This past Friday CNN conducted an interview with Richard Dawkins, the British biologist most widely known for his polemics against religion and on behalf of atheism.
Asked “whether an absence of religion would leave us without a moral compass,” Dawkins responded: “The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible.”
This is the crux of the issue for Dawkins and other anti-religion activists – that not only do we not need religion or God for morality, but we would have a considerably more moral world without them.
This argument is so wrong – both rationally and empirically – that its appeal can only be explained by a) a desire to believe it and b) an ignorance of history.
If morality is from a religious source it would be absolute would it not? It would be the most moral code we can imagine and we would have had it (assuming Prager’s Judeo-Christian Faith is the “one true faith”) by the time of Moses.
Yet we don’t see admonishments to turn the other cheek. We see plenty of rules on owning slaves and raping non-Jewish women.
Are we to understand that the technical details of Prager’s Bible are to be ignored but we must assume that all morality comes from a an all powerful being who clearly spends more time interested in denying women healthcare and exhorting violence upon the GLBT.
I don’t buy it. I really do not.
First, the rational argument.
If there is no God, the labels “good” and “evil” are merely opinions. They are substitutes for “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” They are not objective realities.
In order to make it rain, you must sacrifice a crying baby to Tlaloc. That, to many an Aztec was “good”. The Spanish were so appalled they near exterminated the Aztecs which they saw as “good” too.
Now here is the thing. If we were to follow Prager then those baby killing fuckers had it coming (and bear in mind at this time period, massive massacres of non-believers was rather common in Christian history). If we were to look at this objectively we would realise that while killing a baby is wrong, Killing ALL the babies to correct that is wrong too.
Good and Evil in the minds of people like Prager are absolutes. We know they are not. Great Evil can be committed for Good.
Let’s take this for example. There are Starving People in Country A. So we send them some food. Free of charge, no strings attached. We go home and sleep a little better knowing we did good.
The massive influx of high quality, free food destroys the borderline farmer exacerbating starvation next season.
It’s why we “THINK” about what we do. We send food AND we buy out the food from the farmers and go into total distribution. This way the local farmer who still has a crop gets money and is encouraged to keep farming while those who don’t still get food. It’s not ideal but it’s a win win.
Good and Evil are not clear and defined things. Many a time you have a choice between two evils and have to pick the path of least evil. Religion cannot understand that.
Every atheist philosopher I have debated has acknowledged this. For example, at Oxford University I debated Professor Jonathan Glover, the British philosopher and ethicist, who said: “Dennis started by saying that I hadn’t denied his central contention that if there isn’t a God, there is only subjective morality. And that’s absolutely true.”
And the eminent Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty admitted that for secular liberals such as himself, “there is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”
Atheists like Dawkins who refuse to acknowledge that without God there are only opinions about good and evil are not being intellectually honest.
Actually? They are only opinions.
Let’s take the current economic crisis. It was caused by unregulated mortgages and giving loans to people who frankly were liabilities.
BUT AVI! You say! These were poor people who needed help!
To which I say, yes. They needed help. Not stress. There were so many reasons for this sort of failure. Poverty? Poor Education? Greed? All of them played roles in this. But each person not only thought they were doing something “moral” but to them it was a sensible thing to do. Poor People Signed onto mortgages and credit cards and racked up debts they were never going to pay back to survive. Estate agents sold houses to these people knowing the mortgages would pay for it and mortgagers paid for these houses knowing they were going to make them securities and this was driving the market up.
I cannot ask you in an honest state of mind to let me operate a restaurant. I have none of the skills needed. My ENTIRE knowledge of the restaurant business comes from watching Gordon Ramsey yelll at hapless American owners. No sane bank would give me a loan for one because that is a liability.
Selling a 300,000 dollar house to a retired old lady or a single parent with a low income job is not helping, it is a con. And the Con effectively killed the global economy.
But at no stage can you say that someone was “Evil”. Oh we like waggling banners about fat cat bankers when we didn’t realise that we all played a part. The too good to be true loan and credit card? The purchases that we didn’t need and definitely couldn’t afford? No one likes being regarded as the villain and the rich bankers who were investing in these securities make a handy villain in this piece.
As for evil? People have died. People’s livelihoods has gone up in smoke. The economy has tanked so hard that we got whiplash.
A lot of what we consider evil is down to idiocy, ignorance, greed and thoughtlessness.
None of this means that only believers in God can be good or that atheists cannot be good. There are bad believers and there are good atheists. But this fact is irrelevant to whether good and evil are real.
The Bible EXPLICITLY states to own slaves. At no point does it say “Slavery Is Bad”. It is in the part of the book that Christians use to defend anti-abortion and anti-gay attacks. Either the book quite incorrectly thinks that slavery is acceptable or that good and evil over time has changed according to human understanding and debate of the issue.
To put this as clearly as possible: If there is no God who says, “Do not murder,” murder is not wrong. Many people or societies may agree that it is wrong. But so what? Morality does not derive from the opinion of the masses. If it did, then apartheid was right; murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was right; the history of slavery throughout the world was right; and clitoridectomies and honor killings are right in various Muslims societies.
Oh Deary Me.
God doesn’t say “Do Not Kill”, God says do not kill each other within this society. When it comes to other societies the Old Testament god is very very pro-murder. Genocidal in fact by his exhortations to wipe out other civilisations. And the idea that Slavery is Bad is explicitly a human ideal and not one from Prager’s god..
Morality derives from debate within society. Not by the majority but in general by people who had power.
In the old days it was the Kings and their Advisors. Today we elect our representatives and we regularly debate our topics weighing pros and cons and what effect they would have on society. The way we think has changed over the centuries with the way our knowledge has expanded and how we understand other cultures and people.
So, then, without God, why is murder wrong?
Is it, as Dawkins argues, because reason says so?
Because a society where murder is common is unstable and is incapable of working together as society is more interested in vendetta, violence and avoiding murder. Such a society is fragmented and incapable of trust and therefore incapable of working together.
The best technology comes from us working together. Even the basic and humble spear required a coordination of workforce and specialisation that would not occur if the society was more interested in screwing each individual within it over.
And such a “moral” society would be more effective at surviving.
My reason says murder is wrong, just as Dawkins’s reason does. But, again, so what? The pre-Christian Germanic tribes of Europe regarded the Church’s teaching that murder was wrong as preposterous. They reasoned that killing innocent people was acceptable and normal because the strong should do whatever they wanted.
The Germanic Tribes never had such a rule. You could kill someone within the confines of a duel as was the norm in many other parts of Christian culture but you could not simply attack random people. For starters? You would not have ANY of the support class of people who rarely get a shout out in history. Might makes right? Well big muscles are pretty useless without a Smith to make weapons. Or the farmer who grows crops. Or the many other jobs that need doing.
The Tribes of Germania may not have understood why they should give up their identity and consider each tribe as a unified force. But not because these tribes did not understand “No Murder”.
In addition, reason alone without God is pretty weak in leading to moral behavior. When self-interest and reason collide, reason usually loses. That’s why we have the word “rationalize” – to use reason to argue for what is wrong.
Yes, my example showed that reason took a back seat to immediate gratification in the USA.
BUT that’s why we have the goddamn law. The law’s job is to put reason before blind self gratification so that we have a fair society which works together.
And this is not artificial. The selfish tribesman may find himself getting killed or exiled to die for his selfishness, all we have done is extended that to anyone being selfish beyond reason.
What would reason argue to a non-Jew asked by Jews to hide them when the penalty for hiding a Jew was death? It would argue not to hide those Jews.
And many people did not hide Jews. Many hated them due to religious exhortations from Christianity and turned them in.
And many people simply did not want to get involved. They feared that their loved ones would be next and frankly? I understand their fear.
It is very very easy to sit in luxury and with the hindsight of foreknowledge and indeed our moral code to say “I would save the Jews who asked me for help”. Its another thing to do it and to die for your convictions.
In that regard, let’s go to the empirical argument.
Years ago, I interviewed Pearl and Sam Oliner, two professors of sociology at California State University at Humboldt and the authors of one of the most highly-regarded works on altruism, The Altruistic Personality. The book was the product of the Oliners’ lifetime of study of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.
The Oliners, it should be noted, are secular, not religious, Jews; they had no religious agenda.
I asked Samuel Oliner, “Knowing all you now know about who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, if you had to return as a Jew to Poland and you could knock on the door of only one person in the hope that they would rescue you, would you knock on the door of a Polish lawyer, a Polish doctor, a Polish artist or a Polish priest?”
Without hesitation, he said, “a Polish priest.” And his wife immediately added, “I would prefer a Polish nun.”
That alone should be enough to negate the pernicious nonsense that God is not only unnecessary for a moral world, but is detrimental to one.
You think the priest was god because of a god? Why didn’t this god save those who needed it? I mean the whole mess could be solved by Shiva proving hmself to the world and telling your lot to knock off that foolish carpenter god business and stop telling your kids to kill Elton John but sadly Shiva is awfully silent.
Oh you mean your god.
People’s perception of religious leaders is that they are inherently moral. If one put up Schindler as an example one could argue that even Nazis could be moral.
I know of a Polish Doctor who saved an unknown number of Jews. He had a tragic history, you see one day he was brought to the camp as a Jewish Doctor and was told to report to the clinic there.
The camp was Auschwitz and he was Dr. Mengele’s assistant. He couldn’t stop executions but he could get people to volunteer before they came for them for slave labour where they MAY survive. In that way he saved hundreds of Jews who were set to die. And he grew old hating himself because what he did was the path of least evil.
The fact of the matter is that the anti-Jewish sentiment would not have existed if not for the Catholic Church’s anti-Judiaic stance and the actions of Protestants who read Martin Luther’s ideas on Jews which shaped the Nazi party’s hatred of Jews and indeed anti-semite propoganda throughout Christianity.
But if that isn’t enough, how about the record of the godless 20th century, the cruelest, bloodiest, most murderous century on record? Every genocide of the last century – except for the Turkish mass murder of the Armenians and the Pakistani mass murder of Hindus in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was committed by a secular anti-Jewish and anti-Christian regime. And as the two exceptions were Muslim, they are not relevant to my argument. I am arguing for the God and Bible of Judeo-Christian religions.
Nazis were distinctly Christian, The Empire of the Rising Sun was not secular. The British Empire was very Christian as were the Italians, French and Belgians. Ah! You Mean Communism.
Well Communism’s atrocities would have occurred irrespective of religion since they were not driven by a lack of faith but by a will to seize and hold power. Stalin didn’t kill people because he liked it but because he feared revolution. Pol Pot killed people because he was an idiot and the same thing with Mao. Not because they were atheists but because they thought that university professors would make excellent farmers and farmers would make excellent steel workers which meant that farmers made useless pig iron and professors made a hash out of farming and everyone starved and wasted iron.
I figure Mr. Prager’s audience has a poor grasp of History otherwise such an argument would not hold water.
Perhaps the most powerful proof of the moral decay that follows the death of God is the Western university and its secular intellectuals. Their moral record has been loathsome. Nowhere were Stalin and Mao as venerated as they were at the most anti-religious and secular institutions in Western society, the universities. Nowhere in the West today is anti-Americanism and Israel-hatred as widespread as it is at universities. And Princeton University awarded its first tenured professorship in bioethics to Peter Singer, an atheist who has argued, among other things, that that “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee” and that bestiality is not immoral.
Of course we dislike the USA in our universities. Your prior government lied to ours and sent young men and women to their deaths for a fucking profit and then you proceeded to deregulate banking and purchase British Bank holdings in order to shovel increasing amounts of debt while fuelling a lifestylle for your richest at the cost of some of our poorest.
Oh Thank You America for Wrecking The World Economy Over Shameless Greed! We didn’t need all those young men and women anyways! They were just clogging up the room!
As for Israel? Israel should never have been created. We in effect utilised guilt over centuries of anti-semitism to punish a bunch of Arabs by stealing their land on the basis of historical ownership, then ghettoising them and forcing them to live in camps. To quote my old flatmate? Why should I want to go to Israel as a Jew? I am ashamed of it. Israel’s behaviour shows a complete lack of self awareness. It has learnt nothing and everything from the Holocaust.
I know Israel cannot go anywhere. I also know that neither is Palestine and the best option is actually force Israel to treat Palestine as a soverign nation and then sponsor Palestine till it’s the same technological level as Israel. So that Israel cannot invade it again. Or demilitarise both sides and have a permanent peacekeeping force.
Or Dissolve Both Countries and create a state of Phoenicia or something. This way everyone is happy except the arseholes who like war and those guys can go eat a hedgehog.
I disagree with Peter Singer but frankly he is a philosopher and philosophically speaking he is correct.
Philosophically speaking arrows never hit tortoises but reality says such a scenario ends up with tortoise shish kebabs.
And I am pretty sure Stalin was not into Animal Liberation. At no point did Stalin jail non-vegetarians.
Dawkins and his supporters have a right to their atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism.
I have debated the best known atheists, including the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss (“A Universe from Nothing”) and Daniel Dennett. Only Richard Dawkins has refused to come on my radio show.
Because you clearly don’t understand the topic. You clearly follow a history where you ignore all the horrid things done by Christians.
And while there is no intellectual dishonesty here we are aware that Prager is ignoring reality to push the notion that religious bigotry equals power mad dictators.