Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Six-hitting Boyne’s no-balls to atheism

Published:Wednesday | April 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In cricket terms, our friend and leading theist bowler, Ian Boyne, has once again been delivering a series of philosophical no-balls at the stumps of atheism, and perhaps a few deliveries well wide of the stumps altogether. Bowling to Dr Patrick White, a leading atheist batsman, Ian's wayward deliveries include assertions that:

- Darwinian atheists have no basis for asserting objective morality or moral realism, and that by doing so they were intellectual parasites.

- Evolutionary theory and atheism have no ontological basis for positing objective morality, and that moral subjectivism or constructivism is a necessary corollary of atheism.

- Without a belief "in God or some supernatural reality outside of nature", atheists have no basis for protesting human-rights abuses or being against genocide and slavery, while remaining silent on the slaughter of millions of chickens, cows and sheep.


not a philosophy


At the heart of Ian's propensity for wayward deliveries is his philosophical confusion about the nature of atheism - which in turn arises from his theistic investment in supernaturalism. Despite previous attempts to school Ian, he is yet to appreciate that atheism is not a philosophy, but merely disbelief in god(s). As a matter of logic, non-belief cannot translate into affirmative acceptance of, or belief in, Darwinism, evolutionary theory, or any other secular philosophy, including human rights and secular humanism.

In this regard, NON-belief is not, nor can it be, a source of moral concern for humans or other sentient beings. Such a concern arises from subscribing affirmatively to philosophies such as human rights or secular humanism. One might simultaneously be an atheist or theist AND an advocate against slavery, homophobia, racism and sexism. Being an advocate is not contingent on having, or lacking, religious belief.

Accordingly, Ian's claims about atheism's "moral subjectivism" or its lack of ontological credentials regarding morality are no-balls that have been pitched laughably wide of the stumps of atheism.

On the matter of atheism and animal rights, Ian, no doubt, thinks he's pitched an unplayable delivery on the stumps of atheism. But a replay of the delivery reveals that Ian has once again overstepped the crease of reason and delivered a spectacular no-ball.

The essence of Ian's contention is that Darwinism, with a corresponding disbelief in a supernatural order, condemns humans to being no more than just another species or "merely a part of nature", with no transcendental place for humans above animals and the rest of nature.

Based on this conflation of humans with the rest of nature, Ian argues that atheists should be as passionate about animal rights as they are about human rights. If they do, indeed, assert the rights and dignity of humans to the exclusion of animals, they are parasites living off the "intellectual heritage of Judaeo-Christian religion".

This is a laughable proposition, given that this very same Judaeo-Christian heritage rampantly and unapologetically promotes the subjugation and oppression of humans and animals alike. This includes human and animal sacrifice to appease the temperamental Christian god. Ian's contention is all the more risible, given that Christianity is largely built on the much-celebrated torture and death of its central figure - Jesus Christ - at the behest of God, a deity that demanded bloody expiation for human 'sin'.


clean vs unclean


For its part, Abrahamic religions have reduced the entire non-human species on the planet to 'clean' vs 'unclean', or food vs not food. That we even have such a thing as human rights or 'animal rights' (and its younger cousin, 'environmental rights') is due entirely to secular concern for reducing or eliminating suffering that is otherwise warranted by these religions.

The apocalyptic nature of Christianity requires the fiery destruction of the planet Earth, including all its human and non-human denizens. Our wayward bowler of supernatural spin doesn't come anywhere close to explaining how such a doctrine might ground, much less promote the universal well-being of these hapless denizens.

Happily, in cricket, batsmen are allowed to score off no-balls in cricket. Rhetorically speaking, Ian, if you'd like to know where we've dispatched your deliveries, I'd suggest you look on the roof of the pavilion or outside of the cricket ground altogether.

- Hilaire Sobers and Clive Forrester are co-hosts of the social media programmes 'Skeptically Speaking' and 'Yardie Skeptics'. Email feedback to and