Sat | May 27, 2017

Ian Boyne: Why God might exist

Published:Sunday | March 8, 2015 | 3:14 PM

Last week, Jamaica Broilers and Caribbean Broilers slaughtered tens of thousands of young chicks without one hint of protest from anyone. There was no talk-show discussion on it. This newspaper totally ignored it.

If humans are part of one evolutionary chain, our being merely higher primates but essentially the same as the lower animals, why this notion of a special dignity, a special set of rights to us humans? On what do we ground that philosophically? Why is it okay to kill young chicks but not human beings, whose killing we rightly condemn. You have to smuggle in some notion of humans being a special creation, part of the image of God, or something of that kind of argument to justify special consideration for humans over 'other' animals.

Don't get upset with me, a theist, for absurd or repugnant comparisons. Deal with the implications of Darwinism. You cannot assign special status to humans on purely scientific grounds. Darwinian James Rachels, in his book Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism, holds the view that the human species has no special status over animals. Of the mentally handicapped, he says: "What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering (Darwinism), would be that that status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used as laboratory subjects or as food?"

Even rock star atheist Richard Dawkins admits in a radio interview, "I've always said that I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to the way we should organise our lives and our morality ... . We want to avoid basing our society on Darwinian principles." But why should we not take unguided evolution to its natural conclusion?

Because, many atheists would argue, humans have consciousness and intentionality and can design a society not slavishly patterned from their biological instincts. That's what civilisation is all about. Religious people are usually the ones on the defensive. They are the ones pressed to account for their belief that God exists. They are backed in a corner and answers are demanded of them. But what if we were to turn the tables and ask some tough questions of secular humanism?

Two weeks ago, I made the point that empirically secular societies are doing better in terms of societal health and even moral outcomes than predominantly religious societies. There is hard evidence that you don't need to be religious to be moral. It is an outright prejudice and a slander that if you are an atheist, you are an immoral and evil person. Many atheists lead good, decent lives. But in that article I said that secular societies were living off the philosophical heritage of religion. They are parasitic philosophically.

These societies are really heirs of religious values and assumptions - of both East and West - which have been subsumed into their secular perspective. It is only when you unpack these values and presuppositions that you see that they really have no basis in secular humanism.

An excellent book that makes this point is Frank Turek's Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (2014). I generally find that the agnostics and the atheists are more sophisticated in their argumentation than the religious scholars and intellectuals. Turek is a refreshing exception. He passes the most rigorous tests for surgically precise reasoning. He has read the finest atheists in science and philosophy and he engages their best arguments with a rigour that is both exhilarating and compelling. If you are interested in the atheist-theist debate - irrespective of which side you are on - you need to order this book.

Those wanting to do apologetics should read this book to find out how it is done. "I am not saying you have to believe in God to be a good person ... . I am also not saying that atheists don't know morality or that you need the Bible to know basic right and wrong ... . What I am saying is that atheists can't justify morality. Whether it's the Holocaust, raping and murdering children, eating children ... atheists have no objective standard by which to judge any of it." Some atheists must be protesting now, annoyed by Turek's and my "nonsensical", "simplistic" reasoning.

But let's reason. Secularists justify special status to humans on the basis of our ability to reason and our higher consciousness. But why should that grant us special rights? If you ground human dignity on our ability to reason and our higher consciousness, what about mentally handicapped people? What about people suffering from Alzheimer's disease? There are animals that have more functional intelligence than some mentally retarded human beings.

Do humans have rights just because of reason and higher consciousness? What gives humans 'inalienable rights'? Why is every single human life sacrosanct? Leading New Atheist Sam Harris, in his Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, advances a number of arguments in defence of objective morality outside of a religious framework, but his arguments, especially about human flourishing, fail. Some atheistic scholars recognise that on a naturalistic outlook, morality is simply an illusion or a social construct with absolutely no objective basis. We respond to our moral sentiments or our moral intuitions, not to our reason to ground morality without God.

Says atheistic philosopher Alex Rosenberg in his book, Atheists' Guide to Reality: "Harris correctly explains how science can resolve moral disputes ... . He mistakenly thinks that science can show the resulting moral argument to be true, correct or right. It can't. Science has no way to bridge the gap between is and ought."

And Christian philosopher William Lane Craig is fond of quoting one of my favorite atheistic philosophers of science, Michael Ruse, as admitting frankly: "The position of the modern evolutionist is that ... morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands, feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself', he thinks he is referring above and beyond himself. Nevertheless ... such reference is truly without foundation ... . Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction ... and any deeper meaning is illusory."

If you don't believe in some transcendent Being or Mind that is the source of absolute and objective morality, I don't see how you can objectively ground morality. Morality becomes situational, contextual, culturally and historically conditioned. And this matter of privileging human rights over animal rights is absolutely groundless on atheistic presuppositions. That esteemed atheist and animal liberationist Peter Singer has argued stoutly for animal rights. You atheists who believe there is something special about humans over animals have no solid reason for believing that. You are just going on tradition, moral sentiments and moral intuitions. You have no scientific basis. (Don't talk about ability to feel pain for animals feel pain, too.)

This Thursday at Fellowship Tabernacle, Christian apologist Clinton Chisholm, trained in philosophy and theology, will present a free public lecture at 7 p.m. on 'The Existence of God: Nature's Evidence'. He is challenging atheists to come out and engage him after the lecture I hope some brave ones do.

We need some serious discussion on this matter of atheism versus theism. We need to unpack some assumptions and forget about the rhetoric and emotional blandishments and engage in some hard, cold reasoning. Why we are outraged by transatlantic slavery and the Holocaust and not the suffering taking place in animal slaughterhouses every day, with animals shrieking in pain? On a Darwinian view that speciesist prejudice must be vigorously opposed and fought. Why not equal rights and justice for animals?

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.