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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pity Us Poor Atheists.. So Says Baylor U. Prof

Brent Rasmussen over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable has a post up that I found interesting. Brent takes a look at this article written by Dr. Roger Olson for their University newspaper. His reaction is certainly worth reading. I thought I'd take a look at the original article written and make some additional comments based on a different approach.

Dr. Olsen opens his article with this:
I feel sorry for atheists. They are so much in the minority in American society and they are bound to feel some marginalization if not persecution.

Do not feel sorry for us. We have broken through all the silliness that is religion and found the actual source of happiness, living our lives in truth, rationality, and free from ancient superstitions created to explain the observable natural phenomena around them. As for the marginalization and persecution stuff, we are only marginalized by Christians and Muslims who want to force us into their religious views.

Persecution is a different matter. I seriously doubt that any of today's atheists have been burned at the stake or "thrown to the lions" There is no persecution of atheists. Persecution is uniquely religious, either Christians being persecuted, Jews being persecuted by Christians or Moslims persecuting other Moslims. Of course, there is also the persecution of Buddhists and Hindus as well. Atheists are typically not persecuted, we are converted..

The good doc then goes on to express this cesspool of untruth:

We have to recognize atheists' full freedom to believe God does not exist, but we don't have to embrace atheism as a social good. In fact, I would argue that atheism has no redeeming social value.

Atheism undermines values. How? Let's look at care for others. Yes, an individual atheist might care for other people. But when have you heard of an entire atheist organization serving the poor, the sick or the hungry?

So far, at least, atheists haven't demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way.

Just out of curiosity, who supported SCHIP and who blasted it out of the water? I believe liberals (which most atheists are considered) wanted, fought for, and supported providing health care for our children. It was the non-liberals who shot that program down. How's denying health care for children proof that Christians care for others? Atheist organizations provide all sorts of care for others. For example atheists are members of groups that feed the poor. Atheists are members of groups that attempt to stamp out war and genocide. Surely a living person is better than a dead one? But Dr. Olsen begs to differ.

Dr. Olsen clearly does not understand what atheism is. He seems to think it is a united front or collective beliefs and thus should as a front all support specific goals. This is entirely wrong. Atheism is the lack of beliefs in anything specific. (except that there is no God). Christopher Hitchens is the perfect example of this. His personal views are entirely the opposite of what many atheists believe. This is of course also true of Christianity, but that fact seems to have escaped Olsen entirely.

Dr. Olsen then goes on to answer his own question with something resembling the truth, but which he fails to grasp the importance of:
But more importantly, atheism undermines values such as care for others because it cannot explain why anyone should care for others. If there is no God or anything at all above nature, then nature is all there is. The law of nature is survival of the fittest. Why help the less fit survive unless there is a God who loves them because they are created in his image?

He answers with the correct answer, but does not understand its importance. Nature is "all there is." Nature is our guide. And "survival of the fittest" is one of (certainly not the primary one) the laws that guides biological nature. What he fails to see is that caring, or more precisely, the need to protect the group, is a very powerful survival tool. Imagine a bunch of individuals independantly protecting themselves from a pack of wild animals. They would get eaten one at a time because each, as an individual, is not strong or fast enough to defend themselves. But working together as a group, they can. This leads to many "higher functions": complex communication, the need to protect the community so that the community can protect you, and a rigid set of laws that provide fairness to all so that the community can function as both a group and a set of individuals. Nature provides for all of this, atheists accept that. Dr. Olsen cannot. He only thinks that can come about by some mythical sky god telling us what we can and cannot do. For the record, I cover all this in much more detail in a series of posts on morality here, here, and here.

He continues with some other comments:

And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism -- the idea that society should not help the weak because it's nature's way to weed out the less fit.

Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God's image).

Obviously, that is a flawed statement. Helping the weak actually can provide many advantages. Once language has been developed, the weak (let's assume they're the elderly for example) can actually be a great source of knowledge in spite of the fact that they can do nothing physically to help their community. The elders are the sources of experience and wisdom. Thus, they may be weak, but they have great value. And the value has nothing to do with any transcendent god.

Next comes the whole argument about "meaning".. How can atheists have any meaning in life without a god? Dr. Olsen writes:
But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently.
What has consistency to do with anything? Christopher Hitchens proves that atheism is anything but consistent. He is all about killing people and torture just like all the Christians who support the war in Iraq and the the more esoteric war on terrorism (Islam). Atheists can be deceived into thinking that evil things are good just like the masses of fundamentalist Christians who support killing and torture. If Christians can think evil things are good as well as can atheists, then what point is Dr. Olsen really making here?? I think he can -- at best -- say that atheists are just as human and mistake-prone as Christians. But then again, where is the surprise there?

Finally, he writes:

Baylor and universities like it exist to promote objective values and meaningful existence.

For them atheism is not benign, but the enemy -- even if atheists themselves are not.

Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.

But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life -- not because of it.

Again, why is it that only religions can have objective values? Isn't preservation of the species an objective value? Aren't happiness and progeny objective values?

I can only conclude that religious people like Dr. Olsen are people of character and (sometimes) virtue in spite of their religion, Christianity, not because of it. I guess we have something in common after all.

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At October 31, 2007 9:52 AM, Blogger Rhology said...

Hey Jeff,

Its (sic) always a good day to talk morality!

Say, would you be interested in a series of posts debating the following thesis statement?

Resolved: Any system of morality within an atheistic worldview can be based on nothing more than personal or at most societal preference for its value judgments.

I have done a 5-part "blogalogue" with another atheist in July 07. Sounds like you might be interested in the same.
Of course, you might already agree with the thesis, in which case I have some questions for you about the sweeping value judgments you've made in this post.


At November 01, 2007 12:31 PM, Blogger jeffperado said...


I have just emailed you about this possibility. But first, could you either send me a link to your 5 part series, or post it here?

And for the record, I already posted three links to a series I did on another blogger questioning atheistic morality.

I suggest clicking on those links to determine if they sufficiently answer all questions.

But I would be happy to continue this line of discussion.

At November 01, 2007 12:58 PM, Blogger Rhology said...


I'll read the 3 posts you sent to me and the email.
Please find here the final post of my convo with ChooseDoubt. I made 3 posts and he 2. The previous posts are linked on that page.



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