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AgnostoLibertarianTechnoGeek

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Deconstructing religionist arguments

I came across this little piece of straw-man argumentation over on WorldNetDaily:

America's plight is rooted in a conflict of worldviews. One is the Christian worldview, based on creation, which teaches the primacy of the spirit and the worth and dignity of the individual, and which brought forth from the Word of God our national and personal freedoms.

The other is the secular humanist worldview, based on evolution. It teaches that there is no God; that everything can be explained through nature and that man himself is the supreme authority. In total opposition to the Christian worldview, the secular humanist worldview denies man a sense of purpose.

Let's do a little bit of deconstruction, shall we?

One [worldview] is the Christian..., based on creation...[t]he other is the secular humanist worldview, based on evolution.

Let's start with the statement that the two "worldviews" in opposition to one another are the "Christian" and the "secular humanist". It seems to me that this false dichotomy presents the reader with only two possible positions in which to view the world. Reading this description narrowly means the writer denies such worldviews as the other monotheistic religions, multitheistic religions, pantheistic religions, and so on. But that is little matter. The main distinction is that the "secular humanist worldview" is "based on evolution". It is "based" on nothing of the sort.

The "secular humanist worldview", if there is one, is based on reason and rationality. It is based on the assumption that our only way of understanding the world is through using our rational faculty. It is our rational faculty which led people to hypothesize (and to find overwhelming evidence for the hypothesis)
that life on earth developed through evolution by natural selection. To say that a worldview is "based on evolution" is to say that the holders of such a worldview have a morality which is somehow informed by or guided by evolution. This simple statement is a very subtle but very insidious slander.

It teaches that there is no God

While there are some (perhaps most) "secular humanists" who are also "strong" atheists (i.e., strong atheism holds the view that there is no god), there are also many who simply have no belief in a god or gods, or who choose not to let a belief in god rule their life's decisions. The very term "humanist" implies that such a
person holds human life and human values in higher esteem than what a god or gods purportedly instruct us to do. In and of itself, the term has little to say regarding a position on god, so it is most definitely false to say that "secular humanism... teaches that there is no God".

It teaches... that everything can be explained through nature

This is just a silly statement. Even if a god performs miracles, he performs them through the medium of nature. When the God of the Israelites parted the Red Sea through his spokesman Moses, he was working his changes on nature. Since humans live in nature, the only way to affect them is through nature.

But this is obviously not what the writer meant. I'm reasonbly sure that he meant that the "secular humanist worldview" believes that all events can be explained without resort to a supernatural cause. Of course he could have said that if that was what he meant, but I'll be generous in my understanding this time around. Using this reading, I think I'll have to say that this statement is pretty much the only thing that can be said consistently and comprehensively about "secular humanists". Their "belief" (if they have any -- it seems more of a "non-belief" to me) is that the world we see and experience is the only world that matters. It is the only one we can reasonably, reliably, and consistently base our lives upon.

It teaches... that man himself is the supreme authority.

The correct version of this statement would have several parts. The "Christian" worldview would teach that "God" is the supreme authority of... well, everything. The "secular humanist" worldview (interesting how "Christian" gets the respect of capitalization but "secular humanist" is denied such respect) teaches that there is no ultimate arbiter of morality other than humanity itself. The religious moralist would then hold up the "moral relativism" flag and say that those who don't derive their morals from a god believe that everything is permissible, which is an obvious falsehood. Even avowed atheists would hold certain standards of human morality as absolutes, regardless of the culture under consideration. I doubt that there are many "secular humanists" who would consider murder, torture, or rape as morally acceptable in any circumstances, in any culture. I'd imagine, conversely, that there are "Christian" folks who would find torture acceptable in some circumstances.

"Secular humanists'" authority for morality is much more complicated that the "Christians'". All Christians should supposedly be able to look to the bible to derive all of their moral guidance. However, this is the same bible in which a god did the following:

For example, God kills 70,000 innocent people because David ordered a census of the people (1 Chronicles 21). God also orders the destruction of 60 cities so that the Israelites can live there. He orders the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city, and the looting of all of value (Deuteronomy 3)... In total God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered.

...

The God of the Bible also allows slavery, including selling your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21:1-11), child abuse (Judges 11:29-40 and Isaiah 13:16), and bashing babies against rocks (Hosea 13:16 & Psalms 137:9).

These are acts attributed to the being to whom we are supposed to turn for all our moral instruction. Perhaps readers can see why certain humans turn in other directions for their morals.

[T]he secular humanist worldview denies man a sense of purpose.

This is the silliest of all the statements. To state implicitly that the only source of a "purpose" is the Christian god is an absurdity. Purpose can derive from many different sources.

I have no belief in any god or religion, but I certainly have a sense of purpose. However, my purpose is centered on this life on earth, on those within my life whom I love and who love me. No god could give me a higher purpose or calling than that.

I haven't even gone into the actual argument of the article itself, which was arguing that our country's founding father's beliefs about freedom came from a profound faith in Christianity. Amusingly, the author could not come up with a single statement from any of our country's founders, relying instead on documents like the Peace Treaty of 1783 between the U.S. and England, which contained explicitly Christian verbiage. Perhaps a more realistic analysis of such a document would indicate that this veribiage was inserted because England was an explicitly Christian country and required this verbiage. The document also refers to (although not quoted by the author of the article) the king of England as "defender of the faith", along with other honorifics. The only actual quotes from individuals referring to religion or Christianity with respect to America's greatness, come not from any of the founders, but rather from commenters much later in time.

On re-reading this article, I see that it is merely the introduction to a book by the same author, expanding on this whole topic. If this article is a clue to how forcefully the book's arguments will convince me, I believe I will pass.

WorldNetDaily, you seem to have some good positions regarding the proper function of government, but this is seeming more and more like a by-product of your overwhelmingly Christian-only worldview. As for myself, I find much more to my liking in the pages of Reason.

To paraphrase someone somewhere: you and I are both atheists. There are many gods which you do not believe in. I just happen to believe in one fewer god than you do.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Re: Rush at Jones Beach

Yeah, yeah, I know I didn't write up a review of the Rush show I saw at Jones Beach Theater. So sue me. I obviously haven't been blogging that much for a while...

The immorality and futility of voting

As per Bob Murphy, LewRockwell.com columnist:
In the long run, the only way to truly safeguard our freedom is to dismantle this horrible system of democracy, whereby murder and theft are considered legitimate so long as the person ordering them has been endorsed once every four years in a two-way race by at least 51% of the people who decide to go to the polls.