Around the Web

The New Hampshire GOP says “screw marriage.”

What’s the worst lie Ann Coulter has ever seen in the New York Times? It’s a doozy.

My NRB colleague Paul Cooper has a cool list of pro-life heroes.

How many “memorial services” can you think of with their own official logos and t-shirts?

Wisconsin Republicans plan to push voter ID. Now there’s change I can believe in!

In the wake of Tucson, Sarah Palin’s getting an “unprecedented” amount of death threats. But don’t hold the scumbags to their own standard and blame Paul Krugman, James Clyburn, or Chris Matthews, No sir.

Joe Carter contemplates atheist anger toward God. Why vent at someone you don’t think is there?

And check out the case against cutting defense spending.

Brief Observation: Ayn Rand vs. the Founding Fathers on Human Nature

Amit Ghate has a piece at Pajamas Media, using Ayn Rand to argue that reason is a superior foundation for morality than religion. I’d love to do a more thorough response to it if I wasn’t so busy right now (for those interested, here are parts One, Two, and Three of a debate I had on the subject with an atheist blogger a few years back); For the moment, one quick observation will have to suffice. (Usual disclaimer: I haven’t read Rand firsthand.)

Ghate approvingly cites Ayn Rand’s rejection of man’s fallen nature, saying Rand “sides with the giants of the Enlightenment in considering man to be morally perfectible.” However many Enlightenment thinkers may have believed man was “morally perfectible,” that was one aspect of Enlightenment thinking the American Founders didn’t put much stock in. To the extent that Rand disagrees with Publius on this point, she sides with Progressives.

Principled & Productive National Discourse, or a Culture of Grievance-Mongering?

Here we have another profile in sleaze from the Atheist Ethicist. Today the object of his ire is a column by the American Spectator’s Melanie Phillips, who argues:

I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda — and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.

Alonzo, in his Herculean struggle against “anti-atheist bigotry,”
responds with an analogy to scapegoating Jews for society’s problems, which “had some very ugly consequences” (I seem to recall a term for this sort of thing—I guess it only applies to them there pro-life yahoos…), a claim that Phillips’ words are “trying to promote hatred and bigotry of” atheists (predictably, he doesn’t bother to actually assemble a case that her words constitute anything of the sort; he just assumes it as a given), and whiny outrage that she isn’t “fighting for her job.”

Once again we see that our hero’s casual acquaintance with truth (or just sloppy reading skills; take your pick) strikes again. Look back at Phillips’ column, and you’ll see she talks specifically about “militant atheism” (geez, she even put it in quotes), and goes on to explain what she means by that—a specific mindset, a specific strain of atheism. As I’ve said before, public consideration of atheism’s (or any religion’s, for that matter) intellectual and moral merits is not bigotry, because religious belief and lack thereof are prisms through which we see the world, with ramifications relevant to society. Clearly, Phillips was not blaming the average skeptic for the financial breakdown; she was making the point that the expansion of a particular mentality in society has had a detrimental effect.
Right or wrong, it’s not bigotry, but a debatable sociological proposition based on her worldview and observations. Any punk with a keyboard and an Internet connection can call those with whom he disagrees names, or wish their careers were in jeopardy. It takes another kind of man entirely to engage an argument head-on.

But the Atheist Ethicist, it would seem, is interested in no such thing. He’s not interested in what Melanie Phillips actually said, but in grievance-mongering. According to the Alonzo Fyfe standard, it’s apparently not possible to criticize any aspect of atheism, any sub-group or sub-mindset within atheism, and not have it seen as bigotry against the entire atheist community. The state of public discourse in this country is already abysmal; the last thing we need is this sort of thing corrupting it further still.

Religion Battle Royale

Click here for the full video of a recent three-way debate between Dinesh D’Souza, Dennis Prager, and Christopher Hitchens, representing Christianity, Judaism, and atheism, respectively. It’s an excellent, stimulating, wide-ranging discussion on faith, reason, God, and morality, with three tremendously formidable debaters—even if Hitchens tends to be a snide, boorish ass.


Every now and then, atheists claim they’re being discriminated against because polling data suggests many Americans wouldn’t want their children to marry an atheist. I don’t see any reason atheists should be offended by this. Why should a desire to marry, or to see your kids marry, somebody with similar values be taken to mean you think somebody with different values is inferior? The issue isn’t superiority, but compatibility: what will make a couple bond best, what will give children the clearest foundation and messages, and so forth. I don’t feel even remotely slighted by the fact that a Muslim would probably not want his daughter to marry me (whether or not Dad’s into honor killings, of course, is a different matter…). This claim is really grasping at straws.

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is "Ethicist"

Alonzo Fyfe recently devoted an entire post to condemning misleading, context-free attack ads, and in another, chastised a reader for taking his own words out of context:

Words get their meaning from their context and it is impossible for a person to write anything or to carry on any discussion that will not contain elements whose meaning changes in a different context. For this reason, there is no option but for the burden of the responsibility to be on the reader to understand a statement in that context.

Isn’t that remarkable? It seems the Atheist Ethicist understands and values the importance of context
more than he let on…

D’Souza on "An Absentee God?"

During this debate, Christopher Hitchens actually raised an intriguing challenge to God’s existence (good points from atheists are so hard to find these days). Now, Dinesh D’Souza has an answer:

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. On Friday July 11 the libertarian conference FreedomFest will have, as its featured event, a debate on “Christianity, Islam and the War on Terror” between Christopher Hitchens and me. The media will be there, and the organizers also expect to have the debate up on the web. (Just in case Richard Dawkins is listening, I’ll have to remember
not to use Hitler-style shrieks and yells.)

In thinking about this debate, I’m reminded of an argument that Hitchens made in our New York debate last October. At that time I did not know how to answer his point. So I employed an old debating strategy: I ignored it and answered other issues. But Hitchens’ argument bothered me.

Here’s what Hitchens said. Homo sapiens has been on the planet for a long time, let’s say 100,000 years. Apparently for 95,000 years God sat idly by, watching and perhaps enjoying man’s horrible condition. After all, cave-man’s plight was a miserable one: infant mortality, brutal massacres, horrible toothaches, and an early death. Evidently God didn’t really care.

Then, a few thousand years ago, God said, “It’s time to get involved.” Even so God did not intervene in one of the civilized parts of the world. He didn’t bother with China or India or Persia or Egypt. Rather, he decided to get his message to a group of nomadic people in the middle of nowhere. It took another thousand years or more for this message to get to places like India and China.

Here is the thrust of Hitchens’ point: God seems to have been napping for 98 percent of human history, finally getting his act together only for the most recent 2 percent? What kind of a bizarre God acts like this?

I’m going to answer this argument in two ways. First, in this blog I’m going to show that Hitchens has his math precisely inverted. Second, in a future blog I’ll reveal how Hitchens’ argument backfires completely on atheism. For today’s argument I’m indebted to Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

An adept numbers guy, Kreps noters that it is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion. Of this number, about 2 percent were born before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be? But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

I have to agree with Kreps’s conclusion: “Sorry Hitchens. And Hallelujah.”
Part 2 of his response:

Here I want to show how Hitchens’ argument completely backfires on atheism. Let’s apply an entirely secular analysis and go with Hitchens’ premise that there is no God and man is an evolved primate. Well, biology tells us that man’s basic frame and brain size haven’t substantially changed throughout his terrestrial existence.

So here is the problem.
Homo sapiens has been on the planet for 100,000 years, but apparently for more than 95,000 of those years he accomplished virtually nothing. No real art, no writing, no inventions, no culture, no civilization. How is this possible? Were our ancestors, otherwise physically and mentally undistinguishable from us, such blithering idiots that they couldn’t figure out anything other than the arts of primitive warfare?

Then, a few thousand years ago, everything changes. Suddenly savage man gives way to historical man. Suddenly the naked ape gets his act together. We see civilizations sprouting in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and elsewhere. Suddenly there are wheels and agriculture and art and culture. Soon we have dramatic plays and philosophy and an explosion of inventions and novel forms of government and social organization.

So how did
Homo sapiens, heretofore such a slacker, suddenly get so smart? Scholars have made strenuous efforts to account for this but no one has offered a persuasive account. If we compare man’s trajectory on earth to an airplane, we see a long, long stretch of the airplane faltering on the ground, and then suddenly, a few thousand years ago, takeoff!

Well, there is one obvious way to account for this historical miracle. It seems as if some transcendent being or force reached down and breathed some kind of a spirit or soul into man, because after accomplishing virtually nothing for 98 percent of our existence, we have in the past 2 percent of human history produced everything from the pyramids to Proust, from Socrates to computer software.

So paradoxically Hitchens’ argument becomes a boomerang. Hitchens has raised a problem that atheism cannot easily explain and one that seems better accounted for by the Book of Genesis.
UPDATE: A reader posed a few challenges to D’Souza’s argument (if he wants to know why I’m not publishing his comments, he’s free to ask here). I want to address them, though, since they strike me as common areas of misunderstanding.

Humanity’s “takeoff” provides no evidence that God was involved. It could have been coincidence, or the invention of something like the written alphabet or mathematics or several such developments at once.

But this is precisely the issue: mankind had a whopping 95,000 years in which none of it happened. Then “several such developments at once”? Granted, it’s not material evidence, and it’s not proof, but you’ve gotta admit, it’s certainly intriguing circumstantial evidence.

It also provides no evidence that it was Christ or Christianity specifically that is the answer. Advancements took place before Christ…maybe the Greek Gods get credit for Ancient Greece?

This complaint gets the two arguments mixed up. D’Souza does not tie human advancement to the coming of Christ at all, but to the endowment of man with a soul. The only point Christ pertains to is the percentage of the human race that lived before Him as opposed to after.

It’s also interesting that technology has advanced exponentially in recent history, despite no known input from Allah or God or Zeus.

That’s because the input we’re talking about—the soul transforming an animal called human into a man, giving him a true mind rather than a brain—already happened. According to D’Souza’s theory, human reason and creativity flow from this singular change.

Atheists Crying Wolf, Part 2

This is the second post in a series addressing common complaints of so-called “anti-atheist bigotry,” as characterized by atheist blogger Alonzo Fyfe:

(2 & 3) Next we have two familiar bones of liberal contention: “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our currency. Fyfe argues that these are unjust and demeaning to atheists by implying they cannot be good Americans.

Part 1, I explained how God was vital to America’s founding principles. The nation also has a long tradition of turning to God in times of crisis and recognizing His hand in the course of history, such as Abraham Lincoln’s speculation that the terrible devastation of the Civil War was divine punishment for slavery, and his declaration that the United States’ “new birth of freedom” would come “under God.” Even the scientifically-minded Benjamin Franklin argued:

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

This is the true motivation behind “Under God” and “In God We Trust”: first, to remind the people of America’s philosophical roots to preserve the sacred status of individual liberty; and second, to honor this tradition and keep it alive in the hopes that God will continue to steer us through troubled waters and bestow His blessings upon the land.

To infer from these phrases a malicious intent to ostracize atheist citizens and impugn their love of country is fantasy, and smacks of paranoia. (This is not to say nobody wishes to denigrate atheists, or tries to do so via these phrases. But to take individual examples of intolerance and extrapolate from them conclusions about all, or even most, people who support them is a classic logical fallacy that indicates either weak thinking or rank demagoguery.)

Admittedly, this conclusion begs two questions: (1) What about the offense some atheists take at the implications, even if they are unintentional? (2) Just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right, so why does tradition matter in this case?

(1) Does the Pledge of Allegiance impugn the patriotism of atheists? Does it imply that “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” is an all-or-nothing deal, that rejecting God means rejecting the rest? No—it is a matter of historical record that America is “one nation under God.” Granted, nobody should expect atheists to say the country is literally under “God” in the sense of an omnipotent being who created and surveys the universe. However, there is no reason an intellectually-honest atheist cannot acknowledge that our society is under “God” in the sense of a set of philosophical assumptions about the source of human rights, reflected in our founding documents and the men who wrote them and fought for them. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was true of our Framers, and has been true of the overwhelming majority of Americans who have lived throughout our history. True, atheists don’t trust in God, but frankly, it isn’t a case of the nation not valuing atheists, but of atheists not valuing a particular element of the American fabric. As long as we’re the same nation we were in 1776, atheists should resign themselves to the fact that they’ve chosen a worldview that is, in part, simply incompatible with their nation’s identity. Which leads us to…

(2) A nation’s identity isn’t automatically a good thing; why should the mere fact that something is tradition be persuasive? Alone, it shouldn’t be (a point jovially-yet-morbidly demonstrated in a line from
this song). But every society has a basic right to keep its foundations alive through ceremony and tradition, and as long as that foundation is sound (as I’ve argued the founding’s religious component is), the tradition should stand. It seems to me that, in order for one to advocate abandoning such a tradition, one must also argue that the foundational element it reflects is flawed, and should be rejected.

The Atheist Ethicist: Just Another Propagandist

We interrupt Atheists Crying Wolf (no, I haven’t forgotten it; I promise Part II is coming!) for a special bulletin: the “Atheist Ethicist’s” credibility has hit rock-bottom.

this post, Alonzo Fyfe peddles a number of anti-Bible talking points, including the “abomination” of eating shellfish:

The eating of shellfish is an abomination because – well, have you ever looked at a shellfish? They’re disgusting. My wife has a hard time with peel-and-eat shrimp. So, of course, eating those things must be considered an abomination…

Current bigotry against homosexuals is not something that people get out of the Bible – something that people disapprove of because the Bible calls it an abomination. If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be just as intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex.

It doesn’t take much to find out Fyfe hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about here. Neil at Eternity Matters
explains the issue very well in a detailed-yet-accessible post. You should read it all, but here’s his quick summary:

The short version: There were different Hebrew words translated as abomination. They were used differently in the individual verses and were used very differently in broader contexts. The associated sins had radically different consequences and had 100% different treatments in the New Testament.

Curious about how he’d spin his way out of this, I posed the question to him in the comments section (yeah, that’s me under “Anonymous”). In response, not only did he refuse to defend his own claims, he actually argued that the original context was meaningless. After all, it only gives Christians “room for rationalization and self-deception.” Pot, meet kettle.

The exchange is stunning in how completely Fyfe dismisses the basic legwork that any reputable commentator, philosopher, historian, or theologian would do before making serious claims about serious subjects. He speaks without any regard for the truth. His writings will continue to satisfy his hardcore secular groupies, but I don’t think many other people are going to recognize him for the ethicist he isn’t.