• David Marshall’s 144 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, Highly Dubious Claims, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion, Part 6

    #105 Are most Americans pro-choice? “A substantial majority of American Christians do not take an absolutist attitude to abortion, and are pro-choice.” (297)

    The first is true, the second dubious at best. A Los Angeles Times poll in 2005, the year before Dawkins’ book was published, showed the following:

    41% favored making abortion illegal with a few exceptions.
    24% favored making abortion always legal
    19% favored making abortion legal most of the time.
    12% favored making abortion totally illegal.

    Whether you define the “pro-choice” position as favoring the right to abortion in all or in most cases, neither 24% nor 43% constitutes a majority.

    A Gallup / CNN/ USA Today poll yielded similar results later the same year. Their poll asked, “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?” Results were:

    Legal under any circumstances: May of 2005, 23%; June of 2005, 24%; November of 2005, 26%

    Legal under most circumstances: May of 2005, 12%; June of 2005, 15%; November of 2005, 16%

    Legal only under a few circumstances: May ’05, 40%; June ’05, 40%; November ’05, 39%

    Illegal in all circumstances: May ’05, 22%; June ’05, 20%; November ’05, 16%

    No opinion/no response: May ’05, 3%; June ’05, 1%; November ’05, 3%

    Again, “legal under any circumstances” was affirmed by only about a quarter of Americans. Even with “legal under most circumstances” added on, that’s still a substantial minority – just 42% — which would be a very poor showing in a presidential election.

    Dawkin’s error seems, again, to arise from citing only a friendly web-site, the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” and ignoring neutral or hostile sources.

    This is definitely a case of nitpicking since this is referring to a meager footnote in The God Delusion. However, it does appear that Marshall is correct. Though, perhaps Dawkins spoke of things to come since a more recent survey shows that in 2009 the U.S. has a majority of pro-lifers. [35]

    We’re now we’re up to error number 10…out of 105. Pathetic.

    #106 Is capacity for suffering a wise criteria for choosing whom not to kill? “Secular moralists are more likely to ask, ‘Never mind whether it is human (what does that even mean for a little cluster of cells?); at what age does any developing embryo, of any species, become capable of suffering?” (298)

    Does that mean murder would be all right when the victim was asleep, or under anesthesia? Or is it the capacity for suffering, rather than actual suffering, that makes murder wrong, for some reason? What reason? I certainly hope “secular moralists” have thought this issue through more carefully than that. Dawkins simplification of moral ethics, like his simplification of Medieval philosophy, carries the characteristic odor of the dilettante.

    Marshall omits Dawkins’ context. He was discussing abortion. As I said in a previous argument, I believe a woman should have a choice. However, as far as using the criteria of the ability to feel pain to determine which fetus to abort and which not to, I think this method fairly sound. Marshall appeals to a slippery-slope argument and claims that should we adopt this standard we would be killing anyone who doesn’t fee any pain. But this is clearly not a method to use in all situations. On page 297 in The God Delusion Dawkins discusses this issue at length about how an early term embryo has no thoughts, feelings, sense of pain, aspirations, unlike a fully grown human. Therefore if someone felt they had to abort their developing baby then they should feel less hesitation since they know it will not suffer.

    Perhaps there is a better criteria and perhaps not. Either way, Marshall’s appeal to such a slippery-slope argument is unconvincing since it’s not always possible to apply one principle (it it alright to kill if an embryo feels no pain) to all other decisions one makes in life. In this case I believe it’s one of the best options we currently have for making these decisions.

    This is another example of Marshall touting his opinion, and is attacking Dawkins’ opinion.

    #107 Is the Beethoven argument valid? On pages 298-300 Dawkins takes on what he describes as the “Great Beethoven fallacy,” the argument against abortion that goes, “The father was syphlitic, the mother tuberculous. Of the four children born, the first was blind, the second died . . . What would you have done?” To the answer, “I would have terminated the pregnancy,” the pro-life debater drops his punch-line: “Then you would have murdered Beethoven!”

    Dawkins ridicules this argument, first of all, by pointing out that the story about Beethoven is an urban legend. Beethoven was a second child, and his father apparently did not have syphilis.

    The more important point, Dawkins points out, is that the same logic would condemn us for any failure to engage in sexual conjunction. After all, a Beethoven, Da Vinci or Einstein might issue from any of act of love — and we have no idea which. After playing with the idea with Monty Python, Dawkins concludes:

    “The Great Beethoven Fallacy is a typical example of the kind of logical mess we get into when our minds are befuddled by religiously inspired absolutism.”

    Beethoven is not an argument I would choose to make. But despite the rhetorical show, Dawkins is missing the point. Beethoven is a response to the “unwanted child” argument made by the Pro-Choice side, or the eugenicist-turned-liberal who says, “These kids can’t have a real life, born into poverty and all.” As such, the logic is valid — one cannot assume that birth into desperate circumstances will mean a life unworthy of living — even if better examples could be chosen. (One I have heard is Jesus.)

    I don’t see how Marshall can possibly claim this so-called rebuttal answers Dawkins’ argument at all. This “Beethoven Fallacy” is often used to argue against abortion. I found this very argument used on a Baptist Church pastor’s website. The man’s name is Glen Stocker and he wrote the following in his article titled, “What God Says About: Abortion Verses Pro-life”:

    I will close this chapter by quoting a well known lecturer in medical schools. He “asked one of his classes what they would recommend in the following case:
    “The father had syphillus.
    “The mother had TB.
    “They had four children already.
    “One was blind.
    “One was born dead.
    “One was a deaf mute.
    “One had TB.
    “The mother was pregnant with her fifth child.
    “Almost without exception, the medical students indicated that they would recommend abortion.

    “The lecturer then stated, ‘Congratulations! You have just killed BEETHOVEN!'”

    Abortion is murder, pure and simple to all but the amoral. To all who have honestly looked at the facts, there is but one Biblical, Biological or Moral conclusion, and that is abortion is murder. [36]

    This is just another example of nitpicking in my opinion.

    # 108 “The granting of uniquely special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution.” (300)

    By “cells” here Dawkins means “a developing human at an early stage,” not a flap of skin off a cut. In that sense, Dawkins’ comment is both pernicious and untrue. Untrue because philosophers can easily reconcile special rights for early-term babies with evolution, especially if they don’t assume atheism as well. (And yes, the “slippery slope” may come in here.) Pernicious, because that slippery slope marks a course modern society has slid down more than once. It would be foolish to scoff at the abyss while broken bodies still groan up from the depths.

    The error here lies in assuming that evolution by itself gives human beings the same status as animals — apart from intellectual capacity, presumably. That would only be true if, as Dawkins assumes, evolution implies atheism. God may (for all Dawkins knows) have lent human beings a status unique among animals — as the Genesis account says He did — even if we originally arose from the same source or process.

    Marshall takes Dawkins out of context here. This quote was taken out of a much larger body of text explaining why, from the point of view of evolution, the term “human” is meaningless. Dawkins is arguing against the pro-lifer’s “pro-human life” stance by arguing it is undermined by evolution, thus Dawkins’ sentence, “The granting of uniquely special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution” because where does the distinction between human and animal end?”

    The large problem for Marshall is that he assumes that god had any hand in evolution and assuming there is a god in the first place when that proposition is far from definite, depending on your point of view. Though, I don’t think there is any positive evidence of a god.

    “An early” stage can mean many different things, but Dawkins is clearly referring to stage of development when “we” are nothing more than a few hundred cells, hardly any sense a human being so I don’t see how this view is “pernicious” at all.

    It also would have been nice if Marshall would have pointed out a few of these supposed examples of philosophers reconciling evolution and “special rights.” Because he is so vague on this point, there is nothing to rebut here.

    #109 How many murderers make a plural? “In illustration of the dark side of absolutism, I mentioned the Christians in America who blow up abortion clinics.” (301)

    Actually, I think he only mentioned one. (See Truth Behind the New Atheism, 190-193, also Harvard and the Unabomber.)

    This matters because Dawkins depicts fringe Christianity as the center, or “mainstream” as he puts it. (See #113-5.) Use of a singular noun here might have made the maneuver too obviously ridiculous.

    More nitpicking. Here is another example where Marshall is demonstrated that he didn’t bother to read Dawkins’ book close enough. Not only did Dawkins mention Paul Hill but also the Army of God, who also committed acts of terrorism. He also discussed Michael Bray, who was convicted in 1985 of two counts of conspiracy and one count of having in his posession explosive devices that were related to ten bombings of abortion clinics.

    #110 Are Christians enthusiastic about doomsday? “Or, switching to Christianity, I could have cited those American ‘rapture’ Christians whose powerful influence on American Middle Eastern policy is governed by their biblical belief that Israel has a God-given right to all the lands of Palestine. Some rapture Christians go further and actually yearn for nuclear war because they interpret it as the ‘Armageddon’ which, according to their bizarre but disturbingly popular interpretation of the book of Revelation, will hasten the Second Coming. I cannot improve on Sam Harris chilling comment, in his Letter to a Christian Nation:

    “’It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud . . . Imagine the consequences of the US government actually believed that the world was about to come to an end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.’” (302)

    This is overwrought nonsense. Why, first of all, does Harris say almost half of Americans “apparently” believe the end of the world will be a good thing? It is because he is extrapolating beyond his own data. He cites a survey that shows that 44% of Americans think Jesus is going to return in the next 50 years. He then adds that “according to the most common interpretation (how did Harris, a secular Jewish science grad student, decide what the most common interpretation of Christ’s return is?) Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth.” Then he tosses out the “mushroom cloud over New York” image to spice things up.

    This is, of course, sleazy rhetoric and horrendous logic. The implication that American Christians would be anything other than horrified to see an American city obliterated is, frankly, disgusting. Both Dawkins and Harris owe American Christians an apology.

    It is true that theology, or atheology, do influence how we see the world.

    I took a survey at probably the strongest pro-Israeli church in Washington State, a conservative, politically-active Assembly of God “megachurch” that often puts on programs in support of the state of Israel. I asked 58 mostly highly-dedicated members of a “worldview” class, “Which statement best describes your views of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Muslims?” Responses were as follows:

    “America should remain neutral.” (4 votes)

    “America should support Palestinian Arabs because their cause is just.” (0 votes)

    “America should support Israel, because God promised them the disputed territories.” (39 votes)

    “I believe Christ will return following the battle of Armageddon. The US should support Israel in order to bring the End Times closer.” (9 votes)

    “I cannot support the Palestinian Arabs, because they use terrorism.” (26 votes)

    “I cannot support Israel, because it oppresses the Palestinian Arabs.” (0 votes)

    “America should support Israel, because their cause is just.” (27 votes)

    “Other” (3 responses — justice for all, love is most important, etc.)

    Whatever their influence might be (and I think it is exaggerated), it does appear that the most pro-Israel conservative Christians believe God has provided the land of Israel for the Jewish people. A few even seem to buy the “support Israel, and wait for Armageddon” view. But the fact that only a relatively small minority at one of the most pro-Israel congregations in the country take that position, casts doubt on the idea that it has the impact on international policy that Dawkins supposes.

    And notice that for most such Christians, theological reasons for supporting Israel seem to be integrated with the belief that (1) the Israeli cause is just (as one might say of the Taiwanese or South Korean cause against the states that threaten them) and (2) their Arab opponents practice terrorism. So it’s not purely a matter of abstract theology. Even among “rapture” Christians, views of the Middle East are influenced by theology, but not “governed” by it – they are aware of the history of the Jews, persecuted by both Europeans and Arabs for more than a thousand years. They are also aware of the activities of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization that preceded Hamas.

    When I surveyed a similar class in a conservative church within the “mainline” Presbyterian Church — USA denomination, more people said America should support Israel “because their cause is just” than because “God promised them the disputed territories.” More also seemed to favor a neutral stance (though the sample was very small), and a couple people said they favored the Palestinian Arab side. No one affirmed the “Armageddon” position.

    First of all, this study has too small of a sample size to determine such a large groups’ views. Second, theology does have much to do with many Christians’ views about Israel. According to a poll taken in 2008 a vast majority support Israel because of explicitly religious reasons. “In a 2008 poll taken in the US, more than 80 per cent of Christians stated that they had a ‘moral and biblical’ obligation to love, pray and support Israel, while 62 per cent of evangelicals said that Jerusalem should remain Israel’s undivided capital.” [37]

    In addition, there was an earlier poll taken in 2003 by the Pew Forum. It’s results were the following:

    Compared to other Americans, the survey found that white evangelical Protestants were…

    1. Significantly more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians – 55% sympathized more with Israel, only 6% with the Palestinians (versus 41% and 13%, respectively, of all those surveyed).

    2. Significantly more likely to say that religious beliefs were the single biggest influence in leading them to sympathize more with Israel – 46% versus 26% of all those surveyed.

    3. Significantly more likely to believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews – 72% versus 44% of all those surveyed.

    4. Significantly more likely to believe that Israel fulfills the biblical prophecy about Jesus’ second coming – 63% versus 36% of all those surveyed. [38]

    I also find it very odd that Marshall’s own poll gives him the exact same results. Religious reasons are a large cause for the support of Israel, but he attempts to minimize it by strangely arguing that their theological views were “integrated” with their views that Arabs are terrorists. I don’t see how his data shows this at all. These two views have nothing to do with one another. They plainly believe what they do for religious reasons.

    Finally, Harris likely arrived at his belief about the so called “Tribulation” because many Christians believe that massive catastrophes must occur before Jesus can return. Several polls have demonstrated this but here is one example. According to a Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Research Associates 755 randomly selected adults were polled as to their beliefs about the end times. Here is a sample of some of their results:

    Of those who believed that Armageddon will happen:

    1. 83% believed that the second coming will be preceded by natural disasters; 66% by epidemics; 62% by mayhem.

    2. 57% believed in the final judgment where people will be divided into two groups for transportation to heaven or hell. [39]

    It should be clear that many more Christians believe this than Marshall would like his readers to believe. I also do not believe Sam Harris nor Richard Dawkins ‘owes’ an apology to anyone because these views are pretty common as the polls I cited demostrated.

    #111 Does Christianity teach the murder of abortion doctors? “However misguided we may think (terrorists), they are motivated, like the Christian murderers of abortion doctors, by what they perceive to be righteousness, faithfully pursuing what their religion tells them.” (304)

    What they THINK their religion tells them. It would be hard to find a passage in the Bible that commands anyone to kill abortion doctors. The Old Testament does allow capital punishment for murder (however that is defined), but then so, it seems, does Richard Dawkins.

    Perhaps Dawkins misspoke a bit. The Christian bible itself may not specifically tell Christians to kill abortion doctors but their actions can certainly be justified because of what the bible says, which was Dawkins’ point anyway.

    A common belief for fundamentalist Protestants and Roman Catholics is that “every sexual act must be open to procreation,” therefore there is some theological basis for their beliefs. [40]

    In addition, there are some murderers of abortion doctors who have cited the bible as justification for their crimes. One example is Paul Hill, who wrote, “During the Nightline broadcast, I defended the shooting [of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn by Michael Griffin] on the basis of the Sixth Commandment (which not only forbids murder, but also requires the means necessary to prevent murder). It is not enough to refrain from committing murder; innocent people must also be protected.” [41]

    #112 What motivates terrorists? “They are not psychotic; they are religious idealists who, by their own lights, are rational. They perceive their acts to be good, not because of some warped personal idiosyncrasy, and not because they have been possessed by Satan, but because they have been brought up, from the cradle, to have total and unquestioning faith. Sam Harris quotes a failed Palestinian suicide bomber who said that what drove him to kill Israelis was ‘the love of martyrdom . . . I didn’t want revenge for anything. I just wanted to be a martyr.'” (304-5)

    I don’t want to give the impression that I in any way approve the actions of Paul Hill, the ex-Presbyterian pastor who murdered the abortion doctor, or Michael Bray, his friend. (Dr. Dawkins neglects to point out that Hill had already been ex-communicated by his church for defending violence – which seems like a wise thing to have done.) But I think it’s obvious that the motives of these extremists were different from the suicide bomber Harris cites. In this case, the Christian terrorist killed to protect innocent life (as he saw it) from the guilty. The jihadist killed innocent lives (as he explained) to get to heaven. (Mohammed promised salvation to those who die in jihad against unbelievers; even Presbyterians who happen to be terrorists seem to know better than that!)

    Dawkins also appears to be biographically incorrect. According to Wikipedia, Hill converted to Christianity (from a life of fighting and drug abuse) at the age of 19. So apparently he was NOT brought up from the cradle to have “total and unquestioning faith” in Christianity — though his childhood background obviously may have had something to do with later career choices.

    Marshall has his facts all wrong here. First of all, I cover the role of religious beliefs in inspiring violence in my review of his book quite extensively so I’ve refuted his argument as it applies to Christians in general. Second, I find this to be another example of nitpicking.Who cares if Hill wasn’t raised “from the cradle” in his religion? Hill had been a Christian for a long time by the time he had committed those crimes. Third, Marshall actually agrees with Dawkins when he writes, “In this case, the Christian terrorist killed to protect innocent life (as he saw it) from the guilty.” Yes, as Dawkins said, he doesn’t believe these Christians are insane. He believes they are acting very rationally, based upon their religious beliefs, and as I noted previously, Paul Hill gave (for himself) a rational biblically-based reason to kill abortion doctors. Finally, it was not Hill’s “childhood background” which inspired him to kill. It was the bible, plain and clear.

    #113 Is religious fanaticism “mainstream” in contemporary America? “In early 21st Century America, what seems extreme to the outside world is actually mainstream.” (318-9)

    Having grown up in the evangelical community in America, lived almost five decades among evangelicals, largely American, visited over 300 churches of many denominations around the world, and spoken in many of them, almost always with periods of Q & A following, I say nonsense. I do not meet the lunatics Dawkins seeks out. The vast majority of those I do meet are intelligent, hard-working, and honest, and add a great deal (as Arthur Brooks shows in a systematic way) to society. Dawkins cherry-picks the most extreme, distorts even that, then portrays his warped caricatures as mainstream reality. (I show how he does this, and respond in more detail, in chapter 10 of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, “What About the America Taliban?”)

    I agree that Dawkins overstated the pervasiveness of these Christian right-wing extremists so I will count this as another error in Dawkins’ book.

    #114 Is “theocracy” on the horizon for America? Quoting a “concerned American colleague:”

    “If secularists are not vigilant, Dominionists and Reconstructionists will soon be mainstream in a true American theocracy.” (319)

    Most Americans don’t even know what these two terms mean; and very few Christians want anything other than Constitutional democracy. Again, refer to the chapter in my book on this subject for a complete response.

    Once again, no these extremists are not mainstream, but there is a very good reason that secularists and moderate religious believers must remain vigilant. Over the years religious right proponents have sought to pass numerous examples of religiously-based legislation, such as H.RES.888, thus breaching the “wall between church and state.” [42]

    #115 Is Pastor Roberts “mainstream,” or a “wing nut?” Dawkins introduces a Colorado preacher who founded a place called “Hell House.” The purpose of Hell House is to shock children into living lives of virtue by graphically depicting the horrors that await them if they don’t shape up. Dawkins concludes: “We cannot write off Pastor Roberts as an extremist wingnut. Like Ted Haggard, he is mainstream in today’s America.” (320)

    By this point in the book, the very fact that Dr. Dawkins takes note of a man has become evidence that he is in fact an “extremist wingnut.” I had never heard of such a place until Dawkins introduced it; and I’ve been to hundreds of evangelical churches and fellowships. Nor do I know anyone who would approve of such abuse. (Though apparently there are quite a few Brits who approve of the British public school system.)

    Once again, Marshall restates essentially the same argument as in #113 in an attempt to artificially inflate the number of errors.

    #116 Do Christians celebrate hell? “Whatever they believe hell is actually like, all these hellfire enthusiasts seem to share the gloating Schadenfreude and complacency of those who know they are among the saved.” (320)

    Dawkins quotes Ann Coulter: “I defy any of my co-religionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.” (321)

    Ann Coulter: I do not laugh. Nor in presentations around the country, speaking in front of thousands of people on the New Atheism and Richard Dawkins, have I yet heard your sentiment seconded. (Even after I read some of Dawkins’ harshest attacks against their faith.)

    In the past week, an atheist wished hell existed just so I could go there, and a critic of Intelligent Design who boasts of his friendship with some of Dawkins’ favorite evolutionary biologists described to me how he’d like to feed me to snakes or crocodiles. So obviously delight in the suffering of others is not a purely theistic phenomena.

    It should be an even more obvious that not everyone who believes in hell, wants anyone at all to go there.

    But what is hell like? Isn’t it cruel for God to create such a place to begin with? I have often recommended C. S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, which I think is the most persuasive and insightful answer to these and other questions on the subject.

    This is another example of nitpicking. This isn’t any form of an error or exaggeration.

    #117 Is teaching about hell is child abuse? “Jill Mytton herself had been brought up to be terrified of hell, had escaped from Christianity as an adult, and now counsels and helps others similarly traumatized in childhood: ‘If I think back to my childhood, it’s one dominated by fear. And it was the fear of disapproval while in the present, but also of eternal damnation. And for a child, images of hell-fire and gnashing of teeth are actually very real. They are not metaphorical at all . . . Hell is a fearful place. It’s complete rejection by God. It’s complete judgment, there is real fire, there is real torment, real torture, and it goes on for ever so there is no respite from it.'”

    In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis points out that the Bible offers a variety of metaphors, not all of which fit popular Medieval images. His own quite different images in The Great Divorce may have been partly based on the experiences of the Indian Christian mystic, Sundar Singh. Lewis’ point in both works is that hell is NOT rejection by God, it is rejection OF God BY us – and that in a free world, we must be allowed a choice.

    Dawkins presents the teaching of eternal punishment as “child abuse.” But if that is true, wouldn’t it also be “child abuse” to tell children that no matter what they do, at the end of their lives they just die and fall to pieces? Both are harsh lessons. But the Christian story at least leaves a way out, the possibility of a happy ending. Should atheists be charged with child abuse? I’m not sure that’s a helpful question to ask. I don’t think any parent should be chastised for kindly and lovingly teaching his children what they honestly believe to be true, especially if they are careful to admit to the incomplete state of their own knowledge.

    Dawkins’ complaint also runs up against more systematic research, which shows that highly religious people tend to be happier than highly secular people. Given the greater overall happiness religiously committed people experience (and which both Dawkins and Dennett admit), the force of his argument actually works the opposite way around. It would be better for him, and for society, to be cautious about such arguments.

    This is interesting. With all of the nonsense about Christians harping on about Dawkins wishing to keep parents from teaching their own children religion, here Marshall actually states Dawkins’ argument correctly! He writes, “Dawkins presents the teaching of eternal punishment as ‘child abuse’.”

    This now makes me wonder why he so misrepresented Dawkins’ views in his book when he seemed to understand them here.

    Regardless, atheists do not tell their children that we just “fall to pieces.” Atheists tell their children the truth about what happens when we die and we try to do so as gently and compassionately as possible. This is done only when the parent/s feels the child is ready to learn about such things.

    Another difference is that this is not done to scare the shit of out children, which is one reason the fear of hell is often instilled in children. With the reality of death the goal of the parent/s is to educate their child and therefore it could never be considered child abuse. The fear of hell on the other hand, it’s only purpose is to instill fear, so it can rightfully be considered “child abuse.”

    Marshall needs to learn what secularists actually tell their children. I’d recommend he educate himself and read Dale McGowen’s Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007).

    #118 Is love a “misfiring” in the brain? “Just as the primitive brain rule of sexual lust passes through the filter of civilization to emerge in the love scenes of Romeo and Juliet, so primitive brain rules of us-versus-them vendetta emerge in the form of the running battles between Capulets and Montagues; while primitive brain rules of altruism and empathy end up in the misfiring that cheers us in the chastened reconciliation of Shakespeare’s final scene.” (222)

    Such reductionism is palpably untrue. First of all, what “fires” between Romeo and Juliet is not just lust: it’s romantic love, which cannot be reduced to sexual lust pure and simple. (See the second of C. S. Lewis’ Four Loves for a fuller and most enlightening explanation.)

    More vitally, if you reduce love, justice, vengeance, and reconciliation to a “misfiring” of the “primitive brain,” what about algebra, calculus, physics, and evolutionary biology? Presumably our ability to count also has Darwinian roots. Just because our ancestors didn’t do calculus as they tracked zebras across the Serengeti, does not mean higher math is a “misfiring” of our brains. Perhaps math, science, and love are precisely what our brains were built to do. In any case, if the universe has no purpose, no telos, then NOTHING is a “misfiring.”

    Here is another example of Marshall touting his opinion as fact. He also completely misunderstands Dawkins’ statement.

    Dawkins was explaining how our natural drives for altruism and love are so powerful, even though we don’t know a particular individual our compassion often overrules our more ‘selfish’ side. Even though our partner may not be able to reproduce for whatever reason our desire for sex is still strong, despite our knowledge that we are unable to actually reproduce. In sum, even though these instincts we have do not serve the same purposes as they used to they still drive certain behaviors, which Dawkins calls a ‘misfire.’

    #119 Can science find “moral universals?” “If our moral sense, like our sexual desire, is indeed rooted deep in our Darwinian past, predating religion, we should expect that research on the human mind would reveal some moral universals, crossing geographical and cultural barriers, and also, crucially, religious barriers.” (222)

    Patterns one might find, but not “universals.” Our sexuality is not “universal,” after all – some animals reproduce asexually, and others conform to what would seem dysfunctional in court – eating mates, for example. We could not expect, by studying evolution, to find our patterns of sexuality among creatures on other planets. Morality, on the other hand, must in its basic intuitions be universal, or it is not binding (as we feel it to be binding) anywhere. Here we go beyond evolution to something qualitatively different — or admit that morality is binding nowhere, and slouch into to sub-humanity.

    On the contrary science has found many such human moral universals. [43]

    #120 Do we need God to be good? “The main conclusion of Hauser and Singer’s study was that there is no statistically significant difference between atheists and religious believers in making those judgments. This seems compatible with the view, which I and many others hold, that we do not need God in order to be good — or evil.” (226)

    Hauser and Singer conducted their surveys by asking people how they felt they should act under certain circumstances. (What do you do if you see a child drowning in a pool? What if you can save several people by killing one and using his organs to save the rest?) It turned out that people of different cultures and beliefs gave very similar answers.

    Dawkins tentative conclusion, “we do not need God in order to be good — or evil” does not follow from this study, however. (Results that Christian “natural law” thinking predicted long before Hauser and Singer went to work, by the way.) Dawkins’ literal words – “seems compatible with the view that” – are not in error, but only because he is hedging his bets by using careful terminology while leading his readers in the wrong direction.

    First of all, morality is more than answering questions on a survey. As Arthur Brooks found in his extensive study of how religion influences charity, in practice, highly religious Americans give more than three times as much to charity on average as the non-religious. (Who Really Cares? America’s Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why it Matters) When kindness is dangerous, as during a plague (see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity) or in the Gulag (see Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Gulag Archipelago), is it not likely that what a person believes might have an effect on how he acts? Stark and Solzhenitsyn found (at least anecdotally) that it did. Arthur Brooks’ more systematic data confirms those reports.

    So perhaps we do need God, if not to do any good, but to live the best lives we can, as individuals and as a society. In any case, it is naive and unwarranted to extrapolate directly from Internet surveys to real life.

    Marshall is going around Dawkins’ argument. There appears to be a kind of innate moral decision making process that causes humans to make similar moral decisions. Marshall did nothing to rebut the evidence for this. By the way, all the studies I’ve found have come to the opposite conclusion: non-believers can be just as moral, if not more so, than religious believers. See my review of Marshall’s book for more information.

    Regarding Marshall’s touting of religious believers’ allegedly giving more to charity, Tom Rees, who often writes on the sociology of religion at his website Epiphenom, addresses this claim. In a piece discussing this research by Arthur Brooks he writes,

    Well, one possibility is that atheists are just as altruistic as the religious – altruism is, after all, an inherently human attribute. Maybe they just don’t do charity to the same extent.

    A major demotivator for giving to charity is the presence of free riders. These are people who don’t contribute, but who benefit anyway. If you give to a heart research charity, then everyone benefits whether they contribute or not. If you give to a charity for the homeless, then unless you give an enormous sum your donation will be a vanishingly small portion of the total. So there is a temptation to be a free-rider yourself. The free-rider effect occurs because the utility of charitable giving (i.e. the benefit that accrues to the donor from giving, compared with the benefit that would accrue from keeping the money) is low.

    One way to get round this problem is to make giving non-anonymous. If you do this then the donor benefits because their social standing is increased. Two of the most substantial private donors in recent times, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both benefited in this way from their donations. Both Buffet and Gates are non-religious. And it’s interesting that non-religious doctors are just as likely to work with the needy as religious doctors. This is an environment in which the the donor and the recipient are directly connected – one human to another. And here religion (or lack of it) makes no difference.

    Religion can help to counterbalance the free-rider effect. Those religions that include a reward in the afterlife increase the utility of charitable giving to believers, because it provides them with a personal benefit. So religious believers with an incentive to give, even when there are free-riders around.

    For altruistic atheists, however,the free-rider effect is much more pertinent. One secular way to get around the free-rider effect is to make giving from rich to poor compulsory, rather than voluntary. In other words, they might prefer that wealth is redistributed via taxation and the welfare state, rather than by voluntary donations. For the religious, this would actually decrease utility because taxation would reduce their surplus cash and so reduce the potential for them to give to charity and reap supernatural rewards.

    But is there any evidence that this is true? Well, if it was then you might expect that countries with a high proportion of atheists would have a larger welfare state. And indeed that is exactly what you see. Gill and Lundsgaarde have analysed a cross-section of countries, and found that those countries with more atheists also have higher state welfare spending.

    So you see, it is not true to say that more atheists will lead to a selfish, dog-eat-dog society where the weak go to the wall. Atheists are every bit as caring as the religious. They just go about it in different ways. [44]

    Lastly, a scientist can use the internet to get answers from individuals for a survey, just as someone can get answers by mail or in person. The internet just allows you to get many more participants and from across the world much more easily. The data is not tarnished by this process of data gathering, at least not any more than any other method of gathering information.

    #121 Do Christians murder more? “Correlation evidence is never conclusive, but the following data, described by Sam Harris in his Letter to a Christian Nation, are nevertheless striking.”

    “‘While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the ‘red (Republican) states’ are primarily red due to the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians. If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don’t. Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in ‘blue’ (Democratic) states, and 38 percent are in ‘red’ (Republican) states. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76% are in red states, and 24 % are in blue states . . . ”

    Harris goes on, but let’s stop here in mercy.

    This argument, taken from a study by Gary Jensen, is overwhelmingly stupid, and should embarrass every socially and mathematically-literate skeptic who reads it. I describe the dozens of problems with Jensen’s argument in an article called “Does Faith in God up the Murder Rate?” on my web site, christthetao.com. For a shorter version, see pages 178-9 of The Truth Behind the New Atheism. Despite its popularity with skeptics, this argument is based on “fly-over” data that establishes nothing at all about the relationship between violence and religion, and is contradicted by more careful, ground-level studies.

    Marshall fails to cite a page number here. The citation can be found on page 229 in The God Delusion. Marshall also failed to successfully rebut this argument himself, though someone else managed to, and it turns out that this argument does appear to be incorrect. [45] On the other hand, Marshall misrepresents Dawkins’ argument. Dawkins was not trying to argue that “Christians murder more.” He, as well as Sam Harris, were attempting to counter the oft heard claim that without god as a moral foundation society will fall to pieces. I completely refute the entire chapter in Marshall’s book that contains this absurd argument in my review of his book.

    #122 Does evidence correlating goodness and religion? Quoting Daniel Dennett: “One thing we can be sure of is that if there is a significant positive relationship between moral behavior and religious affiliation, practice, or belief, it will soon be discovered, since so many religious organizations are eager to confirm their traditional beliefs about this scientifically. (They are quite impressed with the truth-finding power of science when it supports what they already believe.) Every month that passes without such a demonstration underlines the suspicion that it just isn’t so.”

    The suspicion this passage underlines is that neither Dennett nor Dawkins have done their homework on the relationship between faith and charity. In Who Really Cares, Syracuse professor Arthur Brooks summarizes a wealth of research that shows that religiously-involved people are “in every measurable way” more charitable than the non-religious. While the book came out in 2006, the same year as Dennett and Dawkins’ books, the studies on which he relied were mostly from several years earlier.

    In reality, morality is much more than just who gives to certain charities. Furthermore, as I noted previously, atheists do give a lot, it’s just not to charity as Tom Rees explained. There are also a multitude of studies proving that atheists are just as moral as believers, if not a little more so. [46]

    As I so aptly demonstrated in my review of his book, as well as in this document, it is actually David Marshall who has failed to do his homework.

    #123 What are our favorite excuses for oppression? Quoting Luis Bunuel, “God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.” (233)

    Actually, the records are currently held by Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, who murdered in the name of an ideology that excluded God, and (at least in theory) in a worldwide, borderless working class. Communism had no use for either God or (in theory) country. (Though in practice communism evolved in a nationalistic direction, especially under Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Il Sung.) Along with the uber nationalistic Adolf Hitler, Arab and European slave traders, who acted from the desire for cold cash, for the most part, are among the runners-up.

    This is another example of nitpicking. Plus a strawman argument. Dawkins cited this quote because he was discussing the fact that oftentimes someones’ allegiance to either the state or religion will often cause them to act immorally and kill whoever your religious or political leaders tell you, whether or not it’s right or wrong. Even with Communism, the reason they habitually murdered so many was because of their allegiance to the Party, the exact reason Dawkins gives.

    #124 Is the Bible incoherent? “Much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjoined documents.”

    Perhaps an amateur can be defined as a person who finds unreal patterns, or overlooks patterns that are real. But it is always impossible to say for sure that a set of data lacks any cohering pattern. It may turn out that with more information, or closer study, connections and relationships will define themselves out of what originally seemed a meaningless jumble of facts or images.

    Millions who spend their lives studying the Bible claim to find a pattern, or many patterns, joining the entire book together into a single, coherent unity. Is Richard Dawkins really in a position to deny the unity that he does not find, but we do? All he can honestly say is, “I have found no pattern,” or (perhaps even more honestly) “A scholar I find congenial says she finds no pattern.” No one can say, “There is no pattern.”

    Again, Dawkins could walk a few minutes from his front door, and read the work of intelligent, well-educated men and women who have described remarkable themes and connections that unify the book he dismisses into a coherent tapestry. Instead, he repeatedly shows contempt for theologians, especially those who find such unity, and makes a virtue of not having read their material.

    I am doing research presently on the theme of “fulfillment” in the New Testament, and in later Christian thought. That concept — the idea that Jesus brings Jewish and world history to a consummation — not only unifies the New Testament, but binds it in remarkable ways to the Old. This is a theme early Christians delighted in exploring, and that great historians, philosophers, and missionaries have come back to with remarkable insights from other cultures.

    And that is only one way of saying Jesus brings unity and coherence to both Old and New Testaments. This is the subject of many books, which whatever his antipathies for theology, he needs to read and consider before he can even begin to conclude that the bible is “disjointed,” “chaotic” or “cobbled together.”

    Marshall forgot to cite the page number where he lifted this quote from. Very annoying. I like to double check to make sure he has not taken Dawkins out of context as he’s done on a near constant basis.

    The bible could never be a coherent book with a single message, or definite pattern. The bible is a mash of various books, written by various writers, each with their own often opposing views, and written and collected over long periods of time. This very fact makes Marshall’s claim downright impossible. [47] Furthermore, when looking up this quote on page 237 Marshall completely ignored Dawkins’ larger context. He was discussing morality and how the bible is used as a guide to morality. I’d consider this to be another example of nitpicking.

    35. More Americans “Pro-Life” Than “Pro-Choice” for First Time – accessed 4-10-12

    36. What God Says About: Abortion Verses Pro-life – accessed 4-10-12

    37. ”Israel has friends in Christian places,” by Dvir Abramovich – accessed 4-11-12

    38. The Pew Forum: American Evangelicals and Israel: Public Opinion on Religion and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – accessed 4-11-12

    39. Religious Tolerance.org: The Millennium – accessed 4-11-12

    40. Kimberly Blaker. Eternal Subservience Created from Man for Man. The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America. Edited by Kimberly Blaker. New Boston Books, 2003. 108

    41. ”Defending the Defenseless,” August 2003 by Paul J. Hill. Hosted on the Army of God website – accessed 4-11-12

    42. Talk2Action: “Think the ‘Christmas Resolution’ was Bad? Check Out H. Res. 888,” by Chris Rodda – accessed 4-11-12

    43. The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, by Michael Shermer, Henry Holt & Co., 2004; 285-292

    44. Epiphenom: Atheists are generous, they just don’t give to charity, by Tom Rees – accessed 4-11-12

    45. Arizona Atheist: The Irrational Atheist: A Refutation

    46. Arizona Atheist: The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, by James S. Spiegel: A Refutation.

    47. The Bible Against Itself: Why the Bible Seems to Contradict Itself, by Randel McCraw Helms, Millennium Press, 2006

    Category: Uncategorized


    Article by: Arizona Atheist