One of the reasons why scientifically oriented skeptics don't seem to phase Christians much can be seen by understanding that most of them argue "from above" by assuming God rather than "from below" staring with this world and epistemological concerns. One of the reasons I think my arguments are seen as a direct attack to Christianity is because I acknowledge that the most important question of all is whether we should start "from above" or "from below." Then I spend over half of my book defending the view that we should start "from below." Christians will still disagree, but they can at least see that I take them head on.
From page 5: "Do you consider variations of the 'Christians can be jerks' complaint to be real arguments? It sure seems to bother you a lot." I think he completely miss the point of this argument. The fact that Christians act as bad or worse than non-Christians shows that Christians cannot claim to be morally superior. Yes, this doesn't mean that Christianity is wrong. It just means that Christianity does nothing to make you a better person.
He accuses the atheist arguments of being a mile wide and an inch deep.The arguments do not need to be but an inch deep to refute such obvious idiocy as Christianity.He complains that the new atheists do not develop sophisticated arguments against Christianity, and implies, but does not present any sophisticated arguments for Christianity. Courtier's reply. Next.It appears that he has, by years of practice no doubt, molded his brain into a shape incapable of seeing the points made by the arguments of atheists.Overall: lame.
I love Habermas, he is such a warm and inspiring guy who has overcome the tragedy of his wife dying of cancer. His faith is central to this and it pains me to have to disagree with him.I agree that the writings of the new atheists are mainly rhetorical and practical, dealing with Christians and Muslims on that level. War, politics, law, and where their beliefs inform their practical living and attitude towards science, morality, the environment, education, etc. These books are by no means meant to be deep, heavy, overly philosophical, or strong intellectual critiques of Christian philosophy and theology (like John's book is). They brush on these things to inform their illustrations on more practical issues. Though not perfect, I think they do a pretty good job for a popular audience.Most atheists are not atheists because they read philosophy and most Christians are not Christians because they read apologetics. Most of us have practical reasons for why we live our lives as we do. The deeper we get into philosophy and specialized argumentation, the further from practical living we become, until finally the theologian or philosopher is looked at as a bullshit artist, an expert in the invisible, or writing pages of arguments to prove an abstract idea with no empirical or practical accessibility. We are the "geeks" interested in this specialized stuff, and we become a very niche audience.Habermas wants to see a more weighty critique from a more intellectual rather than rhetorical standpoint. I agree, I like that better than emotionally charged rhetoric as well.That being said, I didn't see anything in his critique particularly devastating to the new atheist arguments that haven't been addressed already, at least to my satisfaction.It seems the places where the arguments might be flawed in the new atheists are on things that depend on conflicting studies like whether or not religious people are happier, give more, or are more moral than atheists, etc., or perhaps not referencing a quote correctly. Some things are clearly the opinion of the author and not a central argument for atheism. But when it counts, I have found these writings to be spot on, as have many former Christians and ministers who knew the arguments resonated with their struggles and accurately depicted their views, beliefs, and attitudes.
Here's another one on the same theme, and it's only a few pages.
Rev. Ouabach - Christians that "act bad or worse than non-Christians" must be excluded from your example. Only Christians that ACT like Christians can be contrasted with non-Christians. It's like saying that since 50% of teens that go through abstinence classes wind up pregnant proves that abstinence doesn't work... ABSTINENCE ALWAYS WORKS. No one gets pregnant by NOT having sex. You see the point?
That's a 15 page article written by a christian appologist that a I haven't read completely because after half a page I felt the urge to say "STOOOOP! WOW! WOW!""evolution-creation debate"?. Is there a debate? Is there any medical advancement made by creationists? A theory must produce predictions and palpable results. Otherewise we can have a dentist-tooth-fairy debate too.As for the ideea that Christopher Hitchens having to discuss metaphisical claims of the religious appologetics well, let's not forget the premise of religion: god's wants something from us and he communicated that. So all Hitchens could have discuss is epistemology. And the autoritarian, relevational epistemology can be dismissed by the variaty of "revelations". Either God is fucking with us, allowing various fake revelations interfere with his message (aka he is not great), doesn't care (why should we?) or he doesn't exist. That is so simple a first grader could understand.The christian appologists probably expects debating the same metaphisical stupidities uttered by Dinesh D'Souza like "The ideea that my left hand exists has the same metaphisical value as the ideea that my left hand doesn't exist" to which the only reply is "Than you would not mine if a uncertain hammer that I hold in my uncertain hand will try to smash your uncertain left hand".
Hi Logosfera,I second that.great comment!
Habermas' thoughts don't impress me. They are superficial and misleading.Here's an example. Habermas claims that Sam Harris, "simply taking for granted the process of evolution...begs the subject of the ultimate origin of the process." Habermas has set up a straw man. Harris DOESN'T take the process of evolution for granted. Even if he did, understanding a process does not have to involve understanding the origins of the process. Evolution is concerned with the origin of life as much as switching on a light bulb is concerned with the origin of electricity. The only light Habermas has shown on "new atheists" reflects back his own inability to admit his belief system is riddled with absurdities and contradictions.
Habermas complains that these two books do not talk about what he wanted them to talk about; they do not make arguments against the existence of gods. Well, did they claim they were going to? I mean, an atheist could write a book providing evidence and arguments against religion, but she could also simply discuss the failures of religion and the experiences that have reinforced her atheism. He also on page seven seems genuinely puzzled as to why these books provide no evidence against god's existence and for atheism. He doesn't seem to realize that you don't need evidence that specifically disproves a god to lack a belief in one. We looked around and didn't find a God. That's atheism. Anything else is another -ism.Also, I love how confused he is that atheists don't stay awake at night wondering about the things we don't know yet (p. 8). He thinks we are "plagued" with lack of knowledge. Look, we don't know yet. It doesn't mean we have to make something up about it or use a supernatural explanation. We're fine with not knowing. We expect that if there was a god involved, there would be evidence of that, and a lack of evidence (that we know of) is not proof that god did it (or that he didn't do it, to be fair).The part about objective morality is something I haven't studied yet. But it seems like the author is confusing "objective" with "supernaturally designed and upheld". It is possible to define good and evil objectively, as far as I know. Atheists aren't stuck in some subjective life where we aren't allowed to say we've been wronged since we don't believe in absolute truth (which is likely an illusion anyways). How is Habermas going to prove that there IS absolute morality? Because the Bible says so? I love this part: "It is much *easier* to answer the problems of evil and suffering from within a theistic (and especially Christian) worldview where all these other doctrines exist, than it is to explain all these other concepts in light of pain and suffering." (Emphasis added) We don't expect your worldview to be internally inconsistant. But we do expect that it ACTUALLY EXPLAIN THE PROBLEM OF EVIL IN LIGHT OF PAIN AND SUFFERING. You have to input data from the real world if you want it to be valid in the real world; you can't explain pain and suffering by ignoring it. And as far "easy" explanations go, "there is probably no god" is easiest of all.Plus, Habermas uses exclamation points. I hate that. It's like he is saying, "Aha! Gotcha! I win, atheists are stupid." Surely he could talk to a few atheists and get a response from them before he claims atheists can't win against THIS one! He is not very creative, although I think he made a few good points of criticism against these specific books. I don't think the books were meant to be comprehensive defenses of atheism, however.
His objection to the Problem of Evil borders on the moronic. One need only rename it the Problem of Suffering and the objection completely goes away.
He also seems to be completely unaware that atheism need not imply relativism. The blogger over at Daylight Atheism makes a very good case that morality is universal.
"there are signs that the movement may be miles wide but only inches deep, at least intellectually2"it doesn't take much depth to say "you got nothin'" or "show me some proof". at that point, the argument is done. they might spend years and books trying to offer vague hints of evidence or illogical reasons why they don't have to prove anything, but in the end the "shallow" "you still got nothin'" stands.
I absolutely agree that atheism does not entail moral relativism. When I engage Christian apologists, they seem to have a very difficult time understanding this concept. Michael Martin’s Atheism, Meaning, and Morality absolutely demolishes the idea that the concept of God is necessary for ethics. The dichotomy Habermas presents between subjectivism and objectivism is a false one. Evolutionary ethics provides a better explanation for morality. We are "hard wired" by nature to be moral, due in part to the fact that we are a social species. Morality is a result of "moral modules" in the brain. Research has indicated that moral emotions activate both the higher-level cognitive processes and emotional processes in the brain. We can not escape our biology (our "conscious"), so subjectivism does not explain morality. Our moral principles are also not so abstract and absolute as the theists claim. Morality is not about the commands or character of some transcendent Being. We "feel" that it is deeply wrong to kill, rape, steal, etc. This is the result of a few million years of evolution at work.
Habermas dismisses the problem of evil, claiming that in making it the atheist is implicitly affirming objective morality (and thereby theism). Assuming this is a sound objection, can we not reformulate the problem along these lines?:Christian morality (what God says is right and wrong and/or what believers affirm as such) is repeatedly violated by God himself in Scripture, and also in his creation. If causing gratuitous suffering is evil by God's/Christian standards, then why is there so much natural evil? If killing innocents is evil, then why does God do it and command others to do it? Either God lacks the knowledge, good will, or power to prevent such evils, or prevent himself from doing them, or he's above the moral rules (Nixon voice: "I'm saying when the Deity does it it's not evil!"). The latter option is, astonishingly, often affirmed by Christians. When confronted with OT atrocities, they often reply, "God made those people, including the babies, and thus, he can do as he likes with them, even kill them." This line of thought seems fine when we're talking about non-sentient things. If I build a bookshelf, it's mine; if I gather some apples from their natural state (a la John Locke), they become mine. And if I want to destroy the bookshelf or the apples, that's my prerogative. But how can this be true of human beings? I thought we were more than mere objects, especially on the Christian view.So, in short, any thoughts on reformulating the problem of evil as an inconsistency in Christian ethics? This avoids any charge that the atheist is making objective moral claims (not that that's a problem anyway), and puts the onus on the Christian to defend God's inconsistency with his own moral standards.
Torgo: In Christian doctrine, God the Father cannot possibly violate Christian morality, since Christian morality is specifically addressed to people and not to God Himself.The key to Christian thinking here is that God is not making any reference to a moral law external to Himself when He issues commands to humanity. He is acting in His capacity as the Creator of the Universe. This is very very different from what people do when we issue commands to each other, since we usually make reference to some moral law outside of ourselves, to which we ourselves expect to be bound as well as the person we're addressing. Not so with God, Who is the original source of all moral law.Just as He is not a human, so He is not subject to the laws He issued to the humans He created.Now, the other side to the Christian story is that Jesus became a human, and thus became subject to the laws He had created in the beginning as a member of the Godhead. He didn't violate them, though. So for Jesus, it's possible to violate moral law, because it's addressed to Him also, being a human, but for the Father it's not possible to violate moral law, since he's not a human and it's not addressed to Him.This is where it becomes possible to answer your objection, where you say:I thought we were more than mere objects, especially on the Christian view.The heart of this objection is that if we're just objects subject to arbitrary moral law, just like bookshelves and apples, aren't we doomed? Can't God just kill us under His moral law? We know He doesn't want to just kill us, because we're special - We're made in His image, or so He claims. Isn't it incumbent on Him not to arbitrarily slaughter us, since He would be arbitrarily slaughtering examples of His own image?See, it's because we're special that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us and save us from the destruction that we were doomed to when we violated moral law.The objection disappears when you realize that in Christian doctrine, God did provide a way for us to be saved, so we're not actually subject to arbitrary destruction, like a bookcase or an apple. There is a way to escape death, so God's not on the hook for capriciously destroying His own precious images.
Logismous: That is a very curious view--what can the Christians possibly mean when they say, "God is good," if words like good and evil cannot apply to God?--but surely we can apply them to his acts, to which I would ask you this. Was it good or evil when God killed David's son for his father's sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah? (2 Samuel 12:15)
Logismous Kathairountes, You are wrong: Christ said: "be ye holy EVEN AS your heavenly Father is holy": neither *more*, nor in a *different* manner. And the commandments Christ gave only serve to detail that holiness: being good to those that do us wrong, blessing those that curse us, praying for those that persecute us, loving those that hate us, turning the other cheek, and so on. One of God's frequent names is "the Holy One of Israel". I won't even comment on Your statement that Christ isn't human; as for our redemption, just like our creation, it's done out of the abundance of God's infinite love and mercy.
I don't need science to tell me that the core tenets of Christianity are both false and immoral, my faith tells me so.Where science comes in is in debunking some of the lunatic claims Christianity has made about the physical world, such as creationism or the claim that Christian morality is superior.
Non believers who take Habermas seriously miss the point. You are not is demographic. Rational discourse is not his business. His living is saying this stuff for other believers. They buy his books. They pay his salary. They pay to see his lectures. You, the non-believer, are the boogie man he uses to make his living.He doesn't have to persuade you. He doesn't have to be reasonable or consistent or even rational. He just needs to talk fast and be definite and say what believers want to hear.
I don't understand many theists. They whine about atheists and their arguments but often their bark is worse than their bite. This guy didn't do anything to counter the atheists and, in my opinion, didn't understand most of the arguments put forth to begin with. I offer a few comments on a few things that jumped out at me. "While more sophisticated, Harris mostly limits his comments to the truth of evolution and the inability of Intelligent Design to bring God into the process. But along the way, he stumbles at various philosophical points. For example, it does not help his case to acknowledge freely that, "How the process of evolution got started is still a mystery . . ." (p. 73), or, "the truth is that no one knows how or why the universe came into being" (p. 75).Because atheists are plagued by such lack of knowledge regarding these absolutely bedrock truths regarding the origin of both the universe and evolution, how can they possibly be so positive that God was not the Author? If I were an atheist, this honestly confessed ignorance in such crucial areas would simply plague my thinking with question marks."That part just blew my socks off. This argument must be the worst ever. Just because it is unknown what "caused" this universe to spring into being (assuming it hasn't been "here" in some form of some sort or another forever) doesn't mean it was their god. How people can have such a gigantic hole in their thinking just baffles me. Atheists and scientists are not sure yet of the beginnings of the universe (or even if it's eternal), and the cockiness of theists to say "god did it" just annoys the hell out of me. I don't know and neither do you, so shut up with your "god did it" crap, is what I'd like to announce to anyone who says such a thing.He berates Harris and Hitchens for not coming up with any clear cut arguments against god when he completely ignores Richard Dawkins, who did a decent job with several arguments. This article was about the "New Atheists," which Dawkins is a part. He complains about morality and asking why Harris feels certain acts are wrong:"Absolute morality? We have already seen that both Hitchens and Harris insist that atheists can be just as moral as Christians. Harris takes it a step further: he insists more than once that atheists can also embrace "objective morality" and hold that some moral principles are simply grounded objectively; therefore rape, murder, and slavery are absolutely wrong (pp. 19, 23-25).I wonder if philosophically-inclined atheists cringe when they read Harris's words. In discussions of ethical theory, one will almost never find philosophical atheists who argue for absolute ethical standards. The chief reason they deny intrinsically grounded, absolute ethical standards seems to be rather obvious: objective moral standards cannot be expected to result from an atheistic, evolutionary system grounded in the impersonal principles of the improbable but chance development of life. Rather, atheists almost always argue that societies develop their own morality, often declaring that the underlying principles are something like those of pragmatic utilitarianism. But on atheism, no ethical principle is intrinsically right or wrong, and morality is not objective."I don't see why any atheists would cringe when reading Harris' words. Rape, murder and slavery are all wrong. Theists' arguments about morality are just pathetic. Theists MUST prove god to exist before they can even begin to claim that is where morality comes from. Other than that, I'd argue (rightly) that morality comes from our biology, society, and upbringing.His claim that "objective moral standards cannot be expected to result from an atheistic, evolutionary system grounded in the impersonal principles of the improbable but chance development of life" seems to me that he is arguing that we get our ideas of morality from evolutionary theory, which would be very mistaken. I'm fairly new to this subject but as I understand it, yes, natural selection seems to have crafted our innate sense of morality. But where many theists (as he isn't the only one I've seen argue this - assuming this is what he's arguing) seem to misunderstand the research into this innate morality and assume that because of the blind, and often cruel workings of natural selection, that's where we derive our morals from. Not anywhere close to true. We don't follow the principals of natural selection, but that process crafted our innate sense of morality.I also don't understand so many theists' insistence of calling evolution "atheistic." Don't they know millions of theists accept evolution?This was a complete hack job and didn't do a thing to argue against the "new atheism."
I attended a lecture by Marcus Borg on this subject a couple of nights ago and reviewed it on my own blog.Thanks for linking to the Habermas post. Hard to believe he needed 15 pages, ain't it?Ó
@LvkaAnd the commandments Christ gave only serve to detail that holiness: being good to those that do us wrong, blessing those that curse us, praying for those that persecute us, loving those that hate us, turning the other cheek, and so on. Was God good to Adam and Eve? As I recall he was good only with the snake. Isn't it a bit immoral of an superior being to as an inferior being a behaviour that he himself was not capable of?How many times did Jesus prayed for Satan? And why didn't it work?Turning the other cheek? Wasn't this actually an act of rebelion of slaves against their violent owners? Make up your mind about how you interpret this passage.
Quixie,I read your blog post about Marcus Borg. Very interesting. In his paper he seemed to greatly disagree with everything the new atheists said, but in his speech (from what you quoted) he seemed to agree on much. What's all that about? Seems very contradictory to me.
Habermas is a brain-dead wussy.His critique of Hitchins and Harris was nothing but straw man arguments.And he didn't even have the balls to critique Dawkins.15-pages of "haha...atheists are stupid, because I say so".It would be an insult to everyone under 20 to even call this "juvenile".
"The arguments do not need to be but an inch deep to refute such obvious idiocy as Christianity.He complains that the new atheists do not develop sophisticated arguments against Christianity, and implies, but does not present any sophisticated arguments for Christianity. Courtier's reply. Next.""Tee-hee!" is not a legitimate form of argumentation.By the way, are you the same low-watt bulb who posts to pharyngula as stevec?
"...the cockiness of theists to say 'god did it' just annoys the hell out of me."God did it."He berates Harris and Hitchens for not coming up with any clear cut arguments against god when he completely ignores Richard Dawkins, who did a decent job with several arguments."Pull the other leg; it has bells on it.I read Dawkins' chapter on classical theism (and the one either preceding or succeeding it) and I would characterize it as an extended horse laugh, which is not a legitimate form of argumentation.It is no wonder to me that Dawkins was shuffled off to that bogus "chair for the public understanding of science" (from which he recently retired) because his research output (which is of questionable worth) dried up twenty years ago.
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