Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A waste of a good athiest

G. K. Chesterton once pointed out that one of the problems with modern materialistic philosophies is that they are not livable. You can profess them, but you can't really live your life as if they are true. And not only can those who believe in materialism not live as if they really believed what they say they believe, they cannot even keep the rest of their thought consisted with their professed materialism.

Francis Beckwith, operating in the Chestertonian spirit, points out one more way in which the scientific rationalists can't keep their thoughts, much less their lives, in line with their philosophy.

He points out that Richard Dawkins, of God Delusion fame, laments that Harvard-trained geologist and paleontologist Kurt Wise chose creationism at the expense of a career in science:
Dawkins harshly criticizes Wise for embracing a religious belief that results in Wise's not treating himself and his talents, intelligence, and abilities in a way appropriate for their full flourishing. That is, given the opportunity to hone and nurture certain gifts—for example, intellectual skill—no one, including Wise, should waste them as a result of accepting a false belief.
But how can an atheist like Dawkins think this?
But Dawkins, in fact, does not actually believe that living beings, including human beings, have intrinsic purposes or are designed so that one may conclude that violating one's proper function amounts to a violation of one's moral duty to oneself. Dawkins has maintained for decades that the natural world only appears to be designed. He writes in The God Delusion: "Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that—an illusion."

But this means that his lament for Wise is misguided, for Dawkins is lamenting what only appears to be Wise's dereliction of his duty to nurture and employ his gifts in ways that result in his happiness and an acquisition of knowledge that contributes to the common good. Yet because there are no designed natures and no intrinsic purposes, and thus no natural duties that we are obligated to obey, the intuitions that inform Dawkins' judgment of Wise are as illusory as the design he explicitly rejects. But that is precisely one of the grounds by which Dawkins suggests that theists are irrational and ought to abandon their belief in God.
How sad to see this from Dawkins. What a waste of a good atheist.

20 comments:

Lee said...

Good point. I've also noticed atheists are inconsistent in other ways. Follow this, for example...

How does an atheist explain religion? Pretty much the same way he explains morality (see the excellent discussion in Brittanica about morals and ethics in the Macropedia): the religious impulse must have somehow contributed to man's survival; it must be "fit" so it "survived."

But they never seem to take it to the next step: if religion was necessary for our societal evolution, if you will, why is it all of a sudden unnecessary?

Mind you, this doesn't prove religion is correct, only that evolutionists have a selective disdain for the results of evolution. We're supposed to cheer it on, over and over, but not in this case.

If they think religion is no longer necessary, let them argue that case. But they tend not to address it like that; mostly, they attack it as if it is a mere superstition, and offers no value.

If we're supposed to substitute science for religion and be the better off for it, I would point out a couple of things about science. First, it never seems to settle on an answer; it's hard to base truth on a moving platform. Second, while science has given us many things that have helped humanity in the material sense, the jury is still out (even by scientists' own admission) about whether or not it will ultimately enable us to destroy the planet.

And third, and most important, science is utterly values-free. The fellow who develops a strain of corn that is disease-resistant and high-yield so that we may feed billions of people is a scientist. But so was the fellow who threw naked Jews into a snowbank, took out a clipboard and a stop watch, and measured the length of time necessary for a human to freeze to death.

We look for "god" in a lot of strange and unsavory places, or so it seems to me.

Art said...

"Dawkins harshly criticizes Wise for embracing a religious belief that results in Wise's not treating himself and his talents, intelligence, and abilities in a way appropriate for their full flourishing."

I've read the bit in The God Delusion that talks about Wise, and I do not see Dawkins saying or even hinting at this.

Lykeros said...

Great job on the false dichotomies and strawmen there, Lee.

I'll make this short and sweet. Religion is not necessary and very few scientists will claim that it was. Religion is a co-evolved concept. This means that other aspects in our minds that have in fact evolved in order to improve our fitness, harbor religion exceptionally well. Look into some psychology of religion. Try Pinker or Thomson.

As to your three points: Science isn't supposed to be the center of life like religion is. It isn't suppose to settle on the answers to every aspect of life. Yes, things created through science can destroy the world. This is irrelevant. Lastly, you just godwinned your post. This point is completely hypocritical. Look a bit into the history of your own religion and you'll see much worse.

lisa said...

Lykeros, I don't know how helpful it is to start comparing who's done the most damage, science or religion when you bring to mind Hiroshima, etc. And hey, you could say 911 was a joint effort! Religious extremists and planes. Tie game on that one!

In fact, a lot of what religion has done was made possible by science and vice versa. But. By far in a more helpful manner than not. How much of science now is formed from discoveries of religious people seeking to help others because this was an outgrowth of their faith, and how many works of charity in medical clinics and feeding stations, in missions and schools, are done because science has developed the tools?

What I find sad is people turning science into a theology (because God doesn't stand up to the scientific method there is no God: a bold theological statement) and and faith into a science (God's existence can be proven: a bold scientific statement). No wonder we can't have good conversations about it. We've abandoned our lands and taken over the other's. Not a good place to dialogue from, I'd hazard a guess.

Lee said...
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Lee said...

> Religion is not necessary and very few scientists will claim that it was.

Well, then, in true scientific fashion: prove it.

Given your apparent world view, you wouldn't be saying it if it weren't provable, would you?

I mean, it's fine with me if that's your perspective. But if it's just your perspective, then you need to explain why it's a better one than mine.

And that means, as well, you will need to explain how transcendent concepts such as "proof", "truth", "logic", and "meaning" all resulted from random physical phenomena, if they're to have any authority in such a debate.

> Science isn't supposed to be the center of life like religion is. It isn't suppose to settle on the answers to every aspect of life. Yes, things created through science can destroy the world. This is irrelevant.

Thanks for underscoring my point. Now please explain it to the folks who are trying to market it as some sort of substitute for religion.

> Lastly, you just godwinned your post. This point is completely hypocritical. Look a bit into the history of your own religion and you'll see much worse.

Worse than what? The slaughter of millions of people in the name of atheistic philosophies called communism or Naziism? Worse than the child sacrifices of pagan religions? Worse than the slaughter of millions by non-Christian Mongol hordes?

If so, then please come up with a moral standard by which you pronounce Christianity "worse", and explain where it came from. If it's your opinion, that hardly transcends humanity -- we all have opinions. Is your moral standard material? Can we scientifically measure it? Is it superior by al the scientific standards of moral superiority?

What standards of moral superiority? You just admitted they don't exist.

So don't borrow from my world view to support yours. That's a parasitic relationship. Either explain how morality doesn't exist because it is not material and cannot be seen or felt, and quit your own moralizing, or else show us where your idea of a moral standard comes from and why anyone ought to pay it heed.

Lykeros said...

Lisa,

That was my point. Arguing over who did what is completely irrelevant to the argument of just what is true. Regardless of religion, you are still going to have people who do bad and people who do good. This only highlights my point that religion is unnecessary. Many religions (namely Christianity) try to claim moral authority and righteousness, but not one is free from disgustingly outrageous acts.

Lee,

>Given your apparent world view, you wouldn't be saying it if it weren't provable, would you?

I've lived my entire life free of religion. I'm perfectly able to function, and I would argue am better off, without it.

We no longer need the "god did it" excuse to explain most of the world around us. We can explain things via natural means. We do not need the thought of some omniscient being to keep us from committing atrocities (since that has ever worked well).

>Thanks for underscoring my point. Now please explain it to the folks who are trying to market it as some sort of substitute for religion.

I've never come across any of these people. Please point them out to me.

>Worse than what? The slaughter of millions of people in the name of atheistic philosophies called communism or Naziism? Worse than the child sacrifices of pagan religions? Worse than the slaughter of millions by non-Christian Mongol hordes?

As I've already said, these have no effect upon the truth of issue. But since you brought it up, Naziism is NOT atheistic, in fact, it is quite accepting of theism. Communism is only atheistic in so much that it can replace religion with state religion. This is just as dogmatic and unintelligible as religion. Pagans had a religion and so did mongols.

Let's see specifically christian atrocities! Holy Roman Empire's fun in the middle ages, Crusades, the rarely unspoken of slaughter of millions of Native Americans by protestant settlers ( http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat0.htm#America ). Let us not forget all of the murders in the bible, often commanded by god.

The point is there is no measurement. Christians have no claim upon moral superiority.

There is not enough space here for me to argue the evolutionary aspects of morality. I'll post it on my blog sometime within the next week if I have time (I've been really busy lately).

Lee said...

> I've lived my entire life free of religion. I'm perfectly able to function, and I would argue am better off, without it.

I asked you to prove your proposition that religion is unnecessary. You may indeed be free of personal belief in religion, but you are living in a society that is to a large degree Christian. Therefore, constructing such a proof would involve taking that into account.

> We no longer need the "god did it" excuse to explain most of the world around us.

Is repeating the same concept the same thing as proof?

> We can explain things via natural means.

Explain the concept of "proof" using only natural evidence.

> We do not need the thought of some omniscient being to keep us from committing atrocities (since that has ever worked well).

Why do you think the pre-Christian world was a better place? Or as good a place?

> But since you brought it up, Naziism is NOT atheistic, in fact, it is quite accepting of theism.

Hitler hated Christianity.

> Communism is only atheistic in so much that it can replace religion with state religion.

You are moving the goal posts. You just said, "We do not need the thought of some omniscient being to keep us from committing atrocities..." Communists do not believe in an omniscient being, therefore they qualify as an atheist philosophy of governing. They have slaughtered millions of people, in several different countries and otherwise different cultures, I might add.

I might also ask, why was it a bad thing that Communists killed millions of people? What standard of morality, arrived at scientifically, says as much? How did it come into existence if God didn't make it?

> I've never come across any of these people. Please point them out to me.

Lykeros, meet Lykeros. You say that belief in God is unnecessary. What is that belief grounded on, if not science?

> Let's see specifically christian atrocities! Holy Roman Empire's fun in the middle ages, Crusades, the rarely unspoken of slaughter of millions of Native Americans by protestant settlers ( http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat0.htm#America ). Let us not forget all of the murders in the bible, often commanded by god.

Let's separate distinctions of type from distinctions of scale.

Type first: It has never been a tenet of Christianity that Christians never sin, nor that people who are not Christians will never justify an ungodly agenda by wearing the cloak of Christianity. When a Christian commits atrocities, I can point to Christian doctrine and inform him he has sinned. To what do you point to inform him he has sinned?

Now scale: If you were to add up all the Christian atrocities ever committed, would they match in scale the least of the communist murders, say, Pol Pot? They certainly wouldn't match Stalin, let alone Mao. And leaving communism out of it, how about the Mongols, whose conquests probably killed around 20 million? The Mongols were non-religious, though they had respect for certain religions. They certainly weren't Christian.

> The point is there is no measurement. Christians have no claim upon moral superiority.

I think Christians do if we're discussing such things as helping to create a world where such things are seen as wrong. But you haven't even yet told me the source of this moral system of yours which you use to assign "superior" or "inferior" ratings. Did scientists find it on the moon? Can we see it with an electron microscope? Does a Geiger counter ping when you get close to it?

TomH said...

Could you post about the uselessness of engaging fools?

Occasionally I offer correction to people, but they just ignore it and blithely post nonsense.

From that point on I just ignore them.

Not all non-Christians are fools. I engage several who actually read what I say and reply intelligently. Of course, we don't always agree, but there's no mocking.

What things should we say in replying to fools, if anything?

I thought of the following:

"Your posts are very lacking. You mock those who are wiser than you. You are unable to read charitably posts with which you disagree, which is a requirement among philosophers. Until you show some willingness to accept wisdom, I shall ignore you. Should you begin to admit your errors and ask for assistance from those wiser than you, then I shall be pleased to assist you and engage your ideas."

My problem is that it seems too condescending, but I can't figure out how to do a better job.

Lee said...

Can't tell who you're talking about, TomH. In any event, I don't presume anyone in this thread is a fool.

Lykeros said...

Lee,

>I asked you to prove your proposition that religion is unnecessary.

"Proof" is a term that is unattainable in the absolute sense. Welcome to science and philosophy. There are societies that are non-christian (and non-theist for that matter) and which have no care to ever be Christian which function wonderfully.

>Why do you think the pre-Christian world was a better place? Or as good a place?

It's hard to compare eras. Ancient Greece was a wonderful era. Of course you will judge it based upon the standards of today. You have to account for not only the religious influence, but the scientific (technology, etc.).

>Hitler hated Christianity.

Except that he was an avowed Catholic. I'm not getting into this silly argument.

>You just said, "We do not need the thought of some omniscient being to keep us from committing atrocities..." Communists do not believe in an omniscient being, therefore they qualify as an atheist philosophy of governing. They have slaughtered millions of people, in several different countries and otherwise different cultures, I might add.

We do not. Christians have proven no better at refraining from atrocities as any other society. Thus, there is nothing special about being a Christian that will stop it. Communists don't believe in a deity so that the government is the highest authority and can itself often be viewed as god(s). Take for example North Korea. Kim Jong Il is viewed as a literal god. This is in no way the message western atheists promote.

As I said before, when I have time, I can post about morality on my blog. It does have big evolutionary advantages.

>Lykeros, meet Lykeros. You say that belief in God is unnecessary. What is that belief grounded on, if not science?

I said introduce me to someone who wants to substitute science for religion. Not someone who believes in reality.

>It has never been a tenet of Christianity that Christians never sin

1 John 2:3-4
3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

>nor that people who are not Christians will never justify an ungodly agenda by wearing the cloak of Christianity.

Ah yes, the old "they aren't REAL Christians" argument. I could argue the same logic for those "atheists" you have tried to stack up against me. None of those people follow the same beliefs as I do, therefore you cannot compare them to me at all.

>If you were to add up all the Christian atrocities ever committed, would they match in scale the least of the communist murders

And exceed.

Pol Pot hated ANY intellectuals. He murdered atheists and religious alike. Any academic or any clergymen.

Stalin and Mao's religion was communism. They were just as dogmatic about those as people are about religion.

Mongols were religious. They often followed Shamanism or Tengriism. Genghis Khan was a very religious person.

>I think Christians do if we're discussing such things as helping to create a world where such things are seen as wrong.

By using morals that pre-date both Christianity and Judaism (the good ones anyways, there's a ton that are just asinine).

Thomas said...

Lykeros,

Calling Mao and Stalin's communism a religion is completely absurd unless you wish to construe the term "religion" so widely that anything (including science) can be called a religion. Communism is a political philosophy that directly follows from a form of atheistic materialism. And communism (another word for dialectical materialism) didn't just happen to be atheistic, it was evangelically and violently atheistic; just look at what happened to the Russian Church after the revolution.

If atheists think Christians should take responsibility for those who committed atrocities in the name of Christ (while violating Christ's commands), it seems only reasonable that atheists take responsibility for those who committed crimes in the name of atheism as well.

Lee said...

> Ah yes, the old "they aren't REAL Christians" argument. I could argue the same logic for those "atheists" you have tried to stack up against me.

Not only could you; you did.

Art said...

"Calling Mao and Stalin's communism a religion is completely absurd unless you wish to construe the term "religion" so widely that anything (including science) can be called a religion."

So then it is safe to say that when Cornelius Hunter or any of the other Discovery Institute hacks call evolution a religion, they are being "completely absurd".

Yet another small point of agreement.

Thomas said...

Anyone who believes that religion is that sort of behavior which seeks to bring one into a relation to the transcendent would say that science cannot be a religion in that sense. Now someone who believes that communism can be included in the category of religion in order to absolve atheism of any complicity in, say, Stalin's reign of terror would have a more difficult time disagreeing the the DI folk's characterization.

Lykeros said...

The communism as a religion was a metaphor, not a definition. Of course communism is a political philosophy. The dogma behind it was the correlation between it and religion.

>it seems only reasonable that atheists take responsibility for those who committed crimes in the name of atheism as well.

Firstly, I was not blaming Christians for crimes committed in the name of Christianity, but rather the dogma that accompanies it.

That's the thing, there re no crimes committed in the name of atheism, but rather in the name of communism. Atheism does not carry the dogma that religion or political ideologies do. Atrocities carried out under communism was done in the name of communism. Religion is viewed as having an authority that is higher than the state and thus a threat to the system. As such, religion can not be allowed under Marxist-Leninist communism (there are religious based communisms including Christian Communism).

>Not only could you; you did.
I was making a point. Although my argument actually holds ground. Christians have a book that they follow and as such are all linked. Atheists have no doctrines. I can be an atheist because I never was taught about God, because I thought about it rationally, or because I have other motives. A joining of those is even more of a stretch than combining non sequitur, non-church going Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

Thomas said...

"The communism as a religion was a metaphor, not a definition. Of course communism is a political philosophy. The dogma behind it was the correlation between it and religion."

One of the central "dogmas" of Marxism is that there is no God and that religion is a false form of consciousness to be overcome in the progress of history (sound familiar?). This isn't simply a political calculation that Lenin or Marx used to keep the state under control, but a central feature of Marxist thought. Nor is Marxism simply a political philosophy, it is complete as a philosophy, with ontological and historical claims. Marxism is a particular kind of atheistic philosophy, and thus should be placed squarely in the category of forms of atheism, not in the category of religion. Religion and communism (Marxist communism, not the kind often practiced in monasteries) cannot be reconciled, and trying to say that they are the same sort of thing is simply false.

"Atheists have no doctrines."

In one sense this might be true. "Soft Atheism", which doesn't so much deny the existence of God as never consider the question, involves no doctrine; but the "Atheism" that asserts that God doesn't exist when the question comes up certainly does. "God doesn't exist" is clearly a doctrine, and it has consequences. If God doesn't exist, then nations cannot and will not be held accountable for the way they treat their citizens to a transcendent source, nor can the world community as a whole be held accountable in a like manner. Considering the fact that Europe thought this way for a millennium and a half, this certainly has repercussions. The way in which moral responsibility was conceived fell apart, and a new manner of thinking about such responsibility must be developed.

For example, the Church for a long time held nations in check with their doctrine of just war, with greater or lesser success. Deliberate attacks on civilians sometimes occurred (regrettably during the Sack of Constantinople, of Jerusalem, and similar events), but in the long view these were held to be wrong. Systematic attacks on civilians as a way of waging war, such as Sherman's march to the sea, the bombing on both sides during WWII, and so on, were the exception and not the rule until the time when nations slipped out from under the authority of the Church. This can be traced to the fall of the Church's moral authority in matters of the State, and more widely to the "death of God."

Atheists might maintain their contemporary liberalism and be good people (comfortably unaware of the origin of those liberal values), or else they might take to reforming the nature of human existence in the Marxist style and be mass murderers. Atheism may have a doctrine of the non-existence of God, but it doesn't have a doctrine of human ethical behavior (such as: love your enemy, turn the other cheek, etc.); so atheist as such cannot put forward any reason why one shouldn't murder millions to change the course of human history for one's own ends. In order to condemn this, the atheist must appeal to something outside of "pure atheism" (the simple claim that God doesn't exist) and appeal to another ethical system. But one's atheism itself offers no reason to choose one kind of ethical values (say, Western liberalism) over another (say, Chinese Marxism). This doesn't mean atheism is wrong in its central claim, nor that there is not an ethical system that doesn't invoke God that can be proved (though arguments could be made for both), but it does mean that atheism has serious issues to grapple with.

Lee said...
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Lee said...
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Lee said...

> >Not only could you; you did.
I was making a point. Although my argument actually holds ground.

Actually, what you were doing was denying me the right to make the same argument you were making in reverse.

If I don't like the way an avowed Christian behaves, I cannot (according to you) argue that he is not living by Christian principles and thereby escape the taint of his actions.

However, if you don't like the way an avowed atheist behaves, you can indeed argue he is not living by the principles you like and respect, and apparently that absolves atheism from any of the taint of his actions.

> That's the thing, there re no crimes committed in the name of atheism, but rather in the name of communism.

Problem is, it's hard to escape man's instinct to worship. He will find something to worship. To you, that instinct appears unnecessary. To me, it's indicative that there is a true God who we need to worship, for our own good. But refusing to bow the knee to Him does not mean that we therefore bow the knee to nothing.

Something else will control us. Maybe our own inner drives and desires. Or our desire for recognition and respect. Our desire for wealth and comfort. We will make sacrifices daily to follow the desires of our own heart, which the Bible warns us is the most deceptive of things.

Or maybe we will become so smitten of our own thinking that we worship our own wisdom. And then, before you know it, millions of people are dead because someone took it seriously.

And then folks like you come along and notice that (sniff) it isn't true atheism because they, after all, worship something -- but without realizing that it was the atheistic impulse that lead us to such a thing to begin with.

In any event, Europe ought to be our canary. Pay close attention to what happens there in the next thirty years. Here's what I see: a post-Christian society that does not have the faith it takes to bring children into this world. It appears to be as close to the atheist paradigm as we're likely to get, because it won't be here in thirty years. Lacking faith, atheists just don't breed.

The future belongs to those who have children.

And if you think being an atheist in a Christian nation is hard, just wait until you have to be one in an Islamic state.