TIA Tuesday: A maze of twisty passages, all alike

Vox Day has a very important question to ask us all.

Why should a belief in the non-existence of God cause one individual to kill another, much less make it possible to predict that it will cause political leaders to liquidate large numbers of their own citizenry? How was it that Bertrand Russell was able to foresee the inevitable bloodshed to come in 1920, two years before Stalin became General Secretary and four years before he consolidated his power by banishing Trotsky? And even more importantly, why did the atheist Russell believe that the civilized world not only would, but should, risk a descent into barbarism by following the awful Soviet example?

Gosh, it seems like it was just a few pages ago that Vox was assuring us that government was the source of all that is evil in the world, and now here he is blaming blaming atheism again. And not just a lack of belief in God (or Santa), but a positive, declaratory assurance that God does not exist, is what Vox appeals to as being an active motivation for mass murderous behavior. Given the number of gods which even Christians believe do not exist, the potential for mass destruction must be truly terrifying!

But I digress. Let’s hear what Vox’s answer to the question is.

The answer is that without a belief in that which transcends the natural, Man’s ambition is limited to the material. These ambitions take many different forms, but intellectuals seem particularly drawn towards the idea of modifying human society according to their personal preferences. It may only be a coincidence, but it is interesting to note that many totalitarian rulers were not merely intelligent individuals, but intellectuals and the authors of what at times are still surprisingly insightful books.

Wait, what? He starts off as though he’s going to blame the material world (aka God’s Creation) for lacking the attributes which would inspire reasonable men to good behavior, but then he swerves into the peculiar insinuation that smart people want to hurt you just because being smart makes them want bad things. And his “evidence” is that Stalin and Lenin and Hitler, along with other smart people, declared that they had a desire to make the world into a better place.

Eh?

The logic gets even more twisted. After beginning by asserting that these evil materialistic intellectuals are harmful because they are too focused on the material world, and not focused enough on the immaterial, supernatural things, Vox abruptly flip-flops and declares that the trouble with intellectuals is that they are too focused on the abstract, immaterial theories, and don’t pay enough attention to the material realities.

In his book Intellectuals, the British historian Paul Johnson observes that intellectuals tend to focus on the abstract rather than tangible reality. While this is a useful and positive attribute when one is developing an entirely abstract concept such as string theory, constructing evolutionary stable strategies or creating a virtual world out of mathematics, art, and C compilers, it is rather less harmless when the abstract vision intersects with the harsh reality of human behavior. Human behavior seldom makes sense.

Much as I hate to contradict someone who has so much obvious expertise in not making sense, I have to say that Vox is greatly exaggerating the problem here. Human behavior may not make much sense to someone who fails to perceive and understand all the factors involved, but neither is it the irrational and unpredictable mish-mash that Vox portrays. He has to make it look like it is completely out of control, however, so that he can make his next point.

Christianity teaches that this is because man is hopelessly prone to evil, and that war and poverty will always be his curse due to his fallen nature. The Christian cannot hope to end these things, so he is content to work to ameliorate them where and when he can, according to the Biblical commands.

So just to recap, Vox is claiming that you can predict that belief in God’s non-existence will lead to mass murder because if you don’t believe in that which transcends the material, you’ll be so focused on physical realities, while simultaneously ignoring those same realities in order to focus on the abstract, that you’ll fail to grasp the transcendent reality in which all men are hopelessly prone to evil and unable to improve their own situation. Mmmm.

In contrast to this fatalistic and hopeless scenario, Vox gasps in horror at the atheistic notion that some people think it might be possible for us to make things better.

The atheist knows no such limits. Where the theist sees the inherent restrictions of human nature as created by God, the atheist sees nothing but the potential for human progress. What this progress is ultimately directed towards depends entirely on the particular vision; the ambitions of Pol Pot were certainly different than those of Lenin, Russell, or Harris, but regardless of what the final end is, the means and the stages through which the atheist visionary progresses will tend to be very similar, if not entirely the same.

Anyone who believes in the potential for human progress is obviously godless and evil, since he has rejected the inherent restrictions on human nature as created by God. If God had wanted us to improve, He would have made us better, gosh darn it! But He created us to be evil, and poverty-stricken, and constantly at war and killing one another. In fact, even though he started out by making the claim that belief in God’s non-existence is what causes massive loss of human life, the real cause (if what Vox says about human nature is true) is that we can’t help it. God made us to be evil, and there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves any better, and all Vox is doing by blaming atheists is trying to distract attention from God’s causative role in making us the way we are.

Vox follows up this bizarre claim with a 6-step plan, based on what he perceives as a pattern in various ideologically-motivated atrocities, for turning an attempt to better the human condition into a human rights disaster in which millions suffer and die needlessly. But more importantly, he makes the accusation that this pattern must be followed by atheists, because of their atheism.

The particular deadliness of Communism is not due to any peculiar aspect unique to Marxism, but because it requires retrofitting humanity to suit its atheist, utopian vision. Any creed or ideology that similarly violates the long-established patterns of human behavior in the name of progress will bear a high probability of leading to the same bitter harvest. Due to their ability to think in the abstract, their rejection of religious and societal traditions and their total focus on the material, atheists are uniquely susceptible to embracing utopian visions that conflict with these historical patterns.

What Vox manages to overlook is the fact that all his argument actually accomplishes is to make an accusation against atheism, without showing any actual reason why lack of belief in God ought to be to blame for mass murder.

Take his first claim, “that without a belief in that which transcends the natural, Man’s ambition is limited to the material.” There are two errors in this statement. One is that belief in God’s non-existence is necessarily a belief in the non-existence anything which transcends the material. Vox assumes that anyone who fails to believe in God also denies the existence of the supernatural and/or metaphysical, but in fact there are many people who believe in various transcendent/metaphysical “truths” that don’t happen to include any particular gods.

The second error is that Vox assumes, with no basis, that there’s something wrong or harmful with limiting one’s ambitions to the material. The material world is all we have to observe and to learn from; all of our experiences of pleasure, satisfaction, anticipation, reward, and so on, are experiences that we have had in and through the material world. The best things we can imagine, the qualities and virtues we treasure most highly, are all things that we have conceived of and learned the value of in the context of material reality. Vox himself accuses atheists of going astray, not because they’ve paid too much attention to the objective realities of life in the material world, but because they’ve allegedly spent too much time pursuing insubstantials that don’t correspond to material reality. If that’s the problem then the cure is to be more careful to limit our ambitions to the material.

More problems in Vox’s analysis: he tries to link lack of belief in God with a belief in the utopian perfection of man, on the grounds that atheists do not accept the Christian doctrine of human sin. This is a question, not of God’s existence, but of Man’s nature, about which even different religions have different ideas. One does not need to believe in the existence of any deity or deities to know, just from observation alone, that man is not perfect. And even Christians, according to Vox, “work to ameliorate [evils] where and when [they] can,” despite their belief in the futility of their efforts.

Vox fails to explain why atheist attempts to make things better must necessarily follow his 6-point disaster plan, while similar Christian efforts would not. (Probably for good reason: Christian utopias have had similar failings and would seriously undermine his argument.) One cannot help but note, in passing, how much hopelessness and despair there is in Vox’s fatalistic view of man, and contrast that with the common Christian claim that their faith gives them a sense of hope and purpose that atheists allegedly lack! Yet if you want a reason to hope that things can be better in our lifetimes, you’re necessarily more likely to find it among unbelievers than among those who, for theological reasons, use words like “futile” and “hopeless” to refer to human progress.

The very last sentence of the chapter, though, sums up what may be Vox’s most insightful and revealing comment in the whole book.

Man requires God, whether He exists or not, because in His absence Man becomes a devil.

It’s not that the Christian God actually exists outside of human imagination. The reason for believing in Jesus is because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t. People are scary. People hurt you. If a little superstition can make you feel safe enough to remain a member of human society, what difference does it make whether or not your superstition is actually true?

This ultimately is why people like Vox write books like TIA. No amount of rational argument, no well-ordered list of verifiable facts, can make the fear go away, because the fact is that people are scary and do hurt each other. So long as that fear exists—and it will always exist because the danger is real—people will believe.

 
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...
Posted in TIA. 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “TIA Tuesday: A maze of twisty passages, all alike”

  1. Kenneth Says:

    “So long as that fear exists-and it will always exist because the danger is real-people will believe.”

    Or pretend to believe. Even if Vox Day is right about everything he says here in this chapter (of course he is not), the argument is still falacious. He is simply saying that this is how athiesim works and I don’t like the results so it can’t be true. Who’s the utopianist now?

  2. jim Says:

    “Man requires God, whether He exists or not, because in His absence Man becomes a devil.”

    Wow, what a mouthful! And a truthful mouthful, at that; at least, as regarding motivations for the invention and upkeep of these superstitions. God is the adult Santa Clause, the invisible ‘cop on the beat’, marking sins when you thought no one was looking. Keeping us straight under the shadow of His big, big stick.

    Only, what happened? Religious folks have been at war with others, as well as with themselves, throughout recorded history. And the idea that the so-called atheistic regimes have been SO much bloodier has NOTHING to do with innate characteristics, and EVERYTHING to do with things like modern weaponry, tactics, transportation-not to mention population densities. Imagine the Crusades with populations in the billions, and deliverable nukes! Pu-lease!

    I don’t doubt that there have been instances where the idea of an invisible, all-knowing Watcher has kept some folks’ baser tendencies in check. But history shows us that it’s also played the other way, through Divine Justification for all sorts of atrocities. But beyond the discussion of ledger balancing, there’s the question of telling the actual truth apart from any imagined consequences, pro or con. Lying is an easy habit to pick up, and I suspect the habit often starts with JUSTIFIED lying; which is just the sort of lying that empowered the setting up of these religions in the first place. As you’ve so often pointed out, these holy books are by and large works of fiction, invented by people who thought they knew a better way to steer people. Summed up, they are lies. And books filled with nonsensical apologetics are also books filled with lies, in that they seek not the truth, but first and foremost to convert- the imagined ends always justifying the means.

    Shouldn’t the pursuit of truth ALWAYS be front and center, no matter where it leads us? I’m afraid there will always be those whose answer to that question is “no”.

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Only, what happened? Religious folks have been at war with others, as well as with themselves, throughout recorded history. And the idea that the so-called atheistic regimes have been SO much bloodier has NOTHING to do with innate characteristics, and EVERYTHING to do with things like modern weaponry, tactics, transportation-not to mention population densities.

    It’s also worth mentioning that Vox has only his own assumptions to tell him that Stalin, Lenin, and Mao would have been any less bloody had they sought to establish their control over the population for the glory of Jesus.

    One factor that Vox leaves out is the declining influence of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Not counting the anomaly of George Dubya and the millions harmed by his escapades in Iraq, recent decades/centuries have seen a general shift away from the heartfelt and motivational faith of medieval leaders and towards a more secularized/superficial sort of piety that is employed as an expedient way to achieve other, more genuine goals. This decline in religiously-directed leadership means that almost any significant activity is going to be skewed towards the secular, good or bad. Vox can complain about the bad things and ignore the good things, but Christianity hasn’t kept pace with the real world, and is becoming increasingly irrelevant—last-gasp activism by desperate believers notwithstanding.

  4. Galloway Says:

    ” Christianity teaches that this is because man is hopelessly prone to evil, and that war and poverty will always be his curse due to his fallen nature.”

    More like evolutionary programming driving the need to survive and dominate the local gene pool. We are, after all, animals and subject to our base instincts. Hopefully, in time, we will evolve into beings that can control behavior that is harmful to others, independent of any Christian-driven motivations.

  5. jim Says:

    Deacon: Of course, since Vox ostensibly eschews reason on the one hand, whilst continually exercising it in his writings (though poorly), he seems to be in the rare position of having his cake, and eating it too. He can say what he wants- contradicting himself along the way, of course- and when he’s called on it, he simply asserts that you can’t ‘prove’ reason. It’s just another brand of faith, right?
    Ah, faith…the great equalizer!

  6. Dominic Saltarelli Says:

    All these arguments are quaint, but wouldn’t some form of hard evidence be more persuasive to counter Vox’s assertion to Atheist Leaders = genocide? He’s hangs literally everything on there being a clear link between atheism and Marxist derived ideology. Everything. Countering by simply denying there is a link isn’t persuasive at all.

    How about instead pointing to the people, the motivations, and the actions of those who try to claim “Nagaland for Christ” or to the “Liberation theology” movement in South America? It severs the thin thread upon which Vox supports his strongest argument.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    That’s a good point too, but then what do you do about the clear link between violence and lack of belief in Santa Claus? ;)

  8. Dominic Saltarelli Says:

    Nothing, as no one is making that argument.

    But what you have to remember, is that Vox makes many specific citations to actions carried out by communists which were clearly aimed at destroying religious institutions. The destruction of churches, the killing of clergy, quotes from prominent communists calling religion poisonous and evil. This is the evidence he cites to create said link.

    So long as counter-arguments are untainted by hard evidence, its Vox who comes out on top in a debate. That’s just the reality of the situation.

    I know that the knee-jerk response is to angrily sputter that they were simply replacing one power structure with another, but hard evidence trumps all.

    Take for example P.Z. Meyers “crackergate” from sometime back. Vox gleefully jumped all over that little dust up to show how this utter disregard for symbols that other people feel are important is just another proof that atheists are anti-social mean-spirited buffoons.

    This is the same Vox Day who regularly refers to Barack Obama as “the magic negro”. All anyone needed to do was point out that words are symbols too, and his use of them is far more needlessly hurtful than anything P.Z. does to a cracker. And there’s absolutely nothing he could say in defense, you’d have nailed him at that point.

    So if you really want to argue with Vox on something, present counter-evidence, and you’ve essentially pinned him to the wall. He has a very bad habit of leaving himself wide open when swinging, he’s all offense, no defense, relying on volume and intimidation more than anything.

  9. jim Says:

    Dominic: First off, I’d have to say that nobody really comes off ‘on top’ in these debates; at least, not in any objective sense. I’ll be the first to admit that most of us are usually preaching to the choir, and that there’s probably very little shift in positions across the board.

    Secondly (and I’m sure my bias is showing through here), after the initial showing, the actual evidence, IMO, quickly becomes secondary, replaced by PLACEMENT and INTERPRETATION of that evidence. And THAT’S what apologetics are all about- convoluting the workspace of inductive reasoning with all sorts of flak, then taking the hill while everybody else is trying to see through the smoke.

    For instance, consider TIA. Vox often cites the evidential arguments from the atheistic authors, reinterpreting them so things swing his way. Or to be fair, and trying to approach it from the other side, Vox’s ‘proof’ that PZ Myers is ‘meanspirited’ is only proof to those who already believe such things, and is easily countered by a number of arguments, such as the idea that symbolism is a manipulative tool used by those who don’t want you to think.

    And pointing out contradictions isn’t any more fruitful. I mean, the two tales of what happened to Judas Iscariot after the crucifixion, not to mention the FOUR different stories of the resurrection, are easily reconciled by those who have the will to do so; at least, the trick works for those who already believe, and the rest already know the score.

    My point (if there is one) is that you can’t ‘nail down’ jello, and Christian apologetics is much like jello. It’s been changing shape and form to fit changing circumstances for 2000 years, when it’s not simply parroting the same old arguments, and then walking away claiming victory no matter WHAT actually goes down. The best we can hope for is that common sense slowly whittles away at the foundations, and that, perhaps, a threshold is one day reached where the whole idea just seems too silly for most people to contemplate. Until then, there are no sure-fire approaches; you do what you can.

  10. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Dominic, I can see what you’re saying, and I think you’re making a good point. I’d be glad to hear more evidence of the sort you’re alluding to.

    I think it’s also valid to point out that the hard evidence is amenable to more than one interpretation. What Vox cites as evidence that atheists have murderous hatred of religion could also be regarded as evidence (with abundant additional evidence) that the Russian church was very heavily involved in exercising political power, and that the conflict was more a political power struggle than any kind of theological debate. That incidentally has the side-effect of falsifying Vox’s claim that religion is not a factor in government affairs like war (and slavery, and serfdom, and so on).

  11. Dominic Saltarelli Says:

    Take for example the Murderer’s Row Appendix. He mentions that Daniel Ortega would be on the list except for the fact that he can’t confirm the Sandanistas killed more than 20,000 people. However, Ortega was a Catholic who fell in with the Liberation Theology movement, which blended Marxist-Leninist ideas of class warfare with biblical teachings of justice and helping the poor. Then there is the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, who’ve adopted the slogan “Nagaland for Christ” and much of the ruthless violence that accompanies the Maoist doctrine upon which they are founded.

    These are the kind of specific examples showing that there is clearly no link between not believing in God and being a violent socialist, the very thing upon which Vox’s entire rant against “The Red Hand of Atheism” rests upon. Get rid of that and he literally has nothing.

    And as far as the crimes of the socialists cited by Vox, aside from the French Reign of Terror, they all took place during a very brief period of time, when the world erupted into war between communists and capitalists. Vox makes it seem like its just the communists who went on killing sprees by citing as many alumni of the International Lenin School as he can.

    Take Ante Pavelic, who led a movement to force people to convert to Catholicism, and even had his own concentration camp going around the same time Hitler and Stalin were liquidating large swaths of humanity themselves.

    Or Suharto, the dictator of Inonesia, who made it a point to kill any and everyone who didn’t have religious affiliation, thinking that was a sure fire way to exterminate all communists.

    In the face of these facts, the only thing Vox would have left is the numbers game. Namely, between Stalin and Mao, atheists have a more impressive body count.

    To which my reply is: “Yeah, and?”

  12. Modusoperandi Says:

    “If God had wanted us to improve, He would have made us better, gosh darn it! But He created us to be evil, and poverty-stricken, and constantly at war and killing one another.”
    If memory serves, the standard apologetic is something along the lines of “God made Man and the universe perfect, but Man used the freewill that God gave Him and ruined everything.” But, since it logically would follow that a 3 O’d god who can’t predict the future lacks, in the very least, one O, it’s followed by “God had a plan to redeem Man. (pause) Jesus!”, but with more words and less evidence (except, of course, arguments from emotion, tradition and authority).
    I assume that it makes perfect sense if you already buy in to the rest of it.

    “…he tries to link lack of belief in God with a belief in the utopian perfection of man.”
    I’ve heard of these utopian atheists, but have never actually met one. Am I alone in this?

    “One cannot help but note, in passing, how much hopelessness and despair there is in Vox’s fatalistic view of man…”
    Notice, too, that we (at least those of us that don’t believe in free will) are supposed to be the deterministic, naturalist fatalists, and ones that live as though we do believe in free will, even if we don’t (although having free will and not would functionally be identical anyways), to boot!

    jim “Religious folks have been at war with others, as well as with themselves, throughout recorded history.”
    Yes, but that’s completely different, because the other was worshipping the wrong God, or gods, or the wrong version of those.

    “(Vox) can say what he wants- contradicting himself along the way, of course- and when he’s called on it, he simply asserts that you can’t ‘prove’ reason.”
    Vox seems to view everything as a debate. The object of a debate isn’t really to prove your position, it’s to win.

    “Christian apologetics is much like jello. It’s been changing shape and form to fit changing circumstances for 2000 years, when it’s not simply parroting the same old arguments, and then walking away claiming victory no matter WHAT actually goes down. “
    Yes. Before abolution was popular, the Bible was always for slavery. Now, it’s always been against it. The good part about having people on both sides of the equation is that you’ve got someone to blame while you’re right, then later you can take credit for their actions when you change your mind. Modern Southern Baptists get to take credit for the Quaker’s opposition to slavery. Ironic or sad? You decide.

    Dominic Saltarelli “He’s hangs literally everything on there being a clear link between atheism and Marxist derived ideology.”
    Conflating atheism and communism is a common apologist tactic. Try drawing them a venn diagram (where communism is a smaller circle that’s mostly within the big one of atheism). Most B’s are A but not all A’s are B, or somesuch.
    Incidentally, they do the same thing with “Darwinism” and “random” or “chance”.

    “…the actions of those who try to claim “Nagaland for Christ” or to the “Liberation theology” movement in South America?”
    Didn’t you hear? Those are heresies. The only non-heretical movement is the one that the person you’re talking to believes in.

  13. Ken MacLeod Says:

    Vox: And even more importantly, why did the atheist Russell believe that the civilized world not only would, but should, risk a descent into barbarism by following the awful Soviet example?

    That’s a new one. As far as I know, Russell believed no such thing.