First, a one-minute video:
Whew! I thought she was serious at first too! The first fifteen seconds are exactly what I’ve heard over and over (and over and over) from religious people. There appear to be only three ways to argue in favor of religion, and I’ll cover all of these in more depth soon in future posts. One, a person can argue that a particular religion is true. Secondly, they can argue that religion as a whole has a positive impact on the world. Notice the difference; To say something is nice or useful is not the same thing as saying it is true. It doesn’t even constitute evidence for the truth of a claim. The Truth is not something that our whims or wishes can affect. It would be nice if drinking water made you immortal or cured disease, but that doesn’t make it so. The third way to argue in favor of religion is to say that atheism is bad and/or horrible for people and/or the world. The feeble argument above is an example of the third type of argument.
She lays out one of the standard rebuttals to the claim that morality is dependent on religion in the video. Namely, that religious people cherry pick the good things out of the bible, like the golden rule (although it has some massive shortcomings) but they ignore the tons of horrible stuff, like the instructions on beating your slaves. How could the religious think themselves qualified to cherry pick from the bible? Did God only mean part of what he said? I don’t remember reading a footnote in the bible that said it’s ok to just ignore half of what God says. No, the reason people only focus on the good stuff in the bible is because they go into it with what is good already in their mind and they find quotes to support it. As it turns out, this runs both ways. If you’re an advocate of slavery or killing homosexuals you can find tons of biblical support. If you’re an advocate of peace and love, there is some of that in there too.
It is worth asking what it would mean if someone was sincere when they said they got their ethics from scripture. Ignoring the fact that they would no doubt be a very confused and dangerous person, we can ask ourselves what it must be like to be this hypothetical person. Did they pick up the bible having no idea whether or not to hug their children or drown them? Almost certainly not. Everyone has ethical intuitions. I think even psychopaths do, they just don’t have an impulse to follow through with them. Given that we can all (I think) agree that everyone has moral intuitions, it follows that atheists have them too. Whether or not every single one of those intuitions is correct is another question. For example, I think that the distinction people make between acts and omissions is arbitrary.
I wrote this post in a hurry and thus didn’t have time to cover much of anything in depth, which is why it is part one. As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you feel like I didn’t cover something enough, just say what exactly it is and I’ll be sure to cover it in part two. Don’t trouble yourself with a several paragraph long exegesis on explaining all the reasons I’m wrong because of something I didn’t say – I just didn’t have time to get to it tonight. One of the things I really wanted to get to but didn’t (I only had twenty minutes to throw this together) was what I call the Almighty Stick and Carrot. Stay tuned! I might not follow up with this tomorrow, but I will soon.