Secular Right vs. not-so-Secular Right

To Believe in God or Not? Volume n in the Mac Donald vs. Novak debates.

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10 Responses to Secular Right vs. not-so-Secular Right

  1. Rollory says:

    Might I suggest putting the comment link at the bottom of the article, rather than the top? It’s a more natural place – you read through it, _then_ comment. You don’t want to have to scroll back up to the top.

  2. A-Bax says:

    Did anyone not think that Heather MacDonald OWNED Micahel Novak in that debate? The bit about the saint-pills, monkey-paws, and rabbits feet was great. Too many intellecutally sophisticated religious apologists (undestandably) neglect that fact that for the majority of believers, witch-doctory and “amulets against misfortune” are the order of the day. Most Catholic apologists are more comfortable in the abstruse realms of theology and cosmogony than they are in defending the efficacy of rosary-saying or praying to particular saints (I lost my keys, which saint is in charge of that again?)

    Also, Heather is dead-right when she writes that the problem of evil is not taken seriously enough by believers. It’s never been resolved, really, and Augustine’s attempt (that all “evil” is somehow really “good” in some wierd absolute scale), remains the only serious reply. (And it, of couse, falls short as it amounts to a denial of evil). Heather’s scenario of the little girl being washed away by the river, with her earthly father attempting to save her, but her puported heavenly father either being unwilling or unable to save her is flat-out unanswerable.

    Apologists will hem and haw about “grand schemes”, and “free will”, but they never quite plausibly make sense of how a god can be all-powerful, all-good, creator-of-all, yet there exists evil (or even misfortune). They either have to subtly deny evil (like Augustine did), admit the metaphyiscal existence of an evil apart from god (Manichean Heresy!), or acknowledge that God isn’t quite all-this and all-that.

    Instead, they burble on about free-will, never coming to grips with the obivous rebuttal that even if free-will is granted (a big concession, but for the sake of arguments lets do it), it is only the ability to choose BETWEEN alternatives….we don’t create the alternatives ourselves. (i.e., humans didn’t put the apple in the garden, papa-sky god did that.)

    Read Heather’s piece – it’s rock solid!

  3. Andrew T. says:

    A-Bax: you’re dead on. The problem in that ‘debate’ is that Novak never really made an argument. At the end of the day, there’s hair-splitting over amulets vs. Catholics, but there’s no ‘there’ there.

  4. Gerry Shuller says:

    Hey, I got your solution to the problem of evil right here! Be a atheist and the word has no meaning!

    Lemme guess … if I read the debates I would think Novak won … I wonder why … perhaps for the same reason secularists thought McDonald won …

  5. Andrew T. says:

    Without devolving *too* far off topic: it’s theists who have a problem defining what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are; philosophers call it the problem of Divine Command Theory and the Euthyphro dilemma.

    Basically: either good and evil are whatever God says they are — at which point rape and genocide are “good” if God wills it (and the words have lost all meaning) — or good and evil are a function of human intuition and/or reason, at which point the theist and the atheist derive their moral senses from the same place.

  6. Grant Canyon says:

    “Hey, I got your solution to the problem of evil right here! Be a atheist and the word has no meaning!”

    You don’t know many atheists, I guess.

  7. A-Bax says:

    Gerry: Evil definitely has meaning for an atheist. Just as “good” and “bad” do. Or “love” and “beauty”. Being unwilling to ground such concepts in supernatural commitments does not render those concepts unintelligible. Indeed, one might argue that any such attempted grounding only serves to obfuscate, rather than clarify, their meaning.

    Can I give necessary and sufficient conditions for “evil”? Can I define it in the same manner than an isocelse triangle is defined? Of course not. But neither can I, or you, or anyone really, do so with a variety of concepts that we all use (more or less correctly) all the time.

    Indeed, religions themselves make much use of this fact, playing on our intuitive grasp of good, evil, justice, and beauty, and our simultaneous inability to pinpoint the precise definitions of such terms. Religions offer us the (empty, in my view) explanation of such concepts in (even more nebulous and ineffable) supernatural claims.

    Ask yourself this: In what concrete, legitimate way is your concept of God not just a placeholder for “X”, or “I don’t know” – in short, ignorance? In other words, when faced with moral, existential, or empirical dilemmas, how is invoking “God” (as in, “God said so”, or “God did it”, or “God wants it this way”), not just passing the buck? Seriously? Why not just face the question sqaurely instead of adding more murkiness and confusion to the equation?

    (Whatever answers you’re coming up with now, ask youself why a modern-day Hindu or Ancient Greek would come up with a much, much different one. Did you just luck out in terms of when and where you were born?)

  8. TrueNorth says:

    I like these kind of debates, especially when both sides are intelligent and reasonable, like Novak and MacDonald. I also enjoyed the blogalogue between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris a while back (maybe the last thing I enjoyed on Sullivan’s website!). In both cases, however, the Faith side was totally massacred in my opinion.

    Both Sullivan and Novak are skillful debaters and are able to generate a lot of plausible and reasonable sounding extraneous observations that never get to the root issue of whether God actually exists or not. They may argue that it is good to believe that He exists, or that some bad things have been done by people who don’t believe He exists, and so on. The bring up all sorts of sundry issues like that which are irrelevant to the issue being discussed.

    On any other subject, I am sure Novak (and maybe even Sullivan) would immediately see the flaws in their arguments, but when the subject is religion critical reasoning just seems to fly out the window.

    To be fair, however, I believe that when anyone’s most cherished beliefs are threatened, they lose the ability to discuss them objectively. If someone came to me armed with statistics and incontrovertible facts that “proved” communism was in some way superior to free market democracy (perhaps using metrics that were agreed upon before the evidence was collected for each system) I would certainly not turn into a supporter of communism. I would then, like the religious, shift my argument to something like “I don’t care if communism is superior; I just prefer freedom, so go away and leave me alone”.

    The religious also like that. They prefer their way of looking at things and nothing you say to them will make any difference. People grow out of, or into, religion and reason has very little to do with it.

  9. A-Bax says:

    TrueNorth: Spot-On. I remember the Sam Harris / Sullivan showdown and it wasn’t even close. It exposed me to Harris for the first time, and I read his “End of Faith”. The bits of left-wingery were a bit much, but his relentless evisceration of faith as such was enjoyable. (Harris didn’t pull any punches!) Though I find his ultimatley confrontational stance a bit off-putting – I’m with Razib on the “evolutionary by-product” interpreatation of religion (or natualalized/ cognitive-pych interpretation) – Harris’s position does have it’s place, and I’m glad he’s out there.

    You’re right though, about how we all have irrational blindspots, and thus shouldn’t judge too harshly. (Harris is a bit harsh in that regard, and his “world government & naive utilitarianism” are just two such blindspots.) I’m sure I have my blindspots too…I just don’t think a lack of religious commitments is one of them.

    Andrew T.: Forgot about that one! (Euthyphro Dilemma). It, too, is unanswerable by fundamentalists. Though I think there are strains of Islam which bite the bullet on it, and assert that God’s love of something is a sufficient basis for that things goodness, regardless of our intuituons on the matter. (Rape, genocide, etc.) I’m open to correction, for sure, but I remember coming across that somewhere – that since Allah cannot be limited in any way, it’s logically possible for him to love something we prima facie think of as evil (and thus render our intutions, no matter how strong, mistaken.) OTOH, in Christianity, intuituve goodness and quintessential goodness conveniently dovetail (for the most part, anyway.) Am I wrong about the Islam part? Thoughts?

    Euthyphro’s Dilemma shows that our sense of goodness is really formed by something other than purportedly divine injunctions. (Else how would the claim “God is good” have any meaning?). Nice work.

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