11/23/09

Dvir Abramovich - Celebrity Atheists Expose Their Hypocrisy

On occasion, I like to present how to sort of essays wherein I example how I respond to various arguments.

While, surely, some consider these to be how not to, I nevertheless hope that these are helpful to someone, somewhere out there in cyberspace.

This time the issue is an article written by Dr. Dvir Abramovich (Celebrity atheists expose their hypocrisy, The Ararat Advertiser, Oct 26, 2009 AD) who is the Jan Randa Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies, director of the Centre for Jewish History and Culture at The University of Melbourne, editor of the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies and President of the Australian Association of Jewish Studies.

I will do this rather backward; I will post the comments to the article, then my responses and then Dr. Abramovich’s article. This will be because I am mostly interested in the how to aspect and because the comments virtually disregarded the article and merely expressed atheist talking points.

The comments (at least as of November 18, 2009 AD) read as follows (I removed the pseudonyms since they did not comment at Atheism is Dead):
Poor poor article, lazy logic. Try again!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I decided not to finish reading your article, because I feel that you have completely missed their point entirely. I am figuring that you are one of those religious folk that think the world would be bereft of any morality what so ever, had it not been for good ol' religion.
"True religious values are grounded in notions of community, charity, mercy and peace. All too often today we focus on individualism, greed and instant gratification." You nearly got that paragraph right. It should have read "True HUMAN values.."
The problem with religion is not that people believe in a God or enjoy the fairy tales in the Bible. People can believe what they want and if it makes them happy, then that is a wonderful thing! The problem is that many of the popular religions of today can NOT accept that people living a different path than their own, stringent one, may also be good, moral people too.
Our world doesn't NEED religion to be good. I think spiritual development is important and does help foster the good side of us, but religion is an organised, dogmatic system which usually tells people of a right and wrong way, rather than giving people that option.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yeah yeah! ... but let's face it, religions have caused more wars, suffering and grief in the world than any other cause. ..and they can't all be right.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Where do I start! I know it is useless to argue with a 'believer' because their reasoning is circular and their evidence is 'faith', but I can't let this go untouched. I particularly love the reference to 'true religious values'. Ah yes, when challenged on the nastiness of religion, the believer will always say 'oh, but that is not the 'true' meaning, you shouldn't really believe the bible'.
Classic isn't it, when that is the only so-called 'evidence' they have, which of course is not evidence. I also love the argument; ‘but so many smart people believe’. The whole basis of faith is to not use your intelligence and just swallow everything served up to you without question, so it really doesn't matter how smart you are because you are not to use your intelligence to question anything.
Finally, for now, Dr Abramovich totally misunderstands atheism. This is typical of a believer. Either they do not have the intellectual resources to understand a concept outside of the framework of their own religiosity, or they do it deliberately to obfuscate the truth. Atheism is simply the knowledge that there is no supernatural being that believers profess to believe in, that's it.

Following are my responses:
This is quite fascinating,

[pseudonym removed] makes an utterly meaningless statement which amounts to an argument to ridicule while not bothering to engage the issue.

[pseudonym removed]’s statement “I decided not to finish reading your article” should only have been followed with “so I will not comment.” Yet he fills the gap in his knowledge of the article’s contents by appealing to his prejudice (literally to prejudge) and by adopting generic and gross generalizations; “you are one of those religious folk.”
That “The problem is that many of the popular religions of today can NOT accept that people living a different path than their own, stringent one, may also be good, moral people too” is certainly self-servingly generic.
For example, the Bible states, “…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves [their] thoughts accusing or else excusing [them]” (Romans 2:14-15) it is simply unknown to Judeo-Christian theology that God leaves anyone unguided; whether they recognize it, accept it or not.
That “Our world doesn't NEED religion to be good” is clearly a presupposition. I submit that while humans can epistemically argue to good actions we cannot ontologically provide an absolute premise and thus, goodness is arbitrary, undefined and tentative.
That “spiritual development is important” is generic enough to be meaningless. Moreover, many Christians would draw a distinction between “religion” which is as you claim it to be and which they reject and “relation” which is what they seek to have with God. The only favorable definition of “religion” in the New Testament is as follows, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, [and] to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Also, in the Old Testament God condemns religion because people had turned rituals which were supposed to draw them close to God into mere robotic hoop jumping.
Lastly, if religion is wrong for providing a “dogmatic system which usually tells people of a right and wrong way” then you are giving us a “dogmatic system which usually tells people of a right and wrong way” in stating that religion is wrong for doing so; religion is wrong and your concept of spirituality is right.

[pseudonym removed] did not provide any citations for the statement that “religions have caused more wars, suffering and grief in the world than any other cause” and so I will provide some information in this regard:
The “Encyclopedia of Wars” (New York: Facts on File, 2005) was compiled by nine history professors who specifically conducted research for the text for a decade in order to chronicle 1,763 wars. The survey of wars covers a time span from 8000 BC to 2003 AD. From over 10,000 years of war 123, which is 6.98 percent, are considered to have been religious wars.
That “they can't all be right” is quite accurate. When rather than “religion” or “theology” we place all worldviews in one single category we can only logically conclude that one is right and all else wrong. Let us imagine that we have even an infinite number of worldviews to consider and grant that each is as valid as the next; if one of those claims that there is actually only one valid one; we must accept that as valid and have just done away with all others. From here it gets more complex as atheists claim to be the only correct ones and others do the same in which case we evaluate their claims.

[pseudonym removed]’s statements “it is useless to argue with a 'believer'” and “This is typical of a believer” are gross generalizations which exhibit prejudice and paints with a broom.
I am not certain what Judeo-Christian would state, “you shouldn't really believe the bible” but perhaps some do. I would imagine that such an answer is based on the spur of the moment and replaces their stopping to ask where the statement in question was made, taking the time to read the text, read for context, conduct some research, etc.
That whatever the Bible states “is not evidence” is fallacious as history is a type of evidence, the very sort upon which you claim to know your birth date.
That “The whole basis of faith is to not use your intelligence and just swallow everything served up to you without question” may be true of some religion which you do not identify but speaking for Judeo-Christianity; the Old Testament is saturated with praises of wisdom and gaining knowledge, it states, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18), in the New Testament the Bereans are considered more noble (or more “fair minded”) for double checking everything that Paul told them (Acts 17:11), Thomas asked for the evidence which the others had seen and had merely retold to him (John 20:24-30), Jesus stated, “Love the Lord your God with all your…mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38), etc., etc., etc.
This also ignores millennias worth of theology related philosophy and research. Ever hear of Rabbi Maimonides’ “Guild for the Perplexed”? It was a guild for the perplexed.
That “Atheism is simply the knowledge that there is no supernatural being that believers profess to believe in, that's it” is yet another of many definitions of atheism which atheist take upon themselves to concoct and promulgate. Come to my blog “Atheism is Dead,” pretend to be a theist, make that statement and you will have atheist rain condemnation down upon you for what they will claim is a misrepresentation of atheism.Lastly, to whatever atheist defines atheism as “the knowledge that there is no supernatural being” I would request your evidence.

Now, as comments to Ararat are moderated there were a lot more than I saw upon reading the article which had not been displayed yet. As there are five segments worth by now (November 18, 2009 AD) I will only focus on those that responded to me. One such response was,
Mariano - I'll say this again slowly. Quoting from a book of fiction does not constitute evidence of anything in the real world. Go forth believers and try much, much harder next time. You are currently scoring an 'F' for Fail in logical argument.

I retorted,
Thanks for the note.
Your definition of "faith" is an atheist talking point.
Faith is “trust,” faith is the step that all of us take once we have followed reason and evidence as far as they can go.
For example, that “there is no supernatural being” is your faith based statement and one which I requested you prove.
Also, if the Bible is a book of fiction please prove that as well since you are positively affirming it.
And, just in case, if you claim that it is fiction, a priori, because it makes statements which your worldview will not allow then you are arguing in a circle, being restricted in your thinking by adherence to your particular worldview and are left back at proving that “there is no supernatural being.”

At this point I got no response from those whom I addressed but had someone chime in to defend the commentator who made the point about the Bible being fiction, etc.:
[pseudonym removed] - good work pointing out Mariano's failure in creating a logical argument based on quoting a book of fiction. Mariano's response is exactly what is expected in the debate between a "believer" and a "nonbeliever". The believer will only quote from what is fiction to the nonbeliever. The nonbeliever will ask questions that the believer can only answer with answers based on a book and dogma that the nonbeliever already believes to be fiction. Almost a paradox. I'm yet to have one of these discussions with a religious person who has not walked away highly offended because their beliefs have been questioned, yet they're happy to question the beliefs of a "non-believer" and expect us not to be a bit offended by it.

I must say that I have yet to meet these so called typical believers. In any case, as I will point out below in response, if what I presented is “exactly what is expected…The believer will only quote from what is fiction” then why it is that the article does not quote the Bible?
The true paradox is that when one side disagrees with the other it is a given that one believes that what the other is stating is fictitious. This is the very premise of any and every discussion wherein two people disagree. Am I to state, “the non-believer can only answer with answers based on that which the believer already believes to be fiction”?
Here is my response:
FYI: I do not believe in getting offended.

The article does not quote the Bible. [pseudonym removed] employs a fallacious definition of “faith” and generalized what is typical of a believer, meanwhile stating, ex nihilo, that “the only so-called 'evidence' they have, which of course is not evidence.”

I asked for proof that the Bible is fiction and for proof of God’s non-existence.

Even if I grant that the Bible is fiction: when discussing its contents the issue is its contents not its source; you are making a category mistake and committing an ad hominem. Thus, since [pseudonym removed] asserts that “The whole basis of faith is to not use your intelligence and just swallow everything served up to you without question” I proved that this is fallacious.

At this point someone chimed in stating:
Religions aren't the problem, it is the diverse interpretations of their moral principles and guidelines. Once you start arguing about the values of religion, you deal with a person's subjectivity and the question of whether, or not, he or she is able to exercise a “leap of faith”. At the end of the day, I don't care a stuff what people believe in, as long as they don't harm, or hassle, others in the process.

I have already dealt with the issue of a “leap of faith” so let us note that this person “don't care a stuff what people believe in” as long as they do not believe in that with which this person disagrees. Thus, I wrote:
Note that you end up declaring an absolute moral code for all to follow “as long as they don't harm, or hassle, others in the process.”
What if I consider your criticism to be harmful? What if I was one of the Darwinists who considered the Australian aborigines to be missing links and did not believe that it was harmful to shoot them, have them stuffed and display the in museums? And why is not causing harm and not hassling the premise for your absolute morality?

And with that, the great debate came to a screeching halt.

Now let us consider Dr. Abramovich’s article,
A flurry of books bashing religion are making best-seller lists and grabbing a lot of attention — so much so that anti-religion publications seem to have become a lucrative genre all their own.

Works such as Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Sam Harris' End of Faith, Michel Onfray's The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and Daniel Dennet's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon are bare-knuckled, no-holds barred tracts that sometimes resemble the declarations of fundamentalists who are absolutely convinced of their truth.

Hitchens and Dawkins, who are the leaders of the New Atheism movement, have received the most media spotlight and are driving the growth of this industry. Hitchens presented recently at Sydney's Festival of Dangerous Ideas and appeared on ABC TV's Q & A program. And Dawkins will headline next year's Atheist Convention in Melbourne.

These atheists are angry that religion has not gone away and is thriving in various parts of the world. After all, calling other peoples' belief a delusion is not exactly respectful. Indeed, distinguished doctor and broadcaster Lord Winston found Dawkins' attitude to religious faith patronising, insulting and counterproductive, noting that it "portrays science in a bad light".

Hitchens and Dawkins build a straw man — they select the worst offences that have been done in the name of religion to prove that religion is a dangerous force and a kind of virus that infects the mind. At one point Hitchens writes, "Religious belief is not merely false but also actually harmful. But I think it is a mistake to condescend to those who claim 'faith'."

Employing a new name, Dawkins says atheists should refer to themselves as "brights" labelling the devout as "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads" while Hitchens describes the religious mind as "literal and limited".

According to Hitchens (who discovered two years ago that he is Jewish by way of his mother) the Jews could have been the "carriers of philosophy instead of arid monotheism". What about Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Isaiah Berlin, Derrida, Maimonides, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, Karl Popper, Walter Benjamin and Ayn Rand to name only a few. Does it seem like Judaism is bereft of philosophers? He writes of kosher dietary laws: "In microcosm, this apparently trivial fetish shows how religion and faith and superstition distort our whole picture of the world."

So, the bottom line for these atheists is this: we are free to believe in whatever as long as it's not God.

For Hitchens and co, religion does little good and secularism hardly any evil. Never mind that tyrants devoid of religion such as Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot perpetrated the worst atrocities in history. As H. Allen Orr, professor of biology at the University of Rochester, observed, the 20th century was an experiment in secularism that produced secular evil, responsible for the unprecedented murder of more than 100 million.

Dawkins is mute on the terrors unleashed by science and technology, used by genocidal regimes such as Hitler's Germany, in a century that proved to be the worst tyranny mankind has ever seen. And what about weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear and biological bombs developed by scientists?

Does that mean that all atheists and scientists are evil? Of course not. The point is that fanatics can be found in both religion and atheism.

How can anyone argue that not a single human benefit has resulted from religious faith? There are millions who every day selflessly dedicate their lives to helping others all in the name of religious belief. The cruelty and viciousness of the past and the abuse of religion in the present cannot extinguish the solidarity and good-heartedness of people of faith.

Most would agree with the words of former atheist, Oxford University professor of historical theology Alister McGrath, who said: "There are some forms of religion that are pathological, that damage people. For every one of these atrocities, which must cause all of us deep concern, there are 10,000 unreported acts of kindness, generosity, and so forth arising from religious commitment."

True religious values are grounded in notions of community, charity, mercy and peace. All too often today we focus on individualism, greed and instant gratification.

Anyone wishing to discredit theology should at least know some. The God Delusion contains very little examination of Jewish theology and dismisses the finest minds of Western thinkers and theologians who have written on sublime theological questions as "infantile".

Hitchens cites the Binding of Isaac and "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" injunction as brutish and stupid. Yet, scholars have interpreted the binding as ending child sacrifice and the injunction as a caution against excessive vengeance. Hitchens says that the God of Moses never refers to compassion and human friendship, overlooking "love your neighbour as yourself".

For his part, Dawkins is clearly out of his depth when it comes to Jewish teachings and ethics. He claims, for instance, that "love thy neighbour" meant only "love another Jew". He apparently is not aware that in the same chapter, Jews are commanded to love the stranger that lives in their land as they would themselves. When Jesus, himself a Jew, was asked "Who is my neighbour" he did not refer to other Jews, but to a Samaritan, considered at that time as heretical and unclean.

Above all, for Dawkins and his contemporaries, billions of people across the globe have accepted stupid and harmful ideas.

Yet that iconic scientist Einstein, believed that God represented a great mind that sustained the laws of nature. We know for sure that he was not stupid or delusional. He famously remarked, "God doesn't play with the universe" and noted, when referring to the extraordinary intricacies of the universe: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Einstein believed that a humble, open-ended religious attitude to the cosmos was preferable to a completely non-religious approach.

Consider also that in A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking ends his brilliant book (which sold more than 8 million copies) with the following: "If we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God."

Dawkins and Hitchens assume all believers accept the Bible literally, which in the case of the majority of Jews and other co-religionists, has never been true. Theologians have often questioned institutional religion and have criticised the use of rigid orthodoxy and demagoguery to instill fear and obedience. In fact, most who embrace religious faith at the same time also exercise a healthy dose of skepticism and do not defend the way religion is often manipulated and distorted. Very few follow religion blindly.

The telescope and the microscope that Hitchens says has made religion redundant, does not answer for us why we are here and what is the purpose of human existence. Atoms and black holes leave little space for expounding on the measure of man, sin, holiness, dignity and the human spirit, sorrow, beauty, love, alienation and mortality.

Dr Owen Anderson, professor of philosophy at Arizona State University, says the problem with the argument promoted by Hitchens and Dawkins [there seems to be some text missing here] when he asks: "Can all reality be explained as atoms in motion? Is belief in something besides atoms mere superstition?"

Tina Beatie in her book The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War of Religion maintains that atheists are engaged in religious belief themselves because naturalists as authors such as Dawkins and Hitchens use their own beliefs to invest their life with meaning. Ironic, isn't it?

Lord Winston agrees: "Think there is a body of scientific opinion from my scientific colleagues who seem to believe that science is the absolute truth and that religious and spiritual values are to be discounted.

"Some people, both scientists and religious people, deal with uncertainty by being certain. That is dangerous in the fundamentalists and it is dangerous in the fundamentalist scientists."

One has to concede that a something inexplicably mysterious took place at the birth of the universe. I read that several years ago, astronomers working with NASA concluded that time began 13.7 billion years ago, a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. At that instant, the universe expanded from "submicroscopic to astronomical size in the blink of an eye". The great mystery is why it would want to do that. Thomas Nagel, the philosopher notes that even if we accept evolution and that the necessary seed material was present at the time of the Big Bang, there is no scientific theory as to why the material existed in the first place, and how did such material come into existence.

All we have done is to keep pushing the great question one step back. World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking put it best, "Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?"

Many would identify with the father who's compelled to believe in the divine when he notices the beauty and perfection of his daughter's ears. Hitchens mocks him, pointing out that ears always need a clean out, are mass-produced and cats have lovelier ears. A moment of pure love is missed.

Dawkins claims that religion is a form of child abuse since parents teach their kids to believe in certain religious creeds. Is it fair to compare real child abuse with parents instilling in their children religious morals and codes?

Dawkins and Hitchens celebrate art over religion, forgetting that the wonder and mystery of the universe and God's role in it have provided inspiration for countless artists. Michelangelo's Creation of Adam paintings at the Sistine Chapel is only one such example.

Dawkins remarks that the human brain is a "design nightmare". Well, since we use that organ to contemplate these and other complex subjects, it can't be that badly designed.

In his introduction to The God Delusion Dawkins states: "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put if down."

I wonder for how many readers this is true.

3 comments:

  1. I have been pondering on the common statement that is rolled out by atheists and articulated above, as follows:-

    I am figuring that you are one of those religious folk that think the world would be bereft of any morality what so ever, had it not been for good ol' religion.

    or put another way:-

    We don't need God to be good

    It suddenly occurred to me that atheists draw from the 'tree of the knowledge of GOOD and evil'.

    Whilst Christians draw from the tree of life, it does Biblically explain why those that deny God, can have the capacity for 'good'.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Eigenharp,

    No, but the materialists of the world surely wish it did. ;)

    ReplyDelete