Letters on "Letter to a Popular Atheist"

Steve Alderman's article "Letter to a Popular Atheist" has inspired a  a number of interesting responses. Here are some:

Scott Wallace writes:

I truly enjoy American Thinker. I support the conservative cause. I myself am a deist of the old Unitarian sense, before that church went into la-la land.

(Here comes the but..)

But...if twenty years from now the worm turns and those of religious faith become an actual demographic minority, and a secular majority attempts to make expressions of faith a priori proof of a questionable character on the adherents part, I will of course fight such things. But a large part of me is going to be thinking it is nothing but well-deserved just desserts, in part because of comments such as Mr. Alderman's.

The moral force of this world--any goodness it has achieved, especially in the West--has been in a large part due to the momentum of the Christian part of the Greco-Roman Judea-Christian Western tradition. But times have changed, that momentum is in many ways spent, and there are now a growing number of people who just will not accept the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, or perhaps any faith.

Now let us ignore, for a moment, people such as Harris and Dawkins. My simple question to you, Mr. Alderman, is this: are you going to a priori say there is no way those people of no faith can have ethical worldviews without an active anchor in a religion (not a derived anchor, but an active one)? Up or down, yes or no?

If yes, then we may dismiss you out of hand. Your view will not win out in today's world. And if no, then upon what bastion of authority do you stand that gives you the right to demand that those people "justify" their ethical reasoning to you, assuming they have not in some ways violated societies norms? None that I can see.

Luther nailed his 99 Theses to a door in 1519. For nearly a hundred and fifty years the Apostolic Church, via the Counter-Reformation, tried to bring the strays back into the flock, finally giving up in 1648 and learning to co-exist, however uneasily, with the other side. It has now been about one hundred and fifty years since Darwin nailed his own thesis to a different type of door. The insuing loss of momentum in the Christian faith has had some good (and a lot of bad) effects upon the Western world.

But the simple fact of the matter is that those people who don't believe are not coming back to the fold, despite how much others may wish and need for them to do so. Every attempt at a modern day Counter-Reformation just causes guys like Harris and Dawkings to make their attacks all the more vicious--because it's not like they're going to be accepted anyway, not truly accepted as people of upright moral character, now is it? Not unless they entirely give up their beliefs and profess a faith which they do not feel, that is.

It is time for the Peace of Westphalia. Those of faith are simply going to have to accept that agnosticism/atheism is not going away, and that adherents thereof are not automatically compass-less in the moral sense, despite the lack of reference to a divine sovereignity. Those of no faith need to stop attacking those with it as showing signs of mental illness.

What we all, and Mr. Alderman especially, needs to do is instead of fighting a war that can no longer be won, is work with people such as Harris--if perhaps not the man himself--to start drawing up strong modern moral codes rooted in the Western tradition that are good for society and allow for mutual coexistence. A.) Because I think its the right thing. But B) because I think it is the best you are going to get. People like Harris are here to stay, and the world has changed, and it is not going back to the way it was.
Pete Rosendorf of Atlanta writes:

I have a few comments to make concerning the opinion piece you printed in your March 25th issue.

It isn't clear to me just who is preventing Dr. Harris from exercising his First Amendment rights, but obviously he feels threatened by the forces of Medieval Darkness.

To not acknowledge the commonly held prejudice against atheists is ignoring the facts. A recently conducted Gallup survey indicating that 48% of Americans would be unwilling to support an atheist for president. No other group faired as poorly.

How does empiricism support the concept of compassion?  From an evolutionary point of view, what is the advantage of helping the poor, feeding the hungry or defending the weak? 

Compassion and empathy have also been seen in studies of other primates. Altruism is not unheard of in groups of chimpanzees and great apes. There seems to be evidence that this type of behavior holds evolutionary benefits to social animals. These types of cooperation seem to be hardwired rather than a product of a belief in a deity.

They borrow ethics from God and then claim that these ethics exist without a transcendent law-giving God to uphold them.  What the atheists cannot explain is how they justify their ethical standards. 

What you are missing is how do people choose which god to obtain their ethics from? There are many differing interpretations of deity posed by the world's religions. To assume that the Judeo-Christian version is the one correct one seems narrow at best. It seems that you are implying that if an atheist doesn't believe in your god they have no basis to justify their ethical standards. I personally know many atheists who lead ethical, moral lives without the threat of eternal damnation hanging over their heads.

What does it mean to say that compassion is deeper than religion?  Perhaps we should adopt the behavioral model and realize that in a world without God, compassion does not really mean anything, just like freedom and dignity.  Maybe compassion is behavioral conditioning and has evolutionary value, but if so, we can hardly call this deep.  It is worse than shallow, because it is something we pretend to know which we do not really know.  We only respond to stimuli.

I really don't know where to start to address the above statement. At most it is self-serving and narrow. "...compassion does not really mean anything" without God? What does that even mean? Whether or not you feel that other viewpoints are "deep" contributes little to understanding and seems simply an arrogant statement meant to somehow bolster your own viewpoint. Where is your argument that the only source of morality must come from your deity. You expect your readers to believe that all non-believers have no basis for their values. Ridiculous.
John Kistler, of the website The Good Atheist writes:
Dear Mr. Alderman,

I just read your article in American thinker. I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed. The analysis was simplistic in the extreme and you blatantly assume that there can be no objective moral standard without God or at least a belief therein. You do this without any kind of substantiation. Your statement: "What the atheists cannot explain is how they justify their ethical standards."  shows that you have not even attempted to access the literature addressing the origins of ethics and morality. May I respectfully suggest that you avail yourself to this vast area of intellectual inquiry.

David Ryerson of Brookhaven, Mississippi writes:
As a fairly recent reader of your site, I have found your articles to be insightful and enlightening, a welcome break from the typical regurgitation of party rhetoric that permeates the media. 

I found Steve Alderman's article "Letters to a Popular Atheist" to be a spot-on analysis of the latest pop atheist.  The responses were likewise interesting. 

Dr. Harris, as well as several of the readers who responded, echo the sentiment that ethics and morality are somehow a part of life without a higher authority.  Yet they are unable to answer a basic question;  who makes the rules?  Society?  Why do we, as a society, decide that stealing should be considered unacceptable behavior?  How about adultery? Or even speed limits, for that matter?  If we are only an evolving species without any interaction with a Higher Power, then why should any behavior be wrong or unacceptable?  Shouldn't evolution perfect the species on it's own without our guiding it's selective hand?  Wouldn't murder merely be a purification of the gene pool?  Wouldn't abortion and euthanasia be the weak dying off so the strong can survive?  Why have speed limits, since they exist to prevent crashes and death?  That would be the strong and smart killing the weak and stupid.  Evolution at it's finest. 

Atheists have the notion that they can set ethical standards based upon society norms.  Such a mindset is ridiculous;  even a cursory review of recent world history would show that societal norms change on a continual basis. Reader Scott Wallace says that such a view "...would not win out in today's world."  Of course not, because once the concept that a Higher Power exists, and by extension has the authority the make the rules, then we mere mortals are left to decide on our own based upon the norms in "today's world." and when those norms change, so do the rules.  Further more, Mr. Wallace states, "And if no, then upon what bastion of authority do you stand that gives you the right to demand that those people "justify" their ethical reasoning to you, assuming they have not in some ways violated societies norms? None that I can see."  Certainly not, because since you don't believe in a Supreme Being, anyone having any basis for criticism other than personal opinion is simply unacceptable.  Ironically, Mr. Wallace implies that religious people view their non-religious peers as being "compass-less" undercuts his basic argument; a compass only works when there is a magnetic force to move it, something that isn't affected by the immediate surroundings.  To view those who refuse to believe in any Higher Power as lacking a moral compass is correct;  they can only base their views on opinion, since there isn't any moral or ethical authority that outranks opinion. 

 The basic facts are these:  Atheists refuse to believe in a God, be it that of the Bible or any other religion, because it would force them to admit that there is something greater than themselves. 

Patrick Poole writes:
Just a correction on Scott Wallace's letter to the editor. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses and posted them on Oct. 31, 1517, not 99 Theses in 1519.

Wallace tells us that people of faith are just going to have to acknowledge that "there's no going back" with regards to agnostics/atheists in society and we must learn to accommodate them. But it is people of faith who have survived the 20th Century - the age of Atheism - with more than 100 million people murdered by secular extremists. It's time for people like Wallace, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to come to terms with the fact that people of faith are here to stay, and that "there's no going back" to the atheistic glory days of the ovens of Auschwitz, the Soviet gulags, the Chinese laogai, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. The self-proclaimed "secular" regimes are still some of the worst human rights abusers and persecutors of religion in the world today (North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, China, Cuba, et al.) The murderous legacy of Secular Humanism/Darwinism in the 20th Century is something that all peoples of faith are vowing to never return to. That is what Scott Wallace and those of his fellow believers are unwilling to grasp. Atheism is dead - get over it.

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