We’ve looked at the odd interpretation of atheism by “John the atheist” in an earlier article. Several commenters suggested that such a bizarre interpretation must be a Christian parody, but no, this seems to be an honest claim.
In part 2, we looked at the even odder embrace by Christian apologists of John’s conclusions. I suppose John’s ideas fit their agenda to make atheism look ridiculous, but why not stop to consider whether John’s views are shared by other atheists? Or if the views are at all defensible?
Let’s consider one final Christian reaction to John, this time from the Wintery Knight blog. Its enthusiastic embrace of John’s message is clear in the title: “An atheist explains the real consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview.”
Atheist Richard Dawkins cited
First, this post tries to establish that John is not some maverick, either an idiot who doesn’t know which end is up within atheism or a prescient pioneer who sees what no one else can see. Rather, he says that this is already admitted by other atheists and should be a standard part of the discussion. He quotes Richard Dawkins:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference…. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
This is supposed to mirror John’s position? Nope. Dawkins is simply observing that there is no evidence for a benevolent supernatural that looks out for us or a wise supernatural that created us. And this Christian blogger offers no reason to believe otherwise.
Nature just exists without emotion or mind. Mt. Everest doesn’t care who climbs it or dies trying. It doesn’t celebrate if you get to the top, and it doesn’t lament if you fall to your death. When a fox chases a rabbit, “good” is relative, and what’s good for the fox is bad for the rabbit and vice versa. Germs don’t want to replicate or hurt you—it’s just biology. The tea in my cup doesn’t want to stay hot or cool down—it’s just physics. Why imagine the universe as a whole acts any differently?
Dawkins points out that there is no human justice in nature, but that doesn’t mean that there is no justice. Merriam-Webster gives several definitions of justice (none of which appeal to objective anything) including “the assignment of merited rewards or punishments,” “the administration of law,” and “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.” It’s clear that humans can strive for this kind of justice, even though we don’t have the objective or transcendent kind.
Atheist Michael Ruse cited
Next, the Christian blog quotes philosopher of science and atheist Michael Ruse.
Morality is an [evolutionary] adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth…. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” [but] such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, … and any deeper meaning is illusory.
And again, this is quite different from what John said—John imagined that only objective morality exists, and any other morality doesn’t count. That the blogger doesn’t understand this simple distinction between objective morality and the regular kind as defined in the dictionary threatens my lofty evaluation of Christian apologetics.
Wintry Knight’s wrapup
The post draws its conclusions:
I see a lot of atheists these days thinking that they can help themselves to a robust notion of consciousness, to real libertarian free will, to objective moral values and duties, to objective human rights, and to objective meaning in life, without giving credit to theism…. [As Cornelius Van Til observed,] atheists have to sit in God’s lap to slap his face. We should be calling them out on it.
Wait—who should be calling out whom? You’ve got no argument. You’re just presupposing God into existence. With no sense of irony, a sentence later in the same paragraph begins, “This is not to say that we should go all presuppositional on them,” but I’m afraid that ship has sailed.
You can point to issues that science still has questions about, like consciousness, but let’s not imagine Christianity is any better and gives reliable answers backed up by evidence. And as for objective morality and meaning, the ball’s in your court to show that these exist apart from the ordinary kind that we all experience in our own lives.
A better metaphor
The image shouldn’t be sitting in God’s lap to slap his face. Instead, imagine unwrapping a present from God on Christmas morning to find a book. The book is one of your favorites. At first you marvel at how well God knows you to give such an appropriate gift, but then you notice your name written on the inside cover, in your handwriting. And all the margin notes that you added. And the gap on the bookshelf where you remember that book being.
Morality isn’t something we get from God. Morality is already part of humanity, but “God” pretends to give it back to us.
I think it’s particularly important not to let atheists utter a word of moral judgment on any topic, since they cannot ground an objective standard that allows them to make statements of morality.
Why complain about atheists’ lack of an objective standard when you don’t have one yourself? All you have are empty claims.
Further, I think that they should have every immorality ever committed presented to them, and then they should be told “your worldview does not allow you to condemn this as wrong.” They can’t praise anything as right, either.
I will with pleasure judge things as right and wrong. You’ll say that those would be subjective judgments. Yes, that’s true—just like yours.
The problem for most Christians is that they can’t fairly judge God’s actions. I’m happy to label his crimes as bad, from hardening Pharaoh’s heart to maximize his downfall, to the global flood, to hell. Those Christians can’t call God wrong if they declare whatever God does as right by definition.
It can be hard making an honest characterization of your opponent’s position. This, I’m afraid, isn’t an example.
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma,
a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt
to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
— Umberto Eco
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2017-9-4.)
Image from flickr