Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh, gotta love those FOX News fallacies!

   Or not. Someone named Larry Alex Taunton put together a doozie of an opinion piece on the Reason Rally. Let's break the worst of it down!
But there is something not quite right about all of this. Christianity, whatever the faults of its adherents, has a rich intellectual tradition that has a comprehensive view of life.
   It does? It would be great if he could give us something definitive, but all he makes are assertions as follows.
It has given rise to the West as we know it. Our laws, arts, governments, and the very framework of our thought find their meaning in Christianity. Take for example the central premise of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal."
   Sure, I cannot argue against the fact that Christianity has had, and still does, have a large impact on western society and that there has been much art influenced by it. Yes, western governments and laws have as well, but what Mr. Taunton likely wants you to picture is the United States of America's government and laws. I will grant him that some of the theocracies that existed in European past have had a Christian influence, but not the USA government! I'd really like Mr. Taunton to connect the dots for me. Where, for instance, is this idea from the Declaration of Independence that he gives found in Christianity??? Is he grabbing at the creation story of Adam? Since, according to the Biblical story, God created just one man, Adam, then all of humankind is a descendant of Adam. (Never mind where Cain's wife came from. And what about Seth? Did he even have a wife?) Does this therefore mean every human is equal? Is that how he is deriving this notion? It feels like a non sequitur to me. But, let's assume for a moment that Mr. Taunton is correct. It is quite amazing, then, how the good, Christianity-inspired founders of this country then failed to abolish slavery or give women equal rights to men and displaced the native population. It would seem to me the people who wrote that either didn't really believe what they said or when they said "men," they specifically meant white males (and perhaps even more specifically those who owned property). It's one thing to say "all men are created equal;" it is another to mean it and act by it.

   Mr. Taunton attempts to give us some evidence to back up his claim. But his evidence is horrible. All it amounts to is "look at how much worse non-western societies are in comparison to us." He then asserts that this must be so because of western nations being predominantly Christian as opposed to thos other non-western nations. This is an error of assuming that correlation implies causation. It does not. Unsurprisingly, this will not be the last time Mr. Taunton makes this mistake.
Atheism, by contrast, has no creed, no principles, no philosophy, and can give no guidance.
   This is true! The only problem is that two paragraphs ago he said pretty much the opposite: "Paradoxically, it has become a kind of religion, a Church of Unbelief complete with a saint (Christopher Hitchens), a high priest (Richard Dawkins), and holy writ (anything Dawkins writes). And now, with the political nature of this rally, Dawkins is set to become the Pat Robertson of atheism." So which one is it?
By conservative estimates, the twentieth century, an experiment in secular governance, witnessed the deaths of more than 100 million people. That is more than all the religious wars in all previous centuries combined.
   First of all, thanks to the industrial revolution and whatnot, the world population in the previous century was much larger than it had been in previous centuries. Add in the unfortunate fact that we have weapons that are more effective at killing large groups of people, and you have a recipe for this sort of thing. Second, what is getting counted as "secular government" in this? What about World War II? Hitler seemed a bit of a religious fanatic, so how are we counting those deaths? (And, no, Hitler was not an atheist! He doesn't sound like an orthodox Christian by any accounts, either, but that does neither make him not religious nor does it mean he wasn't influenced in part by Christianity.) Third, once more Mr. Taunton is really pushing toward the error of thinking correlation implies causation. It's even worse than that because he likely is not counting the USA as a secular government. Or maybe he is! Then those that the USA kills in war would count toward secular deaths, right? (My guess is he considers the USA to be a Christian nation per earlier remarks.)
If, for instance, you do not believe in God, you are likely to conclude that man is a temporal being meant to serve the state, an eternal institution. This is the view of the communist world. Sacrificing a few million people for the sake of building socialist paradise was always deemed an acceptable price to pay.
   There are two problems here. First, why is an atheist likely to conclude that the state is "eternal"? I totally get the idea that human is a temporal being, but isn't a state the product of human as well as a product that needs the existence of human to exist itself? Then how can a thing such as state that depends on a temporal being be eternal? I'm beginning to feel like Mr. Taunton needs to take some classes on logical reasoning. Second, he conflates communism with atheism. As I've said in prior postings, "Communism is more anti-church, especially toward church involvement in the State, than [atheistic]." I realize this idea is well over 90 years old, but it's well past time for it to die. You don't have to be an atheist to be a communist. In fact, there are such people as Christian communists. What I think people need to do a better job of, and this includes myself per the quote above from only one month ago, is to distinguish between the economic philosophy of communism and the...oh, let's call it the "world view" of Marxism. Let's cut this shit out of presuming that all communists have to be Marxists or likewise that all communists have to be atheists and vice versa.

   As for most atheists in this country, especially those who attended the rally, we do not have visions of a "socialist paradise." However, we do believe it would be easier to make the world a better place (not necessarily a paradise) if people ditched unfounded beliefs.
Proponents of a society free from religious influence can point to no nation or civilization that was founded upon atheism that we might call even remotely good.
   Well, of course not! Mr. Taunton keeps forgetting what he says just paragraphs earlier. Remember when he said, "Atheism, by contrast, has no creed, no principles, no philosophy, and can give no guidance"? Because of this, it is impossible to found a civilization "upon atheism" because no foundation exists. But you can have nations that are built outside of religious institutions. Which is how our country was built. Yet, Mr. Taunton would most likely deny this.

   And on that, what else can I say? It would probably be pointless to have a discussion with someone like Mr. Taunton because it would appear that he has it in his head that anything good must be due to Christianity and anything bad is due to a lack thereof. I can't give him an example of a decent secular nation because he'll look, just like he does with the USA, for any links to Christianity and do the whole "correlation implies causation" routine when convenient. Which he makes pretty clear when he says, "What they can point to are secular societies that are still running off of their accumulated Christian capital." What about Japan? Or would he point to WWII and try to claim that the Japan then, one he would label as murderous, is somehow the same as the Japan of today?

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has given a much more brief response to this opinion piece.

So as people prepare to gather on the National Mall to celebrate their belief in nothingness, we might reasonably wonder what they want.

That would, indeed, be a reasonable question - except that Taunton is clearly uninterested in it, since the remainder of his article completely ignores the eight hours' worth of speakers discussing what it is that atheists want, and instead veers off into a rambling tangent about how Christians and Christians alone deserve the credit for the existence of democracy and human rights. Interestingly, he does say that criticizing the violent abuses in the name of religion is "low hanging fruit", yet somehow still manages to imply that we're in the wrong for pointing these out.

   Indeed! Much of Mr. Taunton's piece is disingenuous, which was fairly obvious when he began contradicting himself as I pointed out above.