Sunday, July 13, 2008

Did Bill Donohue answer Christopher Hitchens' Atheist Challenge?

I've been thinking about the PZ cracker abuse scandal and it occured to me that something said by Bill Donohue contained an answer to Christopher Hitchen's Atheist Challenge, and that challenge goes like this:

Here is my challenge. Let anyone name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

No nonbeliever would ever say what Bill Donohue said:

It is hard to think of anything more vile than to intentionally desecrate the Body of Christ.

And by "Body of Christ" Bill Donohue refers to a dry and tasteless cracker.

Is it a moral statement? When you call something vile or a hate crime you are making a moral statement. Would an atheist ever claim that abusing a cracker is the most vile thing he could think of? I don't think so.

Why don't Christians offer that as an example to prove Hitchens wrong?

When I take a look at those who actually try to answer Christopher Hitchens' Challenge they all fall into Hitchens' trap and try to make a moral argument that Hitchens would not consider insane and thus automatically make statements an atheist could make.

For example, College politico's "Christopher Hitchen's Atheist Challenge Answered" falls into the trap by saying:

How about: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

The "endowed by their Creator" line is completely unnecessary, and would actually have been counter productive if it wasn't slipped in there to placate the Christians of that time who were in fact somewhat inclined, if they supported the British King, to see God justifying the divine right of kings to take away, arbitrarily, people's Life and Liberty and to constrain their pursuit of Happiness.

If we remove those religious words we get: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are are born with certain equal and unalienable Rights and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." A statement which actually makes more sense than the original. However, it is not really a statement that captures the whole truth. The truth is more complicated. It is, as College politico notes, self evident that men are not born equal. We all have different levels of intellect and physical ability. I am not the mathematical equal of Stephen Hawking nor am I the physical equal of Mariusz Pudzianowski. However, those differences do not say anything about what rights I'm entitled to (if I'm a white male with land and money during the revolution).

College politico then makes a non-sequitur argument about looking at the difference between men and God to see that our differences are utterly superficial and claims that is the major logical linchpin of this argument. "With believe in a higher power comes the perspective necessary for each of us to see ourselves as neither intrinsically superior or inferior to one another." No, that is not a good argument because if there were a really smart God who could design this universe then also the differences between us and the animals we eat and keep on farms would be utterly superficial too. We're not going to give cows the same rights as men because of College politico's argument, are we? And if that were such an obvious, self-evident, argument, then why did the concept of the divine right of kings ever emerge in Christendom?

From there, College politico moves to utter bullshit arguments like the argument from blindness and incredulity:

... without a belief in a higher power it seems to me that it is impossible to justify any type of egalitarian society.

Just because College politico can't see the possibility only means he himself is blind to it. He is, at least aware, that he might only have blindness and incredulity going for him:

I just don't see any way for atheistic philosophy to logically refute the claims of the Nazis, Japanese empire, Eugenicists, or even Hunter's Civic Biology Book (from the scopes case).

Maybe I'm missing something... Perhaps someone can provide me with a sound logical justification for egalitarianism without the relying on belief in a higher power?

Yes, College politico, you are missing quite a lot. And all you have to do to find the secular motive is read the rest of the Declaration of Independence. Whether the secular argument can even be comprehended by him is another question because it was right there in front of his face when he took the quote from it because right after the quote comes this, a purely secular argument for independence:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The argument after the fuzzy absolutes of "Life, Liberty and pursuit of happiness" have much more weight and meaning when considering the philosophy of government actually adopted by the United States. For one thing, it's obviously true that we do not govern the United States according to any absolute reading of those few lines in the Declaration of Independence. If you look at how we depart from the absolute you can see what it really has come to mean, what it meant to the men who used it to start a revolution and how incredibly secular it is.

If we take away a person's life or liberty because they commit a crime we are saying that your rights to that life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are conditional. You only get them if you play by the rules we can enforce. Thus lines like: "laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." To protect our safety and happiness we will remove the life and liberty of some criminals.

In the context of the revolution it meant only those liberties the revolutionaries felt that the English King wasn't giving them. It is against that "long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism" where we find the liberty they sought.

It's a philosophy about what government is for and its a very secular philosophy that an atheist can easily ascribe to. Government isn't here for church and king it's there for its citizens, it's "we the people."

Also interesting is this statement from College politico:
... these inequalities have been used throughout history to justify things from slavery to genocide to segregation.

College politico doesn't seem to realize that the man who wrote those words, Thomas Jefferson, was himself a slave owner, or that genocide (of some of the native American Indians) and segregation (of Blacks and of the sexes) are part of American history long after those words were accepted as our declaration of independence. And we still today do not live by them in any absolute sense. If you commit murder, we claim the right to execute you still. If you commit a felony, your liberty can be taken from you and you'll go to prison. If your pursuit of happiness includes use of certain drugs, you can have your liberty taken from you.

And what does it mean that the president who is trashing our constitution also happens to be an out spoken Christian? Why will you Christians not own up to what appears to be completely insane about your morality?


JaaJoe said...

I must suggest to all Christians and Atheist to read this book "The End of Reason" by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This book forces the reader's mind to do the critical thinking that is so lacking in Christianity today. It should also be considered required reading for the atheist who has never really looked at a logical argument for the existence of God, or the Christian who has never really critically analyzed his own faith. Check out more information on The End of Reason here

normdoering said...

JaaJoe wrote:
"I must suggest to all Christians and Atheist to read this book "The End of Reason" by Dr. Ravi Zacharias."

Judging by the sample chapter here, I'm not impressed:

sapphoq said...

And it's from Zondervan Press to boot.

Norm Doering, what is with the "contents may be offensive" announcement before being permitted to read your blog?

Excellent posting by the way. I definitely appreciate your take on secularism.


normdoering said...

sapphoq asked:
"...what is with the "contents may be offensive" announcement before being permitted to read your blog?"

There is one earlier post here:
I've recently had a short story published, and there is picture of a cover of the magazine I had my story published in and that cover has full frontal nudity and a woman tied up against a wall with two guys with knife sticks approaching.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this posted or not since I received an error message. If not, I just wanted to say that you've given me something to ruminate on (and further avoid some work on my thesis) and I appreciate that

normdoering said...

tsugradstudent wrote: "I'm not sure if this posted or not..."

You're posted and thanks for letting me know I was of help.