• Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn & Benjamin Wiker: A Refutation, Part 3

    Chapter 4: Can God’s Existence Be Demonstrated?

    This chapter attempts to argue that because the laws of nature are so well ordered, and the human mind is so capable of comprehending these laws and the workings of nature, they must have been created to complement one another. They also turn back to their earlier argument by Davies about why the human brain is capable of understanding nature, when that is beyond what we need for survival. The authors say:

    “If nature were indeed the result of chance, then it might happen that by chance, on some particular level, the evolved human mind could be able to make some intellectual headway in discovering the secrets of nature. But what we find – and what makes science possible as a successful, cumulative activity sustained over many centuries – is that nature is strangely amenable to rational inquiry on multiple, integrated levels, and especially on far more abstract levels than natural selection tied to survival or sexual selection could provide. Even stranger, nature seems to be designed tutorially, so that human beings are able to ‘read the book of nature’ beginning with very simple concepts that bear unsuspected intellectual fruit, and which therefore allow for further discovery using more sophisticated concepts, and so on as scientists plumb its successive depths. This makes one suspicious not only that nature is intelligently written, but that it was written to be read by human beings with just the kind of capabilities they happen to have.” [28]

    Hahn and Wiker also argue that, “[i]f evolution confers capacities, even general capacities, that are roughly associated with some kind of direct utility, then we’ve got to explain how these same general capacities are far, far more powerful than any original use that could have produced them through some beneficial mutation.” [29]

    This argument, if you really want to break it down, is truly nothing more than another variation on the old “god of the gaps” argument that the authors have continuously favored throughout their book so far.

    Yes, nature seems to be very orderly and, yes, our brains are capable of understanding this order, but only to a point, which is what the authors fail to comment on. But how can this all be said to lead to a god??? As I said in the last chapter about the capabilities of the human brain, our ability to comprehend the cosmos is simply an outgrowth of our natural capacity to learn and understand, which highly favored our survival. Now, the authors argue why we’re able to understand such things that are beyond what we need to survive, but in reality, as Richard Dawkins noted in his book The God Delusion, the human mind did not evolve to be able to completely understand the universe:

    “We are at home with objects ranging in size from a few kilometers (the view from a mountain top) to about a tenth of a millimeter (the point of a pin). Outside this range even our imagination is handicapped, and we need the help of instruments and of mathematics […] Our imaginations are not yet tooled-up to penetrate the neighborhood of the quantum. Nothing at that scale behaves in the way matter – as we are evolved to think – ought to behave. Nor can we cope with the behavior of objects that move at some appreciable fraction of the speed of light. Common sense lets us down, because common sense evolved in a world where nothing moves very fast, and nothing is very small or very large.” [30]

    This fact is all too apparent because Hahn and Wiker are perfect examples of our brains being unable to understand the universe. Instead of being able to understand the how’s and the why’s (or be patient and see what future discoveries uncover) of the universe, the authors would rather fall back on their primitive brain’s answer to their lack of knowledge: If it seems orderly, it must have been designed. Well, as science has amply demonstrated, this isn’t always the case. That is why I find their argument so very ironic. They’re trying to argue that our evolved minds are able to understand the universe, and yet, this isn’t always the case. We then have two individuals who for various reasons are ignorant about the world, and so resort to the very primitive explanation: “God did it.” The two authors’ ignorance seems to refute their own thesis.

    Chapter 5: The Problem of Morality

    This chapter summed up the authors’ argument that, like most christian apologists have in other works, [31] atheists have no moral standard, and because they follow a purely materialistic view of the world, their morality must come from evolution, therefore, we must follow the sayings ‘might makes right’ and ‘survival of the fittest.’ There is no standard of morality, therefore the christian concept of morality is superior. In the final paragraph of the fifth chapter they say:

    “For the Darwinian universe, absent any Creator, the human species is a transient production of impersonal causes that are part of an entirely amoral understanding of nature. Since the various moralities are simply sets of traits produced by evolution that have no more permanence than the conditions which created them, then there can be no single standard of morality. Some societies may find some moral traits that are both compatible to Christian moral traits that happen to be beneficial to them, but others may find that such Christian-compatible moral traits hinder their survival. In either case, the only issue is whether some trait contributes to survival; no action can be condemned as intrinsically evil. The question is: Does it promote survival? If it does, it is ‘good.’ If it brings self-destruction, the trait isn’t morally evil, but (at best) bad evolutionary strategy.” [32]

    This paragraph sums up the ignorance about morality by these two authors very nicely. Their thesis is fatally flawed because christians have no consistent set, or standard, of morality either. Put briefly, and simply, it is the famed Euthyphro Dilemma. It is because of the cruel acts and commands by the christian god (Joshua 10:28-42 & Leviticus 20:13 for example). [33] Factually and logically, this is the only conclusion we can come to: morality is relative, deal with it. Now, the next question is how best to live as a group once this fact has been realized. But this discussion is beyond the scope of this refutation, though there are logical, and well thought out secular alternatives to some ridiculous appeal to the supernatural for morality. [34]

    I will now point out the many errors they make in this chapter.

    They attempt to argue that the argument over the morality of individual atheists (Stalin, Hitler, etc.) and christians (too many atrocities to list) is pointless because, “[w]hatever the ultimate merits of that exercise, we should at least see that it would be just as absurd to try to prove that no atheist ever did anything evil in the name of atheism, as it would be to try to prove that no Christian ever did anything evil in the name of Christianity. Christians must answer for the Inquisition, and atheists must answer for Stalin.”

    Later on, the authors say:

    “It is not enough to claim that in the cause of these deaths [the millions of deaths brought about by Communists] was Marxist ideology and not atheism, because Marxism claimed to be a fulfillment of atheistic principles.” [35]

    As I have already proven in my review of David Marshall’s book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, countless christians have killed, enslaved, and harmed people, and groups of people, because of their beliefs. [36] I have also shown that atheism is unable to influence individuals (it has no “ideology”), therefore atheism could not have been a factor in the 20th Century atrocities. I then provide quotes showing what did influence the Communists. [37]

    The authors complain about a “purely evolutionary account of morality” by arguing that “there would be many different kinds of moralities and not just one morality for all humanity. That does not mean ‘anything goes,’ but anything goes that contributes to survival under particular conditions. Moral traits, like all traits, are naturally selected as more fit under particular conditions for particular peoples, conditions that do not pertain for other peoples. There is no independent standard of morality.” [38]

    Once again, like most theists who so badly yearn for some moral standard, [39] the fact is that morality it relative and, as I stated earlier, there are methods to sort out the morality and rules of society, though they are not “standard”, but relative. But there is no getting around this because that is the only kind of morality there is. Even theisms’ morality is relative; the Euthyphro Dilemma points out this flaw perfectly.

    Hahn and Wiker bring Charles Darwin into the discussion, quoting him at length about the evolution of morality, though what the authors should have done is cite much more recent scholarship, because there has been an abundance of information that the authors could have quoted which is more accurate and updated, based on newer research.

    They also laughingly claim that “evolved moral traits can only be explained, not condoned or condemned.” [40]

    Why cannot human beings make moral statements? Does our altruistic sense not compel us to feel empathy for other creatures or other human beings? A human being is perfectly capable of making moral judgments. Just because these judgments are not always set in stone, and can and do change, doesn’t make them more or less sincere or binding. The authors also say that “…it is interesting that Darwin called slavery a ‘great sin,’ given the fact that its very universality attests to its evolutionary usefulness. In fact, Darwin could not condemn any of these actions on principle (even though he did in practice). As we have seen, in accord with his account of the evolution of morality, there is no objective, independent morality by which they can be condemned.” [41] (The authors also claim that murder and theft cannot be condemned by ‘evolutionary morality’ either. [42])

    It’s very hypocritical for the authors to say this, because how can a christian condemn slavery “in principle?” They cannot, because the bible condones slavery and was used for centuries as justification for slavery. It may have been because of the Quakers’ own evolutionary sense of altruism that a minority of Quakers went against the majority, and the other christians sects, to speak out against slavery, while the majority of christians used their bibles and christian dogma to support the horrid institution. [43] Right here is a perfect example (there are several others, such as homosexuality – some christians oppose it; some accept it) of relative morality in relation to christian morality, so in reality the authors haven’t got a leg to stand on regarding their argument.

    In sum, the authors’ understanding of Communism is weak at best, and their constant appeal to some form of “standard” of morality is a pipe dream. Another large gap in their argument is assuming that an atheist must follow some evolutionary sense of morality, or nature, in moral matters. There are secular moral systems (Utilitarianism, or my personal choice, the Social Contract, for example) that can be used as an alternative to the absurd theistic account of morality, which really isn’t any different, because the theistic moral system is relative and changes over time as well.

    Chapter 6: Dawkins’ Morality

    Wiker and Hahn make two main mistakes in this chapter. The first is a continuation from the last chapter, arguing that a materialist must derive their morality from evolution, and making the same mistake that other chrisitan apologists have. [44]

    The authors say:

    “Providing an evolutionary account of morality does not help [Dawkins’] case either. As we have seen, the principle of natural selection is fundamental and amoral, and morality is simply one more thing that must be explained by evolution.” [45]

    They later say, partially quoting Dawkins:

    “Natural selection is a deeply nasty process. Darwin himself remarked, ‘What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horribly cruel works of nature.’ The problem is that the ‘theory of natural selection itself seems calculated to foster selfishness at the expense of public good, violence, callous indifference to suffering, short term greed at the expense of long term foresight.’ It doesn’t get us the ‘super niceness’ […] desired by Dawkins, and instantiated (as Dawkins relates) in some of his friends.” [46]

    It’s the same mistaken belief I noted above about natural selection/nature being the basis for a materialistic view of morality. Though, this is a very incorrect view because a materialist does not follow nature, or the ways of natural selection for morality. What the authors do not understand is that natural selection crafted our innate morality, which can be altruistic and loving towards those of both our own “group” and those outside of our “group.” It is not the ways of natural selection that materialists follow regarding morality! This “cruel” process is what created these altruistic tendencies in humans and other animals.

    If this “natural” morality was nothing more than “selfish” then why did natural selection craft the “reward pathways” of our brains to respond when we cooperate with others and act altruistically? Genetic studies have also shown that dopamine genes are involved as well. It literally makes us “feel good” to cooperate and to help others! [47]

    Next, the authors continue with their strawman argument about natural selection and materialists and attempt to argue that they can condemn Dawkins’ view of morality (or at least what they think Dawkins bases his morality on) by claiming that the same complaints he levels against the christian god, they can level against natural selection.

    The authors write:

    “‘The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.’ So begins Dawkins’ argument against God in The God Delusion […] Dawkins lists a number of objectionable Old Testament scenes: Lot’s offering of his two daughters to the men of Sodom who want to rape his two male houseguests [….] Moses’ slaughter of 3000 Israelites after finding they had made a golden calf while up on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments […] Yet now another, more amusing problem arises. It would seem that a good many of the complaints made by Dawkins against the God of the Old Testament could, with equal justice, be made against natural selection itself. That is, the very complaints that bring him to reject the Old Testament are the ones that brought him to reject Darwinism itself as a moral foundation and guide.” [48]

    The authors continue:

    “What would evolution look like if we tried to deify evolution’s principles? Would the Evolution God (EG) be ‘unjust’ in its callous indifference ‘to all suffering,’ and supremely so, for continually picking off the weak and sickly? Would EG be an ‘unforgiving control-freak,’ ‘magalomaniacal,’ and ‘petty’ […]? [49]

    Following further complaints the authors add:

    “Perhaps Dawkins will fare better in his case against the people of the Old Testament? But now another paradox comes to the fore. It would be hard to imagine a people who more assiduously pursued a better set of evolutionary strategies for ensuring that its gene pool was carried forward, undiluted by rival tribes and races, than the ancient Jews.

    Think over the above reprehensible examples Dawkins provided from the Bible and then ruminate upon his account of how evolution, including human evolution works. Dawkins maintains in his Selfish Gene that we may ‘treat the individual as a selfish machine, programmed to do whatever is best for its genes as a whole.’ […] The selfish machine works, literally, by gene-o-cide, the destruction and use of other selfish machines, treating them as fodder for its own survival.” [50]

    Once again, so many theists don’t understand Dawkins’ views he expressed in The Selfish Gene. Dawkins was describing evolution at the level of the genes, which act selfishly, but this does not mean that the actual organism (the bodies carrying the genes) act selfish! To quote Robert Wright on this subject:

    “[T]hose genes that are conductive to the survival and reproduction of copies of themselves (emphasis in original) are the genes that win. They may do this straightforwardly, by prompting their vehicle to survive, beget offspring, and equip the offspring for survival and reproduction. Or they may do this circuitously – by, say, prompting their to labor tirelessly, sterilely, and, and ‘selflessly,’ so that a queen ant can have lots of offspring containing them. However the genes get the job done, it is selfish from their (emphasis in original) point of view, even if it seems altruistic at the level of the organism.” [51]

    The authors continue their strawman against evolution and morality, and argue that Dawkins does the exact same thing as believers: cherry-pick what he likes:

    “There now arises an illuminating connection between Dawkins and the believers he criticizes. Dawkins is not making the case that modern Christians do act like the people in the Old Testament as he describes them. Rather, he wants to make clear that what believers actually do is ‘pick and choose among the scriptures for the nice bits and reject the nasty.’ But if such is the case, adds Dawkins, believers must be using some kind of independent criterion ‘for deciding which are the moral bits,’ which, since they apparently don’t come from Scripture, must be available for non-believers as well. As will be come apparent, Dawkins does the exact same thing in regard to evolution.” [52]

    Later on the authors argue:

    “The difficulty for Dawkins lies in the fact that these ‘nice’ traits are derived from evolution, and hence not themselves any more ‘moral’ than the ‘nasty’ traits that likewise contribute to survival. He himself is picking and choosing from the great multiplicity of evolutionary traits, the particular traits that he, Richard Dawkins, would like to be moral and hence would like to be universal. But that means, as he admits, leaving the other ‘nasty’ traits behind.” [53]

    I would actually agree with this to some degree, since natural selection has crafted both good and bad “traits” or behaviors in human beings, therefore we must choose to be good, though as I noted earlier, acting altruistically literally makes humans “feel good” and thus we are often driven to do good because of this. Humans also seem to be ‘hardwired’ for altruistic behavior; some individuals seem to be genetically more altruistic than others. For example,

    “Rushton and colleagues from the University of London gave questionnaires that measured altruistic and aggressive tendencies to 573 twins. […]The majority of the variance of each scale was due to genetic factors. Specifically the heritability of altruism was 56 percent. Altruism increased with age while aggressiveness decreased. Virtually zero percent of the variance of each trait was due to the common environment such as religious instruction.” (emphasis in original) [54]

    Of course, they are arguing that no traits from evolution can be considered “moral” or “immoral” whatsoever since we live in an amoral universe, though they’re missing the entire point. The reason is because humans decide what is “moral” and what isn’t, with a little help from our social instincts as well.

    However, the kudos stop here because Hahn and Wiker argue that “even if given an evolutionary account of altruism, it only extends to one’s own group.” [55] Of course, as I’ve shown before in my review of David Marshall’s book, this isn’t true that our altruistic tendencies are only for one’s own group. Humans, as well as many chimpanzees, have been shown in experiments to help others without any reward, and who helped people unknown to them. From the January 2008 issue of Discover magazine:

    “The pattern showed up in a similar experiment with chimpanzees and humans: When a person with whom they had no prior relationship struggled to reach a stick, the chimps handed it to the person even when it required climbing up to a tall raceway. The chimps helped people just as often as 18-month-old German toddlers did in a similar set up involving a person struggling to reach a pen. ‘The main finding is that humans and chimpanzees share altruistic tendencies,’ Warneken says. In terms of evolution, he adds, this similarity suggests that the two species’ common ancestors has these inclinations before culture developed.” [56]

    Ultimately, Hahn and Wiker’s argument fails because they are arguing against a strawman form of evolutionary morality. However, it is true that materialists must choose to be good, though Hahn and Wiker are not immune to this dilemma, as all humans are: theists, atheists, materialists, spiritualists, etc. But, this does not mean we are without moral foundation. We have social instincts that can help guide us and we also have at our disposal secular moral systems that can help us traverse this morally relative universe. Theists might not like that, but reality is reality, and that’s that.

    In addition, theists, like Hahn and Wiker, are in a bind because they must follow the commands of their god, even if they disagree. And their entire moral system is also based upon the “morality” of a being who has been recorded in the bible as being a cruel monster, who murders people for the tiniest infractions (for example, god kills 70 men just for looking at an ark! – 1 Samuel 6:19). Whatever this cruel being decides is “moral” and theists must go along with it because it’s god’s command. While materialists and atheists can follow their innate morality and altruistic tendencies, along with any other rules of behavior that have been agreed upon in each individuals’ social contract. A theist doesn’t have this choice to renegotiate their contract or the rules they live under, even if they don’t agree with them. So, in reality, the atheists and materialists are in a much better position morally.

    28. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 84-85

    29. Ibid.; 79

    30. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; 363-364

    31. The Truth Behind the New Atheism, by David Marshall; The Delusion of Disbelief, by David Aikman, and several other christian apologists make use of this absurd argument.

    32. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 118

    33. Against the Gods: Arguments Against God’s Existence; For the facts and logic that lead one to conclude that christians have no standard of morality, either, please see the first section titled The Euthyphro Dilemma.

    34. Relative Morality and the Social Contract

    35. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 96

    36. The Truth Behind the New Atheism: A Refutation; The evidence for my claim can be found in my review of the eighth chapter titled, “Is Christianity a Blessing?”

    37. I have written an in depth article dealing with the absurd claim by christians that atheism influenced several mass murderers in the 20th Century. It can currently be found here: Communism and Atheism: Revised and Updated

    38. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 105-106

    39. Relative Morality and the Social Contract

    40. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 109

    41. Ibid.; 109

    42. Ibid.; 107-108

    43. A Refutation of The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Addendum II – Slavery, The Bible, and Christianity

    44. A Review of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, by David Marshall: Revised and Updated; Please see the sixth chapter of my refutation for an explanation of David Marshall’s error regarding this topic.

    45. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 119

    46. Ibid.; 127

    47. Did Man Create God? Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain?, by David E. Comings, M.D., Hope Press, 2008; 483-484

    48. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 120-121, 122

    49. Ibid.; 122

    50. Ibid.; 123-124

    51. The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright, Vintage Books, 1994; 162

    52. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 125-126

    53. Ibid.; 128-129

    54. Did Man Create God?, by David E. Comings, M.D.; 482

    55. Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; 129

    56. The Truth Behind the New Atheism, by David Marshall: Revised and Updated; For the entire portion of the article please see the sixth chapter of my review titled “Is the Good Book Bad?”

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist