Sunday, October 13, 2013

Heads I Win...

Joseph Atwill is a Bible scholar who is also an agnostic. Hey, it had to happen sometime. Atwill believes Jesus was made up by the Romans. Or maybe he's just hoping Jesus was made up by the Romans. Really, I can't tell which. But Atwill said at least one other thing I think is highly questionable...
“Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history...”
Let's leave aside his lack of perspective regarding history. Let's just go right for the quick, here: Atwill is wrong. Atwill is not just wrong based on my world view; he's wrong even according to his own.

Let me explain how...

Atwill is making a moral argument against Christianity. He's not the first. The main proposition is that the world would be better off without Christianity. So Atwill is implying here that there exists some standard by which he judges the "Good", and by which Christianity falls short.

So it's fair to ask, what is his standard, and what is its nature?  And no fair leaning on Christian ideals here -- he has to justify his moral argument based on his own assumptions, not mine.

Since Atwill doesn't believe in God, I presume he's a materialist, in which case he rejects the notion of any absolute standard for the Good. So then, without an absolute standard, what is left?

Opinion. That's all, folks. Atwill's may be an erudite opinion. It may be lucid and compelling. But it is just an opinion. In Atwill's opinion, and in the opinion of other atheists, Christianity falls short on the moral code-o-meter.

Can opinions themselves hold moral authority?

If so, then what makes Atwill's opinion better than the opinion of believers? Is it well-expressed? Well, there also happen to be articulate Christians. So that would probably not make the decisive difference.

Is Atwill himself some sort of moral authority to whom we should pay heed? My guess is, he's no better or worse than the vast number of us, including Christians. He's a mere human like us. Unless he assumes the authority of a prophet or an apostle -- and that isn't possible in his world view -- it's safe to assume he's personally no more authoritative than the rest of us.

What would it require to judge Atwill's opinion better than a Christian's? There would need to be some higher standard by which to judge both, wouldn't there? What would that higher standard be?

Reason? That seems to be a popular retort.  But if Reason is the arbiter, then St. Thomas Aquinas' opinion might be more important than Atwill's, if we can show Aquinas' powers of reasoning are superior. Aquinas, after all, is considered one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. But, personally, I doubt that Reason holds all that much moral authority. Not to go full Godwin, but the Nazis were far better at reasoning than most other folks on this planet. They even took copious notes as they tortured Jews, so they would gain medical insights. E.g., they would throw a Jew naked into a snow bank, turn on the stop watch, and figure out how long they could keep him there before they couldn't resuscitate him. The head Nazis were hung at Nuremberg but they left us their data. It's perfectly good data. Lives have been saved using it. So what's wrong with collecting such data? Reason says the Jews were going to die anyway, might as well learn something we didn't already know, right?

Only it's repulsive as Hell, that's all, and Reason happens to be oblivious to that fact. Let's just stipulate it's ghoulish to decide one person's life is worth the torturing and killing of another person to whose life we impart no respect.  Reason is no help at all to us here because it can serve evil as well as good. That's why, whenever Reason is used to justify something evil, we call it 'rationalizing'.  So scratch that.

So then, what is that higher standard, if not Reason?  The majority?  Are we all majoritarians now?   Well, the majority in 1700 A.D. thought slavery was okay. A majority of American Indians thought human sacrifice was okay. We have a constitution with a bill of rights precisely because the Founding Fathers were perfectly aware that majorities can be oppressive and they believed even minorities deserve rights.  So scratch that too.

Maybe Atwill's opinion is better because, in his own view, he believes his opinions are somehow special. Problem is, he shares that conceit with practically everyone else on the planet, so that doesn't tell us anything either.

Is it starting to appear that Atwill's opinion isn't based on any higher standard at all?

In fact, the idea of a higher standard itself is a silly notion in materialist philosophy.  Don't believe in what you can't observe or measure -- that's their creed, after all.  Since we can't prove a higher standard exists, then materialists say it doesn't exist.

We conclude that Atwill's opinion is no better than anyone else's, based on Atwill's own assumptions about there being no God.

So, if his opinion is no better than anyone else's, then what is the point of him arguing it?  By his own assumptions about God, trying to convince us of his opinion's worth is pointless.

Whereas, in my opinion, there is something higher than my opinion -- namely, God's will.  I do right, or I do wrong, based on His opinion.  Provided God exists, that makes me right for embracing His will as the ultimate moral authority; whereas, provided He doesn't exist, it's pointless for Atwill to argue. So I win by both world views.

I even win by postmodernist standards. Postmodernists shrug and say, "What is truth? What is good?" and conclude that if something gives your life meaning, embrace it even at the expense of rationality. I can say I'm right, and they can't say I'm wrong. I win again.


Anonymous said...

The Romans invented Jesus??

Okay, we know that ancient Rome really didn’t care what religion residents practiced as long as they also worshiped Roman gods. That is, worship any god you like, just add Roman gods to your list. And that wasn’t to be inferred as a polite request.

So this begs the question raised by Mr. Atwill’s premise. Why would Rome create a mythical messiah who absolutely forbade worshipping any other gods, especially men posing as gods, such as emperors? Does that sound like a plausible direction of Caesar? Not in your wildest hallucinations.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

Lee said...

What can I say? Some people will believe anything rather than the truth.