Again, this has no significance regarding the fact of Godís existence or non-existence, it is simply intended to pressure the non-atheist to accept the opinion of the elite academy members in lieu of his own. Harris might as
meaningfully report that 84 percent of the academy prefers the color blue. Dawkins puts even greater weight behind this argument, spending four pages citing everything from the National Academy of Science members, a survey of the Royal Society, the negative correlation of religion with education, and Mensa meta-studies.2
The third variant, of course, is the invocation of famous atheist scientists such as Albert Einstein, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins.
THE ARGUMENT FROM LACK OF EVIDENCE
This argument is particularly superficial, given the obvious impossibility of personally examining all of the evidence relevant to the matter and the equally obvious reality that every individual unquestioningly accepts information without demanding supporting evidence every single day. Daniel Dennett observes that the division of labor is applauded when it comes to the delegation of decision-making in everything from science and politics to legal and medical issues, to which I add that most of this delegation is based on an unquestioning faith in the authority to which the decision is delegated.
No normal individual actually examines more than a very small percentage of the authoritative information that they are provided on a daily basis, as evidenced by the explosion of low-fat foods that were soon followed by the ongoing obesity epidemic. Even though the evidence was easy to obtainóIím eating this fat-free food, but Iím getting fatter instead of losing weightómillions of people chose to blindly trust scientific studies rather than their mirrors and weight scales.
The fact that you may not have seen any evidence of God is meaningless; you probably havenít seen any evidence of evolution or quantum mechanics either, and aside from a very few highly intelligent, well-educated exceptions, youíre not capable of accurately judging the evidence even if you did examine it yourself. There is no shortage of those who testify to their personal experience of God, and it is both ironic and an error of logic to argue that their evidence is irrelevant due to your blind faith in something else for which you have seen no evidence. While it is reasonable to state that you have not seen any evidence for Godís existence, it is illogical and incorrect to assert that no such evidence exists. One can certainly state that no scientific evidence for God exists, based on its absence from the scientific literature. But then, there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists either, much less that she loves you. From my perspective, thereís not even any scientific evidence that you exist. Science is an excellent tool for increasing knowledge, but it is far from the only means of obtaining it.
In almost every case, an argument from lack of evidence merely indicates in whom one has elected to place oneís unquestioning trust.
THE ARGUMENT FROM HALLUCINATION
This is the atheistís counter to the theistic argument from personal experience. In The God Delusion, Dawkins puts scare quotes around "experience," by which he means to indicate that evidence based on personal experience is unreliable and even irrelevant. He bases this argument, amusingly enough, on psychology, which is one of the few scientific fields that makes even less use of the scientific method than evolutionary biology. But to simply state, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that "mass hallucination" caused 70,000 people in Portugal to simultaneously see the sixth apparition of the Lady of Fatima is not an explanation, it is merely an evasion. Dawkinsís invocation of David Hume proves nothing, except that from the atheistís perspective Hume might as well have ended his statement at the comma: "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle." This isnít logic, itís merely a demonstration of a mind shuttered closely to ward off any evidence it cannot explain in terms it understands.
Being one who has personally experienced both what appears to have been a supernatural phenomenon as well as a few chemically induced hallucinations, I can testify that the two are about as likely to be confused as Halloween and Christmas. And by Halloween, I mean the movie, not the holiday. It is certainly reasonable to doubt any one individualís perceptions, but it is intellectual cowardice to arbitrarily declare all human perception itself to be completely meaningless outside of the scientific researcherís laboratory.
THE ARGUMENT FROM TEMPORAL ADVANTAGE
One of the obvious weaknesses in the atheist concept of the conflict between science and religion is the fact that many, if not most, of the great scientists in history were religious men. Even the first great martyr of Science, Galileo Galilei, was not an atheist but a Christian. For every Watson and Einstein, there is a Newton, a Copernicus, a Kepler, and yes, a Galileo. Atheists deal with this in two ways, either by simply co-opting themóI have seen lists of famous atheists on the Internet that include Galileoóor by claiming them post-facto. Dawkins, for example, implies that had these great religious scientists only been privy to the information available today, they would have abandoned their faith; other atheists come right out and state this directly.
What this argument neglects to take into account is that nearly all of the great religious scientists were not merely religious, but Christians, and that there were far fewer scientists than there are today. The first fact is significant because it indicates that there is likely a difference between the Christian worldview that supported a search for scientific truth and the various non-Christian worldviews which did not. The second fact is even more interesting, as it suggests that the non-Christian worldview of todayís science may in fact be hindering the pace of scientific development rather than helping it. The fact that today there are far more scientists accomplishing far less in terms of significant scientific developments could indicate, as John Horgan has suggested, that science is close to its goal of explaining nature and that there is simply not much more for scientists to do except learn how to make practical use of their theoretical knowledge. Alternatively, one could argue that the religious scientists of the past had it easy, working with a relatively blank slate, and have left only the most difficult tasks for their secular successors.
But the more we learn, the less we actually seem to know. Just this year, we were informed that what had been the accepted model of gene regulation may be less complete than was previously thought, when researchers on the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project discovered twice as many RNA transcripts and ten times more DNA transcripts than expected. Astrophysicists tell us that either 96 percent of the universe is missing or there is something wrong with our understanding of how gravitation affects the 4 percent we can see. And few can manage to keep up with adaptive devo punk-echthroi neo-quasi-Darwinism, or whatever the evolutionary biologists are calling this weekís spin on St. Darwinís dangerous idea.
To assert that the greatest minds of the past, the original thinkers who werenít afraid to challenge either orthodox dogma or the intellectual conventions, would automatically abandon their faith in favor of a status quo professed by the masses of over-specialized, under-achieving scientific mediocrities of today is not only a completely baseless assumption, it is egotistic wishful thinking.
THE ARGUMENT FROM FICTION
This argument states that because the Bible and every other sacred text is wholly man-made and as fictitious as anything written by Shakespeare or any other classic from the literary canon, there is no reason to take them seriously, much less base moral systems or societal structures upon them. The problem here is that the Bible has not only proven to be a more reliable guide in many instances than the current state of secular science as well as an accurate historical document, but sometimes a better predictor of future events than the experts on the subject. I bought Euros back when they were worth just over ninety cents on the dollar because of the eschatological interpretations of the Book of Revelation that the European Common Market would one day become a single political entity, the endless vows of the European elite to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, the EUR/USD rate is bouncing around 1.36. Maybe it was just a fortuitous coincidence, but on the other hand, if a northern country shows signs of invading Israel, letís just say I wonít hesitate to short their currency.
It is not an ability to explain past events, but its predictive value that proves the value of a model. And whether one considers geopolitics, psychology, or child development, the ancient text repeatedly proves itself to be a better predictive model than those supplied by the scientific experts
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the earth is flat. But Jesusís statement in John 8:58, "before Abraham was born, I am!" is a very strange thing for an itinerant first-century rabbi to say,3 given the way it presages the twentieth century concepts of multiple universes and existence outside the space-time continuum.
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE UNFAIRNESS OF HELL
This argument takes the possibility of the supernatural a little too seriously for any of the New Atheists, but one probably encounters it more often from Low Church atheists than one hears all the previous five arguments combined. And since itís a Low Church argument, it is naturally a particularly stupid one that manages to ignore huge quantities of readily available evidence pertaining to human behavior while simultaneously assuming perfect long-term rationality on the part of every individual human being. This argument states that because Heaven is really good and Hell is really bad, the purported choice that God offers between the two really isnít a choice, because what sort of idiot would choose to go to Hell? Therefore, it would be unfair for God to send anyone to Hell, and therefore neither God nor Hell can possibly exist.
The answer is the same sort of idiot that chooses to buy lottery tickets, smokes meth, has premarital sex, gambles in Vegas, buys technology stocks, or cheers for the Minnesota Vikings. In short, human idiots, which we all are to greater or lesser degrees. Everyone makes foolish decisions that combine short-term pleasure with long-term pain, and the fact that a correct choice should be completely obvious to any rational individual doesnít mean that the choice is not a genuine one. Therefore, God is being fair in presenting the choice . . . which is really neither here nor there since Godís theoretical fairness or unfairness has nothing to do with the fact of His existence or non-existence.
Just as the fact that an argument is ridiculous doesnít mean it doesnít exist or that youíre not going to hear it again and again.
THE ARGUMENT FROM GODíS CHARACTER
This is another superficial argument popular with Low Church atheists, although it pops up from time to time among the more militant High Church breed. It states that even if God exists, the morality He dictates is so abhorrent to the atheist and inferior to the atheistís own moral sensibilities that the atheist cannot believe in Him. And in the unlikely event that the atheist is ever confronted by God, he will refuse to acknowledge His divine status let alone His right to rule over Mankind.
I find it very difficult to take this argument seriously, given how the first words out of every angelís mouth seems to be "Fear not!" I am as arrogant as anyone (and more than most, Iím told), but on the day when I meet my Maker, the Creator Lord of the Universe, I fully intend to set new speed records in performing a full proskynesis complete with averted eyes.4 Itís not so much the Biblical confidence that "every knee shall bow" that makes me skeptical about this theoretical atheist machismo in the face of the Almighty, itís the part about how even the demons believe . . . and tremble. I donít know what it takes to make a powerful fallen angel shake with terror just thinking about it, but I have a feeling that neither Richard Dawkins nor Bertrand Russell will be wagging their fingers at God and criticizing Him for insufficient evidence on the day their disbelief is conclusively destroyed.
The argument is totally specious from the logical perspective, of course, because the fact of Godís existence no more depends on the quality of His character than does Charles Mansonís. Things exist or donít exist regardless of whether we wish them to be or not.
THE ARGUMENT FROM MORAL EVOLUTION
The idea that morals are not defined by sacred texts but have instead evolved naturally is the subject of much pseudo-scientific speculation and a few books, such as Marc Hauserís Moral Minds, have been written about it. Christopher Hitchens is the foremost advocate of this idea among the New Atheists. While they admit that morality exists, they argue that it has evolved naturally through a material process, therefore it cannot have been acquired through divine revelation. However, like Richard Dawkinsís concept of the meme, the idea of moral evolution is little more than the use of an applied metaphor, a fundamentally unscientific concept that appears to be increasingly popular in the softer sciences today. Hauser articulates a concept of "primitive detectors" that are suspiciously similar to Dawkinsís imaginary "original replicators" that he supposes to have started the process of our moral evolution.5 But referring to these principles as DNAóDarwinian Nodes of Actionóonly makes them sound scientific, it does not magically endow them with the material properties of Deoxyribonucleic acid.
There are a number of problems with the idea of moral evolution if we pretend that it is not a metaphor but literal evolution. First, if the mechanism of evolution takes place at the gene level, it is very difficult to understand how one moral would mutate and replicate itself genetically. Second, it is easy to observe that the pace of moral transformation is rapidly accelerating. Less than forty years ago, homosexuality was universally considered an immoral action. Today, there is a substantial minority in the West that insists that belief in either the immorality or the psychological abnormality of homosexuality is itself immoral, a rapid notional transformation that is consistent with neither past moral transformations nor biological evolution. Furthermore, moral evolution depends upon the group selection aspect of evolutionary theory that has largely fallen into disfavor among modern evolutionary biologists.
Either mankind should expect to start sprouting wings within the next century, or the process of human moral development cannot be reasonably described as evolution.
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE GOLDEN RULE
It is often asserted that Christian morality is no different than other ethical systems that are based on the Golden Rule. And it is true that one can find pre-Christian examples of the same concept in the Analects of Confucius, in the Mahabharata, the Dhammapada, the Udanavarga, and even the histories of Herodotus. Still, there are two errors in this argument because Christian morality is not based on the Golden Rule, and because the Golden Rule, which states that a man should not do to others what he would not have them do to him, cannot provide a basis for a functional moral system.
Jesus Christís version of the Golden Rule, given in Matthew 7:12, is merely summary advice, not the basis of Christian morality. "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." This is practical advice given in the context of a general admonishment and it cannot possibly be the essence of Christian morality, for in the very same chapter, Jesus informs his listeners that "only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" will enter that kingdom. He did not say, "only he who does to others what he would have them do to him." This mention of the Heavenly Fatherís will, which also appears in the Lordís Prayer, foreshadows the true foundation of Christian morality, which was articulated when Jesus answered an expert in Jewish law in Matthew 22:37:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: ĎLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.í This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Obviously, a moral system based on loving the Lord your God and obediently submitting your will to His is a very different moral system and a far more objective one than the Golden Rule, which is not only entirely subjective, but incapable of accounting for either rational calculation or human psychopathy. It provides no moral basis to criticize a man for crawling into Adriana Limaís bed unannounced so long as he harbors no desire to bar Miss Lima from doing the same to him, and sanctions a thief to steal on the grounds of a belief that he wouldnít miss that which was stolen were the thief himself the prospective victim. The Golden Rule is also too easily transformed into the idea of doing unto others as they wish to do unto you, which was the basis for the Holocaust as well as Sam Harrisís proposed ethic of mass murder in preemptive self-defense.
THE ARGUMENT FROM SUPERIOR MORALS
There are many atheists who live lives that are morally exemplary according to religious standards. This causes some atheists to claim that this exemplary behavior is evidence of atheist moral superiority, because the atheist is behaving in a moral manner of his own volition, not due to any fear of being eternally damned or zapped by a lightning bolt hurled by an offended sky deity. However, this is a logical error, because while motivation plays a role in how we judge immoral actions, there are no similar gradations of that which is morally correct. There are many evils, there is only one Good.
For example, the act of stealing a loaf of bread is considered more immoral if the theft was committed by a rich thief who simply didnít feel like paying for it than if the bread was stolen by a poor man who needed to feed his two hungry children. But the act of driving an injured person to the hospital is no more right when performed by a good Samaritan who just happened to be passing by than by a paramedic team who will be financially compensated for their actions. We may find the one more admirable, being less expected, but it cannot be more morally correct because that would imply that there was some degree of moral incorrectness to a correct action. To do right is to do right, the amount of rightness in the action no more depends upon the motivation than the amount of a womanís pregnancy depends upon whether she is a married woman whose third round of I.V.F. treatment has finally proven the charm or a high school senior knocked up by the varsity quarterback on prom night.
An atheist can certainly behave better than a theist by the theistís own moral reckoning. But it is logically incorrect to insist that identical moral behavior on the part of an atheist and a theist is proof of the atheistís moral superiority.
The Irrationality of Atheism
Our actions generally satisfy us. . . . But that does not mean they are rational in a narrower sense: the product of serial reasoning.
óDaniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained
High Church atheists regard themselves as supremely rational individuals. They have from the very start. Historyís first confirmed atheist, Jean Meslier, wrote that banishing the "vain chimeras" of religion would be enough to cause rational opinions to fill the minds of the formerly faithful, and anticipated Sam Harris by several centuries with his announcement that the moral precepts of Christianity were no better than those that every rational man could imagine.6
Almost 300 years later, forty-three commenters at the militantly atheist science blog Pharyngula reported the results of an online personality test they had taken. Similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey, the test was hopelessly transparent and subjective, but provided a useful means of examining how these predominantly atheist individuals view themselves. They reported an average Rational rating of 94 out of 100, compared to an Extroverted rating of 32 and an Arrogance rating of 49. They do not see themselves so much as champions of reason, but paragons! Is this a justified belief?
While the atheist may be godless, he is not without faith, because he puts his trust in the scientific method and those who use it whether he understands their conclusions with regards to any given application or not. But because there are very few minds capable of grasping higher-level physics, for example, let alone understanding their implications, and because specialization means that it is nearly impossible to keep up with the latest developments in any of the more esoteric fields, the atheist stands with utter confidence on an intellectual foundation comprised of things of which he himself neither knows nor understands.
In fairness, he cannot be faulted for this because there is simply too much information available for all of it to be processed by any individual. He can, however, be legitimately criticized when he fails to admit that he is not actually operating on reason in most circumstances, but is instead exercising a faith that is every bit as blind and childlike as that of the most thoughtless, Bible-thumping fundamentalist. Still, it can be argued that this is not necessarily irrational, it is only ignorance and a failure of perception.
The fundamental irrationality of the atheist can primarily be seen in his actions, and it is here that his general lack of intellectual conviction is also exposed. Whereas Christians and the faithful of other religions have rational reasons for attempting to live by their various moral systems, the atheist does not. Both ethics and morals based on religion are nothing more than man-made myth to the atheist, he is therefore required to reject them on rational materialist grounds. He can, of course, make a perfectly rational decision to abide by ethics and morals to which he does not personally subscribe because it would be dangerous to do otherwise in a society where he is outnumbered. This is W. Somerset Maughamís semi-rational atheism, which states "do what thou wilt, with due regard for the policeman around the corner."
So the atheist seeks to live by the dominant morality whenever it is convenient for him, and there are even those who, despite their faithlessness, do a better job of living by the tenets of religion than those who actually subscribe to them. But even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics. This is why, when pressed, the atheist will often attempt to hide his lack of conviction in his own beliefs behind some poorly formulated utilitarianism, or argue that he acts out of altruistic self-interest. But this is only post-facto rationalization, not reason or rational behavior.
One need only ask an atheist what his morality is, and inquire as to how he developed it and why it should happen to so closely coincide with the dominant societal morality to discover that there is nothing rational about most atheistsí beliefs. Either he has none and is "immorally" practicing Dennettís doxastic division of labor7 by unquestioningly accepting the societal norms that surround him, or he is simply selecting which aspects to credit and which to reject on the basis of his momentary desires. In neither case does anything that can legitimately be described as reason enter into the picture. The same is often true of his atheism itself; it is telling to note that Hitchens and Dawkins became atheists after long and exhaustive rational inquiries into the existence of God, both at the age of nine.8 The idea that there is any rational basis for atheism is further damaged due to the way in which so many atheists become atheists during adolescence, an age which combines a tendency towards mindless rebellion as well as the onset of sexual desires which collide with religious strictures on their satisfaction.9
With this in mind, itís interesting to note that intelligent men of intellectual repute such as Francis Collins and Anthony Flew should have rejected atheism at the tender ages of twenty-seven and eighty-one, respectively. Atheism is not only irrational, it is quite literally childish in many instances.
But the ultimate atheist irrationality is the idea that Man himself is rational. Despite the fact that many of our behavioral sciences are founded on this principle, including the dismal science so dear to me, almost all of the observable evidence, scientific and casual, forces one to conclude otherwise. Consider how the way in which the educated Western voting class manages to combine total ignorance with fundamental misconceptions to achieve a higher state of irrational consciousness that is breathtaking in its delusionary confidence, the miracle of aggregation notwithstanding.10 And in Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett describes a Multiple Drafts model of consciousness that renders the most basic concept of Manís rationality suspect; he notes that the closer one examines the human mind, the more its fragmented and internally competitive nature becomes apparent.11
You need only look around to see hundreds of examples of totally irrational human behavior every single day. Indeed, you need only spend a moment of honest introspection to find dozens of examples in your own life. Perhaps you bought an Internet stock in late 1999, or are dating a girl who cheated on her last boyfriend with you. The chances are good that you spent tens of thousands of dollars on a college degree that not only cost you five yearsí worth of wages and work experience, but has nothing to do with your job now. You probably vote in presidential elections even though it is statistically improbable and logically impossible for your one vote to have any impact on the final result.12 And yet despite the irrationality of your activities, you will continue to vote, invest, love, and live because you are not a robot, you are a human being. Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing one who uses his intellect to construct reasons in post-facto defense of his irrational desires.
Predicated on an unreliable human attribute that may not even exist, rejecting the foundation of Manís most successful civilization, trusting a notoriously quixotic institution for a miracle as a means of replacing that foundation and refusing to learn from its past disasters, atheism is not so much the basis for an irrational philosophy as for an insane one. Attempting to build a society on reason is like waging a war on terror; the effort is doomed to failure because itís a category error. There is no evidence, scientific or historical, that any human society can survive its establishment on an atheist foundation, let alone thrive, and a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.
We are fortunate, therefore, that so many atheist individuals nevertheless continue to openly adhere to conventional religious morals and ethics that they have no rational grounds for respecting. This irrational, if pragmatic, compromise between a public nod to morality and its private dismissal is an ancient one. When Socrates taught his students that knowledge is the only good and ignorance the only evil more than 2,000 years ago, he was fully aware of the potentially dangerous repercussions of this teaching and argued in The Republic that it was necessary to keep such virtuous knowledge to the ruling elite. The knowledge of the nonexistence of morality was the great secret to which only the rulers were to be privy and the justification for keeping their subjects in ignorance for their own good, lest the herd break out into rebellion.
The ever-practical Romans understood this too. Seneca the Younger described religion as being regarded as true by the common folk, false by the wise, and useful by the rulers. But as an aristocrat in a cruel and brutal culture, he may have understated religionís importance to social stability, because it is more than useful for the peaceful maintenance of a civilized society, it is a downright necessity. Even the greatest champions of reason reluctantly accepted this bitter reality. Despite his distaste for Christianity and contempt for the Catholic Church, Voltaire regarded the belief in God and in an afterlife of rewards and punishments to be the basic requisites of ethical behavior.
Still, the irrationality of the New Atheists and their faithless flock does not mean that there are no atheists who are rational, or that there are none who are true to their godless convictions. Friedrich Nietzsche is the foremost example, but there is certainly no shortage of other individuals who do not fear to determine their own moral compass in the absence of God. We call them sociopaths.