Tag Archives: religion

More on William Lane Craig’s Morality

In the comments section of my last post on this topic, it was highlighted to me by Prayson Daniel that I may not have exactly presented Craig’s case accurately. Though I feel that many of the points I made were valid against his argument, I figured I would redo my rebuttal it, and some his others in a new post quoting only his words. I shall provide links for all quotations so that you can see the context. So here goes, I shall dive in:

 

This is Craig’s moral argument in his words:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral-argument#ixzz2JP8r21DE

 

Let us begin with premise one; “if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”. Lets see what he offers in support of this:

Consider first the question of objective moral values. If God does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values? In particular, why think that human beings would have objective moral worth? On the atheistic view human beings are just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On atheism it’s hard to see any reason to think that human well-being is objectively good, anymore than insect well-being or rat well-being or hyena well-being. This is what Dr. Harris calls “The Value Problem”

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCFI1EF

and

On a naturalistic view moral values are just the behavioral byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins homo sapiens have evolved a sort of herd morality for precisely the same reasons. As a result of socio-biological pressures there has evolved among homo sapiens a sort of herd morality which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes this morality objectively binding and true.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCgyOgm

 

I essentially agree with this point. On naturalism there is no independent, timeless, objective system of ethics that exists outside of our own consciousness. This does not mean that a rational account for morality cannot be advanced. Science has shown us that there is a neurological basis for empathy – we are literally hard-wired for compassion. Let me explain; when you observe a person drowning and crying out for help, there will be a certain set of neurons that fire to coordinate their movements and actions as the person struggles in the water. As you observe this a certain subset of those same neurons fire as though your brain were mirroring what that person were going through – hence the name of these brain cells: Mirror neurons.

 

During the course of our evolution, our brains grew larger and we developed a much more complex system of mirror neurons. This would provide an advantage because it allows us to imitate the actions of others, and would play a vital role in the development of tool use. It has also give our brains an intrinsic connection between our own minds and those of others. When we see someone suffering we can literally put ourselves in their shoes through the “mirroring” of their actions in our brains. Similarly when we someone overjoyed or relieved, we share this experience with them. It is in our nature to be empathetic, as neurologist V.S. Ramachandran states:

 

Within some of these regions [of the brain], there is a special class of nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire not only when you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. This sounds so simple that its huge implications are easy to miss. What these cells do is effectively allow you to empathise with the other person and “read” her intentions—figure out what she is really up to. You this by running a simulation of her using your own body image.

 

When you watch someone else reach for a glass of water, for example, your mirror neurons automatically simulate the same action in your (usually subconscious) imagination. Your mirror neurons will often go a step further and have you perform the action they anticipate the other person is about to take—say, to lift the water to her lips and take a drink. Thus you automatically form an assumption about her intentions and motivations—in this case, that she is thirsty and is taking steps to quench her thirst. Now, you could be wrong in this assumption—she might intend to use the water to douse a fire or to fling in the face of a boorish suitor—but usually your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guessers of others’ intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with.”

The Tell-Tale Brain page 22

 

Thus we have good grounds to believe that it is in our nature to be empathetic and compassionate. We see a person drowning and we want to help them because we can visualise ourselves in that position. Thus, though there may not be a law of the universe that states ‘we should be good’ it is an intrinsic part of our consciousness to be kind, and that is one perfectly adequate reason to be good – its in our nature!

 

I am willing to grant Craig his assertion that on naturalism there is no truly objective grounding for morality, however I do think there are issues with Craig’s unstated assumption that God is the source of objective morality. I shall return to the dilemma I highlighted in my previous post on this topic. Here is the problem:

 

1. If something is good because God commands it then this is a subjective basis for morality

2. If God commands something because it is already good then objective moral values exist independent of God

3. Therefore God cannot be the source of objective morality and Craig’s first premise is false

 

Lets take an example of Biblical morality, perhaps the most obvious; “Thou shall not kill”. If this is an objective indictment then there would be no context in which killing is permissible. Yet we have another passage from the Bible (this is not an isolated instance either):

“If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.”

(Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

 

How can God’s commands be an objective basis for morality when in one instance he states; do not kill anyone, and in another he states; go out and kill? If killing is both okay and not okay in separate instances then it is not objectively wrong. It is determined by the subjective whims of God.

 

Prayson brought up the following point of contention with this in the comments to my previous post:

 

“[A] common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.”

 

This does nothing to solve the confusion of the above dilemma. If God’s commands reflect his nature, then his nature must require that killing is both okay and not okay – his nature, according to scripture and this reasoning, is contradictory. So we still cannot arrive at the objective decision “killing is wrong” via this line of reasoning.

 

In conclusion, Craig’s first premise is flawed because an objective grounding morality requires that moral injunctions such as those against killing be true in all instances, yet this is contradicted by instances in scripture in which God endorses and encourages killing. Neither the divine command theory or the argument about God’s nature escapes this dilemma.

 

Let’s turn to premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist.” And see what he offers in support of this assertion:

 

But the problem is that objective moral values and duties plausibly do exist. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior—they’re moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Michael Ruse himself admits, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5.”2 Some things, at least, are really wrong.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-craig-krauss-debate-at-north-carolina-state-university#ixzz2JPerUoXk

 

The problem of this is that he does not provide any real reason to accept that we are actually apprehending a realm of moral values and duties that are an objective reality. He merely states that there is no reason to deny it. Yet there are reasons to deny it.

 

As I highlighted earlier in this post there are neurological groundings for empathy and compassion – we undoubtedly experience feelings of guilt and conscience. But this does not necessarily represent a realm that objectively exists outside of our consciousness. I explained that there are good evolutionary reasons for why we feel empathy and compassion.

 

Other morally guiding emotions such as shame and guilt, have equally sound evolutionary explanations. A short example of this would be, we may have evolved guilt and remorse as a defence against habitually dangerous behaviour – for example; adultery – the more our ancestors committed adultery the higher the frequency of getting caught and injured or killed. The unpleasant emotions of remorse and guilt prevent us from putting our lives at risk from “pissing too many people off” as it were. Likewise, friendship, cooperation etc. are advantageous, those who cooperate can survive much more efficiently than those who are constantly fighting with each other. There are many good naturalistic explanations for our moral experience that do not require the existence of moral principles that exist beyond the functioning of our brains.

 

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that most normal human beings experience what can be described as a ‘moral realm’ – however there is no reason to assume that this realm exists external to our consciousness. It is a part of who we are as a species, but it does not necessitate the existence of objective moral principles that exist in anything other than the internal realm of our experience.

 

Despite his assertion that there is ‘no good reason’ to deny the existence of an objective moral realm – I have shown that there are good reasons to. He offers nothing else in support of his argument. What Craig really needs to do is show us why there are no good reasons to deny his assertion, until he does so, I shall consider his point refuted.

 

Thus his conclusion “God exists” is not shown to be true due to the flaws in both of his premises that I’ve highlighted.

 

I hope this provides a more accurate and in depth analysis of his argument. Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

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William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith (the irony of this title will soon become apparent) argues that if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists. One might be forgiven for thinking that someone with a Ph.D. In philosophy would be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of his assertion that objective moral values do indeed exist. One would be mistaken however. His reasoning is as follows; “objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it.” This is an utterly asinine philosophical argument that is almost too embarrassing to dignify with a refutation. Nonetheless I shall endeavour to persist.

His argument can, without parody, be translated thus; I have a gut feeling that something is wrong therefore it must be objectively wrong. But there are lots of things that human beings have strong aversions to; consider eating rotten meat for example. Most of us would wretch if we were presented with a platter of semi-decomposed carrion. Our strong abhorrence, or gut feeling that rancid flesh should not be consumed does not mean that it is objectively wrong to do so. There is no universal law that prohibits such an act – plenty of organisms do feed off fetid meat. Humans however, have evolved an innate sense of disgust in response to it as a defence against the potential diseases that we might contract from consuming it.

Similarly, our conscience doesn’t necessitate the existence of a universal code of ethics. It merely necessitates that we have evolved a defence against certain destructive modes of behaviour. If you imagine there are two populations; one in which the people have no qualms about murder, theft and other such detrimental behaviour, and another in which the people have a fully developed conscience that prevents them from committing such actions. It is easy to see how the first population would fail to prosper. Their socially destructive behaviour would prevent the necessary cohesion that is required to persist as a population with for any great length of time. The second population on the other hand would cooperate and trust one another with ease, their society and institutions would flourish and they would have the means to deal with the challenges that face any culture. Whilst the first population are too busy squabbling and killing each other to solve even the simple challenge of making sure everyone gets fed, the second population could gain the strength and resources necessary to form armies and conquer the first population with ease – thus eliminating them, and their destructive habits. It is clear to see why having an aversion towards certain behaviours is an advantage in evolutionary terms, without appealing to the existence of objective values.

 

In order to move on however, I shall be unusually generous and put all that aside. Lets assume for the moment that there is some substance to Craig’s claim that objective moral values do exist. Does it follow from this that God exists?
Craig’s reasoning is predicated upon the assumption that only God could provide the grounding for objective morality. If one subscribes to the ‘divine command theory’ – which states that an act is either good or evil depending on whether God commands it or prohibits it – then there are some problems with this assumption. If we take an act generally considered to be immoral, such as killing a child, for example. Is killing a child wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit killing children because it is intrinsically wrong?

If God prohibits killing a child because it is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists – and thus objective moral values do not necessitate that God exists. If something is right simply because God commands it, and wrong simply because God prohibits it then anything can become right or wrong based upon the whim of God. Thus if God commands a person murder a child (a problem which is amplified by the fact that God does command exactly this in the Bible) then this would be the right thing to do by definition. This renders morality completely subjective, and arbitrary.

Some will respond to this problem by stating that goodness is derived from God’s nature. However this creates a very similar dilemma. Is helping a suffering individual good because it is in God’s nature, or is helping a suffering individual in God’s nature because it is already intrinsically good? The latter option again removes the necessity of God, and the former can be refuted with an example from the Bible. Consider Jeremiah 19 verse 9: “And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. Here God is causing people to cannibalise their own children – thus we can consider it to be in God’s nature to induce others to eat their own progeny, and as such we can conclude that doing so is good. If one protests that causing people to eat their own offspring is morally wicked then they are either appealing to a moral standard that is beyond the nature of God, or they are saying that God is capable of acting against his own nature. But if it is in God’s nature to be capable of acting against his own nature then the whole argument is rendered meaningless.

Either objective moral values do exist, but God is superfluous – which is contradictory to Craig’s argument. Or objective moral values do not exist, and morality is down to the subjective and arbitrary whims of God – which again, contradicts the original assertion that objective moral values do exist. Craig’s moral argument falls flat on its face.

William Lane Craig doesn’t stop his ethical embarrassment here by any means. In his debate with Arif Ahmed, he openly declared that: “The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”. What does he mean by this? He appears to be casting doubt on the existence of gratuitous evil, in other words, evil that is without reason, cause or justification. So, if we accept the implications of this, then we must accept that all evil and suffering exists to serve some kind of purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, God’s purpose of course, as Craig states on his website reasonablefaith.org:

“God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.”

So, if evil exists to serve a purpose, and that purpose is God’s supreme plan – which is ultimately good (unless you want to concede that God is evil), then it follows logically that all evil is ultimately good. Such a perfect way to commit moral suicide! Although to be fair on Craig, he doesn’t assert that gratuitous evil definitely does not exist. However, his doubtful stance does completely undermine his ability to make any moral judgements whatsoever. If, for example, the torture of a small child for fun cannot definitely be said to be gratuitously evil, and that it might be a part of God’s ultimately good plan, then there is no way to say for definite whether such an act is ultimately good or evil. Thus contrary to his laughably inane assertion that we can just know that something is right or wrong, Craig’s own position actually undermines his ability to make moral judgements.

 

From Craig’s asinine argument from objective morality, to the absurd conclusions that follow inevitably from his scepticism over the existence of gratuitous evil, it is evident that his theological beliefs do nothing to advance any real ethical philosophy. That is not to say that William Lane Craig, is himself devoid of coherent ethics, however I think it is safe to say that they stem from somewhere other than the whims of a supernatural law-giver.

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Defending My Atheism

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – this statement is hard to fault when used in the right context, however it resolutely does not work as an argument against atheism, or a means to shift the burden of proof. Why is this so? Because my assertion as an atheist is not “the absence of evidence for God is evidence of God’s absence”, rather it is; “the absence of evidence for God is all the justification I need not to believe in it”. In other words, I don’t have to prove that there is not a God because I do not make that assertion.

 

I’ve spoken in recent posts about the null hypothesis – which is the default position on any claim. When postulating the existence of a God, the null hypothesis is as follows; God does not exist. This is not a dogmatic statement, it is the starting block for any claim, a statement which you seek to disprove under experiment or observation. As yet, no one has provided any credible evidence to refute the statement God does not exist so my atheism is perfectly justified. It’s that simple.

 

Apologists of various stripes will claim that their arguments resolutely do refute the null hypothesis, however their arguments do not meet the standards of evidence required to falsify a scientific hypothesis. Logical arguments cannot be enough to disprove a null hypothesis. Take the Higgs Boson for example, there is quite a sound and reasonable argument that says; in order to make sense of everything we know about particle physics something with the properties of the Higgs particle must exist. This is not enough to prove that it does exist however. Scientists at CERN didn’t hear this then switch off their particle accelerators satisfied that their job was done. This is because no matter how sound, the argument itself cannot prove the existence of the particle, and so the search goes on (which is heating up of late incidentally). Furthermore, the argument for the Higgs particle is far better than any argument put forth in favour of the existence of God. There are no logical arguments for the existence of God which are not contestable or flawed in their premises or conclusions.

 

So having said all that, I am perfectly justified to disbelieve in the existence of God. I am not asserting that the null hypothesis has been proven correct (that can’t happen), what I am asserting is that the lack of convincing refutation of the null hypothesis is all the justification I need for my atheism. I don’t use absence of evidence as evidence of absence, I use the absence of evidence as a good enough reason not to believe. If you say that you have a pet elephant in your garden – the absence of any convincing evidence does not prove with any certainty that you do not have an elephant in your garden, but it is good enough justification for my not believing you…

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Notes on the Problem of Evil

Okay, first we need a definition of evil that we can all agree upon, so how about:

 

Intentionally acting in such a way as to increase harm and suffering without remorse

I’m pretty sure most people can agree upon that. Next we need to define the kinds of entities that are capable of committing evil. Moral awareness is an important prerequisite. We cannot classify a lion as evil for killing other animals at any given opportunity because they have no sense of right and wrong. So in order to be able to do evil you need the capacity to be aware of your actions, their consequences and how they affect others. As far as we know humans are the only beings possessing of these traits.

So in order for something to be evil it needs to be carried out by a morally aware being. An event which causes suffering and harm repeatedly, but is not down to the actions and intentions of a morally aware being cannot be classified as evil. This means that natural disasters and diseases etc. are not evil. So far so good.

However, when you throw and all-powerful deity into the mix this is when things get difficult (for the theist at least). God fulfils the requirement of being a morally aware entity, most theists will state that God is the source of moral truth, so clearly such an entity is very aware of their actions and the consequences of them.

The attribute of omnipotence creates a problem which is famously termed ‘the problem of evil’. Let me explain it using malaria as an example; malaria kills thousands of children every single day so there is no doubt that such a thing increases suffering and causes harm to others, however without God malaria is not evil because it is not caused by the actions and decisions of a morally aware entity. On theism this is different.

The theist has two choices when it comes to malaria; either God created it himself, or allowed it to happen. Either way this removes malaria from the context of having not been caused by the actions and intentions of a morally aware entity to one in which it is very much in the hands of a morally aware entity.

If God created malaria then he is evil because he intentionally created something that causes large amounts of pain and suffering, apparently with no remorse. If God allows malaria then this creates problems also; because if God cares about our suffering and wants to relieve it then he should want to use his power to prevent malaria, this gives rise to a contradiction because it’s very apparent that God has done nothing to prevent malaria, so either God does not care about our suffering, or God does care about it, but can do nothing (thus meaning God is not omnipotent).

The problem of evil arises because positing the existence of an omnipotent God removes disasters, diseases and famines etc. from the context of being events with no moral agent behind them, to being ones that do. So the theist must then explain the contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence that arises in this situation. This is, in my opinion, the heart of the problem of evil.

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Prayer and Free Will

The Bible declares that human beings are given free will so that we can choose to either accept or reject God (“whosoever will, may come”).

 

Christian doctrine decrees that God can at least sometimes answer prayers.

 

If a Christian were to pray that a person were to accept God, and that prayer is answered then that person’s free will is violated.

 

Conclusion: Prayers answered with regards to the actions/decisions of others would mean that this person’s free will is violated. This creates logical problems, and shows that free will and a God that answers prayers are not entirely compatible.

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A Response to Peter Mullen on Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins says that David Cameron is “not really a Christian”. The fact is that it is only God to whom all hearts be open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid. So Dawkins has no means of telling whether Cameron is a genuine Christian or not.

We can, however, know that Dawkins is not a proper atheist – that is an intelligent atheist – from his own puerile writing and pathetic attempts at philosophical theology. For example, he writes: “Either God exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question. The existence of God is a scientific question, like any other.”

This is idiotic. Science investigates material phenomena, observable entities in the universe. No competent theologians or philosophers – not even the atheist ones – have ever declared that God (if he exists) is an object in his own universe. Perhaps there is no God, and intelligent Christians readily admit that there may be some legitimate doubt. But if the Judaeo-Christian God exists, then he is the maker of the universe and not an entity within it

The only idiotic person here is you Mr. Mullen, you’re making the argument that I addressed in my post ‘The Cop Out’, that God is outside of the universe and therefore immeasurable to science. However you are a Christian and you believe that this God parted the waters of the red sea to allow Moses to pass, you believe in a God that impregnated a woman and walked around on the Earth in human form – these are examples of your God acting within his own universe, and therefore it is perfectly logical to conclude that his actions would be measurable in some form. If you disagree, then I pose this question to you Mr. Mullen; how can a woman become impregnated magically by God, with absolutely no trace of this event being left? If your God exists and performs miracles within the universe then he would be resolutely measurable to science.

It may be that Christians are tragically misled and that there is no God. But before you rush into atheism, you have to know something about philosophical reasoning and how theology works. In other words you have to know what it is about and what it is not about. When he discusses religious belief, Dawkins does not know what he is talking about. And to fire off ignorant opinions is only the first mark of a fool.

It is as if I should presume to lecture the zoologist Dawkins on his own subject: as if I should idiotically declare that all the subtleties of modern biological science could be summed up in a book entitled Janet and John Look at Frogs.

You don’t have to be a philosopher or a theologian to know that religious claims are bogus. All you need to know is that there is no evidence of God’s existence or the extraordinary claims attributed to him. The difference between theology and zoology is thus; zoology looks at things that we know tangibly exist, therefore it is quite easy to make incorrect statements, misunderstand evidence and so on – the real evidence exists to be able to correct mistaken claims, therefore prior knowledge is useful in order to ensure that mistakes are not made. On the other hand theology is essentially pseudo-philosophical masturbation around an imaginary entity, and you don’t need to delve far into it before you realise that there is absolutely no evidence for this nonsense whatsoever. You don’t need to be an expert to know how and why Astrology is a load of nonsense, you do however need some prior knowledge to make statements about Astronomy. Notice the difference? One is talking about something that we have no good reason to believe, the other is talking about something with a wealth of material evidence that speaks for itself.

By contrast, there have been, and no doubt are still, competent atheists. If I were asked to name my favourite atheist, I would say David Hume. Hume was a thorough-going atheist, a man who on his deathbed declined the consolations of religion, saying: “I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.”

Moreover, the atheist David Hume did not possess an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith. He was a close friend of that great English Christian, Samuel Johnson. Unlike Dawkins, Hume did not wish to obliterate Christianity from the public realm. Hume was guided by a conscience which was generous enough to understand that other men’s consciences may guide them differently.

This is called a decent tolerance and liberality – instincts which are alien to the secular bigot Dawkins.

I don’t think Dawkins wants to obliterate Christianity from the public realm, he just wants to ensure that it does not affect government policy, education and scientific advancement. Your argument from emotion seems to portray him as a person who wants to knock down all the Churches in Britain and lock up all the clergy – however, Dawkins is actually quite tolerant of religious people in general (although he has no qualms about telling you that he disagrees), he just takes a stand against the rising tide of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Your inane rant didn’t actually address anything that Dawkins said in his article, you just entered into a blithering tirade against his character, with no attempt at even finding any examples to justify your attacks. I think the Telegraph should be ashamed to have such a reactionary and facile moron contributing to their blogs.

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Religion, Oppression, Hatred, Injustice, Killing and So On

When an atheist addresses the fact that religion has been used throughout history to justify hatred, oppression, injustice, genocide, murder, war and so on, the response from theists is almost universally the same; “You can’t fault the religion for the things that are done in the name of that religion. It’s not the religion that kills people” etc. Whilst I don’t deny that the abstract concept of religion itself cannot physically kill or harm people, that’s not the point. The abstract concept of racism, nazism, fascism, communism etc. cannot physically harm people either, but those concepts have undoubtedly been used to justify harm throughout history.

 

There are many instances throughout history in which people have justified evil using religion. The most recent pertinent example would be 9/11. I can say without a shadow of a doubt an atheist could never be convinced to fly a plane into a building full of innocent people. The hijackers were undoubtedly motivated by their religious convictions, they saw themselves as martyrs, and believed that they would be rewarded in paradise for their actions. If the concept of religion was absent from the world, then the chances are that the Twin Towers would still grace the New York skyline.

 

The abstract concept of religion did not hijack those planes, that is correct, but it did hijack the minds of the people who did.

 

Anti-Semitism is most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, but it has its roots much earlier than that, and was directly justified by Christian scriptures. The Christians held the Jews accountable for the death of Jesus. In their eyes his blood was upon them and their children, as written in the Gospel of Matthew:

“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves. And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and our own children!” – Matthew 27:24-25

 

Anti-Semitism is justified in other parts of the Bible, take this quote from Thessalonians  for example:

“For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” – Thessalonians 2:14-16

 

Once Christianity became the state religion of Rome in 312 CE under Constantine, hatred and oppression towards Jews became extreme. Laws were passed that revoked many of the civil liberties previously granted to Jews. Jews were excluded from the military, from holding high office, and were forbidden to proselytize  or have sexual relations with Christian women – under penalty of death. The Justinian Code of the 6th century declared the legal status of Jews null and void, outlawed the Mishnah, and made disbelief in the resurrection a capital offence [1]. I have to ask, would this oppression and injustice have existed without the religious justification?

 

Here’s another example of a Biblical commandment that was used to justify evil:

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18

 

Witches, despite not existing, were persecuted for some three hundred years, and those tortured and murdered under suspicion of this imaginary crime number at around 40,000 to 50,000 [2]. Again I ask, without the religious justification, would this have happened?

 

Then you have the inquisition, justified by verses such as this:

” If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,” – Deuteronomy 13:12-16

 

Countless people were horrendously tortured and killed during the inquisition, without the religious justification this would not have happened. I could go on citing examples, such as how the Bible was used to justify slavery [3], Manifest Destiny [4] and many others. Now, I am not arguing that all religious people are advocates of Anti-Semitism, torturing witches and heretics, slavery etc, what I am saying is that religion was undoubtedly used to justify these things, and in most cases, without the religion these actions would have had no justification whatsoever.

 

I do not deny that religion can motivate people to do good, but it can also give overwhelming justification to evil – when you feel that you are justified in doing something by the omnipotent creator of the universe, you have a real problem. As Stephen Weinburg said:

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

 

No one is blaming the abstract concept of religion for harming people, the problem with religion is that it is often used to justify evil, and for that reason it is highly dangerous, and should be opposed.

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[1] Wistrich, Anti-Semitism pages 19-20

[2] R. Briggs, Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft page 8

[3] http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav1.htm

[4] http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/joshua/may7180.stm

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