Austin Dacey and the Psychology Today Sell Out – On Ethics, Bus Ads and Atheism, part 1

What happens when you give Austin Dacey the floor of Psychology Today to discuss ethics with the advent of atheist bus ads/billboards? You get Austin Dacey teaming up with Michael De Dora, Jr., who is the spokesperson for the New York City campaign (surely, a coincidence), and an anti-Judeo-Christian tirade disguised as psychology, or philosophy, or something.[1]

Sadly, the article is not only propaganda written for and by the New York City atheist ad campaign, it is an attempt to discredit Judeo-Christian ethics/theology which plays upon fallacious atheist talking-points. This is not surprising as the very purpose of the article besmirches Judeo-Christianity and promulgates a pseudo-gospel: “This is the secular message.”
Granted, the article presupposes atheism yet, that is not its main problems which is that 1) it demonstrates a basic lack of knowledge of the Bible’s statements on ethics, 2) on how they are premised, 3) on how they are administered and most problematic 4) it presents a false dichotomy which juxtaposes divine commandments, on the one hand, and our ability to—our need to—muse upon and or react to moral situations, on the other.

Austin Dacey specifically references “the ‘good without God’ posters” and notes that certain media outlets have “characterized them as ads promoting atheism” which they most certainly do and which is acknowledge, “the campaign aims to reach out to nonbelievers” yet, “it also raises a broader issue—something most people seem to have missed.” First, note that they promote atheism by urging the rejection of God and they are being promoted by having atheists such as Austin Dacey and Michael De Dora, Jr. use the platform of Psychology Today to seek to discredit one particular theology whilst promoting atheism.

Dacey writes,
The obvious meaning of "good without God" is that atheists can be good people. But a closer look reveals a more universal message: people can be good regardless of their beliefs about God. From this perspective, the ad was not about atheism, but about the nature of morality…When we act ethically, our reasons are usually nothing transcendental, just simple respect and compassion for others.

That “atheists can be good people” is something that I am not aware that anyone contends (the fact that studies consistently show that they are the least “good” amongst us is another matter) yet, seeking to defeat an argument that no one has made is a favored premise for atheist talking-points.
Let us dive right into his, apparent, lack of knowledge of the Biblical statements on this matter as he states, “people can be good regardless of their beliefs about God”: true,
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).

These two verses are enough to discredit Austin Dacey’s criticism’s of Judeo-Christian theology with regards to ethics since they postulate that 1) Gentiles—non-Jews who do not believe in God (the only true God as per the Bible’s context)—can be moral, 2) because “regardless of their beliefs about God” they show the work of the law written in their hearts, 3) as the law—the moral code, the ethos—is administered via their conscience which bears witness; convicts or excuses/condemns or approves. In fact, the Bible further claims that people can abuse their conscience to the point that they end up, “having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1st Timothy 4:2).
For now, let us note that he offers a sort of definition of ethics as “simple respect and compassion for others”; why we should be ethical, have respect and compassion, goes unstated—this is his atheist commandment. He does not seem to consider that what is necessary, what his commandment is missing, is a premise. A premise will always turn out to be something transcendental as when we ask “Why express respect and compassion?” another assertion will be made to which we can again ask “Why…?” and then another assertion will be made to which we can again ask “Why…?” and on it goes. What we need is an ultimate premise, an ethical ontology and not just an epistemology—we need an ethos.

Dacey wrote, “No set of commandments is self-authorizing…no voice of moral authority is self-authenticating” which, if we grant it, means that neither are Austin Dacey’s condemnations of Judeo-Christian ethics self-authenticating nor his commandment; to what then is he appealing? As G.K. Chesterton noted, “all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind.”[2] We will see that he ultimately bases his condemnation on “the secular message [emphasis added].”

Austin Dacey continues:
With split seconds to save a stranger from death on the tracks at the 137th Street subway station, Wesley Autrey didn't pause to seek divine guidance or reflect on his reward in heaven…As Autrey later explained, "I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right." The exact words that went through his head were, "Fool, you got to go in there." Responsibility is like that. No one else can claim it for you.

While the implication is that this was pure impulse; it was premised upon the transcendental ethos—ontology—and was impulsive only by having been premised upon the ethos; in other words it was a moments action that was prepared by a lifetime of ethical considerations, specific training and maybe, maybe even God’s urging.
While it is stated that he “didn't pause to seek divine guidance…” Autrey did stated, “I had to make a split decision,” and “Since I do construction work with Local 79, we work in confined spaces a lot. So I looked, and my judgment was pretty right. The train did have enough room for me” so part of it was a trained assessment based reaction. Moreover, it is very odd to note that it, again, was not merely impulsive but directed by “words that went through his head”; might this be God’s “still, small voice”? Perhaps “Autrey didn't pause to seek divine guidance” but he got is anyway.
In any regard, Autrey stated that he “just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right” but what if he felt that what was right was to save his own skin and sit safely by? Well, in an atheistic/Darwinian sense this too would be moral as it would go some ways toward assure the propagation of his DNA whilst leaving the less fit to be run over by a train—he has young daughters and needs to be there to provide for them.

The statement that “Autrey didn't pause to…reflect on his reward in heaven” is an unfortunate statement in that it is 1) presumptive, 2) unnecessarily belligerent and 3) a fallacious atheist talking-point to which I have responded in the essay: The Red Light of Punishment

Employing another apparently compulsory jab at Judeo-Christianity, Austin Dacey continues,
Moral choices are not always as clear-cut as Autrey's. The solution to complex ethical debates is seldom as clear as a stone tablet or a voice from a burning bush. One problem with stone tablets is that there is only so much you can fit on them. Lists of shalts and shalt nots in and of themselves can never be comprehensive and precise enough to render right answers on borderline cases and contemporary issues.

This sort of statement is exemplary of making an accurate assessment but coming to the wrong conclusion—and that, due to a lack of knowledge, or so it seems to me. This is because indeed, ethical choices are not always clear-cut yet, he seems to think, as he is sadly reinforced in his conclusion by many Judeo-Christians, that by an absolute ethical code or ethos what is meant is one single and narrow prescription for each and every situation.
This is not so, what is absolute is the premise, the ontology, the ethos: the spirit of the law is the parchment upon which the letter of the law is written. This premise/ontology/ethos/spirit of the law is no mere list of “shalts and shalt nots” but it is what provides the basis upon which to render right answers on borderline cases and contemporary issues.

As an example of the supposed non-specificity of the “shalts and shalt nots” Austin Dacey notes,
"Shalt not kill" does not resolve whether one-week old embryos count as the kind of thing that may not be killed; "shalt not steal" does not explain when derivatives trading becomes stealing.

I note a tinge of desperation whereby to turn murder into a “secular message” approved, ethical, act. Note that he references “kill” while I refer to “murder” which is, regardless of the translation, that to which the biblical text refers (killing being the legal and moral taking of a life such as in self-defense, a just war, etc. while murder is the illegal and immoral taking of an innocent life such as happens in the midst of committing a crime). Of course, there are other “shalt nots” such as not committing adultery for which there is no reason to break but only fallacious excuses—this is because there is no way to make adultery into something ethical, there is no moral good which comes from it.

[1] Austin Dacey, Ph.D., “The Secular Conscience - Why belief belongs in public life - Putting God out of the ethics business - The deeper meaning of the "good without God" ad campaign,” Psychology Today, November 2, 2009
[2] In a chapter of his book “Orthodoxy” entitled “The Suicide of Thought”

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1 comment:

  1. LOL

    I love that your link to the "studies" that "consistently show" how ungood atheists are is to... the Barna Group!

    No bias THERE. You really are too much.