Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dimestore atheist

I'm afraid this post will be a bit repetitious. That's because many atheists never learn:
The tactic cites cruelties, horrors, and absurdities ostensibly ordered or endorsed by scripture, thereby undermining its claims of divine provenance. One rhetorical advantage of the tactic is that it immediately puts believers on the defensive and presents them with a dilemma: Either bite the bullet and admit that scripture really does say such things, or reinterpret the passages as metaphorical, allegorical, hyperbolic, or as simply misunderstood by the objector.
Either alternative presents problems. Biting the bullet may be courageous but will probably lead the freethinker to see the point as conceded. 

What point has been conceded? That "scripture really does say such things"? Or that such things are "absurdities"? Parsons repeatedly confuses two fundamentally distinct issues:

What does the Bible teach? Is it wrong? 

He constantly smuggles his evaluation into this description, but that's fallacious. You'd think a philosophy prof. with two earned doctorates would be able to distinguish descriptive claims from normative claims. But Parsons evidently lacks the intellectual aptitude to draw that elementary categorical distinction. 

A common riposte to the citer of scriptural embarrassments is that he is playing the “village atheist.”

Notice, once again, how he skews the question by stipulating that these are scriptural "embarrassments." He constantly builds his tendentious assessment into the way he frames the (alleged) dilemma. But whether or not the offending passages are "absurd" or "embarrassing" is the very issue in dispute. Why does a philosopher prof. chronically commit these logical blunders? 

What is a “village atheist?” I take this epithet as implying that the objector is like the old-time purveyor of cracker-barrel skepticism who enjoys needling his pious neighbors with clever but unsophisticated objections to popular belief. 

True so far, but the epithetic has a more specific target.

So, does it mark you as a “village atheist” if you cite ostensibly abominable passages of scripture as evidence against their divine provenance?

Yes, that marks you as a village atheist inasmuch as quoting scripture is not an argument for your characterization of said scripture as "ostensibly abominable." Hence, that doesn't count as evidence against their divine provenance. 

Parsons keeps swinging and keeps missing. He's utterly clueless.

I also make a moral judgment based on my understanding that the passage commands genocide…

The passage obviously doesn't command "genocide." For one thing, the Amalekites aren't subject to execution due to their "race" or ethnicity. In addition, it only applies to occupants of the Holy Land. If they self-evacuate, they will not be pursued outside the borders of the Holy Land. So there's no command to stamp a particular ethnic group out of existence.

This is bad. I think that any morally decent person would say that if anything is bad, genocide is bad. 

This is where he displays his full credentials as a village atheist. He begs the very question at issue. And, ironically, he begs the question, not merely on Christian grounds, but secular grounds.

Many secular philosophers reject moral realism. Parsons offers no counterargument.

Moreover, even if atheism could somehow underwrite moral realism, he hasn't shown why it's wrong to treat human organisms as Scripture commands. Given that humans are merely ephemeral, fortuitous clusters of particles, why assume there's a right and wrong way to treat them? 

The structure of the reasoning of the above argument is this: 
1) Prima facie, this scriptural passage appears to endorse X. 
2) As every morally decent person admits, X is bad. 
3) Therefore, this scripture seems to endorse bad things. 
4) Therefore, this scripture does endorse bad things. 
Is this reasoning superficial and shallow, a typical product of a “village atheist” mentality?


1) Biting the bullet is brave but not too smart. To defend the passage you would have to argue that genocide is good in some cases. Like when?

Like in the cases given in Scripture. Next question?

That the victims of genocide are uniformly evil is always the justification claimed by their murderers, and it is always a notorious lie.

To begin with, some people really are evil. Moreover, you can have situations where, say, one country threatens another country for no good reason. Even if everybody in the belligerent country isn't evil, the action of the aggressor is evil, and in order to repel the aggressor, the innocent minority will suffer. For better or worse, that's the nature of collective action. Ultimately, only God can sort it out.

Perhaps, mirabile dictu, apologists will, after all, have adequate justifications for such passages, and not simply tie themselves into mental and moral knots in the attempt. However, the critic may be excused for not holding his breath until such putative justifications emerge. After all, on far too many occasions we have all heard the sophistries of casuists as they attempt to defend the manifestly indefensible.

i) To begin with, that's a backdoor admission that he hasn't bothered to acquaint himself with the relevant literature.

ii) And, once more, his parting line ("manifestly indefensible") asserts the very thing he needs to establish in the first place. For some odd reason, it doesn't occur to him that he shoulders a burden of proof. He doesn't even seem to be familiar with how many of his fellow atheists argue for moral relativism or moral nihilism. Not to mention what human begins are, given physicalism, naturalistic evolution, &c. He keeps taking key intellectual shortcuts. 


  1. I've come to realize that "freethinker" when applied to anti-theists is shorthand for "free [from logic] thinker".

    It's manifest that apart from God's redeeming grace men are truly intellectually depraved, and abide under judicially imposed mental futility. Very sad.

  2. Steve, it's so good to see you interact with atheists like Parsons. By God's providence, your learning and ability seem to make you uniquely positioned to do so.

    I've seen John Loftus, Hemant Mehta and other atheists gleefully quote Josh McDowell's following statement:

    "The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have... whether you like it or not. Which is why the number of Christian youth who believe in the fundamentals of Christianity is decreasing...I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that's exactly what has happened. It's like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there... This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism."

    I agree with McDowell that because of the internet we're at a crucial time in Church history. Just as the printing press made the Reformation possible for Martin Luther but not for John Wycliffe who lived before its invention.

    Though the following is a false Luther quote, the statement itself is true:

    If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

    The approximately 50 year Arian Ascendency between Nicaea I and Constantinople I may have lasted much, much longer if folks like Athanasius didn't rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, he was among the very few who vigorously did so. But because of it he's forever remembered and immortalized in the phrase Athanasius Contra Mundum.

    May God raise up more Athanasiuses to refute atheism and prevent a Secular Dark Ages from occurring.