Introduction: Given the fact that some from our church attended a recent debate on the subject of the possibility of materialistic atheism providing a rational justification for holding to moral realism (i.e., objective morality), and given the fact that the "new atheists" are making their waves in America, I thought I'd briefly interact with some of the statements Richard Dawkins made in regard to his new book, The God Delusion. Dawkins has no qualm with aggressively attacking the various religions of the world, but he seems to take special pleasure in critiquing the Christian God. He states,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Dawkins also arrogantly states that he is “quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism” thereby showing his own “evangelistic” zeal for promoting atheism. And as to the fact that atheists shouldn’t make the logical blunder of positing a universally negative statement, Dawkins replies,
There's an infinite number of things that we can't disprove . . . You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it's wrong to say therefore we don't need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don't need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There's an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there's not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it.
Another evangelistic “new atheist” named Sam Harris, author of the popular book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason has recently written Letter to a Christian Nation wherein he seeks to provide a “how-to” manual for deprogramming religionists. He states in an interview with Gary Wolf,
We [non-believers] stand dumbstruck by you as well—by your denial of the tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.
He also stated that he would have religious faith replaced with the,
religion of reason. We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously—a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer . . . .
According to Harris’s interviewer, this "prayer" would be “. . . that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.”
Next, let’s take a look at how Dawkins philosophically hangs himself in the article Let's All Stop Beating Basil's Car where he says that punitive action on a criminal should be likened to beating and kicking a broken down car,
Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give "satisfaction' to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as "atonement' for "sin'.
Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.
Dawkins tightens his own noose further,
Concepts like blame and responsibility are bandied about freely where human wrongdoers are concerned. When a child robs an old lady, should we blame the child himself or his parents? Or his school? Negligent social workers? In a court of law, feeble-mindedness is an accepted defence, as is insanity. Diminished responsibility is argued by the defence lawyer, who may also try to absolve his client of blame by pointing to his unhappy childhood, abuse by his father, or even unpropitious genes (not, so far as I am aware, unpropitious planetary conjunctions, though it wouldn't surprise me).
But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?
Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.
So, in review we’ve seen the following:
- Dawkins thinks that the Christian God is a horrible monster.
- Taking punitive measures in correcting people is illogical despite the fact that we’ve been biologically pre-programmed to take such measures by “millennia of Darwinian evolution.”
- Religious faith is an “evil temptation” that must be resisted at all costs.
- Much of the violence in recorded history is religiously motivated.
- The only acceptable global religion for mankind must be rooted in an absolute reliance on materialism and the scientific method.
We’ll look at all five problems and provide brief critiques of each.
I. Dawkins thinks that the Christian God is a horrible monster.
The fact that Dawkins thinks that the Christian God is a horrible monster doesn’t do anything to call His existence into question. The fact that we personally dislike something does nothing to mitigate against the existence of said entity. Dawkins is merely showing forth his hatred of the Christian God through an emotional objection, a classic example of Argumentum Ad Populum. Dawkins must also provide his epistemological justification for deriding the Christian God in light of his materialism. I would be interested in seeing what he would do with the following syllogisms given the fact that, at least to the best of my knowledge, he believes that only particular, concrete, physical entities exist.
- Material things are extended in space.
- Objective moral laws are not extended in space.
- Therefore, objective moral laws are non-material.
- Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
- Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.
The above syllogism is very problematic for Dawkins as his only options for holding to objective moral norms would be to revert to some type of cultural or moral relativism, adopt some brand of pragmatism, or deny his materialism outright and adopt a Platonic version of atheism. Another helpful syllogism could be written as follows
1. Objective moral laws are universal entities that apply to all people, places,
2. Materialism holds that only particular entities have ontological existence.
3. No material thing is a universal entity.
4. Objective moral laws are not material things.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.
Given Dawkins’ assertion that the Christian God is immoral, one wonders how from an epistemological and metaphysical standpoint he is able to derive immaterial, universal, and objective moral standards by which he then uses to question the character of the Christian God. If all that exists are material, concrete, particular, physical entities, from whence comes good/evil, moral/amoral would transcend to us so that we can appreciate his sentiments as well? As one good friend has said, “the atheist seeks to defend the existence of an ‘only marble’ universe by appealing to non-marble entities.” Thus, Dawkins has to appeal in the very thing he denies in order to argue against the Christian God, namely, immaterial, abstract entities like universal moral norms.
II. Dawkins believes that taking punitive measures to correct criminals is illogical and that we do this because we’ve been biologically pre-programmed to do so by “millennia of Darwinian evolution.”
(1) If this is the case, then what objective basis does he have to condemn the actions of the Christian God? Maybe other cultures have not adopted the same morality as Dawkins. This then leads to the fact that (2) if we have been biologically preprogrammed, why try to convert anyone to atheism? If biochemical predestination is true, people have simply developed over eons of time to simply be like weeds in a garden, one weed grows one way (to have the cerebral ability to believe in the Christian God) and one grows another (does not have the cerebral ability to believe in the Christian God). Thus, we see Dawkins again contradicting himself.
III. Religious faith is an “evil temptation” that must be resisted at all costs.
At the back Sam Harris’ statement is the catchphrase idea that “faith precludes reason.” Of course, this is not how the Christian defines faith, and such claims are the rope that that the materialist uses to hang himself. How so? Here’s a typical definition of religious faith as utilized by many atheists: “Faith: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” So, if one has a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” then that person is “irrational”, “anti-reason”, and according to Harris, has succumbed to an “evil temptation.” Let's take a look at this claim:
(1) What about this belief itself? (i.e., the belief that having faith or belief in God does not rest on logical proof or material evidence and is an “evil temptation” that must be resisted.) Is the atheist’s belief that having faith is irrational itself “resting” upon “logical proof or material evidence?” If so, then it would be necessary for them to show the “logical proof" or relevant evidence. When they do, we will then press them about their new belief. That is, the belief that he has presented logical proof or material evidence to support his original claim and belief. Then, if he can supply said proof and evidence, we can push back again and again, until, lo and behold, the atheist is caught in a vicious infinite regress.
(2) If the atheist’s belief about the irrational nature of faith is not “resting” upon “logical proof and material evidence” then their belief in this definition is itself, irrational!
IV. Much of the violence in recorded history is religiously motivated.
(1) If this is true, it does nothing to disprove the existence of the Christian God as it is a circumstantial ad hominem attack, which is sometimes called the tu quoque fallacy. We could just as easily pull out examples of the millions of people killed under the atheistic regimes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung and so forth. Trying to show that one ought not believe in Christianity because of the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christ is irrelevant to the truth of the proposition in question. Thus, we would all do well to ask if the actions done in the name of any philosophical system or worldview are consistent with the principles of that self-same system. If not, then we cannot rightly deride that system because of the mistakes of the supposed followers of that system, for to do such would be to commit said fallacy.
V. The only acceptable global religion for mankind must be rooted in an absolute reliance on materialism and the scientific method.
Intelligent Christians have certainly never derided the use of the scientific method, as that very method has been developed through the hard work of hundreds of Christian scientists. However, we have a strong philosophical, theological, and rational basis for believing that the scientific method will work, namely, because the Creator God has ordained that the world shall operate with regularity on the basis of the laws of physics, biology, chemistry, and logic (cf. Gen. 8:22).
However, assuming materialism, we’ve already seen that we can’t make sense of the moral, logical, and scientific laws that govern the world because such cannot exist in a universe that consists only of physical entities. We also seen that the very idea of having a “global religion for mankind” rooted in materialism is the death knell of that same religion because you can’t have immaterial things like belief in things, laws of logic and natural law at all if all that exists are material entities. So, said aspirations on the part of Sam Harris cannot even get off the ground from a epistemological and metaphysical standpoint if he is to be consistent.
Conclusion: It appears that the “new atheists” want to have their philosophical cake and eat it too. As was said already, to do so, they have to justify their materialism by appealing to non-material things, thus undercutting the very thing they are trying to accomplish. Thus, the “new atheists” fail to account for moral law, logical law, and scientific law on the basis of their own beliefs. In other words, they show that their own worldview is impossible because upon its own standards it refutes itself. However, what should one expect given the fact that they’ve rejected the Lord of rationality? As Jesus said,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-- and great was its fall.”
*The floods of inconsistency slam against the philosophical house of atheism.*
 Italics mine for emphasis.
 For the uninitiated, the Platonic version of atheism essentially says that there is a immaterial “realm of ideas” wherein immaterial and abstract objective, unchanging, and universal laws, principles, and moral norms exist. Given the fact that this view of reality is philosophically/historically grounded in Plato, it is interesting to point out that his best student, Aristotle refuted him. Hence, using Aristotle’s arguments, one simply takes the non-revelatory Platonist back to philosophical materialism after a thorough-going refutation of his Platonism.
 In actuality, Christians believe that faith makes sense of reason and that faith must be present in order to reason at all.
 I question that it is. See http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v20/i3/blood.asp
 Ad hominem attack is when you attack the character of the person(s) making the argument rather than the argument itself. A circumstantial ad hominem is when you attack a person’s beliefs based upon the irrelevant circumstances that appear to be associated with said belief but really aren’t. Tu Quoque means “you’re another” or translated more loosely, “look who’s talking”.