Friday, January 25, 2013

God's QC 9.0: Is God A Moral Monster?

Here I discuss my thoughts on Paul Copan's 2011 book, "Is God A Moral Monster?" On April 7, 2011, Sam Harris and William Lane Craig debated whether the foundations of moral values can be natural or must be supernatural. I reviewed that debate in Section #6 of my "God's Quality Control" Series. During the debate, Craig found an opportunity to plug Copan's book, which seems like good material for more quality control.

In his introduction to the book, Copan tells us that he will use various statements from the "New Atheism movement" as a springboard for discussion of Old Testament ethics. By "New Atheism movement" he seems to mean the Four Horsemen—Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens—and their admirers. Like most superstitious people, Copan seems to believe that atheism is a religion, or a movement, or an "–ism," failing to understand the basic principle that lacking a belief in supernatural bullshit doesn't make me part of a club. And similarly, agreeing that Yahweh is a bully doesn't make me a follower of anyone or seal my loyalty to anyone.

Copan makes an interesting observation concerning the perceptions that asuperstitionists have about the church. He says that our perceptions, although not entirely accurate, "can often provide an illuminating corrective to help professing Christians to properly align themselves with Jesus their Master." This is the basic theme of all of my quality control videos: many of these people who claim to follow a "god" that loves truth are the biggest liars around. Nothing at all seems to have any corrective effect on these charlatans. If Copan were serious about aligning himself with a force of love and truth, I imagine that William Lane Craig would not have so readily plugged Copan's book during the debate.

In his first chapter, titled "Who Are The New Atheists?" Copan names the Four Horsemen and discusses his four primary complaints against them:
  • The "current tide of emboldened opposition to the Christian faith lumps Christianity into the same category as radical Islam."
  • To which I say: There are very good reasons for said lumping. To start with, as Sam Harris has pointed out numerous times, the milder forms of superstition open a door for the more radical forms. It's not enough for a mild Christian to say that the Phelpses, for example, are misinterpreting Yahweh's word. The interpretation process itself clearly does not work: there is no way for anyone to know which interpretation is correct. The radicals are just as likely to be correct as the non-radicals.

  • Further, Christianity has indeed been at least as bad as radical Islam over the centuries. Remember the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, segregation; radicals and non-radicals alike have found justification for these and worse in the bible. Copan can interpret Christianity mildly all he wants to; the problem remains that Christianity clearly lends itself quite well to poisonous ideas.
  • For all their emphasis on cool-headed, scientific rationality, they express themselves not just passionately but angrily.
  • To which I say: here Copan is playing a rhetorical trick. Cool-headedness in scientific inquiry suggests keeping one's biases out of one's investigations and conclusions. It has absolutely nothing to do with suppressing anger, and everything to do with letting the facts guide one's thinking.

  • Further, why shouldn't we be angry? Superstitionists are forcing us to fight for the future of humanity. Consider the issue of climate change as just one example of the issues we're angry about. Most Christians expect the world to end—in fact, they eagerly look forward to the end of the world, so as a group they have very little interest in preserving humanity's only home. Of course we're angry when they won't listen to us about world-threatening issues like climate change.
  • Their arguments against God’s existence are surprisingly flimsy, often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credentialed academician.
  • To which I say:  the author fails to give even one single example of these supposedly flimsy arguments. We have no way of knowing which arguments he is referring to; he simply asserts that "their arguments are [an incoherent] collage of rhetorical barbs." When someone criticizes my arguments but can't clearly articulate their objections with real examples and real discussion, I tend to think that someone is either being intellectually dishonest or perhaps even missing the point of the conversation entirely.
  • They aren’t willing to own up to atrocities committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, yet they expect Christians to own up to all barbarous acts performed in Jesus’s name.
  • Let's talk about what "in the name of atheism" means. Copan wants to use it to mean that these dictators justified their atrocities by claiming that there is no "god," and therefore no basis for behaving morally. But that's not "in the name of atheism." That's in the name of the conclusion, in the name of there being no natural basis for behaving morally. But that conclusion is not a given. Plenty of people know how to behave morally with no help from any supernatural entities. There is nothing about atheism that lends itself to immorality. On the other hand, the bible and other books of superstition positively overflow with justifications for all kinds of immorality in the name of Jesus and other deities.
Copan says that his "New Atheists" add spice to the God discussion. The spice metaphor is better than Copan realizes. Before the days of refrigeration, one of the original uses for spice involved covering the taste of slightly spoiled food, and killing some of the dangerous microbes in the food. You may notice that hot, spicy food is more prevalent in areas of the world where the climate is warmer, where meat and other foods can spoil relatively quickly. A rational consideration of the "god" discussion is indeed a good antidote to the spoilage that occurs in the brains of superstitionists.

That's 9.0. Thanks for watching.

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