Response to Dr. Roger Olson
Many of you may already have seen the recent anti-atheist screed by one Dr. Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University. Some of you may even have noticed some of the problems with it. Well, 1585 noticed all of the problems with it, and will enumerate them in short order. Excited? We thought so. Here follows our point-by-point response. (Dr. Olson's original text is represented in its entirety, in boldface, but interrupted by our responses.)
"I feel sorry for atheists. They are so much in the minority in American society and they are bound to feel some marginalization if not persecution."
These first two points are presented as an expression of tolerance, but are no such thing. They are an attempt to 1) place yourself on the moral high ground, and more importantly 2) reframe atheists as a minority in the power sense, rather than merely in the numerical sense. Yes, obviously, atheists are statistically a minority of the population—but this is not all that the word minority is used to mean. We often describe women as a “minority,” despite the fact that there are numerically more women than men—why is this? Because, societally speaking, men have more power—so minority has a connotation beyond the numerical. Conversely, millionaires are a small percentage of the population—but have you ever heard anyone refer to millionaires as a minority? No—because millionaires have more power than non-millionaires. Now, since atheists are, on the whole, more intelligent than theists, and possess the sizable advantage of believing things that can be proven in place of things that are made up out of whole cloth, it would be inaccurate to look upon atheists as a minority in the power sense—yes, theists have more political power, due to the fact that we live in a democracy and you guys comprise a numerical majority—but when there is an argument, we win, period. But you open by talking about atheists as if we’re handicapped or something—as if we lack something that you have, rather than the other way around.
"Christians should be the last people to persecute anyone -- including atheists. But that doesn't mean Christians have to accommodate atheism as they tolerate and love atheists."
First of all, we noticed that you say Christians “should be the last people to persecute anyone,” instead of “are.” This is, of course, because if you said “are” it would be just about the least true statement of all time—and since the rest of the piece is about how religion allegedly makes people more moral, I guess we’re done here… But what the hell, we’ll keep going. Your prescription here is basically that religious people should refrain from full-out attacking atheists in the street—and we’re supposed to be, what, grateful for your magnanimity? (Hey, wait a minute… You don’t say “religious people,” you say “Christians”… We guess that means you’re also implicitly applying the “tolerate but don’t accommodate” principle to all the people who are religions besides Christianity too, huh? But we understand that you couldn’t very well open an essay by announcing that you feel sorry for Jewish people. Yeah, that’s some nice moral high ground you’ve got there.) The “no accommodation” clause clearly means that you’re free to keep voting for lunatics who want to base all the laws on religious bullshit, tying the hands of science teachers, and perpetuating the idea that gay people are mentally ill, so what do you even mean by “tolerate and love?” If you can fuck with us by voting, you have no need to be openly mean to us in person, so you are conceding nothing. This is like a Jim Crow supporter thinking he’s a great guy because he still smiles at Black people on the sidewalk.
"We have to recognize atheists' full freedom to believe God does not exist, but we don't have to embrace atheism as a social good. In fact, I would argue that atheism has no redeeming social value."
Holy shit, you’re right! Atheism has no redeeming social value! How can we possibly get out of this one? Oh, wait, here are three ways we can get out of this one: “Not believing in Santa Claus has no redeeming social value,” “Not believing in Leprechauns has no redeeming social value,” and “Not believing in the Loch Ness Monster has no redeeming social value.” In fact, we can come up with a lot more than three of those. The point, of course, is that no shit the absence of a belief in a made-up thing does not inherently have “redeeming social value.” We’re not arguing that it does.
"Atheism undermines values. How? Let's look at care for others. Yes, an individual atheist might care for other people. But when have you heard of an entire atheist organization serving the poor, the sick or the hungry?
So far, at least, atheists haven't demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way."
No, we haven’t heard of an entire atheist organization doing that. Know why? Because why the fuck would there even be an “entire atheist organization?” The only thing that organizes us is the fact that we don’t believe what you believe, so this is like saying that there should be conventions for people who don’t like Star Trek. What would they do—hang out and talk about things besides Star Trek? As for demonstrating our concern for others, we are doing that simply by being atheists, since religion fucks over a lot more people than it helps. Concern for many types of people—gays and women, for example—is inherent in the fight against organized religion, and for many atheists, the fact that they don’t like how religion treats those people is a big part of how they got to be atheists in the first place. But since the only group of people you specifically brought up is the poor, we’ll bring party politics into it and say that we demonstrate our concern for the poor by fighting against the party that fucks them over the most, which happens also to be the same party that religious people vote for, mainly because it also fucks over the people that you guys explicitly want to fuck over, which brings us back to gays and women. Oh, and in case you’re going to bring up helping the poor through “faith-based initiatives,” guess what? The impetus for those has dick-all to do with religion, and they’re just a means of abnegating governmental or broader societal responsibility in favor of privatization, the point of which is not to help the poor but to make rich people even richer, but they do it through the “faith-based” route so no-one notices and it turns into an argument about religion instead of about privatization, because more people are on their side when it’s an argument about religion. If you really care so much about the poor, how about you stop letting these assclowns trick you into fucking them over? Oh, right—because your religious faith is blinding you to the fact that this is what’s happening. Hey, maybe atheism does have “redeeming social value” after all!
"But more importantly, atheism undermines values such as care for others because it cannot explain why anyone should care for others. If there is no God or anything at all above nature, then nature is all there is. The law of nature is survival of the fittest. Why help the less fit survive unless there is a God who loves them because they are created in his image?"
We’ll start by pointing out that that last question implies that, although we are good people just because we’re good people, you are apparently only a good person because you want a reward from God. That being said, this paragraph rests on a false dilemma—namely, it assumes that caring for others is not itself a part of “fitness” as it concerns adaptation via natural selection. But it is. Human beings evolved the capacity to care for others because it helped us to work in teams and plan for the future—if it hadn’t, then it wouldn’t be the case that human beings care about others, but since we do, that means it did. One of the many things human beings did as a result of this, by the way, was invent a made-up thing called God to try and ensure that people behaved themselves. Now, obviously, not all human beings are nice to all other human beings all the time—if we were, there’d be no problems, and the bit about inventing God wouldn’t have been fucked up by assholes. Of course, this explanation makes no sense if you don’t believe in evolution—but if you don’t believe in evolution, then why cite “survival of the fittest” as a real principle that humanity must work to counteract? In any case, this whole paragraph only makes sense if you have no idea how an atheist thinks—in short, we care about people because caring about people is nice, and we don’t need to believe that there’s an invisible man in the sky to know what “nice” means. And, by the way, neither do you. As many atheists have pointed out, religious people don’t actually get their morality from their religions—they only think they do. If they really got their morality from their religions, then they would not have possessed the ability to modify their religions over time to make them less crazy. Why is it that you don’t still stone people to death for working on the Sabbath? Because you figured out that it was bullshit, even though your holy book says you should do it. Conclusion: your ideas about what is or isn’t nice originate from something other than your religion (the accurate ones, at least).
"What argument can atheism marshal against 'might makes right'?"
This one: no, it doesn’t. We certainly didn’t need religion to figure out that just because someone can beat you up, that doesn’t mean he’s right. We figured that out on the playground in kindergarten. The proof that we figured that out, by the way, is the fact that we are currently fighting against you even though you outnumber us numerically and control the government. Why are we doing this? Because you’re not right, even though you are “mighty.” Oh, and you know who’s really shitty at marshaling arguments against “might makes right?” Religious people. If you don’t believe us, go ask a Spanish Conquistador.
"Many atheists argue that caring for others can be encouraged based on self-interest.
But what answer can an atheist give (that is consistent with atheism) to the question, "What if I figure out a way to be personally happy and fulfilled while oppressing other people?"
There is no answer to that without appeal to someone transcendent to whom we are all accountable."
No, we don’t argue that “caring for others can be encouraged based on self-interest”—we argue that it evolved based on self-interest, because that’s how things evolve. If something didn’t involve self-interest (or more accurately, the self-interest of your genes—which is why, for example, your body is still trying to get pregnant or impregnate someone even when that’s the last thing you want to happen) at some point, it wouldn’t be a trait now. Once again, a religious person has confused a scientific descriptive argument with an ethical prescriptive one—e.g., this is like saying that the Law of Gravity encourages you to push people off of tall buildings, when all it does is inform you that if you do, they will fall. As for people who figure out a way to be happy while oppressing other people, why don’t you tell us, since you’re the ones who are oppressing other people? Since you have apparently figured out a way to justify this that is consistent with religion, we should have no trouble figuring out a way to not do this that is consistent with atheism. We agree, however, with your last sentence above—minus the word “transcendent.” It is indeed the case that there can be no morality “without appeal to someone to whom we are all responsible,” and that someone is one another. Honestly—we are atheists, so if we don’t care about people, then why are we bothering to write this? We’re not getting paid, and we are clearly smart enough that we could be using our talents to do some stupid shit where we’d make a lot of money instead of this, if we so chose. Advertising, maybe? You know we could trick people into buying a bunch of useless crap. But we don’t. Or, for that matter, look at religion vs. atheism itself—it is clearly more socially advantageous to be religious, and if we wanted to, we could just pretend to be religious, and become the most eloquent and persuasive religious people around, and we’d probably be working for the government now and be rich. But we don’t. Why? Because from an ethical standpoint, we don’t like the way you guys fuck with people who don’t deserve it, and from a conceptual standpoint, even though we might have evolved reason in order to remember which berries were and weren’t poisonous, we’re stuck with it now, and can’t help noticing when something makes no fucking sense at all—at least, some of us can’t.
"And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism -- the idea that society should not help the weak because it's nature's way to weed out the less fit.
Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God's image)."
Our answer to “social Darwinism” is that it actually has nothing whatsoever to do with Darwinian evolution, and is merely a term invented by rich assholes who wanted an excuse to keep being rich assholes (guess what party they belonged to?). Poverty is not “nature’s way to weed out the less fit,” because poverty is inherited socially, not passed on genetically. If someone wins the lottery, does that mean that their genes are the most desirable? Helping the weak does not go against nature, and we can prove it, thusly: since nature is all there is, and people do help the weak, that means it doesn’t go against nature. As for who does or doesn’t get weeded out, try asking a woman who she’d rather have kids with—a guy who has compassion for the weak, or a guy who goes around shooting the weak in the face. Did she pick the first guy? Well, we guess that means the guy who goes around shooting the weak won’t be having any kids, or at least not any who get cared for enough to grow up to be good people themselves, hence becoming romantically desirable themselves (we realize women also like rich guys, but all we set out to establish here is that altruism is frequently selected for). Really, this is like junior-high science-class stuff here—or it would be, if you would fucking let us teach it. The reason we “fight” nature is because nature is frequently a pain in the ass—hence, glasses and contact lenses, contraceptives, cures for diseases, and airplanes.
"Not only does atheism undermine values; it also undermines meaning. I'm talking about meaningful reality -- life with meaning and purpose."
This sounds great, but it barely means anything. If the “values” you’re talking about include beating the shit out of gay people, burning witches at the stake, robbing people of happiness by teaching them to hate their own bodies for no reason, and imprisoning Galileo, then we’re very proud indeed to be playing a part in the grand tradition of undermining them. Our lives have meaning because we’re alive and we say they do, and our lives have purpose because we have dedicated them to fighting you. Or, to a somewhat less inspiring extent, because we do fun stuff sometimes, which is totally cool as long as you’re not hurting anybody. Plus, even you, and lots of other religious people, figure out in non-religious ways that stuff has meaning and purpose all the time. For example, do you think that the works of William Shakespeare have meaning and purpose? Okay, and does it say that they do in the Bible? Well, then apparently you figured this out independently of religion.
"German theologian Hans Küng wrote Does God Exist? An Answer for Today. In it, the maverick Catholic thinker argued that atheism can provide no basis for "basic trust" in the meaningfulness of reality.
The only logical option for the atheist is nihilism -- belief that nothing has any objective meaning or purpose."
Okay, we’ve been over this before, but you know what else “provides no basis for basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality?” The absence of a belief in Santa Claus, Leprechauns, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. The reason we don’t believe in those things isn’t because we think a lack of belief in them leads to “trust in the meaningfulness of reality”—it’s because we’re smart and figured out they don’t really exist, which we kind of couldn't help doing, on account of the whole “smart” thing. Actually, we guess, that does bespeak a certain “trust in the meaningfulness of reality,” in the sense that we acknowledge the Law of non-Contradiction, i.e., that a proposition and its mutually exclusive reverse cannot simultaneously be true, e.g., either Leprechauns exist or Leprechauns do not exist, but Leprechauns cannot simultaneously exist and not exist. So maybe you should be pissed at agnostics instead. As for nihilism, you are making too much and too little out of the word “objective” there. All that a lack of objective meaning means is that human existence isn’t being evaluated by an all-knowing external observer. Would it matter to the rest of the Universe if we destroyed ourselves in a nuclear war? No. Would it matter to us? Yes. Hence, we really, really do not want this to happen. Oh, and we also don’t know where the fuck a religious nut gets off telling us what “the only logical option” is. When we want to know about our logical options, we’ll ask someone besides a guy who decided to believe that some book about not touching the skin of dead pigs and volunteering your daughters to be gang-raped by an angry mob written by some random guys who were two steps removed from being fucking cavemen is the be-all and end-all of human existence, thanks.
"Küng admitted that atheism is a rational "basic choice" and it cannot be proven wrong in any kind of absolute way.
But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently."
Really? Atheism can’t be proven wrong? Well, no shit, because proving atheism wrong would necessitate proving the existence of God. You needed an obscure German philosopher to tell you that there’s no proof of the existence of God? Probably not, so we’re guessing this is only here so you can work in the word “choice,” to try and characterize atheists as people who chose to stop believing in God because we’re pissed-off malcontents or something, instead of people who figured out that there’s no God because we’re smart. Did Küng “admit” that disbelief in vampires is a “rational choice” too? Because if he did, we’d like to send him a thank-you note, seeing as how we happen not to believe in vampires, and are so relieved to finally have this “choice” validated. And we think we’re safely ahead on points by now, so our response to your assertion that being outraged at evil is inconsistent with atheism is simply “Go fuck yourself.”
"What makes something evil or unjust if nothing like God exists -- if nature is all there is? Only subjective choice either by an individual or a society. But that can change and it often does. Without God, the social prophet has no way out of relativism.
Baylor and universities like it exist to promote objective values and meaningful existence.
For them atheism is not benign, but the enemy -- even if atheists themselves are not.
Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.
But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life -- not because of it."
We have already been over the fact that you are making too much of the “objective/subjective” distinction. Subjectivity is not scary to us, because we realize that things have actually been subjective all along, whereas you are only just now beginning to suspect that they might be. There are of course situations where objectivity exists, and we acknowledge a lot more of them than you guys do—e.g., it is objectively true that man evolved from apes, it is objectively true that the planet is more than 6,000 years old, it is objectively true that Noah’s Ark didn’t really happen, etc. Your “if” up there is simply a fact to us, and we can see evidence of this just as clearly in your ways as we can in ours. Yes, absolutely, the choices of individuals and societies do change—which is how you guys decided to stop stoning adulterers, burning sacrifices, and keeping slaves, even though your magic book says the same exact stuff about those things as it did back in the day. This is also, by the way, presumably why you directed this screed only at atheists, rather than indiscriminately at atheists and all the religious people who are different religions from yours. Once upon a time, as you well know, there would have been no difference to you—a heathen was a heathen. Despite our crack about it earlier, we don’t think you really “feel sorry for” Jewish people—or even for, say, Buddhists, despite the fact that Buddhism has no “objective” creator God in the way that your religion does. As long as somebody has some kind of unsupportable belief and calls it a religion, apparently, you’re cool with that—and guess what? That means you’re admitting that your objective beliefs are really subjective. We don’t know what you mean by “social prophet,” but if it means philosopher, then sure, he has “no way out of relativism.” And, as we’ve shown a few times here, neither does the regular “prophet,” since he’s just a philosopher who’s fooling himself into thinking he’s something else. We mean, even if there were a God, it would still be the case that all the stuff religious people believe he wants them to do was made up by humans, right? And even if you believe that this part or that part of the Bible was dictated by God, those are a lot of the parts you guys have since softened up on, of your own accord—but are still just as convinced that you’re doing the “right” thing. But of course, this is only a problem for ethics. Science, as we’ve explained, is a different matter altogether. If you like objectivity so much, you should try letting us teach it—maybe even in one of those universities you think we’re the “enemy” of, when we’re actually the only thing keeping them from being burnt to the ground by religious people.
Anyway, Dr. Olson, by way of closing, we’re happy to tell you that we partly agree with your last point. You are indeed correct that we are not people of character and virtue because of our atheism—we were people of character and virtue first, and this is what has enabled us to become atheists.
Sexo Grammaticus is Lord High Editor of The 1585.
Sexo Grammaticus is Lord High Editor of The 1585