This is part two of my response to Voice in the Wilderness Ministries’ One Hundred questions to ask an atheist.
Last time, we explored evolution, cosmology, history, and theist lies. This time, the flavour turns towards morality, the concept of subjectivity, and failed logic.
Section 1: Logic
9. The real answer comes from the famous atheist Aldous Huxley, who speaks for all atheists (whether they like it or not) in this priceless quote,
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption … The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system, and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”
Firstly, this is not a question.
Secondly, no atheist speaks for all atheists, just as no Christian speaks for all Christians. Even more so for atheists, as there are no authorities in atheism, just as there are no authorities in “not believing in fairies”. It’s not even a group, just a definition.
Why the writer thought they could assert that anyone speaks for all of atheism (and especially adding whether we like it or not), I cannot fully explain, and I fear that, could I do so, I would expose the realm of the mind occupied only by lunatics and the wilfully ignorant.
Thirdly, this is not the full quote, which is:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.
The overlapping parts of the quote are quite close, with only minor differences. The excluded part of the quote begins after “our sexual freedom”.
Even entertaining the idea that this quote says anything about atheism or atheists is ludicrous. Suggesting it is purely an Appeal to Authority, whatever the quote says would prove or demonstrate nothing about the wider topic either way.
As it happens, I don’t think this quote is particularly damning of Huxley, who appears to be describing a moral rebellion, not an intellectual one.
10. Here is another invaluable insight on what can drive atheism. The question is, are atheists born, or do they evolve?
“A study was done a while back into all the famous atheists of history, Jean Paul Sartre, Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Madalyn Murray O’Hare, and every single one of them had something in common. They either lost their father when they were young, their father abandoned their family, or they had a terrible relationship with their father. That is very interesting because often these doubts aren’t really driven by intellectual questions; they are being driven by an emotional issue that really blocks them from wanting to relate to a heavenly father because they feel so abandoned, or cheated, or hurt by their earthly father.”
There’s no attribution for this quote, so it was probably never said.
I would request a citation for this “study” usually, but in this case, it’s easy to enough to rationalise either result and demonstrate that they would mean nothing.
I still doubt the existence of such a study until I see it though.
If the study indeed happened, and the quote indeed accurately describes a tendency, then the response is obvious: so what? A recent study found that the percentage of the world’s population who are convinced atheists is 11%, which is about 700 million. Do we think that ALL of them had daddy issues?
In terms of those prominent atheists of history, it’s most likely a Correlation Causation Fallacy, but even if it wasn’t, a study size of six people is too small for any meaningful results.
And again, of course, this is an Appeal to Authority, though not in quite the same way as the others.
11. You are walking along the beach. You see in the sand the words, “God loves you.” Could the waves rolling up on the beach cause that to happen by chance, or would it be far more rationale to believe that someone just came by with a stick (or a finger) and wrote that in the sand?
The universe isn’t a beach, it’s a universe. The two things are not analogous. This is a False Equivalence Fallacy, an Appeal to Incredulity, and an enormous Straw-Man fallacy, in addition to the Begging the Question Fallacy in asserting that everything that looks designed is designed.
Same for the argument about life being designed, too.
Even if evolution wasn’t proven, this reasoning would be unnecessary, but still fallacious. Since evolution is proven, it is not only unnecessary, but the intended argument is proven wrong.
12. You see the faces of four Presidents carved in solid rock on the top of Mt. Rushmore. You have two choices:
A. A scientist with a Ph.D. in geology tells you that this is the result of millions of years of erosion from the wind and the rain. The similarity to the presidents faces is coincidence.
B. A 16-year-old boy looks at it and says, that was obviously carved out by a gifted and very intelligent artist trained in the art of sculpting.
1. Which answer is more rational: chance or intelligent design?
2. What would you think of me if I denied the great works of art were created by the great masters, that they all happened by chance?
3. When you see a skyscraper like Sears Tower in Chicago, isn’t that empirical proof there was an designer and a builder, even though you’ve never seen him?
4. Think about what you are seeing in this picture. How does that logic not also apply to this system of sun, moon and stars?
5. Can you honestly say that you believe this system so vast, complex, and orderly could have made itself?
6. There are an estimated 100-400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. The entire galaxy of stars rotates at a speed that will allow them to complete one revolution every 250 million years. They all stay in place like a giant cosmic Ferris Wheel.
a. What causes that to happen? Why don’t they collide? How much power do you think is required to drive this system?
b. Does that look like an intelligent design / system to you?
c. The sun (a small star) consumes 400-700 billion tons of hydrogen per second. Multiply that by 100-400 billion (the number of stars in our galaxy, then by the trillions of other galaxies also revolving in place). Where did it all come from?
The universe is not Mt. Rushmore, and neither is life. This is exactly the same point as was being made by the last question, it just belabours it longer.
I’m not going to answer each individual point, because the same argument works against all of them: These things are not analogous, and evolution has been proven true.
Like the last question, this is a False Equivalence Fallacy, an Appeal to Incredulity, and an enormous Straw-Man fallacy.
By the end of this, perhaps we can collect all the logical fallacies and be chinpokomon champion.
Entering a new numbering scheme now, for some reason
At this point, the writer decided to enter a totally different numbering scheme, starting again from one, asking some pretty similar questions, all under the header:
Exposing the denial, the hypocrisy, the illogical and irrational “thinking “of atheists:
Class, I’d like to draw your attention to the projector.
So, let’s dig in…
1. The moral relativist (atheist) says, “Everything is relative; there are no absolutes.” Isn’t saying “All things are relative” an absolute statement?
Firstly, and most importantly, atheism is not a moral system. Atheism says nothing about morality, it is simply the lack of belief in any gods.
That said, since religions come pre-packaged with their own supposed moral systems (not really, but that’s a whole other discussion), and atheists do not follow religions (by definition), there has to be some moral system to replace religious systems for atheist people. Since atheists generally relish rationality and science, the moral system they tend to have is based on evidence and reason, and is usually some variant of Humanism. Note that this is not universal, but just a tendency.
I could go into more detail about humanism and morality in general, and perhaps I will in a later article. The explanation in the paragraph above does not delve below a certain depth of psychology, for simplicity; for that reason, some things said are not exactly how I would explain morality, if I was dedicating more space to that discussion.
The other facet of the question is about the statement “there are no absolutes”, and the idea that the sentence contradicts itself.
As it happens, I don’t agree with the statement, but I won’t get into solipsistic existentialism here.
Supposing I did agree with the statement, the response is simple: A sentence can be worded in an absolute sense without referring to real absolute things. For example: “Red is red”. That’s an absolute statement, but of course, “red” is an idea that requires a mind to exist, it’s also an English word, which requires the English language to exist, it also may be thought of slightly differently for everyone, and will certainly have different connotations between different people. “Red” is relative, just like every real thing in the universe, but that statement can still be worded absolutely without itself being an absolute thing.
If I were to be as picky as the writer is being by asking this question, I would simply say that “but a spoken statement is simply vibrations on the air. There is no statement, in an absolute sense, in fact, there isn’t even air…” and on I could go, tearing through the fabric of reality, leaving far far behind their crude misrepresentation of basic logic and language.
Essentially, this argument is an Ambiguity Fallacy. One more for the collection!
The funniest thing about this is that a god would not be absolute or objective, either. To posit such is to fully misunderstand basic logic.
2. Is that a contradiction? So then, that is a false statement. Isn’t that true?
It’s not a contradiction if you understand how language and logic work.
But I still don’t agree with the statement, so this is a moot point.
3. When you say, “It’s wrong for you to impose your morals on me,” aren’t you trying to impose your morals on me by saying that?
So, are you saying it’s wrong to impose morals on people? So why are you doing it?
Purely literally speaking, it’s true that that is an imposition of moral values. When you look any deeper than the most surface level, though, the problem becomes clear. This statement is simply a request to stop, worded in a non-ideal way.
I could still forgive someone for saying it though, since it’s not usually said as an attempt at an imposition, but as a promotion of an idea.
Your argument is the equivalent to saying that “You should try god!” is an imposition of religion on a person and is just as bad as forcing a person to be religious. It’s simply a recommendation or promotion of an idea, interpreting it purely literally for your own purposes does not change the intent of the words.
This is effectively another Ambiguity Fallacy.
4.How about this one, “There is no such thing as right or wrong.” Is that right or wrong?
Same point as the first question.
“Right” and “Wrong” do not exist intrinsically in any sense, they are valuations that exist in minds or other similar systems, and are subject to those minds.
A statement can be deemed right or wrong without “right” and “wrong” literally existing.
Another Ambiguity Fallacy.
5. Here’s another good one. “All truth is a matter of one’s own opinion, just like I prefer chocolate over vanilla.” That is subjective and appropriate for personal preferences like food. But that same rationale breaks down when applied to objective truth such as morality.
This is not a logical problem, it’s just a personal opinion, and is based on a Begging the Question Fallacy (circular logic), since you’re assuming that morality is objective, which is one of the points you’re trying to prove.
6. You cannot say, “That was a wonderful dinner party,” and in the same breath, speaking of Hitler’s murdering six million innocent people, say, “That was a wonderful holocaust. Let’s do it again soon!”
Are you trying to say that the holocaust was objectively bad, therefore it would be impossible to find it good?
I think there are some people who might disagree with you, many of them were around about 70 years ago, and some, unfortunately, exist today.
By raising the point of the holocaust, you’ve handed me this point. Hitler thought the holocaust was a good idea, or he wouldn’t have done it. It’s the vast majority opinion of anyone who knows about the holocaust that it was not a good thing.
The fact that you would get some horrified looks for saying that does not mean it is impossible to say, even impossible to believe honestly.
This isn’t even an argument, it’s just literally and figuratively incorrect. It’s an Appeal to Populatity, since it appeals to the fact that most agree the holocaust was bad.
Disclaimer for quote-mining idiots: I do condemn the holocaust.
How does a moral relativist deal with an act as evil as the holocaust? They land troops in Normandy and push towards Berlin until the war is over.
7. The relativist would argue, “Everybody can believe whatever he wants!” Why then are they trying to get us to believe what they want?
This is a purely political objection. If you feel marginalised by non-religious people, the place to complain about it is not in the “LOGIC” section of an article criticising atheism. Lack of belief in gods, and openly-relative morality are not the same thing.
You honestly can believe what you want, that’s what secular means.
If you feel pressured into changing by a society which disagrees with you more and more every day, that’s a personal emotional problem and not a matter for a debate.
8. The relativist claims that everyone should be free to do whatever he pleases. Ask that same person how he feels if someone cuts in line in front of him.
A moral relativist would (or should) not say this, and I certainly never would.
People should not be allowed to murder, rape, own slaves, among many any other things (note: the Bible only condemns one of those three!)
The way to deal with people who do these things is at the least segregation by means of a prison, or something similar. Rehabilitation should be a goal, but not expected to be possible for everyone. A fair and impartial courts system ensures that dangerous actions are not tolerated, but that false convictions are kept to a minimum. It’s the best we have, even if a god exists.
So, this statement is just a flat-out misrepresentation of the moral relativist’s position, otherwise known as a Straw-man argument.
9. Suppose the relativist comes home to find his home has been burglarized, his wife and children have been beaten, raped, and then murdered. Do you think you would hear, “Oh well, who am I to impose my views on this person? Tolerance is what we need here. His views on robbery, rape, and murder are just as valid as mine?”
You are confusing “relative morality” with “no morality”.
Relative morality does not mean that we accept everyone’s moral view, it means that we each have our own moral view. That’s why some people bomb abortion clinics, even though the people in the clinic don’t want them to.
Indeed, the survivor may come to forgive the perpetrator, but humans have emotions, and such a devastating event could hardly be taken in one’s stride.
The way we deal with impasses like this situation is a specialised group of people, trained to deal with such situations. We call them “police”. We don’t arrest and incarcerate people because what they do is morally wrong, we do so because what they do is dangerous and not conducive to a functioning society. The justice system is not perfect, but it’s by far the best we’ve got.
There was no reason to use such an explicit example as demonstration, and there was no need for Phil Robertson to do so either.
This is another seemingly deliberate lack of comprehension about the subject you’re discussing. Straw-man Fallacy.
10. How about philosophers who read books that say life has no meaning. Are these books meaningful?
Even if we take this sentence at face value without exploring the flawed assumptions it makes, the supposed books were referring to life, not those books. Immediately your question just doesn’t make any sense. Here’s a simplified example:
“Fishcakes have no meaning!” “So does that mean that the Sombrero Galaxy has no meaning?”
‘Meaning’ exists in minds, and is not inherent to the universe, by definition. ‘Meaning’ is necessarily subjective. Even if a god existed, its perception of meaning would be its, different from everyone else’s.
You’re also committing the Ambiguity Fallacy by conflating two different senses of the word ‘meaning’. The first being an intended message, the second being an intended purpose.
11. How can college professors tell their students, “There are no absolutes when it comes to right and wrong,” and then turn around and grade their papers? Whose standard will they use to determine my grade, his or mine?
Another Ambiguity Fallacy, since you’re using “right and wrong” in the moral sense in the first use, then in the accuracy sense in the second use.
It’s the difference between ‘Moral’ and ‘Correct’, or the negation of both.
If you had meant “Correct or Incorrect” in your first use, the question would make more sense, but no-one’s likely to say that, unless they are discussing solipsism.
What the question is floundering and failing to ask is “how can something be deemed correct or incorrect if there’s no absolute standard?” We don’t need an absolute standard, because we’re not asking for absolutely correct answers, we’re asking for answers which match reality, which is necessarily relative.
12. If there is no such thing as absolute moral truth, would you mind if your spouse was relatively faithful?
Another Ambiguity Fallacy.
‘Relatively’ in common use means ‘approximately’, or ‘somewhat’, which in this example necessitates that there be some unfaithfulness.
That’s completely separate from the use of ‘relative’ in ‘relative morality’.
The only problem this poses to it’s intended target is derived from the fact that the word ‘relatively’ is used. If the word ‘somewhat’ was used instead, it would still have no bearing on moral relativism, but would then be shown to be the nonsensical question it really is.
13. Would it bother you if your bank statements were relatively accurate?
Exactly the same problem as the previous question, with the extra added problem that this isn’t a moral issue at all. Not only does it have nothing to do with moral relativism, but it also has nothing to do with morality.
I would be upset if the bank statements were inaccurate, which is the question you’re asking, but it’s not the one you want me to answer. Too bad for you.
End of part 2
Believe it or not, this part was longer than part 1, it was just not as interesting or varied because the questions were awful.
Strangely, most of the questions I’ve tackled in this part have been morality issues, but we’re still in the logic section. Shows you what theists know about logic. The next section is in fact morality, so as to be expected, there’s even less logic involved there than in the logic section.
Thanks for reading.