Monday, October 09, 2006


Ham-handed arguments

Over in Pharyngula, PZ Myers points us to an Answers in Genesis page. I've generally avoided even clicking through to AiG's web site, much less linking to them here, for not wanting to give them the hits. But that one intrigued me enough to look at it, and, now, to comment on it.

First, I'll say that Ken Ham is someone whom even most Christians regard as being on the lunatic fringe, and, while there are plenty of people out there who march to the AiG drum, there are many more who shake their heads about it and remain productive members of society. The point of refuting anything that's said there is less about refuting AiG specifically, and more about seeing that they're using common tactics that deserve refutation in general.

Preamble: Ham's premise is that people kill other people because they do not believe in God (or do not believe in the way Ham thinks they should).

And what about Africa? The Middle East? South America? Around the world, senseless violence destroys lives because some people no longer value life.
Indeed, what about the Middle East, and Iraq, particularly? The man responsible for the loss of at least many tens of thousands of lives in Iraq over the last three years is a man who purports to out-Christian his opponents, and whom Ken Ham supports. Ah, well. We'll note here, then, that the taking of life is, even among the most devout and literal Bible-thumpers, a relative thing.

Every day we are inundated with evolution-based messages intended to remove the Creator from the fabric of our society, our lives, our thoughts. But if we evolved from lower life forms, then the Bible can’t be trusted and life’s supposed billion-year history is one of continual death and struggle. If the Bible isn’t true, then why should we be fair and kind and love our fellow human beings, as the Bible teaches? After all, evolution relies on survival of the fittest—no matter who gets in the way.
Here we have the core of the fallacy: the argument that the only thing keeping us from becoming a society of wanton ax-murderers is the literal belief that Bible — every word — is God's truth, and failure to follow it exactly will throw us all to the wild.

In fact, every society, even from our earliest tribal systems, has had a system of social mores that defined acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. The systems have differed from each other, of course, but they've had common aspects at their cores: in particular, they've all defined acceptable and unacceptable reasons for aggression toward fellow citizens. We haven't, through our history, needed Jesus, the Bible, or the Judeo-Christian God to tell us that society can't thrive if people go around killing their neighbours.

Beyond killing, societies lacking the Bible have also had social rules for treating others with fairness and kindness, respecting property, and other such. We don't need a literal trust in the Bible in order to be civil. It's part of our nature as social beings to behave in ways conducive to the maintenance of our society.

There are, to be sure, people with antisocial behaviour, and there have been such people always. Today, our prisons are full of them, and hey: many of them claim to believe in the Bible, and in the same God and "His perfect Son" that Ken Ham does. No doubt, Ham would say that they fail because their belief is imperfect, that they don't really believe. Ken Ham, himself, defines morality. Of course, that's what many preachers do; Ham is no different in that regard.

It's quite clear that belief in God and in the truth of the Bible is neither necessary nor sufficient for people to act civilly and, yes, morally — societies have done it for many centuries, and societies where Christianity is not the predominant religion continue to do it today. It's arrogant, as well as so obviously wrong, to say that Japan, to pick an example, is full of people who cannot love each other nor treat each other with fairness and kindness.

Those who feel that neither they nor their actions matter to God lose their motivation to care for the lives of others or for their own life.
What an utterly ridiculous — and demonstrably false — claim. It's demonstrably false because we can give many counterexamples, starting with me: I believe that God does not exist, so, of course I don't feel that I or my actions matter to a non-existent being. I have most certainly not lost my motivation to care for the lives of others, nor for my own life. Very much to the contrary: I'm very strongly motivated to care, as I believe I've discussed in the non-Empty Pages at which my readers have been Staring. I think about it every day, and I don't need God as a framework in which to do that.

There are many, many more like me. There is no shortage of counterexamples to Ken Ham's ridiculous statement.

It's quite clear that many people do use God as a framework for their lives, and if that helps them, I think that's fine. Many who do are my friends, and I love them and treat them with respect. Unlike Ken Ham, I don't think people need to agree with me in order to be moral, vital, socially responsible, good people.

If that's Ham's brand of "morality", I certainly want no part of it, and I can't imagine any thinking person who would.


The Ridger, FCD said...

I couldn't get a trackback to work, but I wanted you to know this post is in the Carnival of the Godless this time!

Barry Leiba said...

Yeah, blogspot doesn't support trackbacks. Think of it as one fewer way for your blog to get spammed, I guess. :-)

King Aardvark said...

As an aside, what's with referring to any hypothetic generic homicidal person as an ax-murderer? I do it too, and I think most people do as well. But why ax-murdering? Most murders, as far as I know, aren't commited with axes. Some are, but i think guns, knives, and even cars would be more popular than axes.

Barry Leiba said...


Amusing question.

Assuming it's not just rhetorical:
I think it's part whimsy ("You don't want to be alone with him; he looks like a gun-murderer," just doesn't have the right "ring" to it), part horror (both a reference to horror stories, even back to the Lizzie Borden thing, and the fact that hacking someone up with an ax is more horrific than shooting someone is), and part psycho (the implication that someone who murders with an ax is more likely to be doing it methodically and maybe habitually — the image of a serial killer who uses an ax, as opposed to a serial killer who drives around trying to run people down with his car).

Ya think?

Nandes said...

Great post.

Just to speak to your point, I'm pretty sure that the ratio of atheists in prison in no greater than that outside prison.

In fact it may be less.

Bronze Dog said...

Those who feel that neither they nor their actions matter to God lose their motivation to care for the lives of others or for their own life.

This is what goes through my head when IDiots say something like that:

"La-la-la! Love doesn't exist! Neither does teamwork! La-la-la, I can't hear you!"