De-fanging the Humanist media blitz


Consider Humanism

Image by onBeing via Flickr

Right in time for Christmas, the American Humanist Association is working their biggest media campaign everywhere in the name of spreading their godless evangelistic message.

The purpose of the ads, according to a press release, is to show “that secular humanist values are consistent with mainstream America and that fundamentalist religion has no right to claim the moral high ground.”

One massive problem off the bat with their contrasts is that Bible texts clearly have been taken out of context without any care for the context and real meaning of the text.  Almost any written text can be excerpted to sound silly. Sadly this is what we see in political attacks ads all the time.

A chief practice of  logic is to be fair, exact, and understand a system as a whole and not a farce of it. This is attacking straw men.  It’s clear the people behind the campaign  have judged the texts before really truly examining them.  In their quest to show the inconsistency, bigotry and silliness of the religious, they prove their own prejudice against religion while not giving a rational rejection of it.

Also, I am not sure how humanists ground objective morals to begin with. According to the humanists, if I understand their beliefs correctly, is that morality just sort of popped into existence ex nihilo, they are merely brute facts of existence. But what is the evidence? Doesn’t a theistic framework offer a better explanation? But I’ll save the moral argument for God’s existence for another time. Let me take a look at how silly this particular attack ad is.

Are Christians asked to leave their brains out at the church door, like Proverbs 3:5 seemingly suggests? What does the rest of scripture have to say about this? Is Christianity uninterested in presenting evidence and logic, like Richard Dawkins suggests?

  • Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. – 1 Corinthians 14:20
  • ..test everything; hold fast what is good. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21
  • Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD – Isaiah 1:18
  • Counsel and sound judgment are mine;I have understanding and power – Proverbs 8:14
  • And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” – Acts 17:2-3
  • In the beginning was the Word ( actual Greek = logos, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God – John 1:1. (The Greek word Logos is where we get our English word Logic)
  • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself – Luke 10:27

Some of the most brilliant minds of the past  century have been Christians. To name just a few:

Arthur Compton, David Lack, Carlos Chagas Filho, Sir Robert Boyd, Stanley Jaki, John Polkinghorne, Michal Heller, Francis Collins and I could go into past centuries with Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, Lord Kelvin, Max Planck and so on.

There are direct, circumstantial reasons that one can use to build the case towards Christianity as the best possible answer for many of the questions people have today, such as the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of our universe for intelligent life, objective moral values as well as aesthetic values, our own subjective, personal experience, etc. I would also dare say that one also can make a solid argument for the existence miracles and the resurrection of Jesus without asking their audience to turn off their mind.

Appealing to the emotions of the masses by attacking a straw-man Christianity seems pretty hypocritical for an organization claiming to appeal to logic and reason.

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6 thoughts on “De-fanging the Humanist media blitz

  1. Two comments real quick:

    A. The humanist ad campaign is not saying all Christians believe those things. It says, as you know–having posted one of the ads in question–“What some believe”. And they aren’t attacking a straw-man of Christianity. In fact, there’s no attack at all in the ad you link to. All they’re doing is offering an alternative.

    I want to quote Jesse Galef from the Friendly Atheist blog:

    “I don’t consider that belittling — if anything, it’s quite respectful. I could understand the charge if the ads said “Some people believe such crazy crap.” I could understand the charge if the ads had said “Christians believe” rather than “Some believe.” But the ads did neither.”

    B. I hope you realize that a large amount of people who call themselves Christian quote out-of-context statements from the Bible with some regularity. This is not a phenomenon unique to those against religion; many of those for it use misquotes to justify their faith. For instance, those who use biblical passages to oppose abortion are simply picking and choosing irrelevant quotes to justify their argument. ((Give me a half-hour and I’ll pull up my justification for saying that–I’ve got it in one of my school folders.))

    “Also, I am not sure how humanists ground objective morals to begin with. According to the humanists, if I understand their beliefs correctly, is that morality just sort of popped into existence ex nihilo”

    From what I understand, this isn’t true. They didn’t pop into existence–they are brought into existence through rational thought. When humanists say “objective morality”, they are saying “this is what logic and reason show to be the ideal way of living”, not “these rules are objective, natural facts”.

    • P.S.: I’d like to commend you for removing the “Two can play at that game” part, even if you did so for length purposes. It’s beneath you.

  2. Fair enough. Here is what I edited out:

    Two can actually play this game:

    What Christians believe: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” -Martin Luther King Jr., Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

    What Humanists Think: “Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.” -Margaret Sanger. Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. 1957 American Humanist of the Year.

    What Christians Believe: “I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow the concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.” -Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson, Harvard graduate, former President of the National Right to Life Committee.

    What Humanists Think: “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” – Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 1st ed. 2004 Australian Humanist of the year.

    Now how does that feel? Is that fair of me? Of course not, because not all humanists think the way Sanger or Singer have thought. The point is anyone can take something out of context, make a farce of it, and make the other side look monstrous. It does nothing to enhance the debate.

    /end

    I questioned whether or not I was being hypocritical by bringing up such quotes, so I went with my better judgment after the fact. Oh, well.

    In response to A. Most Christians don’t believe “that crazy crap” as it’s presented. There is historical and textual context. I’d get into it more, but I think I can refer you to this article – Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? It’s a little lengthy, but it makes sense of a lot of the “trouble verses” the humanists used in their ads.

    B. I’m already aware of those verses in Exodus 22 which I believe you are referring to. There’s a good response to those verses found here, if you care to listen.

    In response to the moral argument, of course we’re getting closer to the standard, but are we inventing the standard or are we discovering it? If you’re saying there is a transcendent standard we should strive for, then I find that is better grounded in God and not something we invented or something that has evolved. We should demand some pretty strong evidence for thinking that evolution has, in fact, determined our moral and aesthetic judgements. But I find no such evidence to be compelling. All I’ve heard is a bunch of adaptable stories on how objective morals are “just so” from the Darwinists.

    Thanks for continuing to read. You’re my crowd of one, it seems. I’m to be blamed for such sparse posting, the only reason I wrote today is because I’m home sick.

    • Well, as a quick response, Singer’s quote is part of a larger argument he makes that is more about how everyone should be a vegetarian and strive to avoid harming any persons. The fact that a human baby is less “valuable” is to be taken as an extension of his idea that “personhood” stems from sentience. He is not advocating for the mistreatment of babies, he is merely saying that if we treat babies well, we have a moral obligation to treat animals at least as well and perhaps better.

      The article you link to is certainly an interesting one. I’m no Biblical/Torah scholar, so I won’t attempt to argue the interpretative aspect of it. The gist of it, that the Old Testament is not the be-all-end-all of moral philosophy and is indeed reliant on the historical context is a good one. His conclusion is fairly ridiculous, however. For instance, his assertion that “Despite naturalists’ hijacking the foundations of science as their own, physicist Paul Davies sets forth the simple truth: “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists . . . accept an essentially theological worldview.”” ignores some pretty important caveats. First off, I am a big proponent of the idea that science and reason are predicated on a certain amount of faith. However, Davies insists that not only is science predicated on faith in general, but on Christianity in particular. That’s utter nonsense. I’m not even going to get into the “atheists cause more deaths than theists” argument, because it’s a stupid one to make for either side, but the author of the article wades in there as well. And his idea that atheists cannot criticize the OT and God on moral grounds seems to me to be the death of any possible logical debate. Yes, many “new atheists” do not believe in an objective morality. That is, however, a stance most theists refuse to accept. Therefore, to debate theism, many atheists feel they are forced to play by the theists’ rules and attempt to disprove them from withing their own scripture/ideology. When a Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens says that Yahweh is a “moral monster”, he is not saying that he believe God has crossed some objective moral code, but rather that he believes that God has broken the objective moral code theists themselves lay out.

      But yeah, the verses that started the whole thing: not all Christians understand those verses. And while it may be true that most Christians are more aware of those verses and the idea that the scripture is not absolute law, well. . . I haven’t seen that largely reflected. Huge movements across the country are spurred by the belief that scripture should be taken as absolute truth, independent of context. Therefore, I believe it is a valid pursuit to attempt to call attention to the ridiculous interpretations of scripture that are passed around.

      Plus, if we accept the argument made in that article that the OT was a stepping-stone, and that its moral prescriptions were a result of the attitudes of the time, doesn’t that imply that our moral attitudes are in a state of flux, and, eventually, improvement? Which would in turn imply that many of the more widely-accepted yet controversial aspects of OT morality, such as the arguments against abortion, birth control, and homosexuality, could now be obsolete?

      See, I don’t personally believe that there is a transcendent standard we should strive for. What I believe, and this is my personal take on humanism, is that we can logically come up with moral standards, drawing from the base concepts of utility, and taking into account relativism and the fallibility of deduction. I believe that we can advise that others follow those moral rules. We can believe they are wrong. We can debate them. But I do not think anyone can tell someone else they are objectively wrong about their morality. I think it is a discussion rather than a rulebook, and it is one that will continue forever.

      Do I personally think that the arguments laid out in the article show OT morality to be superior to that of its time? Sure. Do I think we have made moral progress since then? Sure. But that is only because what is now considered moral is closer to my personal moral beliefs than what was in the past considered moral. We are not approaching anything except, perhaps, consensus.

      No problem. I’ve had a fun time reading these and debating them with you.

  3. “We accept Jesus like a child accepts a gift; excited and without question.” This is what a preacher said at the funeral of a child that I attended. Most, if not all, of the many Christians I know have not asked questions. I read this blog because you have asked questions and arrived at your own conclusion. I was raised in a Catholic home and have a very large family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents that are also Catholic. Asking questions about God was not ideal. I was supposed to just believe. “That is why it is called faith.” I would argue that if the Christians that I know were born in Iraq, they would be Muslims. They follow because they were told to when growing up and if asked, cannot really tell you what they believe in and why. When the preacher said the quote at the beginning, it was true. This does not seem like a good thing to me though.

    Once again, this is from my experience. I don’t want to label all Christians that way. I read this blog because you aren’t that way and while we disagree, you are one of the first that I have heard explain a thought process instead of “accepting Jesus like a child accepts a gift.”

    • Thanks Aaron for your feedback, I appreciate you reading. I think there is a lot of people who can relate with your experience. I am definitely not a fan of the fidiestic approach most Christians adopt. I don’t think you have to leave your brains in the church parking lot. Christianity is a reasonable faith.

      I agree that a lot of Christians do not question what they believe, and maybe it is true that because people are brought up in the West they are Christians, but we need to be careful not to commit a genetic fallacy, which is to invalidate a view by explaining how that view came to be held. The truth is why hold a lot of beliefs that are correct because of our upbringing that are totally correct even if we never have questioned them. But Christians do have a responsibility to communicate the truth and answer tough questions, and much of the time the answers I hear Christians give for their faith is an embarrassment.

      Having said that, there are a lot of good reasons to accept Christianity. I believe the Christian worldview makes sense of the beginning of our universe, and the fine tuning and amazing design we see in our universe, the existence of objective moral values. I think Christianity makes sense of the potential greatness and yet monstrosity people are capable of. And I believe there can be a reasonable case made for the death and resurrection of Jesus. I plan on getting into these matters more as I’m able.

      There really are a growing number of highly intelligent Christian thinkers out there who make a very good case for Christianity. Google William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias sometime and peruse their writings.

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