in the Homeric times it was the nobles. The common man, the slave hardly ever makes laws rather hardly decide on what is moral or immoral.

      Did this help?

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      • poppies says:

        I have a couple of thoughts, then.

        If humans are driven to propagate their individual genes (or even kin genes), then pure altruism is maladapted for that purpose. Yet, pure altruism is heralded as one of the highest moral values across time and across different cultures. This would seem to undercut the idea that morality is a biological adaptation.

        Further, you seem to imply that morality simply reflects might, and yet, history is filled with examples of people with little power using moral suasion to overcome that limitation. In fact, humans often proudly point to those chapters in history as examples of the recognition of the basic dignity of man. Such behavior would be ludicrous in a might-makes-right framework.

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        • makagutu says:

          My understanding of evolution is that the organism that best adapts to reproduce gets to propagate and what this means is the genes responsible for this adaptation will be preferred by natural selection. So if altruism helps an individual to reproduce, it will be favored and I don’t see how this contradicts evolution by natural selection.

          I would want examples of situations where the weaker man made law or rather gave direction on morals. I think history is replete with the stronger man making moral laws than the weaker man doing so.

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  4. john zande says:

    Mak, i just published your quote. Now we have to turn it into a meme! (Didn’t know if i should use your real name or not???)

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  5. SteveInCO says:

    Well lots of meat to chew on here, but I have semantic nits to pick here.

    The last thing I’d call religious based morality is “objective.” First off which religion to believe (and hence, which religious morality to accept) is up to the totally subjective judgement of the follower. But let’s say they all agreed on which religion was correct, hell let’s even go so far as to say they are actually *right* and there is a god and he/she/it prescribes morality. Well then you run into a problem. God is making it up according to *his* whim, so that’s hardly objective. (If the theists end up holding that god favors it because it’s good, rather than it being good because god favors it, then their morality doesn’t come *from* god, he’s merely relaying something existing outside of him.) So to my mind a religious based morality is just another brand of subjective morality; it’s just that believers are following someone else’s subjective morality rather than coming up with their own.

    I do, however, think it is possible to objectively determine a morality, by reference to the facts of reality. What you *won’t* get this way is a laundry list of rules to be inflexibly followed, though, which would certainly disappoint the theists. (Too bad!)

    Before trying to figure out which system of morals is objectively the right one, however, a couple of important questions must be answered: what is morality and *why do we need it*?

    Simple definition: Morality is a code of values to guide a human’s actions and choices; those that determine the purpose and course of his life. [Yes I realize that you just quoted Dawkins saying life had no purpose… well, it wasn’t *created* for a purpose–such would require a god–and I agree with him insofar as paramecia, viruses, plants and most animals are concerned. But we are intelligent beings of free will–the minimum requirement for the concept of “purpose” to have any meaning, and with that, it does. *Your* life has the purpose you choose to give it.]

    OK, we have a definition, but now one must ask, *why* do we need such a code of values? To answer that, look around, at things that clearly *don’t* need such a code of values. Your computer monitor does not. Your houseplants don’t. Your pets don’t. You do.

    There’s two stages to this. Dead objects (like your computer monitor or a rock) remain dead, living objects must take some sort of action to pursue things that will help them remain alive–or they become dead too. Dead objects don’t have to do anything, there’s no value for them to pursue. Living things on the other hand, do have to pursue values in order to remain alive. A plant must grow such that it capture sunlight and the roots can obtain water and nutrients from the soil. A shark must pursue prey. And so on. But these responses are quite automatic. It’s only when you get up to human levels of intelligence that you have to stop, deliberate, and decide what to do… if you want to live that is. And we are the species whose *main* tool of survival is its mind.

    So we need morality to help guide us to make life-enhancing decisions. And it is that criteria by which an action can be determined to be moral or immoral. (You will notice that half of what the religionists preach is a fail in this regard.) But please note the current context is important; you cannot just write down a laundry list and follow it to the letter (you know like they do in that “bible” thing). Shoot heroin? Generally immoral. If on your deathbed and suffering extreme pain, shooting heroin could well be entirely moral. In deciding what should be illegal however, additional things come into play, beyond the scope of this response which is quite lengthy already. But the point is you can decide whether something is moral or immoral solely by reference to the facts of reality.

    You will note that there’s nothing here to imply that morality *only* becomes an issue when dealing with other people. (The religious folks get that right; morality can pertain to actions you take by yourself that will affect no one else–where they go wrong is in determining why, what the moral action is, and also (quite importantly) they go wrong assuming that society must punish any immoral acts.)

    When dealings with other people come into play you can run into situations where immoral acts should be punished, if that act also violates the other person’s rights… but that is a topic for another time.

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    • makagutu says:

      I think it is plausible that we can determine objectively what is moral. My question however is, would a person living in isolation[if this were indeed possible] need morals? And what would these morals be?

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      • SteveInCO says:

        Last two paragraphs. Morality is about making decisions that will enhance your life, and it doesn’t matter whether it involves other people or not.

        For someone stranded alone on a desert island, it’d thus be immoral to do nothing about it when one is in imminent danger of starvation, or to do nothing when one can see a nasty storm is approaching, productive work to help you survive if not thrive would be moral.

        UNLESS you find life intolerable on that desert island.

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  6. Duncan Musasia says:

    Uchokozi nayo!

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