Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Beach Bum and Mark Shea

Mark Shea wrote something on Catholic Exchange. An atheist who calls himself Beach Bum responds. Mark does not seem inclined to respond so I thought I would give it a try.
In another attempt at obfuscation for the benefit of his godhead (which, for obvious reasons, can't clear everything up for itself) this Catholic now claims that, Christopher Hitchens is misreading the Judeo-Christian tradition by saying,

"the Jewish people did not get all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder and theft and perjury were okay.”

But the claim that we were created in the image and likeness of God, doesn't for a moment suggest that murder, or for that matter—many other immoral acts, are wrong. For this mythological god, incites their practice, as well as, commits many, including murder, repeatedly himself, as its portrait is recorded in the Bible. So, people would not recognize it as sacred from revelation, by reading the holy book or innately, "from the get go," as this Catholic asserts. Again, morality comes neither by this mythological patriarch's example or dictate.

 What Mark is referring to is the straw man Christopher Hitchens knock down in almost all of his debates. He pretends that Christians are unaware that any morality existed before the 10 commandments. Of course Christians do read the book of Genesis and are aware that it happens before the 10 commandments were revealed. What occurred at Mt Sinai was to make morality of God written on our hearts more clear and objective through public revelation. That was an important advancement that atheism seeks to undo.

As to God committing murder. That misses the point of what murder is. Life is a gift from God. We have no right to take someone's life. Only God may take it because God gave it. So to say God commits murder is quite strange. He can take anyone's life anytime.
Then our quarrelsome Catholic writes,

"Oblivious to the Church’s entire tradition of the natural law..."

while not clarifying what that "law" is, exactly. And, yet again, incorrectly characterizing Christopher's evaluation of the comment as, "a crushing debate point," he is consistent. It is indeed, verified fact, not just a debate point. It doesn't even make sense in the narrative itself, because the society they falsely claimed to have escaped from was a very advanced society with incredible feats of cooperation, so yes, the commandments were at least unnecessary. Societies were cooperating, coexisting, and collaborating with neighboring societies for some 10,000 years, prior to the time this mosaic narrative claims a mass exodus occurred. All cultures have a moral base that vary widely in some details but are very similar in others, and it's obvious which ones are from an evolutionary history that we share with other social creatures, especially primates.
Again, he misses the point. He admits he does not understand what natural law is. That is essentially admitting he does not know much about the subject of religion and morality. Natural law is a pretty basic concept. If you want to teach people about morality you should learn a little first. Like resenting yourself as an expert on music and then complaining somebody does not explain what a piano is. Maybe you don't know as much as you think.

The implausibility of even some spurious historical roots to this myth, the absurdity of the details, especially those connected to the commandments— show it to be patriarchal mythology. Constructed to malign belief in an older matriarchal mythology, related to a fertility goddess. The commandments of this tale were, in fact, redundant at the time of their creation. There is nothing historical about the Exodus narrative. The Jews are, in fact, descendants of Canaanites and were never slaves of the Egyptians. Moses is no more historical than Adam, Enoch, Jesus, Hercules, Apollo, Tom Sawyer, or Superman.
What makes up "implausibility"? We are talking about God giving us revelation. What should that look like? What would be a plausible way for God to do this. There are some huge displays of power described. Atheists often complain God does not do this often enough. That he should make Himself obvious. Then when He does they say that proves the event never happened. So evidence of the supernatural proves the evidence is faulty. Then lack of non-faulty evidence of the supernatural proves God does not exist.

The explanation for the general acceptance of the truthfulness of these religious myths is very simple. They didn't have an educational system to curb the myth to fact evolution that critical analysis of the evidence will curtail, then usually eliminate. Even Thomas Aquinas had the education of the average 7 year old today, and the philosophical prowess of a typical Inspirational Channel infomercial talking head, some 1400 years after the mosaic oral tradition took root.

Just asserting "there is nothing historical about the Exodus narrative" takes a lot of faith. OK, it does not take a lot of faith if you don't actually read it carefully and apply some thought. It does not read like fiction. Moses is not a superhero. The Israelites don't look to good either. Even God does some confusing things. Yet some guy wrote this many years later and everyone just accepted it as coming straight from God.

Now he asserts that people are by default hugely gullible. That they will believe anything. The solution is modern education. Really? It seems this guy has never read Thomas Aquinas. If he had he would not use him as an example of someone unable to do critical analysis. In fact Christians and Jews have a long tradition of critical analysis of the scriptures. It is the modern educated folk like Mr Beachbum that seem to jump to conclusions without much analysis.

Then this Catholic is once again, I was previously introduced to his various strawman fallacies, drawn to still more deplorable ad hominem arguments. But this pundit has such weak arguments, like any religious argument would be otherwise, that his main tactic is debasement of the opposition, poisoning the well, or the typical false premise. I give you, dear reader, as an example:

"Indeed Hitchens, like all the New Atheists (who are, in fact, creakily decrepit Old Atheists of a school that nearly died out), is ..."

Which is both wrong and irrelevant for many reasons, the first of which is  that atheism is not a "school." It is the absents of a belief in god(s), only. While at the same time based on scientific evidence that is being up dated daily. Therefore, while the concept of skepticism is as old as thought itself, the atheist view is based on philosophies and scientific discoveries that are current. And while I am honored to be numbered among the likes of Democritus, Epicurus, Robert G. Ingersoll, Andrew Carnegie, Katherine Hepburn, Francis Crick, Bertrand Russell, Bruce Lee it is obvious that Mark Shea is intent on poisoning his readership's opinion of atheists, but we are not "creakily decrepit" nor has atheism ever "nearly died out" as is shown by the Pew poll that shows the "no religious affiliation" is the only demographic to grow in all fifty states, not to mention the rest of the civilized world. Civilized world, that's another interesting point, ever notice that where ever the Pope reigns so does poverty and deplorable human "third world" conditions, talk about decrepit.

Ironically enough this complaint about straw man fallacies and ad hominem arguments becomes a straw man fallacy and an ad hominem argument. One difference is Mr Breachbum spends much more time at it than Mark Shea does. If he spent half as much time actually addressing the arguments instead of just calling them weak, deplorable, and worst of all religious.
Every despotic totalitarian dictatorship; indeed every claim to superiority, every genocide, every war, even slavery; homicides committed on the basis of someone's individuality, or opinion; claims of collaboration with mythical creatures or powers over the elements of nature, have had the revelatory backing of some mythical god. For this reason, especially, but not exclusively, I entreat everyone to question claims of authority, especially claims of authority based on religious entities, superstitious beliefs or revelation. This is why;
Ideas, beliefs or opinions are never to be held as sacred, ever, the most heinous acts ever committed by man were the result of self serving ideas, unsubstantiated beliefs, and the opinions of bigoted ignoramuses. The whole concept of the free market of ideas is that intellectual liberty is the ability to scrutinize any belief, every idea, regardless of their holder's opinions or appeals to authority. Like your own personal bigotry toward atheists, is more than likely based on unsubstantiated generalities, opinions that you hold toward our world view without justification. 
 This always amazes me how somebody can say atheism is the solution to "despotic totalitarian dictatorship" and not even address recent history that has seem atheist despotic totalitarian dictatorships. Is this the myth to fact without rational analysis he talked about?

But there are more problems with this paragraph than this. What if somebody does not agree with the notion of a "marketplace of ideas?" Isn't there a notion being smuggled in here that intellectual liberty is inherently good. Who says? Some ideas could be considered treasonous. Who has the right to say a government is wrong to jail or even kill those who teach treasonous ideas? Is there some moral code this government is bound to accept? Where does it come from?

Also, your opinion that Richard Rorty was a "real" atheist is based more on your opinion that he disliked science than on the basis of his understanding of theology and its absurdities. Or his understanding of ethology, the study of evolutionary animal behavior, which would have cleared up the misconception evident in the quote, which is actually concerning his philosophy of epistemology, you have used many times that I know of.

You should know that Rorty's philosophy was dealt with in absentia, in the 19th century in light of idealist philosophy with which his pragmatic ironism has many similarities. And that Karl Popper dealt with the validity of observation in the 50's it's called the scientific method. Maybe the similarity to our evolved morality observed in many social animals might suggest that what ought to be, is based on the evolutionary history of our species. In the sense that cooperation, care and compassion are the traits that were successful in our evolutionary past, Prof. Rorty would be wrong to conclude that it is "theft from a covert belief in something that transcends" when we have evidence of altruism in many different species. But Rorty's rejection of science would preclude his gleaning that knowledge. And his rejection of truth in general would preclude your claim to morality just as easily.
You miss the point here.  Finding evidence of altruism in many different species does not make it wrong to be cruel. We can find evidence of many species killing the pack leader and taking leadership himself. Humans do it too. What that means is that impulse can be reasonably supposed to have animal origins. It does not make it morally right or wrong. So if you were explaining why many people have negative moral feeling when they encounter cruelty that would be valid. But who says moral feelings imply some sort of absolute moral code we must all follow? If they just flow from evolution then maybe overcoming them is an evolutionary advance.
The point is this, morality 'Is' and it is not due to religion or anything supernatural, for there is no validity, no evidence, no reality to that claim, so I think Rorty's choice of the words "well-grounded theoretical answers" may be being over emphasized out of context. Science has made great strides in almost every field of endeavor in verifiable ways. And Prof. Richard Rorty may have been the one holding to a Platonic ideology that the imagined is as real as the corporeal, and even more perfect. But anything can be imagined, doesn't make it real. While Karl Popper's philosophy would suggest that all the failed attempts at falsification of the theory of evolution, substantiates our decision to continue to use it in further inquiry into questions posed by behavioral science and the theory of mind.
Morality 'Is'? So where did it come from? Is it rational? Is it a product of a superior intelligence? How can we know what is moral and what is not? Maybe this superior intellect would give some guy some stone tablets on a mountain somewhere. Would that not make sense? O right, it is not does to anything supernatural. That goes against your dogma. So where does it come from? Is it knowable. If a guy like Hitler say that it is moral to kill Jews can we prove objectively that he is wrong? This is the moral problem with atheism. Morality can be imagined. But no source of it can be considered and no communication of it can be valid.

How someone can logically correlate "god is not great" and "everyone thinks for themselves," with "Nothing Must Be Held Sacred," boggles the mind. Many different things are sacred to many different people, only it is in most cases, like respect, earned not given. Wherein my mother is more sacred to me, than to you for obvious reasons. Life is, arguably, more sacred to me than to you for I live as though this is the only life there is, for everyone. When I was in the service, I was asked many times, what I thought about dying. To which I replied, "it will be the end of pain." And those that think there is life after death are giving theirs under false pretences. Which is another horrendous property of religions, the motivating force employed by the General that yells, "Charge that wall men, who cares if god is on their side this time!" Oh, wait. Anyway, atrociousness... the problem is:  an atrocity begins when anyone tries to convince you that something they hold sacred is somehow more sacred than what you hold sacred. Which is exactly what religion does. You can either pretend that you agree and subjugate your importance to that of supernatural claims or stand and be counted as holding—as sacred, claims that are just as important as any asserted by those claiming supernatural authority. It's up to each of us to defend our liberty.
So he makes the same mistake with sacredness that he does with morality. He reduces it to a feeling an individual has. Perhaps many individuals share such a feeling. But the sacredness Mark is talking about is real whether people recognize it or not. That seems to be a blind spot with so many atheists. Protestants are the same way. They can't distinguish between what is objective and what is their personal opinion. 

And yes, atheists have killed people, so have Buddhists, football fans, painters and Christians, but of this list, only Christians have killed because of their faith.  And again, Hitler was a fundamentalist Catholic (actually go there, Mark, read Mien Kompf, the Nazi program especially #24 do the work). Stalin learned much of his totalitarian Platonist philosophies from seminary school. Marx was sure that religion would falter, and fall out of favor, due to disuse in an egalitarian society.  Mao and Pol Pot killed for the same reason all power mongers kill and never has it been for that "atheistic beliefs" canard, there aren't any. And besides, none of these tyrants actually killed, en masse, the pious peons that worked for them, that followed them, that believed in them—did the dirty work.
Only Christians have killed because of their faith? Muslims never do that? Whatever. Hitler was a fundamentalist Catholic? What does that mean? Hitler saw the church as the enemy. He said you could not be a Christian and a Nazi. He massacred priests. Not sure what he has to do to show he isn't Catholic.

Christians admit some bad acts have happened in the name of Jesus. The inquisition. Persecutions of one Christian group by another. We are not proud of it but we own it. That is part of the history of our faith. Atheists need to own their sad chapters in their history. This business about Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot were not really atheists is just lame. Rational people should not fear the truth. Have the courage to look squarely at the ugly side of atheism. You love to bring out the ugly side of Christianity but you won't do it for your own belief system.

So basically this is yet again another misguided, mischaracterization of a world view that only wishes to save people from their own irrationality, thereby helping humanity at large avoid recurring historical atrocities, while hoping they don't become victims of their own ignorance. I personally feel that the recurring atrocities were best summed up by Albert Einstein, when he stated:

" Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The Abrahamic religions have had more than 2000 years replete with misery, and culpability in many—far to many atrocities. The religiose should know, it is now inescapably obvious that this superstition has absolutely nothing in common with "peace on Earth" or "Good will toward humanity," can we stop with the insanity already. Let us give rationality a chance, and superstition the boot.
 I am not sure Einstein really said that. Even if he did it is a terrible definition of insanity. He was a physicist, not a psychologist. But people love this because it is incredibly easy to prove anybody insane. So if that is your goal then this will work. I just does not pass this critical analysis he talks about but it is becoming more and more clear that is for everyone else. You don't seem to do a lot of critical thinking yourself.

There is the notion of equating  religion with irrationality and superstition. This is essentially begging the question.We have had religion in all human societies. We have had suffering in all human societies. Does it follow that if you remove religion you remove suffering? No. In fact, attempts to remove religion have made suffering much, much worse.  
In the spirit of the Founders of this nation, who knew all too well the deplorable state of humanity brought about by the unabated indoctrination, the certainty of the dogmatic and the arrogance of ignorance, in a word piety, we should give humanity back to "We the People," for as Thomas Jefferson said:

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

Thomas Jefferson knew then what many know now, it is education that guards the mind from infection through the superstitious mind virus. And this is a critical point because once the mind virus gets in, rationalizations may be all that's left to the host. It is evidence that breaks the circular reasoning the Platonic ontology and the apologetic rationalizations that are everywhere displayed. 
Thomas Jefferson was not opposing Christianity. He was opposing Catholicism. They is what he refers to as "a priest-ridden people." He was suggesting a separation between church and state. He was not suggesting that the idea of God is a "superstitious mind virus." But atheism can have its own zealots. It can impose its own dogmas by force of the state. Jefferson assumed the state would have a plain Christianity. He did not want a radically atheistic state. He also did not envision religions that did not affirm that people were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

I do honestly hope that people realize one day that the accusations raise against atheism, are the very crimes religions have spawned for millennia. Atheism is the cure not the culprit, regardless of what propaganda people have been told.
 Love has spawned crimes for  millennia. So has money. Anything important becomes something people fight and die for. Does that make it unimportant? Quite the opposite. Religion is the only thing for which passion is seen as a sign that we should just ignore it. We don't want to tackle the big question in life because somebody might get too worked up. It is cowardice.

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