A Delusional List Of Alleged Atheist Delusions

At various times over the last few years I have declared ID to be dead. One of my reasons for saying that is the complete intellectual collapse of Uncommon Descent (UD).

When William Dembski started the blog, it was intended as an outpost for serious commentary on intelligent design and related topics. Not for them the standard creationist pyrotechnics, which had made anti-evolutionism a laughingstock among educated people. No, UD was going to show the world that anti-evolutionism did not have to be the domain of crazed religious demagogues, but could instead be defended rationally by scientifically knowledgeable people. For a while, UD was undoubtedly the premier ID blog, a somewhat dubious honor to be sure.

But Dembski mostly cut ties with the blog some time ago, and for several years it has been run by vicious idiots like Denyse O'Leary and Barry Arrington. If you are looking for incoherent scorn directed at scientists and atheists, written by people with no conscience about getting their facts right or presenting their opponents fairly, then the UD stable of bloggers is your dream team.

One of the UD backbenchers is William Murray, who has now favored us with a post called 10 Reasons Why Atheists Are Delusional. It's an amazing list, but not in a good way.

For example, here is item four:

They deny that what is intelligently designed can be reliably identified when virtually every moment of their waking existence requires precisely that capacity.

See what I mean? I was not aware that atheists summarily deny that the products of intelligent design can be reliably identified. Instead we deny simply that vague notions like “specified complexity,” or hastily scribbled, back of the envelope probability calculations, are any help in distinguishing the products of design from the products of natural causes. If you want delusional, I urge you to consider the asinine ways ID folks try to apply probability theory to biology.

Here's item one:

They dismiss morality as nothing more than strongly felt subjective preference, but admit they act as if morality is objective in nature.

Even taking that at face value, it hardly constitutes a delusion. Murray seems unfamiliar with the concept of a useful fiction. You can reasonably believe that morality is “nothing more than strongly felt subjective preference” while also believing that everyone should behave as though certain moral claims are objectively true. There's just no contradiction there.

But we should not take Murray's statement at face value, because it is childish. Show me someone who bangs on endlessly about morality being objective, and I'll show you someone who's sore that people disagree with him on moral questions. Such folks are not interested in nuanced discussions of abstract philosophy. Instead they want to be able simply to hold forth on moral questions, absolved from the responsibility of having to make an argument in defense of their views.

The question of whether morality is objective or subjective is a complete red herring. It is a question of no practical consequence whatsoever. What matters in practice are the reasons you give for holding the moral beliefs that you do. If you want to believe that morality comes directly from God then go right ahead. You're still going to have to explain to the rest of us why you think you have special insight into what God wants. (For that matter, you might also have to explain why we should care what God wants.) And since the defenders of religion have had no success in providing these explanations, since they routinely disagree among themselves on questions of right and wrong, and since they routinely defend moral assertions that more sensible people regard as monstrous (such as those against homosexuals, contraception, or abortion), I don't think bringing God into moral conversations really helps all that much.

Morality is subjective in the trivial sense that any standard you give as its basis is ultimately arbitrary. But it is objective in the far more important sense that in practice, just about everyone agrees on what the basic standards ought to be.

Some of Murray's items are just weird. This is number ten:

They insist spiritual laws that transcend the physical do not exist, but then insist that all humans are equal, when they factually, obviously are not equals at all – either physically or intellectually.

Atheists deny that humans have physical and intellectual differences? What? Where did that come from?

I have no idea what I'm being accused of here. You could probably get me to agree that “spiritual laws that transcend the physical do not exist,” though I would need some careful definitions (of “spiritual,” “transcend,” and ”physical”) before giving my assent. But I don't see any connection between the first part of this sentence and the rest of it. The only way I can make sense of what Murray has written here is if we construe “All humans are equal,” as an example of a spiritual law that transcends the physical. See my earlier remark re careful definitions.

Let's try one more. Here's item six:

They deny humans are anything other than entirely creatures of nature, yet insist that what humans do is somehow a threat to nature or some supposed natural balance.

This is another one where I don't know what I'm being accused of. “Nature” will continue to exist in some form regardless of what humans do. So I have no idea what it means to talk about “a threat to nature,” in the abstract, and I have no idea which atheists Murray thinks he is addressing here.

I think what atheists actually insist on is that what humans do can render the environment unsuitable for human habitation. Surely most theists would agree with that.

Folks, there are six more items on Murray's list. Feel free to roll your eyes at them in the comments. For some of them, good luck even figuring out what Murray is trying to say. For others, decide for yourself who's being delusional in this discussion.

Morality is subjective in the trivial sense that any standard you give as its basis is ultimately arbitrary. But it is objective in the far more important sense that in practice, just about everyone agrees on what the basic standards ought to be.

I tend to think of ethics as derived from social or high-level strategic goals (like, "a peaceful society"). Since most modern westerners, at least, tend to have similar societal goals - peace, prosperity, personal freedom - we tend to come up with similar ethics. That's where the apparent objectivity comes from. When two people have radically different strategic goals, however (for example, one values very highly the strategic goal "salvation" while the other thinks no such thing exists) , the 'so common it must be objective' approximation is shown to be just that - an approximation. "Morality is objective - just look at all the same's!" is a good working model most of the time but a failure when people's strategic goals for society vary too much.

The biggest delusion of the IDists of UD is their defining principle: that "intelligence" and "design" are magical/supernatural processes, or at any rate have nothing to do with the methods of natural evolution. As I have argued many times, both can easily explained as natural, evolutionary processes (i.e., trial and error is their basic mechanism). If I am right, what they claim as evidence that complexity cannot be produced by evolution is in fact more evidence for the power of evolution. It would be hard to surpass that in either delusion or irony - at least among rational people.

"They dismiss morality as nothing more than strongly felt subjective preference, but admit they act as if morality is objective in nature. "

I dismiss free will as a subjective idea, but I still use the language of free will, because it's too difficult to do otherwise. Besides, what choice do I have?

By Walt Garage (not verified) on 09 Jun 2016 #permalink

Believing that all humans are equal does ultimately point toward a spiritual nature that all humans (and/or all living things) possess. Our DNA sequences aren't equal, our neural networks aren't equal, are bodies aren't equal, our personalities and attitudes aren't equal. One could get oxymoronic and say we are all equally unique, but that means none of us are the same. One could say we all have equal rights but that's a different argument. A strict materialist should only be able to say that all humans are extremely similar, because to say all humans are equal points to something ineffable, i.e. the Atman, or the "Kingdom of God" that lies within.

By Wesley Dodson (not verified) on 10 Jun 2016 #permalink

Believing that all humans are equal does ultimately point toward a spiritual nature that all humans (and/or all living things) possess... ...One could say we all have equal rights but that’s a different argument.

I think your 'different argument' is pretty much the crux of modern democratic nation--state "equality," which is concerned about equal treatment under law and the like.

Murray is convinced he has access to OBJECTIVE MORALITY(tm) and claims to have derived these from reason alone. Sadly for us mere mortals he's reluctant to share this WISDOM; but he does enjoy revelling in his SUPERIOR INTELLECT.

Murray has yet to get around to explaining how one can distinguish between His objective morality and somebody else's subjective musings.

But we must give him some slack - as He struggles with the burden of His MASSIVE BRAIN His wife is being abducted on a regular basis by aliens.

Yes, aliens.

"Feel free to roll your eyes at them in the comments."

Just don't do it in the comments at UD. That way leads to the Barry bannination.

By Clown Fish (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

I asked Murray how he could argue for objective morality when moral values differ so dramatically from culture to culture, and throughout history. His response was simply that there is a difference between objective morals and different views on those objective morals. When I pressed him on the uncomfortable facts he replaced my comments with a bolded demand to stop trolling his thread. And then he silently banned me.

What's interesting is that this incarnation of this subject started from an OP written by Murray about how leftists assign derogatory labels to their opponents (eg., racist, homophobe, etc.) to derail any conversation. The comments were quickly derailed by Indiana Effigy to the subject of same sex marriage, garnering several hundred additional comments in the thread.
This subject, in one form or another, proceeded through additional OPs by Murray, Barry, StephenB and at least twelve by Gordon (KairosFocus) Mullings, the poster child for pompous, arrogant fundamentalism.

During that process, I was banned under at least three different aliases (Indiana Effigy, Ziggy Lorenc and Clown Fish), triggering at least four dedicated OPs to counter one or more of my comments. Maybe I should ask for some money from Barry for the increased traffic to his site :)

By Clown Fish (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

His response was simply that there is a difference between objective morals and different views on those objective morals

Well sure there is! But that goes for theists too - you can never tell who's theological interpretation of "objective morality" is the true objective morality. Which makes their morality just as subjective as anyone else's.

Murray is a pseudo-intellectual joke. He writes at length about how smart he is and how stupid everyone else is, while producing utter claptrap like the stuff you quoted.

By The Feed Bag (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Murray seems unfamiliar with the concept of a useful fiction.

On the topic of socially useful fictions, may I recommend Terry Pratchett's Hogfather to those needing a pleasant explanation?
Something about grinding the whole universe and not finding a single atom of Justice. And yet, we act as if Justice exist.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink