Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The truth about atheists!

Did you know they're godless?

There's been another round in the never-ending battle between believers and nonbelievers. P.Z. Myers aimed some pointed barbs at Rabbi Avi Shafran, who has resurrected the old argument that morality comes from God. In short, atheists are capable of most any atrocity because they do not, by definition, “fear God.” This is a wonderfully straightforward and simple argument. It is also simple-minded.

We've all see Shafran's argument before. It keeps popping up in various guises, most of them pretty transparent. I was reminded of a particularly cloying example that appeared in the pages of a Central California newspaper at the end of 2004. A student at Fresno State University had submitted a letter to the editor of his hometown paper. I was in the area for a visit to my parents for the Christmas holiday. Thus I was privileged to read the following closely reasoned essay (the reference to PG near the end relates to a local nonbeliever who writes frequently to the newspaper):
A look at atheism using logic

As I am currently typing this letter, siting [sic] in the computer lab at Fresno State and with the fall semester now over for me, I have come to learn a lot of new things in life.

One of the biggest lessons came from one of the most difficult philosophy classes on campus called ethical theory. I learned that it is meaningless for an atheist to claim to be moral without some interacting force, namely a loving God.

I have also come to learn that the Ten Commandments are the basis for human morality without having destruction in society. The last part of the Ten Commandments are boiled down to Jesus's words that we should love our enemy as ourselves.

As a student in Professor W's philosophy of religion class, I found it amazing that Christians are the only group professing these standard morals for society, and these Ten Commandments were not only kept with the advent of the new covenant but simplified by our savior Jesus Christ.

Taking ethical theory has taught me that to claim to be a moral atheist is as meaningless as it gets as there is no intervening force that makes it solid what philosophers call “analytic a priory” [sic]), since morals are determined by human reasoning alone. And as I have learned there are many cultures that approve of sexual and physical abuse, and even murder by their own reasoning.

No one has to be believe [sic] in a loving God, but the main lesson has been told, which to claim to be moral without a belief in God is meaningless.

Philosophically, there are three logical proofs for God's existence. One is the theological argument or the great design theory which is commonly appealed to by many people. Another is the cosmological argument which was appealed to the other day, which is there is no uncaused cause.

Lastly, I want to comment on the problem of evil, and the name calling by some atheists. If everything was perfect then we could not have free will, since our happiness would always be determined. By having evil we come to repent our sins. If one still does not choose to believe in God or they are pluralists like [Professor] W, then having evil lets us work for something in life.

But let me mind the atheist again. They have no morals whatsoever when they claim to have it since their morality has no solid support. Secondly, it is wrong to be putting down one's faith-based belief, and this is a very evil activity, although it looks like PG (don't get me wrong—Christians are sometimes guilty) has calmed down in the past couple of months. He still needs to be corrected.

Shawn C.
See, this is what book-learning can do to you!

As a professor myself, I could not resist getting a little didactic on Shawn's ass. Here's the body of my letter, published a few days later:
Shawn says, more than once, that he has now learned that “to claim to be moral without a belief in God is meaningless.” Apparently he now believes that the nonbelievers in his neighborhood are kept from heinous behavior through mere laziness or perhaps fear of the police power of the state. How fortunate for us all. But isn't more logical to believe that agnostics and atheists share with believers a preference for a well-ordered and moral society?

Shawn also claims to have learned that only Christians espouse the philosophy that “we should love our enemy as ourselves.” Although it is good to hear that Shawn presumably wholeheartedly loves nonbelievers, I doubt that his professors at Fresno State taught him that the golden rule is unique to Christianity. Even the simplest Google search reveals that the golden rule is honored in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and other religions. Confucius, for example, said “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.” It's worth noting that both Confucius and Buddha predate Jesus.

By the use of rigorous logic, Shawn concludes that “If everything was perfect then we could not have free will, since our happiness would always be determined.” This simplistic equation of perfection with determinism suggests that in a perfect world Shawn would not be able to choose what to have for dinner, since only the perfect choice would be possible. A more interesting consequence comes from the fact duly recorded in the Bible that Adam and Eve had free will. The power of free will was given to them by their Creator, so it follows that God created an imperfect world. Shawn may want to talk to God about that.

I presume Shawn is in the early stages of his education at Fresno State, so there is still hope for him. He can take some nice classes in logic from the math department and round it out with comparative religion from the philosophy department. In the meantime, a little Christian humility can keep him from beating his breast in public like the Pharisee in Luke 18.

Professor Zeno
As it says in the Good Book (I mean Shakespeare, of course), “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”


wegrit said...

As supposedly fully educated Philosophy and Religion student (I have a degree that says so, though I don't believe it to be true despite any and all knowledge realized a priori or gained a posteriori through four years of dense readings,) I think this might be the best post I've ever read. Shawn is the religious version of the pompous Nitzche-obsessed existentialists I hated as an undergrad. A look at a couple of my past posts will give you a better idea of just how I feel about them!

And if you don't mind, I'm going to link to this post...it'll amuse a few college friends.

eProf2 said...

Professor Zeno:

It's a shame that your division dean and the whole mathematics department can't see their way through to not only offer more classes in statistics but to also allow it to be the math course(s) to complete the college degree for the very reasons you state: statistics are what the "common person" uses every single day.

In teaching political science for thirty-five years, not once did I use algebra or geometry to explain any of the principles of politics. But, I probably used one or more statistics every single lecture.

Unless a person is going into the fields of science or engineering, I strongly urge math departments to use the "language" of the day and not be so esoteric as to leave students not going into the above fields behind in the dust -- or worse, leaving them no choice but to drop-out of school because they're not particularly interested in mastering algebra or geometry or calculus.

This was my first visit to your site. I'll try to get back once in awhile to see what you've got to say. It was a nice first visit. Enjoy your summer.

Zeno said...

Thanks, eprof2. I appreciate your comment. Actually, stats is accepted for credit for completion of our college degree (the two-year associate's degree). However, no one is likely to survive stats without a decent command of algebra, so algebra is a pre-requisite for it.

eProf2 said...

Hi again. On a personal note, I didn't fare very well in algebra, et al, but passed statistics with flying colors -- 24 quarter credits toward the doctorate with all A's and B's. My career was spent in community colleges and I witnessed a lot, and I mean a lot, of students who did very well in statistics but, like me, either didn't do well in the other math courses or drop them. In several cases, I watched students leave school because of the math requirement of having to take college algebra (a step higher than intro) in order to just get to statistics. Question: Have you ever done a study whereby you let students into statistics without taking algebra first to see how they fared? If so, what were the results? Or is the statement "no one is likely to survive" a supposition?

I'm glad the degree requirements can be met with statistics; but, isn't that meaningless if the student can't get through the pre-requisites?

Trust me, I've had this argument with my math colleagues, one of whom is my best friend, so many times over the years, so I'm not just starting a debate with you. I just wish someone would do a decent study to prove the allegation that you need one for the other. Even Title V requires a study for prerequisites unless four year schools use the same prerequisites. Unfortunately, they haven't done the studies because of several factors. One of which is that university students are more likely to have completed the prerequisites in high school and the remediation efforts are, guess what?, left to the community colleges.

Thanks for the dialogue.

llewelly said...

eProf2, the small community college I spent the my first 2 years of college at had the perfect solution to your dilemma: list pre-requisites in the catalog, send out letters advising (but not requiring) those who skip pre-requisites to drop, but otherwise do nothing to enforce pre-requisites. I worked full time (and then some) all through college, with a non-flexible schedule, and in several cases waiting for a chance to take a pre-requisite would have meant waiting a year or two to take a class. So took advantage of this like a bandit. Once (and only once) I got a B- instead of an A, and I ended up with some odd substitutions (e.g., I substituted a differential equations class for part of the calc series) but otherwise it worked out splendidly.
However it must be said that I knew the material of every pre-requisite I skipped quite well, and more, I'm the sort who reads 50-100% of the textbook during break between quarters/semesters. So even when I had skipped a pre-requisite I entered the class knowing much of the material that would be taught. Beyond that, there's a huge difference between 'didn't fare very well in algebra' and not knowing any algebra at all. Someone who barely scrapes up a passing grade is likely to know quite a bit more algebra than someone who never took it (obviously there are exceptions, but despite my prior story, there are many people who are bad judges of whether they are exceptions). I strongly suspect that for most people, taking statistics when genuinely not knowing any algebra would result in either a failing grade, or the use of any of several common methods that enable a student to pass a class without knowing (or learning) anything at all.

Although I do think that colleges who have the resources to provide some sort of leniency about pre-requisites should do so, the knowledge implicit in the pre-requisites is in most cases genuinely required, and it is common for students who lack that knowledge (although in my experience they lack it from having misunderstood the pre-req, rather than skipping it) to complain, or interrupt unduly, or otherwise require additional classroom & instructor resources, a college can only afford so much leniency wrt to pre-reqs.

PS: I hate blogger for not accepting common innocent html tags such as 'br'.