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Austin Cline

Irrational Atheist? Part 2

By November 22, 2003

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A few days ago I wrote a critique of a column written by Vox Day. In that column Vox made all sorts of ridiculous and ignorant attacks on atheists and atheism - attacks which really needed to be addressed. It's no surprise that I'm not the only one who felt that way and that he received all sorts of email about his arguments. On his personal blog, Vox Day responds to some emails about his column and I thought that a couple of his statements deserved to be repeated and discussed.
There are a virtuous few [atheists]; those who behave with genuine altruism, be it on an understanding of the optimal handling of the Prisoner's Dilemma, a genuine commitment to rational utilitarianism or simple goodness of heart. I may disagree with these atheists; they are also not those of whom I wrote.

Readers who have managed to get through this entire thing will realize that Vox Day's protest here is manifestly untrue. In his column he continually speaks about "the atheist," a label that cannot reasonably apply to only a subset of atheists, and he does very specifically address those atheists who are committed to something like a rational utilitarianism: he calls them "irrational" and "moral parasite[s]." I think that they may also be the ones he refers to as "sociopaths."

Vox Day's ideas about science aren't too relevant to the general theme about morality and atheism, but I can resist including a bit of them:

Whereas a scientist will declare that of course he does not believe there are multiple universes since it is only a hypothesis designed to counter the anthropic principle, the non-elite atheist whose only exposure to science is his science fiction novels will declare that of course they exist since Dr. X said so - this is the faith in science of which I spoke. The same holds true of evolution, the geological age of the Earth and many other untested scientific and pseudo-scientific hypotheses.

So, Vox Day believes that evolution and scientific conclusions about the "age of the earth" are really just hypotheses which have no more substance and factual support than ideas about multiple universes? The scientific ignorance he displays here is truly astounding - not unusual, I should hasten to add, but still quite astounding. Neither evolution to the "age of the earth" are simply hypotheses, untested, or pseudoscientific. They are, in fact, rigorously tested scientific understandings of our world. If Vox can't be bothered to do the modicum of research necessary to realize this, he frankly shouldn't pretend to know enough to write about them like this.

This statement is especially interesting:

Perhaps you don't need a God to prevent you from behaving in an immoral manner. I certainly do.

Let's also take this in conjunction with:

If God is the authority, he alone defines the good. The Bible not only suggests but outright declares that God's wisdom (and presumably his notion of good) is beyond ours. It is also pretty clear that God has commanded all manner of what we see as atrocities.

So, putting all of that together... Vox Day can only act morally if his god exists; Vox Day regards his god as the origin of what is and is not moral; Vox Day does whatever his god commands is moral; Vox Day acknowledges that his god has, in the past, commanded things that "we see as atrocities" (note: he doesn't say "things that are atrocities," but rather "thing that we see as atrocities).

Now, isn't it reasonable to suppose that Vox Day would willingly and even gladly commit some act that "we see as an atrocity" if he sincerely thinks that his god commanded it? Yes, I think that such a conclusion is not only reasonable, but the most obvious one that we can draw from the above. Vox criticized atheists "who do not fear to determine their own moral compass," but I submit that Vox does not even have a moral compass - or, if he does, it has become so warped by his religious beliefs that is no longer recognizable as something that actually serves morality.

But no, he appears to have always been this way - consider his statements about his beliefs before he was a Christian:

I was somewhat of a rational quasi-sociopath, who was always amused at how I would receive lectures on my "bad" behavior from atheists who subscribed to moral relativism. "Do what thou wilt, with due regard for the policeman around the corner" was pretty much my amoral code.

Was? It is his current code - except that "policeman around the corner" is replaced with "God up in heaven." And, according to Vox, his is an amoral code. So what do we have? Well, we have a Christian who criticizes atheists for their morality but, at the same time, admits to following a code that is "amoral" and which basically consists of doing what he is told by an authority figure that has the power to punish him.

I have written more than once about the relationship between morality and theism, but I must confess that I have never encountered someone who is so open (relatively speaking) about their willingness to do whatever they are commanded to do by god, no matter how ugly and atrocious it might seem to be by others. And let's not forget the context here, which are the actions of people in the Old Testament: mass slaughter, slavery, and so forth.

It's curious that Vox Day claims to be a libertarian because libertarians are generally the sort of people who reject the need for authority figures for people to live well and good lives. That, however, is not the case with Vox. True to his fundamentalist Christian principles, Vox regards all of humanity as inherently depraved and evil (except, perhaps, for a virtuous few) who desperately need the authority of God in order to lead anything like a moral and good life. But of course, most people will never communicate directly with God, right? This means that they will need religious and political leaders to help them...

It is, I think, pretty plain that while Vox Day professes to being a libertarian, his religious beliefs put him squarely in the camp of authoritarianism. Can one be an authoritarian libertarian? I doubt it. But, hey, considering how perverted his sense of morality has become, I suppose anything is possible.

Update: Vox Day pretends to have something intelligent to say about the above:

...concluded I was only claiming to be a libertarian and that my forthright Christian stance indicated I was truly an authoritarian. Which makes sense, as long as you assume that Christian = authoritarian and ignore all Western history.

"Only if?" Well, I guess one could reach that conclusion "only if" they didn't read what I actually wrote - or were deliberately distorting the truth in an effort to avoid facing hard questions. It's pretty clear what I said: libertarianism, the political philosophy Vox Day claims to subscribe to, is not a political philosophy that generally looks with favor on the premise that people need authority figures to regulate and control their behavior. This, however, is not only what Vox Day personally accepts, but actually promotes as having value.

Not all Christians are also authoritarians because not all Christians believe that people need their god in order to be good. Vox, however, does believe this - and because of that it is legitimate to question just how committed he really is to libertarianism. Personally, I don't think that his writing on the matter of atheism and morality indicates that he is very committed at all.

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Comments
January 22, 2008 at 1:05 pm
(1) H. B. Keats says:

Wow, I felt similarly compelled, but 4 years late. At any rate, I appricieate the company.

http://reasonoverreligion.blogspot.com/2008/01/vox-responds.html

January 29, 2008 at 1:00 am
(2) Samuel Skinner says:

Er.. the closest I could think of for an authoritarian libertarian would be someone who believed in a minimum of laws with the police watching everyone…

January 29, 2008 at 5:45 pm
(3) Ben says:

“Using reason, science and historical documentation – not theology – Day argues the atheists into an inescapable corner”

Upon first stumbling upon this description of Vox’s book, my initial reaction was positive. “Perhaps” I thought to myself, “I will finally be treated to a well-reasoned argument in support of theism. One that is build upon objective, verifiable premises that collectively lead to a rational conclusion in support of their belief system.” After all, anyone who claims to be a rationalist, regardless of their position on the subject of religion, would very much welcome such argument in welcome contrast to of the vitriol-laden diatribes that are so often served up by these pietistic pretenders to reason. Once again, I was sadly disappointed. After reading the article in WorldNetDaily that introduces the book, it was apparent that all Vox has to offer is more of the same old arguments dressed up in somewhat more florid prose.

I won’t bother to comment on any of the arguments themselves, because they have all been thoroughly and repeated discredited in too many other reputable sources to count. The purpose of this comment is to point out that, for two very clear reasons, we should abandon all hope of ever being treated to such an argument by a true believer. The first, and most obvious reason, is that no such argument exists. If it hasn’t been posited in the last 2000 years, there’s little reason to expect it to emerge, fully conceived, any time in the near future. But the second reason derives from the very nature of the messenger. In order to be a true believer, one must both embrace a belief system that which has no basis in logic and at the same time, engage in a persistent and diligent effort to prop up the inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in those beliefs with equally inconsistent and contradictory evidence. The simple truth is that, in the course of “learning” to be religious, one gradually loses all capacity for logical discourse – or for that matter, even logical thinking!

Of course theists will always claim, as does the description of the article by Vox, to use “reason” and “science” to support their arguments. But a cursory study of these specious polemics quickly and consistently exposes them as little more than “sows dressed in fine silks.”

I’d like to say “Nice try” Vox, but it wasn’t even that.

March 17, 2008 at 12:17 pm
(4) Justin says:

Guys like Vox who claim to be a rational christians feel the need to defend their beliefs because deep down, they know atheists are right. They intimate there is some sort of revelation that allows them to be religious, and somehow those who don’t share their beliefs are deficient or at least unenlightened when it is posturing and fear that keeps them ‘holy’.

It is a struggle for everyone to fight their base natures, for some it’s easy, other need therapy, others need an invisible sky bully. To each his own, but Prayer is talking to yourself, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

February 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm
(5) Albert Guilmont says:

No, they are not aware of what exists beyond their belief because their minds are trapped in those fraudulent verses from the Sermon of the Mountain, Matthew 5: 10-11: “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
That’s why they perceive any question regarding their god as an attack, moreover as a personal attack.
One cannot reason with the possessor of such mind.
The only help for them can come only from within, from their part only. Any help somebody else is trying, it will be perceived as an attack and as a call to a stronger faith, up to irrational, as we’ve seen.

April 11, 2008 at 1:26 pm
(6) Chuck says:

Why do atheists spend so much time talking about something that they don’t think exists? If you only have one life to live, why don’t you live it instead of obsessing over and constantly debating whether or not God exists. You decided that you definitely don’t believe to the point where you are most certainly atheists (not agnostic) and yet you start blogs and write articles about how much you don’t believe and comment on how much you don’t believe and get pissed when someone who believes in God points out the inconsistencies in the arguments of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens who frankly come across as three extremely unhappy, unfulfilled ***holes who need to lighten up. Lighten up people. You’re all just kind of sad to me. In other news I did start a blog about Loch Ness and how much I don’t think that monster exists and how I think everyone that thinks the Loch Ness monster exists is pretty idiotic. You should check it out at completewasteoftime.blogspot.com

April 11, 2008 at 2:59 pm
(7) Austin Cline says:

Why do atheists spend so much time talking about something that they don’t think exists?

Funny, but if you had taken a look under “Common Questions Answered” (upper left of the screen), you’d have found a link to “Why Do Atheists Debate Theists?” That probably would have given you answers to your question — assuming it was asked sincerely, of course.

You decided that you definitely don’t believe to the point where you are most certainly atheists (not agnostic)

Also on the “Common Questions Answered” page you’d have seen a link to “What’s the Difference Between Atheism & Agnosticism?” There you would have learned that atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive.

and get pissed when someone who believes in God points out the inconsistencies in the arguments of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens

Oh? Can you point out any?

who frankly come across as three extremely unhappy, unfulfilled ***holes who need to lighten up.

Why, exactly?

Lighten up people. You’re all just kind of sad to me.

Is this comment of yours supposed to serve as an example of how a person can be better?

In other news I did start a blog about Loch Ness and how much I don’t think that monster exists and how I think everyone that thinks the Loch Ness monster exists is pretty idiotic.

I get the impression you consider this sarcastic; in reality, you can find articles debunking belief in the Loch Ness monster and similar creatures in a variety of magazines and books.

April 18, 2008 at 12:36 am
(8) Evan Effa says:

Congratulations on an erudite & insightful response to this angry polemic by Vox Day.

Despite being hailed as a rational response to the Atheist manifesto, the book quickly degenerates into an ad hominem attack on those “immoral” New Atheists.

The bulk of the book is really very inflammatory and nasty. (As an example of this: He actually accuses Sam Harris of being less moral than Jeffrey Dahmer because of the profound damage he has done to those who will have read his books…(!) Amazing stuff.

His thesis that the atheist scientist is still relying on faith rather than reason is an old idea that is still just as invalid as it always was. Your analogy to trusting your brakes is a great example of how empirically derived experience is qualitatively different than belief in an immaterial, unfalsifiable dogma.

You have done very well to keep the tone of your review respectful and by sticking to the issues. You demonstrate a quality of restraint sadly lacking from Vox Day’s diatribe. (Perhaps he protesteth too much?)

-evan

April 27, 2008 at 5:16 am
(9) chris says:

Thanks for your thoughts, Chuck; I am so secure in my atheism that I don’t usually bother to argue the point, especially with religious nuts. I am prepared to be open-minded about the Loch Ness Monster, but there is DEFINITELY no god!

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