Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Secular shark bait

A couple of unbelievers have responded to my Benatar post.

Before I offer a direct reply, I’d just note that both the anonymous commenter and Loftus are attempting to change the subject.

I posted a couple of reviews of book by David Benatar. This is a book which was recently published by one of the premier academic publishing houses in the world.

Here is a little bit more about Benatar:

“David Benatar PhD is Associate Professor in the UCT Department of Philosophy. He has been actively involved with developing and teaching medical ethics in Cape Town, in close collaboration with Professor S Benatar, since these activities were initiated in the 1980s. He is the editor of an anthology on 'Ethics for Everyday' published by McGraw Hill in 2001.”

And who is the other Benatar?

“Program Director - Solomon R Benatar MB ChB, FFA, FRCP, FACP (Hon) was Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Chief Physician at Groote Schuur Hospital from 1980-1999. He has been an invited teacher at many medical schools world-wide. During the past decade he has led the University of Cape Town's Centre for Bioethics, as its founding Director. He is an elected Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (1989), and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, Medecins Sans Frontiers and the HIV Prevention Trials Network He is Visiting Professor in Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto (1999-). He is Chairman of the South African National Research Ethics Committee, and President of the International Association of Bioethics.”

Other faculty include:


Associate Director - Theodore E Fleischer JD, LL.M had an extensive career in law in the USA. As a practising attorney, he engaged in a wide variety of legal and government activities, including representation of the Alaska State Legislature and other State and local government agencies. He undertook two years of graduate study (1995-97) at the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law and the Law Faculty at McGill University, where he obtained the LL.M with specialization in Bioethics. He then spent two years as a fellow (later senior fellow) at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. In 1999 he became a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town Bioethics Centre. He taught, and supervised student dissertations, in the UCT MPhil in Bioethics program, and also developed and teaches a course in Law and Medicine at the UCT Law Faculty.

Bernard Dickens PhD, LL.D is Professor, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine, Centre of Criminology, Institute of Medical Science, and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto and Adjunct Professor of Law, School of Public Health, Columbia University. He taught at the Law Society' school, The College of Law, in London, England until 1974 when he left to join the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. He was research Professor there until 1980 when he took up his present position. He was a founder member of the University's Joint Centre for Bioethics, and continues to teach at the University's law school, medical school and bioethics centre. He chaired the Medical Research Council of Canada Committee of Ethics' Workshop Group to develop the MRC's 1987 Research Ethics Guidelines, and was a member of the Tri-Council Working Group developing the 1998 Tri-Council Policy Statement in research ethics. He was also a founder member and, from 1995 to 1999, Chair of the Research Ethics Board of the National Research Council of Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (London) and, since 1998, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Lesley Henley PhD, MPhil Bioethics (UCT) is Senior Lecturer in the School of Child and Adolescent Health at UCT. She has supervised students' research dissertations in the fields of nursing science, occupational therapy, and pediatrics and child health: dissertations with a specific bioethics focus that she has supervised include "Professional nurses' perceptions at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital concerning ethics and ethical dilemmas' (1996) and "The impact of HIV/AIDS on nursing staff as caregivers in a pediatric hospital' (ongoing). She has significant publications in bioethics and serves on the Research Ethics Committee in the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT and on the Research Committee of the Institute of Child Health in the School of Child and Adolescent Health, UCT. She is a Consultant to the Ethics Institute of South Africa.

Willlem A Landman, DPhil, B Proc is currently Chief Executive Officer, Ethics Institute of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa (since 2000) and Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. He was Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of the Western Cape, South Africa from 1986-1995, Full Professor with tenure, Department of Medical Humanities, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA from 1995-2000. He is Co-editor and co-founder of the international bioethics journal Developing World Bioethics. He has been on the Editorial Board of the South African Journal of Philosophy, since 1994. He has had extensive experience teaching bioethics to medical students and PhD research students in the medical sciences.

Paul Roux MD, M Phil Bioethics is Senior Lecturer, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, Senior Pediatrician and Head of Pediatric HIV/AIDS service, Groote Schuur Hospital. He teaches Pediatrics at undergraduate and post-graduate level and supervisors post-graduate research students. He also works on Community information and liaison projects on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His community activities include the development and management of Pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic at Groote Schuur hospital and the creation of the Kidzpositive Family Fund for support of families affected by HIV/AIDS. ( He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Hastings Center, and he is collaborating with Angela Wasunna and Daniel Callahan on a project relating to 'Ethical and Legal issues relating to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa' (June 2001).

Peter A. Singer, MD, MPH, FRCPC is the Sun Life Chair in Bioethics, Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics and Director of the Canadian Program on Genomics and Global Health. He is also Professor of Medicine at Toronto Western Hospital. He studied internal medicine at the University of Toronto, medical ethics at the University of Chicago, and clinical epidemiology at Yale University. He is a Medical Research Council of Canada Scientist, and an Associate Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal . He led the development of the CMAJ "Bioethics for clinicians" series, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada "Bioethics Education Project", and the "Ethics OSCE." He is a member of the ethics committee of the British Medical Journal, and Director of a WHO Collaborating Centre for Bioethics.


So Benatar isn’t just some flaky academic writing a flaky book on secular ethics. No, he’s on the faculty of The University of Cape Town Centre for Bioethics.

This is an institution which is teaching medical ethics to future physicians, nurses, and lawmakers.

Would you want to be treated, or have one of your family members treated, by a surgeon, nurse, or child psychologist or pediatrician who shared Benatar’s outlook on the value of human existence?

Would you want to see his outlook enacted into law? Become public policy?

Remember, this isn’t just a hypothetical. These are real world examples. That’s the mission of IRENSA.

And the faculty is very well connected. This isn’t just a South African thing. It’s international. And it’s political.

Again, I’m not saying that every faculty member shares Benatar’s philosophy. But his philosophy is clearly compatible with the objectives of IRENSA.

And he’s collaborated with Program Director.

Now, I don’t mind if secular commenters want to pose the same questions for the Christian.

But don’t use that as an excuse to shirk your own responsibilities in answering these same questions as well.

Benatar is merely taking an atheistic worldview to a logical extreme.

Except for a one-sentence intro, I didn’t comment on Benatar’s position. Rather, I simply posted a couple of reviews.

At one level, it requires no comment. It speaks for itself. This is the logical alternative to Christian anthropology and Christian ethics.

And I think it’s a public service to simply put this in the public domain so that everyone can see it for what it is.

There are basically two versions of humanism. There’s the hortatory, starry-eyed version promoted by the likes of Carl Sagan, Jacob Bronowsky, and Paul Kurtz.

This is the version which is put out for public consumption. It’s a softening-up exercise. It advertises atheism as a liberating force. It frees humanity from the shackles of superstition and oppression. Hallmark card humanism.

It’s a throwback to European anticlericalism.

After this advertising campaign has lowered popular resistance to atheism—especially among the elite policymakers—we are then treated to the utterly grim reality.

Moving along:


In all seriousness, I fail to see how the Christian philosophy doesn't bring you to question bringing a child into this world more than I will question doing so: while I may, in fact, have a child with a finite life that may or may not be miserable and may or may not have cosmic "meaning" (as if "meaning's" existence is metaphysically objective), you may bring a child into existence which faces an infinite misery and whose "meaning" is to be consigned as a "vessel fit for destruction" and cast into hell.

How can you feel comforted at that thought? "Oh well, God chooses who He will?"


Several issues:

i) The word “child” is ambiguous, and it triggers different associations depending on which definition is in play.

a) A child may denote a young boy or girl.

b) A child may denote an adult descendant.

I don’t feel the same way about (i) as I do about (ii).

We are instinctively protective of young children, although the Singers and Benatars of the world are trying to erode that God-given instinct.

But the status of grownups or adult “children” is a good deal more complex.

ii) Suppose my son grows up to be a serial killer. How will I feel? I will feel conflicted, ambivalent.

iii) There are some parents who completely identify with their own kids. Their children can do no wrong.

If they discover that their son is a serial killer, they will cover for him. Buy him a plane ticket to a country without an extradition treaty. Send him a monthly stipend so that he can live in style. Anything for their boy.

At an emotional level, that may be understandable—but it is also deeply immoral.

iv) Apropos (iii), it’s a mistake to confuse sympathy with morality.

Although Moltmann would disagree, the fact is that sympathy or empathy is, strictly speaking, a human trait rather than a divine attribute.

In the nature of the case, you have to be the same kind of being, or sufficiently alike, to analogize or project from your experience to the other.

And there is often a conflict between empathy and justice.

Suppose my best friend from high school becomes a compulsive gambler or junkie. And suppose, due to his addiction, he robs me in order to support his habit.

Now, he’s guilty on two counts:

a) He’s blamable for becoming a compulsive gambler or junkie or porn addict, even though he may now be unable to kick the habit.

b) He’s also blamable for ripping me off. That’s theft. And stealing from a friend makes it worse.

And yet, I can’t help but sympathize with his plight. It’s a terrible thing to be sucked into vortex of self-destruction. It’s even more terrible when you know the consequences of your actions, but lack the willpower to resist the downward spiral.

One would be inhumane not to feel for someone in that condition—especially a friend or family member.

So I may forgive my friend, despite the injustice he’s done me. I may try my best to reclaim him, even though, in so doing, that gives him yet another opportunity to wrong me.

But God is not a man, and while empathy may be, up to a point, a human virtue, it is not a divine virtue. It is not even a divine attribute.

To be sure, God is often merciful, but that is not because he is literally sympathetic with our sorry situation. God doesn’t feel our pain. He knows our pain, but he doesn’t feel our pain.

By contrast, justice is a divine attribute. A judge whose heart goes out to the perpetrator at the expense of the victim is an unjust judge.

What is a virtue in a parent may be a vice in a judge. Emotional detachment is a virtue in a judge.

That’s why it’s best to assign the adjudication of justice to a disinterested third-party.

A judge who’s own son is arraigned in his own courtroom should recuse himself.

“Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘you'll wish you were never born?”"

i) As a matter of fact, the Bible admits that it would be better if some people were never born (Mt 18:6; 26:24).

However, Loftus’ objection is predicated on a couple of key equivocations.

ii) Better for whom?

Suppose a serial killer contracts terminal cancer. The cancer isn’t better for him, from his viewpoint, but it’s better for his prospective victims.

Cancer doesn’t do him any good, but it does his prospective victims a world of good, for he will die before he can kill again.

iii) Benatar’s position is that it would be better for everyone concerned if no one was born.

That is quite different than saying that it would be better for some people if they were never born.

For example, it would be better if some people never married. Or if they never married their particular spouse.

Does this justify the general inference that unless everyone has a happy marriage, no one should have a happy marriage?

We should deny everyone the opportunity to be happy unless, in fact, everyone is happy?

Maybe Loftus has such a sour outlook on life that he actually believes that. Consistent atheism can take an emotional toll. Embitter you to every natural good.

iv) But notice that Loftus and Benatar are presuming to speak for everyone. Yet it’s obvious that most folks, including most unbelievers, don’t feel that way—otherwise they’d commit suicide.

It’s pretty easy to kill yourself. There are many ways to do it. Some are fairly painless.

But most folks, including most unbelievers, don’t take their own lives. So they don’t feel that it was better never to be born.

To the contrary, many or most unbelievers fear death. They regret that this will come to an end. That they won’t get a chance to learn from their mistakes.

“This is what I'm referring to, and all you can do is to joke about it.”

Actually, they’ve been joking about you, John. You’re the joke.

“Because you can't face the problem head on for what it really is.”

I have written quite a lot about the problem of evil, and the argument from evil, and the doctrine of hell.

And David Wood has a blog exclusively devoted to that subject. He’s also debated the issue with Loftus.

So both of us regularly face the objections head on.

“Face the problem head on. There are people according to YOUR own theology who wish they had never been born.”

That’s irrelevant. The question at issue is not whether some people feel that way.

Rather, the question at issue is whether it is unjust to bring anyone into the world because some fraction of the total feels that way about their fate.

To revert to my earlier example, a serial killer will regret that he came down with terminal cancer.

But I don’t share his regret. The fact that he feels that way doesn’t mean that I feel the same way for him. To the contrary, if a serial killer dies of cancer, I celebrate.

“Stop joking about thie real situation from the standpoint of siler spoon in your mouths.”

“Silver spoon?” It’s not as if unbelievers hold the patent on suffering or personal tragedy.

We live in the very same world you do. We’re exposed to the very same calamities. We simply respond differently.

“You actually make me sick.”

“Bottom tier buddy. Sorry. But that conclusion is inescapable.”

Loftus still doesn’t get it. He is merely flirting with unbelief. But he’s the one who can’t face the consequences of atheism head-on.

He constantly uses emotive language to shame his opponents into submission.

But atheism takes the sting out of shame. The rhetoric of shame loses its bite if you take atheism seriously.

And it also loses its bite of Christianity is true.

As I’ve said before, the atheist is gambling with Confederate currency. If he wins, he wins nothing of value—and if he loses, he loses nothing of value (from his perspective).

It’s a high stakes game with worthless money. If you win the bet, you lose by winning—and if you lose the bet, you lose by winning. Either way you lose.

And that isn’t merely my own opinion. Benatar clearly thinks that everyone loses out, merely be being born. Not just some people—but everyone without exception.

Atheism is a philosophy for losers. Welcome to The Losers Club.

Whether you’re on the upper deck or lower deck of the Titanic, you’re all headed down to the bottom of the sea. Secular shark bait.


  1. Atheism is a philosophy for losers. Welcome to The Losers Club.

    Since when is atheism a philosophy?

  2. Let's not poke fun at Loftus anymore. As you can see from his most recent post on his blog, he's quite sensitive to such poking. As such, when he comes on here and calls everyone idiots and morons, let's remember that our friend is delicate on the inside.

  3. Steve,

    I'm anonymous...that anonymous.

    I don't think you really dealt with my question. I don't agree with the view of the author that life is without meaning or value, or that harm outweighs good. However, even if I did, I fail to see how incorporating the Xian view of the afterlife assuages my anguish, given that it adds little hope.

    It only adds a probabilistic factor -- my child may go to hell, or may go to heaven.

    How does this probability help you? It doesn't.

    The value/meaning of life are thus not created or augmented by this probabilistic enigma.

  4. Aaron Kinney said...

    "Since when is atheism a philosophy?"

    The Philosophy of Atheism
    by Emma Goldman

    Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion by Rob Le Poidevin

    The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
    by Michael Martin

  5. Anonymous said:

    I fail to see how incorporating the Xian view of the afterlife assuages my anguish, given that it adds little hope.

    The value/meaning of life are thus not created or augmented by this probabilistic enigma.


    Two problems:

    1. You are confusing value/meaning with emotion/feeling.

    These are hardly interchangeable.

    2. How Christians feel here below, and how they will feel in the hereafter, are hardly interchangeable either.

  6. Does Kinney feel stupid?

    Strange that he keeps poking his head out of the ground after people like Hays, Manata, White, etc., have embarrassed him to no end....

  7. Steve,

    Would, or would not, being a Christian ameliorate the author's expressed worries about bringing a creature into this world which will experience more bad than good, more pain than pleasure? That's all I am asking.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Would, or would not, being a Christian ameliorate the author's expressed worries about bringing a creature into this world which will experience more bad than good, more pain than pleasure? That's all I am asking.


    A Christian isn't responsible for the outcome. It's ultimately God who brings a child into the world, his world, via a human couple. We leave the outcome in God's hands.

  9. It's rather absurd to say that I should deny others the opportunity for having a good life out of fear that some will abuse the opportunity. I'm denying a good to everyone because some might misuse it and bring misery on themselves.

    If I have a grown child, and he messes up his life, that's his responsibility, not mine. I may grieve over his poor choices, but that shouldn't cause me to prevent others from sharing in the potential joys of living.

  10. God decides? If you're saying that your choice to have sexual union is pre-determined, and that the physics involved are magical, then I have little to say in response.

    It's more absurd to think that you're doing something wrong by "denying" a non-existent and non-cognizant entity the opportunity to exist, especially if there is a probability attached to that existence that it will be overall more harmful than good [i.e., hell].