Friday, December 12, 2008
Culture Warrior Atheists
Not that I'm a fan of plopping nativity scenes down at Legislative buildings, and there's been plenty of critiques leveled at that expression of evangelicalism, I'm also not a fan of pompous atheists pretending they're so much more intellectually superior than everyone else. The above sign was placed by the Freedom From Religious Foundation. Their president is Dan Barker. I debated Barker. Most people - atheist and theist alike - don't think the debate showed off the superior intellectual skills allegedly possessed by atheists. Anyway, these kinds of stunts are just as silly - perhaps more so - as when theists do it. Plastering your car with Christian bumper stickers as a means of evangelism (as if fellow road travelers will be converted ex opere operato) looks just as silly as plastering your car with that fish-with-legs transitional fossil. Both sides imbue that American value of ubiquitous microwaving. Thinking hard is substituted for bumper sticker slogans. Make sure you offer your platitudes as a catchy jingle so as to get the consumers to buy your product or ideas. Cogent and rigorous argumentation is a faux pas. So both sides - atheists and Christians - have exhibited an anti-intellectual spirit. We should expect this with Christians given all that atheists have told us about religious adherents. We should expect those who "sacrifice reason for blind faith" to act in anti-intellectual ways. But what excuse does the atheist have? So, the "New Atheist," the "Village Atheist," the RRS, the FFR, etc., is just the other side of the anti-intellectual coin. I think this is because most of them are former fundies and have taken their confused view of Christianity - marketing Jesus for mass consumption in order to make it palpable to American consumerism - right on over to their atheism. They still read the Bible like their former fundie selves, and they still "preach" the good news of atheism, making it "culturally relevant," just as they preached (or were preached to) as fundies. They even use their own version of hell fire and brimstone preaching: "Religious adherents are going to destroy the world with nukes!! Repent and bow down to the goddess Reason, now!" But to argue for all of thiscultural analysis is beyond the scope of this post. All I aim to do here is look at the atheists' sign.
i) What is meant by "reason?" And, how can it "prevail?" Didn't Barker tell me in our debate that I "reified" logic? Talk about reification! Anyway, Barker thinks "reason" is the way your neurons fire. So, the opening of the sign should read: "At this season of the Winter Solstice may c-fibers fire in a prevailing way."
ii) Haven't these atheists excluded other atheists? The sign is a sign for strong atheism. How exclusive! Maybe weak atheists should complain to the Governor?
iii) Anyway, how can "reason" tell us something like this: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell?" How much would you have to know to know something like that? Has anyone ever proved such a strong claim? Indeed, it is an assault on "reason" and an expression of faith! So, the atheists who constructed the sign stuck their foot in their mouth within two sentences!
iv) The next statement is "There is only our natural world."
a) But then how is there "reason?" Does this happen in a physical brain? How so? A mind? How's that?
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil & bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting
Lizard's leg & howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.
Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1
The crone throws the wing of a bat and the eye of a newt into the cauldron, mixes it up, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial "protection" or "love" or "safe trip" or "powerful trouble" spell or charm.
Likewise, take the physicalist. That crone, Mammy Nature, mixes a few billions neurons, synapses, and some firing c-fibers, into that cauldron called your noggin, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial mind with beliefs and intentionality and thoughts.
When appeals to the "mustbebraindidit" argument are made, I'm going to point out that this has a name: The bat wing and eye of newt fallacy.
b) How are there any norms? What about "morality?" Didn't the naturalist J.L. Makcie teach us that, "If their were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38).
But this brings up another issue. Why object to the stealing of the sign as if it were really wrong (this really happened, apparently some Christians stole the sign. Perhaps they wouldn't have if they had placed a monument of the ten commandments at the Legislation building ;-). If the consistent answer as that which agrees with Mackie is given, how can you object to the stealing of the sign?
c) Has "reason" proved that "there is only the natural world?" Again, this is a metaphysical presupposition.
v) The last statement is that "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Again, talk about a "reification fallacy."
a) Of course, one wonders what is meant by "minds." And what does it mean to say one is "enslaved?"
b) And, does "myth and superstition" mean "not true?" One would assume so. But why think our minds are aimed at producing true beliefs?
"The idea that one species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just toward its own increated prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in moral compass--a conscience that swings free of both social history and individual luck." (Richard Rorty, "Untruth and Consequences," The New Republic, July 31, 1995, pp. 32-36.)
Or atheist Pat Churchland:
"Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival [Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."
Do these guys get to put a sign next to their atheist friends? Belief in naturalism and Darwinism may just be a "useful" myth that helps us survive. We don't believe it because it is true, rather, it has survival value - just like religous beliefs once had.
c) Of course, with these scientifically precise atheists, they must really mean that religion makes that muscle which pumps blood throughout the body, "hard." If not, so much for their critiques against the Bible when it uses phenomenological or metaphorical language.
d) Of course, there's nothing objectionable about "hard hearts" and "enslaved minds." It's not as if moral or epistemic norms are being violated.
So, not only have these atheists violated their own touted strengths, "protectors of Reason," they have made themselves just as forgettable, sad products of American consumerism as the theists they want to do battle with.