Thursday, August 21, 2008

If there is No God, Whatever Will Dennis Prager Do?

Dennis Prager is back with yet another mind numbingly stupid and bigoted article that amounts to "We really have no good reason to believe in gods, but we are all doomed to misery like those evil atheists if we don't believe, so believe anyway". Pascal might be impressed, but I most certainly am not, so this one is getting the full point-by-point fisk:

"1. Without God there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label 'good' and 'evil.' This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, 'right' and 'wrong' no more objectively exist than do 'beautiful' and 'ugly.'"

This, as with so many of Prager's arguments, warrants the "So what?" retort. If atheists can be good, then clearly we don't need objective right and wrong to exist, just like we don't need objective standards of beauty to exist to enjoy those things we find beautiful. Further, if we can leave planet Prager for a moment and observe planet Earth, we see bitter, often violent conflicts between subsets of god believers over even the most basic moral standards (women's rights, infanticide, etc.) One would think listening to Prager pontificate that where there are large populations of god believers, there is moral unity. And finally, the idea that an objective morality could come from the gods is contradictory. If there was an objective morality, it would exist apart from any gods, just as math does. Nothing could be more subjective than a morality that comes into being, and could change at any time, merely on the whim of a god.

"2. Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced."

Again, so what? Millions of nonbelievers get along just fine, living highly meaningful lives without any gods. The entire concept of intrinsic purpose or meaning is nonsense anyway. Things have meaning only when we give them meaning. A pebble properly placed, or thrown, can have plenty of meaning. Likewise, "purpose" only has meaning in the context of "to whom, for what?" Further, Prager is self-contradictory here (and not for the first time), for later in his screed he laments that we might just be robots. Yet what could be more robotic than a being created with an intrinsic, unchangeable, purpose? Prager's vision is merely Brave New World with gods as the architects.

"3. Life is ultimately a tragic fare if there is no God. We live, we suffer, we die -- some horrifically, many prematurely -- and there is only oblivion afterward."

Yes, and Christmas becomes a horribly burdensome affair of toil and suffering of parents to provide presents for their children in the absence of Santa Claus. Sometimes reality is hard, but the rational response to that fact is not to deny it and invent gods that make everything all good. It is also worth noting that the god Prager defends punishes those who dare doubt him to an eternity in a most unpleasant hellfire. Oblivion doesn't seem so bad compared to that.

"4. Human beings need instruction manuals. This is as true for acting morally and wisely as it is for properly flying an airplane. One's heart is often no better a guide to what is right and wrong than it is to the right and wrong way to fly an airplane. The post-religious secular world claims to need no manual; the heart and reason are sufficient guides to leading a good life and to making a good world."

No, the secular world claims reason within a scientific framework is sufficient, and again, if we actually examine the real world (something Prager is understandably unwilling to do) we see that play out. Where, I wonder, would Prager prefer to live, secular Sweden, or religious Iran?

"5. If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates."

Excuse me, but if the god Prager has in mind exists, then Hitler and Mother Teresa have identical fates, both having accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Prager also conveniently omits the many murders that were caused by a belief in gods and an afterlife. Death becomes a far more serious matter when this life is treated as all there is. It becomes a mere doorway when one envisions a paradise of virgins on the other side.

"6. With the death of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many Westerners believe in little. That is why secular Western Europe has been unwilling and therefore unable to confront evil, whether it was Communism during the Cold War or Islamic totalitarians in its midst today. "

Ah, the 21st century conservative standby - when the facts don't support one's claims, simply make shit up (MSU). Needless to say, there has been no death of values in the West, just a slow decline in belief in the kinds of values that drive those very Islamic totalitarians Prager is so concerned with. It of course totally escapes Prager's notice that there would be no Islamic totalitarians if they didn't have those wonderful god beliefs.

"7. Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men's and women's natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm."

Again, when we leave Planet Prager to examine Planet Earth we find much acceptance of Marxism in highly religious South America, and religious people applying a wide variety of irrational beliefs to society, such as evolution denialism, global warming denialism, resistance to birth control, abortion, and stem cell research. It is nice to see Prager admit that religion's function in society is as a receptacle of irrationality.

" 8. If there is no God, the human being has no free will. He is a robot, whose every action is dictated by genes and environment. Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that transcends genes and environment who implanted the ability to transcend genes and environment can humans have free will."

This is just semantic sophistry, as Prager conveniently defines "free will" as that which transcends physical reality. Human beings have a free will, which is a complicated neural net still being studied and quantified by evolutionary psychologists and many others. Even identical twins raised in identical environments do not solve all problems in the same way. Prager is simply wallowing in his ignorance here. And what, may we ask, is "free" about a will that, if exercised incorrectly, results in an eternity in hell-fire. Is Prager's god really Joe Strummer, telling us we have the right to free speech, so long as we are not dumb enough to actually try it?

"9. If there is no God, humans and 'other' animals are of equal value. Only if one posits that humans, not animals, are created in the image of God do humans have any greater intrinsic sanctity than baboons. This explains the movement among the secularized elite to equate humans and animals."

It is not a movement Dennis, but a simple scientific fact that we are animals, 99% identical to other apes like chimpanzees. As previously addressed, there is no such thing as intrinsic value or sanctity, only what we choose to give. And again, it has passed Prager's notice that those in secular societies tend to treat their citizens with far more sanctity than do those in religious ones.

"10. Without God, there is little to inspire people to create inspiring art. That is why contemporary art galleries and museums are filled with 'art' that celebrates the scatological, the ugly and the shocking. Compare this art to Michelangelo's art in the Sistine chapel. The latter elevates the viewer -- because Michelangelo believed in something higher than himself and higher than all men."

This is blatant circular reasoning: Prager apparently gets no inspiration from nonreligious art, therefore nonreligious art is not inspiring. Never mind all the nonreligious art that inspires millions around the world. Prager is arguing like a 12 year old here.

"11. Without God nothing is holy. This is definitional. Holiness emanates from a belief in the holy. This explains, for example, the far more widespread acceptance of public cursing in secular society than in religious society. To the religious, there is holy speech and profane speech. In much of secular society the very notion of profane speech is mocked."

Again, so what? Life without the concept of holy words doesn't seem to slow anyone or anything down. One might as well lament the lack of "Snarkiness" in our society due to lack of belief in The Snark. Prager is intellectually masturbating.

"12. Without God, humanist hubris is almost inevitable. If there is nothing higher than man, no Supreme Being, man becomes the supreme being."

But Dennis, you just got done telling us that without god we are of no more value than baboons. Now you are telling us we'll be the supreme being. Which is it? This is typical of anti-atheist screeds, as with anti-evolution screeds. Never mind any contradictions in the arguments, as long as they attack the right target. And of course, ignore the hubris that god-belief gives people like Prager to think they know what the world would be like were there no god belief.

"13. Without God, there are no inalienable human rights. Evolution confers no rights. Molecules confer no rights. Energy has no moral concerns. That is why America's Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are endowed 'by our Creator' with certain inalienable rights. Rights depend upon a moral source, a rights giver."

No, rights depend on recognition in society, with the power to enforce them. God belief confers no rights, just ask the Jews at Auschwitz. Let's also remind everyone that the creator referred to in the DoI was nature, not the Christian god, so the founders disagreed with Prager about evolution and rights. Finally, let's again remind those that agree with Prager that one could never conclude from observation of religious societies that there were any inalienable rights. They look like they make it up as they go, just like everyone else.

"14. 'Without God,' Dostoevsky famously wrote, 'all is permitted.' There has been plenty of evil committed by believers in God, but the widespread cruelties and the sheer number of innocents murdered by secular regimes -- specifically Nazi, Fascist and Communist regimes -- dwarfs the evil done in the name of religion."

The Nazis were not a secular regime, as has been painstakingly documented by historians. Hitler thought he was doing the work of the gods. But evil scoreboards aside, why does ANY evil occur in societies so concerned with the gods? A sober look at history would conclude that god belief has no effect whatsoever on the evil a society can do. Prager is simply ignoring reality.

"As noted at the beginning, none of this proves, or even necessarily argues for, God's existence. It makes the case for the necessity, not the existence, of God."

So is Prager saying that even if we have no evidence of any gods, or worse yet, know there are no gods, we should lie to our family and friends and claim there is anyway to prevent them behaving badly? But who is to lie to us?

This really gets at the crux of the real evil behind Prager's little screed: controlling the other. We (pick your group) can act right even if we know there is no god, but they (pick whatever group you don't like) will act like vicious animals if we don't keep them controlled. It's the same mindset that has the vast majority of people believing drug use would escalate if it were legalized, but that THEY wouldn't do them.

"'Which God?' the secularist will ask. The God of Israel, the God of America's founders, 'the Holy God who is made holy by justice' (Isaiah), the God of the Ten Commandments, the God who demands love of neighbor, the God who endows all human beings with certain inalienable rights, the God who is cited on the Liberty Bell because he is the author of liberty. That is the God being referred to here, without whom we will be vanquished by those who believe in less noble gods, both secular and divine. "

Not only the secularists, but everyone who believes in different gods is asking. Why won't belief in them have the same effect? After all, as Prager said, this is not an argument for the existence of his god, but of the necessity of belief. It is as though Prager spent pages explaining the necessity of motor oil only to finish claiming we must buy Penzoil.

And what exactly is so noble about Yahweh anyway? Recall this is the god that created us with temptation, then sent the talking snake to manipulate us into following that temptation, and then after seeing how it turned out (which he knew beforehand anyway) decided to destroy via drowning every living thing on the planet except for one boat full of people and apparently very fast-moving and fast-breeding animals. Compared to this guy Ming the Merciless looks noble.

Dennis Prager is a pseudointellectual, writing for people with the intellectual development of the average 13 year old. He avoids the tough questions, ignores facts, and makes shit up to satisfy his simplistic view of the world. If this is what modern conservatism considers an intellectual, they can hardly be surprised that they are derided by intellectuals who have no need for their lame gods and even lamer arguments.

For more dissections of Prager's idiocy, go here.


Priya Lynn said...

Well done. This white type on a black background is very annoying, it strains the eyes.

Luke H. said...

Hey! Don't dis 13-year-olds! Most of them are much smarter than Prager, esp. when it comes to detecting BS.

I love the part about Michelangelo, who was commissioned to paint the Sistine chapel. Religious art paid well.