Thursday, 21 August 2008

More sillyness from the crazies at WorldNetDaily

The crazies over at WorldNetDaily have sent their monkeys to their typewriters again and have produced an article not entirely unlike what you would expect from simians banging away at a keyboard. Columnist Dennis Prager has written up a list of the "deleterious consequences of secularism". Alot of them are simple rehashes of the same, tired, religious arguments we've all heard a million times over. Nevertheless, let's dissect them one by one, shall we?
1. Without God, there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label "good" and "evil." This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, "right" and "wrong" no more objectively exist than do "beautiful" and "ugly."
Prager here has made one large, fatal, assumption: he assumes that "good" and "evil" can only be defined by God. In actuality, "good" and "evil" have been determined almost entirely by our societies and by simple facts of human nature. Stealing is "evil" because it puts innocent people at a disadvantage. Buying a homeless guy a sandwich is "good" because it helps someone live their life easier. These are not metaphysical concepts handed down by some sky God; rather they can simply be explained as artifacts of our human evolution. Humans everywhere, regardless of whether or not they live in a secular society, have morals because morals were necessary for our distant ancestors to survive. Living in a society conferred a distinct survival advantage, and those acts which helped such societies flourish are those which we deem "good". Likewise, acts which were detrimental to the functioning of society are those we deem "bad". Our morals are not inscribed on slabs of stone, handed down from the Mount. They are inscribed on us through the course of our evolution.

Furthermore, if our moral compass were given to us via God, then one would expect that there would be some sort of moral absolute. This is indeed not the case. While, for the most part, societies have the same morals - no killing, stealing, lying - many societies have slight variations. Why did the Vikings think it was morally acceptable to pillage helpless monks along the coasts of England, while at the same time, they had very harsh punishments for murder? If there was moral absolutism, then their actions should have been morally abhorrent to them. Pillaging was something that helped their society survive, and it is likely that this is a large contributing factor to the moral acceptance of their pillaging actions.

Not only this, but God is possibly one of the worst candidates for determining "good" and "evil". If he were the authority on such matters, then I suppose slaughtering children for laughing at baldness is "good", and wearing polyester is "evil". I'd trust the moral relativism of human societies over the moral absolutism of God anyday.

2. Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced.

Again, Prager is making an unwarranted assumption: who says there needs to be a "higher" purpose to life? What intrinsic purpose is there to the life of an ant or a gazelle? Humans have no more of a purpose than any other animal, and assuming that humans should have a higher purpose is unjustifiably anthropocentric. Is this to say humans have no purpose beyond passing on our genes? Hardly. Humans can have a higher purpose - but that purpose is not given by any God. You give yourself a purpose in life. My purpose in life is to do scientific research, to learn, explain, and help make the world a better place. Living in a secular society, or denying God does not subtract from having a "purpose". Quite to the contrary, it gives you the freedom to choose your own purpose in life.

3. Life is ultimately a tragic fare if there is no God. We live, we suffer, we die – some horrifically, many prematurely – and there is only oblivion afterward.

I fail to see how this is a detrimental effect from a secular society. Sure, it's depressing, but that's the nature of reality. Life is not always sugar coated fun and games. Believing in something simply because it makes you happy is a pretty lousy reason for believing. If I were to go to the doctor, and he were to tell me that I was diagnosed with cancer, what good would it do to say "No, I prefer to believe that I'm healthy. Having cancer would be such a tragic fare"? One cannot forsake truth simply for comfort. All other creatures on the planet face the same tragic fare of life, suffering and death, and they seem to accept that fate. What we as humans can do is strive to reduce the suffering in the interim.

4. Human beings need instruction manuals. This is as true for acting morally and wisely as it is for properly flying an airplane. One's heart is often no better a guide to what is right and wrong than it is to the right and wrong way to fly an airplane. The post-religious secular world claims to need no manual; the heart and reason are sufficient guides to leading a good life and to making a good world.

We do have instruction manuals. We call call these instruction manuals "laws". To say that secular society claims that no manual is needed to keep our behaviour on the right track is tantamount to claiming secularists crave for anarchy. This is entirely untrue. As outlined in Point 1 above, we need rules for a functioning society, regardless of where those rules are derived from.

5. If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates.

Again, this is simply the cruel nature of life. It might be comforting to think that good people will suffer a fate better than those who are evil, but it isn't reality. In fact, belief that doing good will get you into heaven when you die only cheapens acts of kindness; shouldn't one be kind out of the goodness of your heart and not because you want to belong to some kind of exclusive club when you die?

6. With the death of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many Westerners believe in little. That is why secular Western Europe has been unwilling and therefore unable to confront evil, whether it was Communism during the Cold War or Islamic totalitarians in its midst today.

This is one giant non sequiter. What does "believing in little" have to do with "confronting evil"? Western Europe has not confronted the "evils" of Islamic totalitarians today or communism during the Cold War not because they didn't believe in anything, but because they did believe in something: acceptance and tolerance of people who's views may disagree with ours. If "believing in something" is simply rightwing speak for "intolerance and discrimination", then Western Europe is better off "not believing".

7. Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men's and women's natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm.
And it was largely the religious, not the secular, that burned "witches" at the stake in Salem, that believed a woman could turn into a pillar of salt, that believed in slavery was entitled to them by God. If you want to compare the irrational beliefs of secular people to those of religious people, you'll find the scale dips mightily on the religious side. It is absurd to say a secular society would breed irrationality because we have ample evidence both historical and modern that shows religious belief to spawn irrational thoughts that extend beyond the realm of theology (one only needs to take a look at the 2012 doomsayers/Nefilim conspiracy theorists to see this!). A secular society would teach people critical thinking, how to be rational, so irrational thoughts wouldn't need a place to be expressed. It is in a religious society, where every aspect of life is guided by an irrational belief based on an irrational book about an irrational god that does immense harm.
8. If there is no God, the human being has no free will. He is a robot whose every action is dictated by genes and environment. Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that transcends genes and environment who implanted the ability to transcend genes and environment can humans have free will.
The topic of free will is one of deep, interesting philosophical discussions, the details of which are not of the essence in this post. But to say that free will is only possible if humans were created by a Creator is setting up a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible that free will (or the illusion of it) came about during our evolution. I am by no means an expert on this subject, so I will direct interested parties to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on Free Will.
9.If there is no God, humans and "other" animals are of equal value. Only if one posits that humans, not animals, are created in the image of God do humans have any greater intrinsic sanctity than baboons. This explains the movement among the secularized elite to equate humans and animals.
Again, who says that humans need to have "greater intrinsic sanctity" than baboons, or lions, or goats? I have yet to hear a rational argument (or even an irrational one) regarding why humans need to be "better" than mice or deer or cattle. And if we really must have a greater intrinsic value, might it not be our sentience, our higher cognitive functions, our ability to think and reason (at least for some of us) that gives us that value? Why look to God to give us a special place on Earth when it can be found in our very own humanity?
The reason the "secularized elite" wish to equate humans and animals is because humans ARE animals. Animals can be defined as "A multicellular organism of the kingdom Animalia, differing from plants in certain typical characteristics such as capacity for locomotion, nonphotosynthetic metabolism, pronounced response to stimuli, restricted growth, and fixed bodily structure." Do we not fit such a description perfectly?
10. Without God, there is little to inspire people to create inspiring art. That is why contemporary art galleries and museums are filled with "art" that celebrates the scatological, the ugly and the shocking. Compare this art to Michelangelo's art in the Sistine Chapel. The latter elevates the viewer – because Michelangelo believed in something higher than himself and higher than all men.
This is probably one of the most absurd claims Ive heard. Admittedly, the works of many of the greatest artists have been inspired by religion, but to say that without God, there would be no inspiration for great art is ridiculous. The contrary is evident when you consider the likes of Pablo Picasso. Unarguably one of the most influential artists of modern times, Picasso was an atheist. God inspired none of his works, yet his works were great. Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect who designed some of the most famous modern buildings, was also an atheist. It should be obvious that God is not a requirement for great art.
11. Without God, nothing is holy. This is definitional. Holiness emanates from a belief in the holy. This explains, for example, the far more widespread acceptance of public cursing in secular society than in religious society. To the religious, there is holy speech and profane speech. In much of secular society, the very notion of profane speech is mocked.
Yet again, who says there needs to be "holiness"? Prager seems to have a habit of saying a secular society would be without something, yet not showing how that something is needed to a proper, functioning society. Of course there would be nothing holy in a secular society! Its a secular society! Unless someone can show me how holiness is necessary, then I fail to see how this is a detrimental effect of secularization.
12. Without God, humanist hubris is almost inevitable. If there is nothing higher than man, no Supreme Being, man becomes the supreme being.
See above.
13. Without God, there are no inalienable human rights. Evolution confers no rights. Molecules confer no rights. Energy has no moral concerns. That is why America's founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are endowed "by our Creator" with certain inalienable rights. Rights depend upon a moral source, a rights giver.
Another "moral" argument. Humans have human rights but they were not given to us by God. We have decided on our own inalienable human rights based on our own humanity, based on helping other humans, in the name of fairness and equality. Why does the United Nations, a secular organization which represents countries of all cultures and faiths spend so much time on human rights if such rights do not exist in the absence of God? It's because they are right we have decided amongst ourselves to ensure everyone on the planet gets treated fairly and equally. In a religious society, the situation would be quite to the contrary. In a religious society, not everyone is equal, and not everyone is fair. "Human rights" would only apply to a select few - those that subscribe to the religion of choice. One only has to look as far as gay marriage to see that religious society denies rights rather than bestows them.

14. "Without God," Dostoevsky famously wrote, "all is permitted." There has been plenty of evil committed by believers in God, but the widespread cruelties and the sheer number of innocents murdered by secular regimes – specifically Nazi, Fascist and Communist regimes – dwarfs the evil done in the name of religion.

Ah, it was only a matter of time until Prager whipped out a reductio ad hitlerum argument tied into a strawman argument. First of all, the Nazi regime was not a secular regime in the least. Gott Mit Uns was the national motto for crying out loud! Hitler was explicitly Christian, and anger over the idea that the Jews killed Jesus was one of the contributing factors to his plan of wiping out the Jews. There is a literal wealth of information identifying Hitler and the Nazi regime as religious that I wont bother to go into all the detail. Not to mention that fascist Italy had direct ties with the Vatican, and Mussolini was endorsed by the Pope himself.
Secondly, there has never - NEVER - been a case where innocents have been murdered in the name of secularism. I cannot deny that there have been atrocities committed in secular societies but the question is whether or not it was the secularism that lead to such atrocities; the answer is no. It was not secularism that caused the murder of innocents, but twisted political ideologies irrespective of secular beliefs. Did Stalin kill innocents because he was an atheist? No. He killed innocents because he was a power-crazy dictator. When it comes to atrocities and the murder of innocents, the Bible trumps all on nearly astronomical scales.

So really, none of Prager's 14 arguments holds up to any scrutiny. Many of them do not even explain how the effects Prager posits secularism leads to are detrimental to society. And many more are age old misconceptions on morality.

Then again, what else does one expect from WorldNetDaily?

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