September 29, 2009

Christianity and Liberty

Posted in Atheism, Law, The Bible, Worldview tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:00 pm by Andrew

There’s an increasingly popular apologetic making the rounds these days: that Christianity provides the intellectual framework for our modern conception of individual rights. This is a popular David Barton conceit, for example, and Dinesh D’Souza relied on it extensively in his debate with Christopher Hitchens.

Unsurprisingly, the argument has always struck me as completely batty. Our modern conception of rights stems exclusively (and some would say axiomatically) from the concept of the social contract, made explicit in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and extended in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government. Locke and Hobbes articulate a theory of individual rights that is entirely secular; in fact, Hobbes puts it this way:

A law of nature, lex naturalis, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. For though they that speak of this subject use to confound jus and lex, right and law, yet they ought to be distinguished, because right consisteth in liberty to do, or to forbear; whereas law determineth and bindeth to one of them: so that law and right differ as much as obligation and liberty, which in one and the same matter are inconsistent.

I do concede that both Hobbes and Locke were (to varying degrees) theists, and both drew upon the Christian tradition in framing their arguments. That is, of course, to be expected. But — at least for me — the underyling contribution of social contractarianism to liberty is that it can be justified on exclusively secular grounds. Thus, I have long concluded that Christianity offers no sort of justification for the American scheme of individual rights we now enjoy.

This is readily confirmed by history; beginning in 380 AD and extending for more than a thousand years, Christians and Christian thought dominated Western Civilization, and nobody — not even indisputably brilliant theologians and Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinas — ever articulated a theory of individual rights (or anything that is even arguably a precursor). Rather, it was only once Christianity’s influence over Western Civilization began to subside in favor of the secular philosophy of the Enlightenment that we developed the theory of rights described above.

However, I stumbled across this interesting article by well-known atheist George H. Smith, author of Atheism: The Case Against God (which is a must-have for any skeptic’s bookshelf. Interestingly, Smith’s article was written for the Acton Institute, a Christian organization dedicated to, among other things, “promoting a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”

So the resulting article is, I think, about as “fair and balanced” as one can be on this topic. Smith forcefully articulates the positive role that Christian thought and institutions played throughout history in the development of the concept of liberty as we understand it today.

Of course, the apologist’s argument that Christianity provides an ontological justification for liberty remains patently false; there’s nothing in the Bible that suggests that individuals enjoy basic rights, and plenty to the contrary. But as a social institution and a force of history, Smith has persuaded me that the relationship between Christianity and individual rights is a bit more complicated than I initially thought.

April 28, 2009

Why the Argument from Morality (AfM) Fails

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Atheism and Morality tagged , , , , , at 11:59 am by Andrew

One of the most popular contemporary apologetics is the Argument from Morality (AfM); William Lane Craig uses it in every debate round, for example. Despite its near-ubiquity, I maintain that the AfM is, on balance, an argument against the command-morality of theism. Let’s dive in:
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A Peek Into the Life of the Evangelical Christian College Student

Posted in Atheism, Atheism and Morality tagged , , , , , , at 10:23 am by Andrew

Here’s a sneak peek at the rules and regulations at Pensacola Christian College. Students and staff at PCC are prohibited from:

* the use of alcohol in cooking
* watching PG-rated movies
* listening to “popular contemporary Christian music artists” such as “Steve Green, Amy Grant, or Steven Curtis Chapman.” (Don’t even ask about Stryper!)
* possessing a cell phone
* utilizing any wireless computer connection (including wireless print servers?)

And so on. The strangest part is the bit where women are not allowed to drive east, and men are not allowed to drive west. I would make some Sun-god crack here, but seriously: I can’t figure this out.

Although there’s a certain amount of ridicule in this post, let me be clear: if you want to live your life this way, have at it. I do think this highlights the pernicious influence of the belief that morality requires a God to lay down the rules. Once you no longer trust human reason, you wind up with a set of guidelines prohibiting adults from carrying cell phones, listening to Amy Grant, and driving off into the sunset. That’s part of why I think the argument from morality is one of the worst apologetic arguments for the existence of God (even as it remains stunningly popular).

HT: Slacktivist, and if you haven’t been reading liberal evangelical Fred Clark’s hilarious and well-informed dissection of the Left Behind series, you owe it to yourself to head over there right away.

March 23, 2009

Morality, Evolution, and Kant (answering Cydonia Mensae)

Posted in Atheism, Atheism and Morality, Questions For Atheists, Worldview tagged , , , , , at 10:59 am by Andrew

Over at Cydonia Mensae, James McConnell asks (among other things) for atheists to explain where our morals come from and how we can distinguish right from wrong. I noted that there are two broad approaches that many atheists take that seem to me to provide a sufficient, reasonable explanation:
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March 5, 2009

Why The “Minimal Facts” Model is Unpersuasive

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:35 pm by Andrew

This post continues a thread over at Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea on what seems to be an increasingly common apologetic tactic designed to assert the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (and from there, assert the truth of Christianity).

As far as I can tell, this argument originates with Gary Habermas’ book Historical Jesus; what appears to be a straightforward summary from a Christian source can be found here. (UPDATE: epologetics seems to be down at the moment; here’s another site. You can also download a podcast of Gary Habermas explaining his argument on the Infidel Guy show.)
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March 3, 2009

Answering Anselm (Slick v. Dillahunty, part 3)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Worldview tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:00 pm by Andrew

On a previous thread, commenter Anselm (probably not that Anselm, unfortunately) asks:

Doesn’t Matt D.’s strategy commit the atheist to support the Platonic objective reality (i.e., outside of spacetime) of things like numbers, logic, etc.? And isn’t that a strange position for a materialist to take (especially if he agrees with Carl Sagan that “the Cosmos is all there is, was or ever will be.” If numbers, etc. exists Platonically, then Sagan’s statement is not true, and the spaceless, timeless, immaterial reality in which theists say God exists is conceded.

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February 21, 2009

Victor Reppert and Methodological Naturalism

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, The Bible, Worldview tagged , , , , , at 3:36 pm by Andrew

One of my favorite Christian bloggers, Victor Reppert, has responded to one of my comments on his blog. He has a longer post up that’s definitely worth reading. His argument is that the Christian apologist who has a preexisting commitment to Biblical inerrancy is morally equivalent to the atheist debater with a preexisting commitment to methodological naturalism. I think he’s wrong, and here’s why:

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February 20, 2009

Presuppositionalism

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, The Bible, Worldview tagged , , , , , , at 2:20 pm by Andrew

During the last 20 minutes of last week’s episode of The Atheist Experience — a consistently outstanding show, if you haven’t seen it — a fellow named Matt Slick from CARM (a Christian apologetics website) called in to the show armed with his presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (“TAG”).

Let’s take a look at the underlying arguments.
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