Answering Ian Boyne on Atheism
Jamaican journalist Ian Boyne threw down the gauntlet to atheists in this article. His arguments have been made and refuted so many times, it’s a wonder anyone anywhere on earth can still write them without blushing:
Let us assume that the Bible and the whole Judeo-Christian religion has been based on a myth, and a dangerous one at that. With what shall we replace it, and what will give the legitimacy which the Judeo-Christian culture commanded?
Humanism, and the elimination of human suffering. Reorientation of our priorities toward the living. Global availability of contraception and HIV medication. Mitigation of climate change. Planetary energy and resource sustainability. The universal inoculation of children against curable diseases, efforts toward education and the elimination of poverty, the assurance of universal access to adequate food and clean drinking water, for starters. If that doesn’t provide legitimacy, what would?
If we use majoritarian opinion as a guide to right and wrong, then what if the masses, ruled by their ‘untrained emotions’, want hanging for certain crimes and legislation against homosexuality? Would the enlightened European elite say that that would be ok as morality is now grounded by what the majority believes?
No, 1,000 times no. This would be the ever-fallacious argument from popularity. Human rights have been enshrined in constitutions in every democratic government since the Magna Carta was written–specifically to avoid such majoritarian abuses of power. I would go one step further, and work toward a future government where objective study of human nature could lead to an even more detailed elaboration of inalienable human rights based on evolutionary psychology. This would be accompanied with objective measures of leadership performance (previous post) and automatic ejection of incompetents.
Or should the secular, sophisticated elite be given a ‘divine right’, as it were, to decide ethical issues and to pressure democratically elected governments in the developing world to decriminalise homosexuality (for it is now deemed a human rights issue) and to abolish all laws granting capital punishment?
Homosexuality is present in many species other than humans, so it’s clearly part of animal (thus human) nature and therefore cannot be ethically banned by governments. Capital punishment may be justified in certain circumstances, (serial killers, and the like) but it makes the state subject to criticism that it is sanctioning the very crime it is designed to prevent. These types of ethical debates can only be weighed on their merits and resolved by reason. We do not have to choose between the false dichotomy of religious law vs. mob rule.
What if the majority in certain African societies want to continue to practise female circumcision, on what basis would anyone decide that that is wrong and should not be allowed? If people in certain cultures want to practise child-bride customs, legislate arranged marriages or to decide that thieves should have their hands cut off, who is going to decide that ethically that is wrong?
This is a complete and total straw man argument. Every single one of these cultural practices is clearly barbaric. Only pointy-headed cultural relativists would ever argue that they were remotely acceptable. Humanism does not imply relativism. It means bringing all cultures in line with respect for individual sovereignty over body and conscience, and declarations of objective and universal human rights.
Who has the right to replace the God whom Christopher Hitchens has deemed not great? If we leave individuals to their individual tastes and desires, then that is anarchy.
Since we have no evidence of a god doing anything whatsoever to intervene in world affairs, since god’s ‘books’ and ‘laws’ seem to have been written (poorly) by men, the question is not “Who has the right to replace god?” but rather “Who has the right to claim to speak for god?” That question should be put to organized religion even more strongly than Boyne puts it to the atheists.
What do the atheist men feel about their wives sleeping around on them? They can’t talk about that being against “the law of commitment”, for their wives can give all kinds of reasons as to why enjoying the sack with other men could even help improve their marriage.
If Christian women are only faithful to their husbands because of god, I think they’ve got some ’splainin to do. What about their own fidelity promises? Do they mean nothing? In either case, that is a matter to be worked out strictly between men (atheist or not) and their wives. As far as giving “all kinds of reasons as to why enjoying the sack with other men could even help improve their marriage”??–some couples are happy swingers. Jamaica’s own Hedonism resorts (of which Boyne must be aware) frequently host such swingers’ events. Regardless, religion has never been any help with stable marriages. Atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians.
Their business clients might decide to lie to them because it suits those clients. Why not? Who says lying is always wrong and by whose objective standards?
First of all, everyone lies. If you’ve ever had to answer the question “Do I look fat in these pants?” you probably lied. We lie to ourselves about our chances of success (to get psyched up for things we would otherwise be afraid to do). Doctors sometimes lie or fudge to their terminal patients to give them hope.
In terms of business relationships, if no one lied, there would never be any need for lawyers or contracts. Clearly, people never stop trying to gain advantage over each other, and that’s what negotiations are about. So learn the 48 Laws of Power and read The Art of War. These are far more likely to protect you in life than an inconsistent, sanctimonious political document written by who-knows-who 2,000 years ago (and adulterated countless times).
The need for a good reputation is the most powerful check on dishonesty, but the utility of reputation is often trumped by the short-term gains possible through deception. The idea of total honesty anywhere between humans is thus pretty much of a pipe dream. After all, anyone who says ‘god’ keeps them honest is already lying–or at least hedging–to protect the biggest racket of them all. Most importantly, religious leaders lie to their congregations repeatedly and systematically about their false certainties of an afterlife.
Any more questions?