<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d32209663\x26blogName\x3dSideways+Mencken\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dBLACK\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://sidewaysmencken.blogspot.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://sidewaysmencken.blogspot.com/\x26vt\x3d7682481423868601741', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

Almost Too Easy. (updated with links)

From today's Washington Post, by Michael Gerson, under the headline, "What Atheists Can't Answer."

I'll take up that challenge. Gerson's text in italics, :

British author G.K. Chesterton argued that every act of blasphemy is a kind of tribute to God, because it is based on belief. "If anyone doubts this," he wrote, "let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor."

I no more think "blasphemous" thoughts than Hitchens or Dawkins or Harris do. Blasphemy is a term meaningful only to believers. It certainly does presuppose belief, but since the definition of blasphemy lies wholly in the believer's mind and forms no part of the atheist's thoughts, the writer is simply revealing that Chesterton was a prisoner of his own unexamined presuppositions.

By the evidence of the New York Times bestseller list, God has recently been bathed in such tributes. An irreverent trinity -- Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins -- has sold a lot of books accusing theism of fostering hatred, repressing sexuality and mutilating children (Hitchens doesn't approve of male circumcision). Every miracle is a fraud. Every mystic is a madman. And this atheism is presented as a war of liberation against centuries of spiritual tyranny.

I don't doubt that the boys revel in the notion of an "irreverent trinity." In fact, as I see it, there are gradations within this trinity. Not all of the three fit into Gerson's parodistic summation. But, okay, what the hell, close enough. Unsaid here is the fact that if Gerson is like the vast majority of believers, he also believes "every miracle is a fraud, every mystic is a madman," except for that minority of miracle workers and mystics who happen to have the imprimatur of his particular faith. In other words, while Hitch is 100% faithless, Gerson is, say, 80% faithless.

Proving God's existence in 750 words or fewer would daunt even Thomas Aquinas. And I suspect that a certain kind of skeptic would remain skeptical even after a squadron of angels landed on his front lawn. So I merely want to pose a question: If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality?

That's rich. Yeah, the problem is that Gerson doesn't have quite the column inches it would take to prove the existence of God. Oh, he could. He could. If only he had, say, 1000 words and not 750. This is simply dishonest. Millions of words have been written in the attempt to prove the existence of God, none have managed to pull it off. And who's to blame? Why that "certain kind of skeptic." Here Gerson wanders straight off the path of credibility.

If God were dethroned as the arbiter of moral truth, it would not, of course, mean that everyone joins the Crips or reports to the Playboy mansion. On evidence found in every culture, human beings can be good without God. And Hitchens is himself part of the proof. I know him to be intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind, when not ruthlessly flaying opponents for taking minor exception to his arguments. There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction. This instinct may result from evolutionary biology, early childhood socialization or the chemistry of the brain, but human nature is somehow constructed for sympathy and cooperative purpose.

I certainly appreciate the concession that even as an atheist I probably don't murder grannies. But wait, I don't want to speak too soon because here it comes . . .

But there is a problem. Human nature, in other circumstances, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation, uncontrollable rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.

So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

Here Gerson creates the false premise for his follow-up argument. In effect he decides that we atheists can only argue morality as a function of DNA. This is nonsense. We argue morality from experience, enlightened self-interest, philosophy and the values of civilization. In other words we argue that morality, while it may have a basis in DNA, is also a question of deliberate, enlightened choices.

Here's what's funny about this: believers also hold that morality is a matter of deliberate, enlightened choice. They just deliberately choose a different point of reference than we do. In fact most theology requires such a deliberate choice, placing believers in the same philosophical Wal-Mart as atheists, but with somewhat different tastes.

Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: "Obey your evolutionary instincts" because those instincts are conflicted. "Respect your brain chemistry" or "follow your mental wiring" don't seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: "To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I'm going to do whatever I please." C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: "When all that says 'it is good' has been debunked, what says 'I want' remains."

Here Gerson flails away at his straw man. Ooh, look at the straw flying! He's hit the straw man with a C.S. Lewis uppercut and down goes the straw man. Oh, the humanity.

Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests -- a fear of bad consequences -- will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd.

Um, yeah, those "some" are believers. Hell and damnation aren't atheist ideas. We don't believe we'll suffer for all eternity for our immorality or be rewarded for good behavior. I'm worried for Gerson's soul as he dismisses as "absurd" the eternal carrot/stick that is at the core of Christian theology.

Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

There are so many holes here I don't think I have enough skewers. Let's start with the notion that something about religious morality is "objective." Really? In what sense? The Bible is forever being reinterpreted - think slavery just to take the easiest shot. But more to the point, since all morality rests upon the notion that we have a choice, that we can choose good or evil, and since all choices are necessarily subjective, we have no recourse to "objective" anything. We have a choice between the off-the-rack morality of current theological interpretation, or we have the bespoke variety that atheists prefer, but neither is "objective."

And how could it be that I have the capacity to form moral opinions but I'm somehow rendered incapable of judging the morals of others? In fact, I do it all day long.

The death of God has greater consequences than expanded golf time on Sunday mornings. And it is not simply religious fundamentalists who have recognized it. America's Founders embraced public neutrality on matters of religion, but they were not indifferent to the existence of religious faith. George Washington warned against the "supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." The Founders generally believed that the virtues necessary for self-government -- self-sacrifice, honesty, public spirit -- were strengthened by religious beliefs and institutions.

This is a nearly content-free paragraph. The suppositions of the Founders, while always interesting, do not by themselves settle theological issues. Washington was a very great man. He was not a great philosopher. Nor was he the last philosopher.

None of this amounts to proof of God's existence. But it clarifies a point of agreement -- which reveals an even deeper division. Atheists and theists seem to agree that human beings have an innate desire for morality and purpose. For the theist, this is perfectly understandable: We long for love, harmony and sympathy because we are intended by a Creator to find them. In a world without God, however, this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution, but destined for disappointment, just as we are destined for oblivion, on a planet that will be consumed by fire before the sun grows dim and cold.

Not only does "none of this amount(s) to a proof of God's existence," it adds precisely nothing to that debate. And the fact that a certain baseline sense of decency is "perfectly understandable" for the believer is irrelevant and meaningless. Things are perfectly understandable for astrologers, too. The rest of the graph is just bad poetry.

This form of "liberation" is like liberating a plant from the soil or a whale from the ocean. In this kind of freedom, something dies.

A conclusion utterly unsupported by anything Mr. Gerson has written in the preceding paragraphs.

Here's some other blogs making similar points: Here, Here. And here's the comments section in the Post. (You may have to jump through some no-cost hoops to get there.)

Links to this post:

Create a Link

“Almost Too Easy. (updated with links)”

  1. Blogger Objectivist Says:

    Attention! Attention, everyone! We've identified the Anti-Christ!
    And it comes as no surprise to anyone that it's Mr. Reynolds.
    Can I be in your cabinet? Say, a VP for extra-curricular activities.

  2. Blogger ninest123 Ninest Says:

    ninest123 09.23
    ugg boots, nike air max, louis vuitton outlet, chanel handbags, polo ralph lauren outlet, burberry, replica watches, replica watches, prada handbags, michael kors outlet, louis vuitton, burberry outlet online, gucci outlet, michael kors outlet, longchamp outlet, michael kors outlet, ray ban sunglasses, polo ralph lauren outlet, louboutin outlet, kate spade outlet, cheap oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet, tiffany and co, ray ban sunglasses, louis vuitton, ugg boots, michael kors, ugg boots, louis vuitton outlet, nike outlet, tiffany jewelry, nike air max, longchamp, ugg boots, louis vuitton, nike free, michael kors outlet, louboutin, jordan shoes, uggs on sale, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, tory burch outlet, christian louboutin outlet, louboutin shoes, longchamp outlet, prada outlet

  3. Blogger ninest123 Ninest Says:

    vanessa bruno, new balance pas cher, michael kors, hogan, air max, hollister pas cher, nike air max, nike free, mulberry, true religion jeans, hollister, vans pas cher, coach factory outlet, nike air max, air force, hermes, kate spade handbags, michael kors, lululemon, true religion jeans, north face, converse pas cher, north face, oakley pas cher, nike roshe run, michael kors, ray ban pas cher, burberry, nike free run uk, sac longchamp, coach outlet, true religion outlet, ralph lauren pas cher, timberland, longchamp pas cher, air jordan pas cher, coach outlet, nike roshe, michael kors, nike air max, louboutin pas cher, ray ban uk, tn pas cher, sac guess, nike blazer, lacoste pas cher, abercrombie and fitch, ralph lauren uk, coach purses, true religion jeans

  4. Blogger ninest123 Ninest Says:

    gucci, beats by dre, north face outlet, reebok shoes, mcm handbags, north face outlet, ferragamo shoes, babyliss, p90x workout, nike roshe, new balance, baseball bats, nike air max, longchamp, converse, iphone 6 cases, birkin bag, vans, timberland boots, valentino shoes, herve leger, lululemon, nike air max, soccer jerseys, wedding dresses, bottega veneta, mont blanc, ralph lauren, nike huarache, asics running shoes, jimmy choo shoes, ray ban, hollister, vans shoes, giuseppe zanotti, converse outlet, insanity workout, nfl jerseys, abercrombie and fitch, ghd, celine handbags, oakley, nike trainers, instyler, soccer shoes, mac cosmetics, hollister, louboutin, chi flat iron, hollister

  5. Blogger ninest123 Ninest Says:

    hollister, replica watches, pandora charms, michael kors outlet online, toms shoes, moncler, thomas sabo, moncler, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, canada goose, swarovski, juicy couture outlet, links of london, canada goose, marc jacobs, moncler, canada goose outlet, moncler, louis vuitton, lancel, coach outlet, supra shoes, moncler, canada goose, pandora jewelry, moncler, canada goose uk, barbour, louis vuitton, canada goose outlet, doke gabbana outlet, wedding dresses, karen millen, doudoune canada goose, moncler outlet, michael kors handbags, sac louis vuitton pas cher, swarovski crystal, louis vuitton, montre pas cher, barbour jackets, canada goose, ugg boots uk, juicy couture outlet, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, pandora charms, pandora jewelry, bottes ugg, louis vuitton, moncler, michael kors outlet, ugg pas cher
    09.23