Tag Archives: theism

Poor arguments against atheism, no. 928

Recent increases in the numbers of those who reject traditional theism have spawned a vast army of god-defenders, the quality of whose work, in my estimation, has varied widely.  It seems many of these new apologetic theists, being unused to the role, are not well-versed in the practice of crafting sound, coherent arguments.  Consequently, you often come across some humorous, even silly attempts to “debunk” atheism.  These are actually worthwhile to engage because untangling the intellectual morass can be an interesting challenge.  Besides that, you just might get lucky and get a comment so funny or bizarre, it’s worthy of submission to the Fundies Say the Darndest Things website.

But once in a while, you’ll get someone who is simply not interested in defending their arguments.  You’re response just goes down a black hole, or is rejected for inconsequential reasons.  The latter was the fate of a response to a post titled The Problem of Morality by one Carson Weitnauer, part of his “The Problems with Atheism Series” on his blog Simple Apologetics.  Carson didn’t like the “tone” of my response, though, as you’ll see, I believe it was appropriate for his arguments.  Besides, it was directly only at them, and not at Carson personally.  Because the problem of the disappearing rebuttal is hardly new, I keep a copy for posting on this blog (to his credit, Carson emailed me a copy of my reply as well).  Additionally, while I argue (and I think show) that Carson’s case is ludicrous at best, his bogus claims are not uncommon, and serve only to spread popular myths that deserve debunking wherever they appear.

I recommend you read Carson’s original article first to get the full context of my rebuttal.  Portions of his article that I specifically respond to are in italics.

Upon reading this post, it’s clear to me it contains a number of errors and misunderstandings which fatally undermine your case.  I’d like to spell out why in further detail and look forward to a response.

First, your theistic bias is clearly evident, particularly in the unstated premise that good and evil, as well as moral truths, can only exist if the theistic god exists.  Your arguments make sense only in light of this premise.

Second, the alleged problem you describe is not particularly an atheistic problem, but more properly identified as a problem for non-theists, because your arguments, at least in part, apply to deists and pantheists as well.  They too do not believe in a theistic god.

Third, the following assertions are false:

“atheism…denies that there exist any moral rules”

“atheism affirms that all that exists is matter, energy, and space-time”

“these elements are not enough to support the existence of morality”

Atheism – the lack of belief in god(s) – neither affirms nor denies anything about moral rules.  This is an irrelevant question to atheism.  Does it make sense to say a-unicornists deny the existence of any moral rules?  Absolutely not, unless you believe moral rules come only from unicorns.

In any case, individual atheists do believe in the existence of moral rules; clearly they do because they practice them each day.  What they deny, along with deists and pantheists, is the existence of divine commands.  They obtain these rules from reason, experience, and evolutionary programming.

You confuse atheism with the theory of materialism.  There are atheists, such as animists, who certainly do not think reality can be reduced to the material.

I got a good laugh at your caricature of how non-theists view morality.  Do you really believe we think of it as some kind of physical substance composed of matter, energy or space-time, as you suggested in your thought experiment?  What a ludicrous straw man!  Are you going to charge us with denying, say, philosophy because we also cannot arrange the molecules or “put the pieces together” to re-create it in a lab?

What you have to notice is that all of this “moral discourse” would just be in their heads! There is nothing really wrong with murder or really right about promise-keeping. Instead, it just happens to be the case that those behaviors are viewed as bad or good, respectively, by their humanoid society.

You just described the utilitarian, welfare-promoting aspects of keeping promises and not murdering, and then dismiss them as merely a view?  As if the consequences of those things were wholly absent or irrelevant?

Let’s imagine that, one day, bored in the laboratory, you set up the humanoid society so that murderers find themselves with an extra 10,000 laboratory dollars in their bank accounts. (Imagine a sick version of The Truman Show). This turns out to be enough money to pay for bodyguards, eliminate other genes from the population, and get their own genes passed down in a higher proportion to the next generation far in excess of other humanoids. On it goes for a few generations, and before long, you have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder, and violently opposes anyone who tries to keep murderers from their deserved wealth and social status.

No, before long, you wouldn’t have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder; you’d have no society at all.  Leaving aside the comical question why 10,000 “lab dollars” induces people to kill others, you’ve assumed that the murderers would not murder fellow murderers, or even their own bodyguards.  However, this assumption makes no sense in light of the condition that I emphasized above.  Your theoretical exercise is so illogical and incoherent, you should blush that you even suggested it could ever apply to the real world.

If you want to be a consistent atheist, then every time you go from “here are the facts” to “here is the proper moral rule for evaluating these facts” you should stop yourself. Then remind yourself: these rules are just a social illusion.

You’ve failed to demonstrate how moral rules are “just a social illusion”.  Your case, so far, is built on risible straw men that in no way approximate reality or the way morality is understood.

What this means is that there is no way to call evil “evil.”

Certainly there is, if you subscribe to certain moral tenets which dictate that it’s evil, say, to inflict involuntary suffering on others, with only limited exceptions.  Because someone else may hold to a contrary moral tenet in no way impinges on this ability.  It is irrelevant.

To summarize: under atheism, there are no such things or categories as good or evil. And second, any perception to the contrary is completely illusory and is merely a byproduct of non-moral, socio-biological forces.

Your claims are based on nothing more than caricatures which rely on theistic assumptions.  One could just as easily build a similar case why under theism there are no such things or categories as good or evil because it denies the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

When the natural law condemns the lawgiver

Professor Matt McCormick provides an excellent exposition on the dilemma facing theists regarding the morality of God’s actions – and inactions.  He asks, “If a human did what God is allegedly doing right now, would we consider that a morally good action?”  He briefly touches on one implication of his argument for the “natural law” – an implication I would like to delve into further.

The “natural law”, in case you’re not aware, is the term used by some theists to describe an alleged objective moral standard instilled in our hearts by God.  We all appeal to this standard, they say, when judging the goodness of others’ actions or our own.  But a problem arises when God’s own behavior violates the natural law.  Genocide – whether committed or ignored by God – is perhaps the example that comes most readily to mind.

What are we to make of these divine violations that transgress our moral sense?  Believers rationalize them away by claiming there must be a higher moral good behind them, but what this higher moral good is, they cannot say, for God never provides or demonstrates one.  Prima facie, they are moral violations, and should be considered such until we’re given compelling reasons to believe otherwise.  When someone commits murder, we don’t let them go scot free when their lawyer proclaims, “There was a higher moral purpose behind my client’s actions, and you’ll just have to trust him on that.”  Even those who say God told them to murder are still locked up (one way or another).

Even if we grant the proposition that God is a morally perfect being who can never commit a moral transgression, it still leaves us with what to make of the sense of moral violation.  Why do we still have it?  The natural law is seemingly producing false positives.  Essentially, theists tell us to ignore our sense of moral outrage whenever divine action seems to violate the law, but what about divine inactions, which can just as strongly trigger moral outrage?  Are we to ignore those too?  But that would entail ignoring our moral sense altogether, since we never know – absent being provided a compelling rationale – whether any moral transgression served some higher moral good.

For instance, returning to the example of genocide, how do we know the Holocaust wasn’t a critical piece in God’s overall plan?  Wouldn’t moral condemnation of the Holocaust be at best premature and at worse mistaken?  Given the theistic supposition that God chooses to intervene or not intervene in human affairs – invisibly, unpredictably, inscrutably – there is literally no event in which God’s involvement positively can be ruled in or out, and thus no moral outrage we can be confident of.  The natural law thus becomes neutered as a moral guide.

Some theists might argue that “sin” affects our ability to discern the natural law.  Since we’re said to all be living under it, the question becomes, to what extent does “sin” impact discernment?  They never say.  And if “sin” is muddying the waters, so to speak, how can we really even trust our moral sense as an intuitive guide?  An objective law capable of divergent interpretations is little different than no law at all.

When it comes down to it, the choices are pretty stark for the theist: abandon divine moral goodness, or abandon the natural law.  Both cannot existence concurrently, unless the latter doesn’t derive from the former, in which case theism itself must be abandoned.

Will the real god please stand up?

Blogging inspiration hasn’t struck me that often over the last few months, so I’ve been sticking to blog discussions here and there.  Lately, however, I’ve been coming across a theistic error so glaring, it cries for comment.  The curious thing about this error is that it’s being committed by some of the more prominent religious apologists, highly educated theologians you’d least expect to make such an elementary logical blunder – apologists like Oxford University professor John Lennox and Timothy Keller, author of the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God.

In a nutshell, the error these theists make is to take general philosophical god arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument or the argument from design) and cite them as grounds for the existence of their particular god.  Finely-tuned universe, ergo Jesus.  But whether through myopia or intentional smoke-and-mirrors sophistry, what these apologists fail to acknowledge is that the philosophical god arguments apply just as well to other gods that people both believe and don’t believe in.  Apologists for Islam make the same arguments for why you should believe in Allah.  So do Hindus.  As well as the believers of thousands of other religions.  What’s more, the arguments are wholly compatible not just with theism, but with deism and polytheism!  One god, for example, may have been responsible for creating the universe, while another for life on our little spec in it.

So, even if the arguments are persuasive, they don’t get you to Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Thor, or Brahman, or Mazda, or Zeus.  At best, they get you only to…something.  You may call it Aristotle’s “prime mover”, and it could be any one of the aforementioned gods, or none of them.  Until it (or they) actually shows up and demonstrates its existence conclusively and exclusively (meaning, there can be no mistaking it with the billion other imagined deities out there people have worshipped), these arguments are for all intents and purposes useless to the believer.  They need to succeed not just on the merits of the god arguments, which I don’t believe they do, but also prove those arguments apply only to their god(s), and no others, which is something they don’t even attempt.

Do you have a religious litmus test?

Unless you recently awoke from hibernation, if you’re American, you’re probably aware there’s an election coming up pretty soon.  As a result, you’ve likely given at least some thought to whom you’ll vote for and why.  As for myself, I live in a part of the country where the election of a particular candidate is pretty much already a foregone conclusion, but that hasn’t prevented me from indulging the voter impulse and contemplating how I would vote too.

One of the considerations I struggle with is to what extent do I consider a candidate’s religious views – or lack thereof.  As an atheist, I’m inclined to look upon atheist politicians more favorably than those who seemingly wear religion on their sleeves.  Yet, suppose the former holds positions I for the most part disagree with, while the latter expresses policy preferences broadly in alignment with my own?  Whom do I choose?

I, like probably most atheists, would hold my nose while voting for the religious candidate.  The reason is that, on balance, I see the atheist candidate with the disagreeable positions as more likely harmful to my own well-being and that of the country’s.  God-belief isn’t much concerned with pressing issues like the economy, health care, debt, and Social Security, so the candidates’ religious views just don’t rise all that high on the scale of importance.

Where I see the candidates as nearly equal with respect to my own political views, I’m more likely to seriously consider a candidate’s religious views, but it would be among a host of other influences.  For example, I view single party control of the executive and legislative branches as generally something to be avoided, so the candidate of the “party in power” is less likely to get my vote.

In sum, a candidate’s broader economic and political viewpoint trumps religious belief in my book.  I say this as a committed atheist.  What about my opposite, the True Believer?  Would they agree?

The likelihood is that they wouldn’t, according to a 2007 Gallup poll.  A slim majority – but a majority nonetheless – would not vote for a generally well-qualified atheist for president, even if it was their own party’s nominee.  The picture changes when you break it down by political outlook, with only about a third of conservatives voting for an atheist, compared to two-thirds for liberals and about half for moderates.  The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, however.  For instance, 80% of conservatives ended up voting for the candidate who was 72 years of age in the 2008 presidential election (McCain), though only 63% of them reported they would in the poll.

As I noted above, none of this cogitating will produce any practical action since I don’t have the choices in this election others have.  But what about you?  Are religious views important in your decision to vote for a particular candidate?

Theistic absolute morality + invisible god = horrible relative morality

Believers of theistic religions all regard themselves in possession of a moral code that is perfect and absolute (applicable to all times and places, without exception).  These believers often further claim this moral code can only be found in their holy books.

It’s well-known that the moral codes of these believers conflict, not just across religions, but even within religions themselves, and not just in the present day within these religions, but across time as well.  That is, on almost any moral question, a different answer will be given depending on the religion you query.  And even if you inquire within the same religion, you’ll likely get a different answer.  There’s even a good chance you’ll get a different answer if you asked a believer from the same religious sect today verses one 50 or a hundred years ago.  These facts alone justify reasonable doubt in the claims of a theistic absolute morality.

Nonetheless, let’s assume for a moment there is an absolute morality as conveyed by an omnibenevolent, omniscient creator, and that one of the present religions is in possession of it.  Is this progress?  No!

The reason is because this creator is invisible and interacts with us in no discriminating way.  We are thus at a loss to know whose believer’s absolute morality is the real one among all the pretenders.  Every believer’s justification to elevate their own moral system over that of their competitors is either 1) question-begging or 2) non-discerning.

A common example of (1) is “Only my religion fully values the sanctity of human life.”  But the believer is assuming the sanctity of human life is an inherent feature of the creator’s absolute morality, when in fact it may very well not be.  To better understand this fallacy, let me rephrase the example: “Only my religion fully values the sanctity of cows.”  The person is arguing for the objective superiority of their religious moral code by making reference to their religious moral code.  It’s circular and shows nothing.

Similarly, someone may denigrate the moral code of another religion as a way to prove it cannot be divinely originated, pointing to, say, death by stoning for adultery.  Same fallacy as before, but it’s also a fallacious appeal to emotion.

The other tact, an example of (2), is to stress the utilitarian results of their morality.  “Look at all the clinics, shelters, and free kitchens we run,” a believer might say. While noble, altruistic action is observed in practically every religious tradition.  It’s also observed among the non-religious, and even among non-humans.  The Islamic terrorist organization Hamas provides a vast number of social services, so does that therefore mean Islam possesses the perfect moral code we all should follow?

Holy books, revered prophets, tradition, miracles, a radically changed life—all “proofs” the Divine Author allegedly employed to definitively mark the supernatural source of a believer’s morality.  Except that, again, these are standard fare among the various theistic religions.  To paraphrase a line from a great film, “When every morality is supernatural, none is.”

Believers who claim their particular religious morality reflects the will of some divine creator are thus caught in an intractable bind.  Nothing they do or say can irrefutably, or even reasonably, prove their claim.  This is evident in two ways: first, by the protracted failure to establish a single moral framework not just among religions, but even within a particular religion; second, by ever-shifting theistic views about just what is moral and immoral.

A divine creator who wanted us to follow an Absolute Moral Law could have easily avoided this situation.  He could have poofed into existence an indestructible written codex containing all the moral knowledge we’d ever need.  Heck, he could have simply inscribed the instructions into our genetic code, such that everyone, everywhere would know, for example, never to eat shellfish or pork without it having it to be drilled into their heads by other humans.  A divine creator could do these things…or any number of other actions.  But he hasn’t…

Instead, we have a situation that reflects the worst of all possible worlds.  On the one hand, millions of people believe they’re following divine moral commands to which they stubbornly cling.  On the other, there are significant disagreements among these moral commands, with no method or means given whatsoever to establish which originate from a divine source.

The tragic consequence is that moral advancement among such individuals occurs very grudgingly, and usually after they’ve inflicted much needless suffering.  Slavery is perhaps the most infamous example.  Long was this barbaric institution upheld by the very same believers who would later repudiate it, but not before millions of lives were ground up in its brutal grip, and wars which consumed many others were fought over it.  One would think the sad lesson of slavery would teach believers to temper their uncompromising moral attitudes, but they make the same mistake with depressing regularity.

What if a believer just happens to have access to the genuine moral dictates of the creator?  They’re not much better off.  Since we’re imperfect beings – a fact believers readily admit to – moral belief and action cannot be guaranteed to reflect moral dictates.  And life doesn’t present us with easy, black-and-white moral dilemmas.  If a believer had to lie to save someone’s life, most (but, frighteningly, not all!) wouldn’t give it a second thought, despite lying being specifically prohibited in most theistic absolute moral systems.  The bottom line is that such believers have no way to know whether they’ve interpreted the dictates perfectly, particularly in morally ambiguous situations, and every reason to doubt it.

Whether they care to admit it, theists are de facto moral relativists; as history has amply proved, their morality is contingent on time, circumstance, interpretation, or context.  But since they refuse to acknowledge this truth, correcting a false or harmful moral view is nearly impossible to them.  Until the creator of the Real Absolute Morality stands up and unmistakably presents it to us the presently living, believers with their conflicting moral absolutist codes will continue to be a drag on moral progress. Our only viable course is to apply our own human reason to discovering and establishing moral codes like secular humanism in ways that mimic how we uncover scientific truth.  We’ll make mistakes, but acknowledging mistakes are possible makes swift remedies probable.

The gods don’t allow freedom of religion

Isn’t it ironic? Believers the world over cry especially loudly whenever their right to worship is infringed, but their own gods deny you this right.  If I practice any other than the god’s officially approved religion, I’ll be tortured forever.  Many countries where freedom of religion is proscribed come under heavy criticism, but if those critics are religious themselves, on what basis do they object?  At least the theocratic leaders of those countries are being consistent.  And why not?  Isn’t their god’s law above man’s?  If you truly believe you have the truth and everything else is falsehood,  then why not make your own religion the law of the land?  Granting others the right of belief suggests doubt in your own.

So science confirms your holy book, eh?

You often hear believers claim that scientific discoveries are completely compatible with their religion’s scriptures, if not indeed wholly anticipated by them.  This is alleged to be proof of these scriptures’ supernatural influence.  A few examples:

clarifyingchristianity.com – The Bible is not a science book, yet it is scientifically accurate. We are not aware of any scientific evidence that contradicts the Bible.,,Many [scientific facts] were listed in the Bible hundreds or even thousands of years before being recorded elsewhere.

islam.about.com – In Islam, there is no conflict between faith in God and modern scientific knowledge.  Indeed, for many centuries during the Middle Ages, Muslims led the world in scientific inquiry and exploration.  The Qur’an itself, revealed 14 centuries ago, is filled with scientific facts and imagery that are supported by modern findings.

the-book-of-mormon.com – The truly amazing thing about most of these refutations to the critics is that the majority of these facts were not known to scientists, much less to Joseph Smith, in 1829 when the Book of Mormon was translated. Thus, many of the criticisms become, in light of recent scientific discoveries, proofs!

Of course, if there is one supreme omniscient being, then all of these claims can’t be true at the same time since the holy books indisputably contradict each other—a plain fact that each religious tradition is well-aware of.  Thus, each spends as much time, if not more, debunking the others’ claims as it does defending its own.  For instance, some of the best work demonstrating the utter fallibility of the Book of Mormon comes not from skeptical sources but from Christian ones.  The one thing every religious tradition has in common, however, is a failure to acknowledge the completely ad hoc nature of its claims.   The pattern is as predictable as it is regular.  First comes the scientific discovery, followed by obstinate rejection, then grudging acknowledgement, and finally, once the evidence is overwhelming, its reception as affirming what scripture had been saying all along.  (Needless to say, some don’t even get beyond the first step).

Naturally, skeptics such as myself say it’s all bunk, and to prove it, I’m going to issue a challenge. Believer, since you say that science merely confirms what your holy book has long already said, the inevitable corollary is that it also contains scientific knowledge which has not yet been discovered.  Therefore, believer, your task is easy: rather than claim scientific validation after the fact, tell us something new that science has not yet spoken on, and which can subsequently be validated by science. 

This has never happened, and I predict it will never happen, because in reality the believer’s method is to scour scripture for any possible reference to a scientific truth after its established, and then say – Orwell-like – it was foretold by scripture all along, while quietly shuffling disconfirming scriptures or past beliefs under the rug.  It’s a foolproof method!  For example, if the universe was found to have fixed boundaries rather than continually expanding, Christians, at least, would undoubtedly have pointed to the Bible and said “I told you so!

Believers, I accept your gratitude in advance for coming up with a way for you to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt the divine origin of your theology not only to fools..er, atheists like myself, but to the misguided believers of every other religion. 🙂

Theism renders existence unintelligable

I’ve heard many theists say that it takes a god to make sense out of existence.  To me, however, a god renders existence unintelligible, unpredictable, and chaotic.  Although my reasons I think trump those of the theist’s, they do not in and of themselves serve as basis for rejecting god-belief.  After all, a life of confusion may have been the intention of a god all along, as a test of our faith or a sign that our belief is justified (a possibility which I explored in a previous post).

The recent fifth-year anniversary of the tsunami that destroyed over 200,000 lives in Asia (a disproportionate number of whom were children), besides raising anew the problem of evil for theists, served as the catalyst for my thoughts.  In its wake, as is typical with any natural disaster, we heard from various believers of all stripes that their god had caused it as a form of punishment for…well, take your pick among a smorgasbord of reasons: failure to pray the required 5 times a day, abortion, immoral sexual practices of tourists, Swedish “hate crime laws” against the Gospel, etc.  Any one of those reasons could be true, or none of them, or all of them.  The point is, under theism, we would never know, because we’re dealing with a personality whose designs, goals, and plans are almost completely, if not wholly, hidden from us.  And it’s not just tsunamis or other natural disasters this pertains to, but to any event or occurrence.  Was it the will of the god that my mother got cancer?  That the plane crashed, but only two survived?  That I lost my job?  That the Lakers won?  “God is in control” is what the theists tell us.  Ok then, but to what extent?  Down to every last motion of every single atom?  The occasional miracle or smiting?  And what of the role other supernatural entities, like demons or djinns, play?  Theists cannot answer these questions with any sort of confidence.  Anything and everything could have a hidden hand behind it, for reasons we can only grasp at, like straws.  Such is the existential blindness theism inevitably leads.  No wonder believers are admonished to simply “Trust in the Lord.”  They have no choice.  Theism reduces us to puppets whose strings are invisible to us, in a show whose script we can only dimly perceive, if at all.

It wasn’t so long ago that the world was governed by the belief in divine fatalism; things were they way they were because that’s the way they were ordained.  Needless to say, the reasonable position to take in light of such a belief—nah, the duty— was obliging acceptance.  After all, who were you, puny mortal, to oppose your god’s will?  (More cunning individuals justified their actions as carrying out their god’s will).  Little wonder, then, that human progress advanced at a snail’s pace.  But when a few brave individuals began to propose completely natural explanations for life’s routines—essentially curtailing the hand of a god—did humanity make huge strides in its welfare and understanding.  This new paradigm has proved enormously beneficial for our species, but it has been largely resisted by theists, who correctly identify it as a threat to god-belief.  If our lives are what we make it, if we can control, direct, remedy, explain, or predict aspects of our existence through our own means, then our need for and dependence on a deity is rendered practically moot.

My lack of belief in god(s) doesn’t originate from the view they make life incomprehensible to me, or that believing in them hinders us as a species; that would be fallacious (argument from personal incredulity and argument from outrage, respectively).  Rather, I’m explaining why to some people, a god-belief does not help understand existence, but detracts from that understanding.

Is theism compatible with the rule of law?

Skeptics are well-aware of the deleterious impact religion can sometimes have on the lives and well-being of humans, particularly on the vulnerable and innocent.  And sadly, justice for faith-based crimes has been the exception rather than the rule, which only compounds the problem.  An article in yesterday’s Washington Post that will surely boil your blood reminds us anew that we still have a long way to go to turn that around.  More broadly, it demonstrates why religion can have no place in law and governance.

The article follows-up on the court cases of Christian parents whose children died as a result of the withholding of medical treatment in favor of administering magical incantations (aka, “prayer”), specifically, what punishment these parents received for their gross neglect.  Its author, Professor Jonathan Turley, found that judges were exceptionally lenient in these cases.  A “faith defense” was factored in to sentencing decisions, resulting in jail times less than those received for misdemeanors.  Even more galling, the murderous parents were allowed to retain custody of the remaining children.  Professor Turley contrasted the treatment these parents received against sentences levied on parents in which belief played no part and found the latter were far more harsh.

It is of course outrageous that innocent children should die due to the criminal negligence of their parents.  Even more outrageous is that countless others will die until the justice system stops sentencing these parents with a relative slap on the wrist and punishes them commiserate with what their act truly is: murder.

Unfortunately, this may prove far more difficult than many appreciate.  For in a worldview steeped in god-belief, what rational grounds exist to reject the practices of these Christian parents?  Most religions, including the various Christianities, tell us the will and plan of their god is inscrutable, mysterious, unknowable.  Moreover, their holy books and deities promise supernatural healing miracles by uttering a few fervent words.  Consequently, how can a theist gainsay the defense put forward by these parents?

“I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health.”

“I am guilty of trusting my Lord’s wisdom completely. . . . Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God.”

One of the judges, a theist, “reminded” one of the parents during sentencing, “God probably works through other people, some of them doctors.”  But how could this judge possibly know what the Christian god “probably” does?  The more reasonable assumption, based on a biblical worldview, is that Yahweh probably wanted the children dead, otherwise it would have supernaturally cured the children of their illnesses as a result of their parents’ supplications.  And if that’s what probably Yahweh wanted, who is any human to judge or condemn the parents?  Could that be what’s really underlying the travesty of these laughable sentences?

And ask yourself this.  What’s to prevent neglectful parents from utilizing the theist defense any time a child is injured or dies?  “But Your Honor, I had prepared the proper offering to Hestia to care and feed my 2 year old while I was gone on vacation.  If I’m guilty of his death, I’m guilty of asking for heavenly intervention.  Guilty of following the gods atop Mt. Olympus when the whole world does not understand.  Guilty of obeying Zeus.”  Where does it end?

Religious belief is an acid on the rule of law.  If judges and legislators cannot separate such belief from their official duties, they’re simply unqualified.

P.S. I realize it’s been a few months since my last blog entry. I’ve been reading (slowly imbibing is probably more accurate) David Eller’s powerful book, Atheism Advanced.  More than any other recent book, this one has strikingly changed my perspective and understanding of religion.  I believe it’s a must-read for every atheist.  More to come on this wonderful book.