Topic: Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #67
General Comments
Want to give you a heads up on some great resources that are available to you for a very low cost. Dave Armstrong is a Catholic apologist who has written something on just about everything pertaining to the Catholic Faith. If you ever want to go really in-depth on some topic, check out the articles on Dave's website: www.biblicalcatholic.com.

Dave has also written several books, and he has now made a bunch of them available via download. He currently has 11 of his books available for download for only $15. Some of the titles include:

Biblical Evidence for Catholicism

More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism

Development of Catholic Doctrine

Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison

Bible Conversations: Catholic-Protestant Dialogues.

And several others. Again, 11 of Dave's books for only $15. Go to www.biblicalcatholic.com if you want to order them. You won't be disappointed!

Introduction
Well, I seem to be attracting a "better" kind of detractor these days. First, I'm currently "mixing it up" over my political and moral views via email with an esteemed Professor of Law at the University of Alabama who is a nationally-known member of the "Religious Left" and who is well known for her articles that "prove," from the Bible, that tax reform is one of the, if not the, most important moral issues of our day. A more important moral issue than say, abortion.

Plus, I now have a neurologist, Dr. Steven Novella, who is a professor at Yale University's School of Medicine and founder of the New England Skeptical Society, who has taken issue with a couple of my past newsletters and wrote a scathing response to them. So, I thought I would print his opinions of the newsletters - Issues #13 and #15 (with the 2-part article entitled: "Was Hitler Right?" and the subtitle: "Why Atheists Have No Rights") - and then post my response to his comments.

I'll reproduce his comments below in their entirety (if you want to read the original, you can find it at: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/sgublog/?p=17), then I'll reproduce his comments again, but this time with my comments interspersed amongst his. What appears below is just the first part of his comments, I'll tackle the 2nd part in next week's newsletter.

First, a brief description of Dr. Novella and his organization:

Dr. Steven Novella is an academic neurologist on full-time faculty at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the co-founder and President of the New England Skeptical Society.

The New England Skeptical Society is an organization dedicated to the promotion of science and reason, the investigation of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, especially within New England, improved standards of education for science and critical thinking skills.

Again, if you want to read the entire article Dr. Novella is responding to, you can find it in Issues #13 and #15 on the "Newsletter" page of our website: www.biblechristiansociety.com.

Challenge/Response/Strategy
Why Atheists Have No Rights

That is the title of a ridiculous article by John Martignoni, preaching to the faithful about why atheists are evil, directly comparing them to (of course) Hitler. Martignoni writes:

“Well, I maintain, and I think most of you will agree with me, that we have value simply because we are alive…that human life has inherent value. In other words, simply because it is human life, it has value. But, what is my basis for saying that? It is this: we have value as human beings because God gives us value…He gives us value by His love for us.

We don’t have value because we are productive. We don’t have value because we are useful. We don’t have value because someone else thinks we have value. We don’t have value because we have an IQ of 100 or higher. We don’t have value because another human being loves us. We don’t have value because we have some arbitrary level of “quality of life.” We have value, because God loves us. Any other line of reasoning leaves an opening for someone, somewhere, at some point in time, to declare somebody else as having no value…which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Europe 70 years ago.”

My logical fallacy meter just broke. The two big ones Martignoni makes throughout is a straw man argument and an argument from final consequences. The latter is the claim that if you do not believe in God and that God gives life value, then nothing lies between you and a genocidal rampage. This is wrong, but even if it were true it would not be an argument for the existence of God.

But worse, the entire premise of the article is a childish straw man, one that either ignores or is ignorant of a vast tradition of humanist philosophy and secular law. We do not need to simply accept on faith that human life has value, we can arrive at that conclusion by careful and systematic thought. The humanist argument for the value of human life is not based upon utility or IQ, but rather on ethical first principles that derive from common human experience and basic logic.

We all share the common experience of wanting to be alive, which logically translates into the desire not to be killed. It also makes sense that we cannot expect from others that which we are unwilling to give (a principle called reciprocity, which seems to be something humans innately understand). Therefore it is in everyone’s self interest to have a civilization with rules and for those rules to protect the individual’s right not to be killed. In other words, as humans it is in all our self interest to value human life. If you devalue human life in one context, that threatens the value of your own life. People also have a basic empathy and desire for altruism - believe it or not, most people actually care about other people and are saddened and upset by crimes against humanity. There is more, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Martignoni rejects all such reasoning a priori as “subjective opinion.” He writes:

“If you ever want to drive home the point of all of this with someone who claims to be an atheist, after asking them if Hitler was right and going through all of what we talked about above regarding the Declaration, ask them to give you a reason for why it would be wrong for you to kill them. Just look them straight in the eye and say, “Can you give me an objective moral reason for why it would be wrong for me to shoot you where you stand?” You might startle them. But, no matter what they say, simply reply, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion. I don’t believe that. Give me an objective moral reason, not simply your opinion.’”

Martignoni is telling his readers not to think about what someone else might tell them on this issue, just blindly repeat “that’s just your opinion.” (This is the intellectual equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “Na na na na na, I can’t hear you.”) The humanist/philosophical answer is not just opinion - it is the result of sound reasoning. Martignoni apparently does not know the difference.

It is no surprise, therefore, that his solution is to surrender all reasoning to blind faith. While he falsely accuses, based upon a fallacious straw man argument, that the “atheist” defense of life is thin, his faith-based defense is downright vaporous. First, he assumes that God-based value is objective, but it isn’t. It is based upon authority, and not the authority of God as Martignoni and other apologists would argue, but on the authority of some person who is self-appointed to interpret the will of God. Martignoni’s approach leads inexorably to the setting aside of logic, reason, even basic common sense and submitting oneself blindly to the authority of a priesthood.

And, while Martignoni would (falsely I might add) blame the atrocities of Hitler on atheism, the track record of faith and the value of human life is not a good one. History is replete with examples of those who used their religious faith to conclude that the life of others does not have value.

The true human frailty that leads to such atrocities is our tribalism. We are hardwired to think of the world in terms of us vs them. The struggle of civilization is to transcend our tribalism, in essence to view all of humanity as part of our tribe. Sectarian religions are decidedly counterproductive in this endeavor. The real threat to the value of human life is the setting aside of reason, not the setting aside of faith.

Martignoni goes on to argue that atheists should have no legal rights, a claim I will address in next Sunday’s entry.

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Dr. Novella:

Why Atheists Have No Rights

That is the title of a ridiculous article by John Martignoni, preaching to the faithful about why atheists are evil, directly comparing them to (of course) Hitler. Martignoni writes:

“Well, I maintain, and I think most of you will agree with me, that we have value simply because we are alive…that human life has inherent value. In other words, simply because it is human life, it has value. But, what is my basis for saying that? It is this: we have value as human beings because God gives us value…He gives us value by His love for us.

We don’t have value because we are productive. We don’t have value because we are useful. We don’t have value because someone else thinks we have value. We don’t have value because we have an IQ of 100 or higher. We don’t have value because another human being loves us. We don’t have value because we have some arbitrary level of “quality of life.” We have value, because God loves us. Any other line of reasoning leaves an opening for someone, somewhere, at some point in time, to declare somebody else as having no value…which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Europe 70 years ago.”

My logical fallacy meter just broke. The two big ones Martignoni makes throughout is a straw man argument and an argument from final consequences. The latter is the claim that if you do not believe in God and that God gives life value, then nothing lies between you and a genocidal rampage. This is wrong, but even if it were true it would not be an argument for the existence of God.

John Martignoni:

One of the stated goals of the New England Skeptical Society (NESS) founded by Dr. Novella is improved standards of education for critical thinking skills. Well, if the critical thinking skills of the Founder and President are any indication of the organization’s record in this area, then I think we can say it has failed miserably in realizing its goal.

My article is not an argument for the existence of God, as Dr. Novella seems to think. The article is all about first, how it is we, as human beings, have value; second, how it is we, as human beings, have rights. He completely misses the main arguments of the article and builds a number of strawmen which he then confidently knocks down. He starts down the wrong path by ignoring the main title of my article, which is, “Was Hitler Right?” and then goes on to distort and misrepresent almost everything (if not indeed everything) that I said in the article.

Right off the bat he claims that my article says “atheists are evil” and that I compare them to Hitler. And he quotes two paragraphs from the article, apparently for the purpose of backing up his claims. The problem is, though, there is nothing in either of those two paragraphs which says anything like what he is claiming I said. In fact, if you read the entire article, you will not find a single reference to atheists as being evil or being compared to Hitler. I think the “critical thinking skills” that the New England Skeptical Society needs to improve are those of its founder. Either that, or Dr. Novella is displaying an incredible amount of intellectual dishonesty.

The only thing that he could possibly be referring to in either of the two paragraphs he quotes is the last sentence where I say, “Any other line of reasoning leaves an opening for someone, somewhere, at some point in time, to declare somebody else as having no value…which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Europe 70 years ago.” All I’m saying is that without an objective standard of value for human beings (the fact that God loving us gives us value - the objective part being that the value is there regardless of what anyone might think or the passage of laws to the contrary), we are left with only subjective valuations for human beings which opens the door to someone declaring that someone else has no value...which is exactly what happened to the Jews. To read these two paragraphs and come away with the interpretation that I say atheists are evil and that I compare them to Hitler is to be totally bereft of “critical thinking skills” or is the result of being influenced by an agenda that wants nothing to do with honest dialogue.

I challenge Dr. Novella to find a single instance in the entire article where I say atheists are evil or where I even imply that they are evil. And I further challenge him to find a single instance of my comparing atheists to Hitler. The point of the article was to simply explore the question: Was Hitler right? and, if not, why not? I compared no one to Hitler nor did I label anyone as being evil.

Dr. Novella goes on to claim that I commit two logical fallacies, one of which is the “argument from final consequences” fallacy. He stated that I claimed, “...that if you do not believe in God and that God gives life value, then nothing lies between you and a genocidal rampage.” Again, I made no such claim. I claimed that if the value of human life is based on subjective opinion, then the door is open to someone declaring any one of us or all of us as having no value - which, again, is exactly what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany and which is exactly what is happening to the unborn today. I never claimed that nonbelief in God must inevitably lead to genocidal rampage. I merely claimed that a subjective valuation of human life opens the door to the devaluation of any human life at any point in time. He said nothing to dispute that claim. In fact, his general line of argumentation, such that it was, could be said to support that claim.

He claims that I also commit the logical fallacy of building a “straw man argument,” yet he is the one who builds strawmen and tears them down throughout his response to me. He continually claims I said things that I never said, and then he argues against the things that I never said, instead of arguing against what I actually said.

Dr. Novella

But worse, the entire premise of the article is a childish straw man, one that either ignores or is ignorant of a vast tradition of humanist philosophy and secular law. We do not need to simply accept on faith that human life has value, we can arrive at that conclusion by careful and systematic thought. The humanist argument for the value of human life is not based upon utility or IQ, but rather on ethical first principles that derive from common human experience and basic logic.

We all share the common experience of wanting to be alive, which logically translates into the desire not to be killed. It also makes sense that we cannot expect from others that which we are unwilling to give (a principle called reciprocity, which seems to be something humans innately understand). Therefore it is in everyone’s self interest to have a civilization with rules and for those rules to protect the individual’s right not to be killed. In other words, as humans it is in all our self interest to value human life. If you devalue human life in one context, that threatens the value of your own life. People also have a basic empathy and desire for altruism - believe it or not, most people actually care about other people and are saddened and upset by crimes against humanity. There is more, but that’s it in a nutshell.

John Martignoni:

With all due respect to Dr. Novella, but these two paragraphs made me want to laugh. In the first one he states that I ignore a “vast tradition of humanist philosophy and secular law” and then goes on to say that, “We can arrive at that conclusion [that human life has value] by careful and systematic thought.” But, when you look at the next paragraph, what do we find is the end result of this “vast tradition of humanist philosophy” and of the “careful and systematic thought” of humanists? Basically it’s this: “I want to save my ass [please excuse the French] so I’m going to agree not to kill you if you agree not to kill me.” Gee, that’s a completely objective standard, don’t you think? How could I have ever ignored a vast tradition of humanist thought that gives us such a noble and selfless philosophy as that? Shame on me.

Furthermore, Dr. Novella makes my argument for me. Placing value on another person’s life in the hope that they will reciprocate and thus place value on your life, is an inherently subjective means of valuing human life. I will value you, if and only if you value me. It is not a case of recognizing a human being’s inherent value and thus not killing them. It is simply: I’ll value you and won’t try to kill you, if you value me and don’t try to kill me. A social contract. Where is the objective standard in that? We have value insofar as we participate in this social contract which will hopefully save our hide from extinction.

He also mentions “secular law,” but fails to point out that our secular law traditions are based, not on secular humanist values, but on Judeo-Christian values and mores. Has he ever heard of the Ten Commandments? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness (purgery, liable, slander). Thou shalt not commit adultery (which used to be illegal). Thou shalt keep holy the Lord’s Day (ever heard of blue laws?). The Ten Commandments were foundational in the development of the legal system of the Western world, and many of the other principles of justice found in the Pentateuch are incorporated into our laws. Also, is he not aware that the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of our country, just happens to mention a Creator Who endows us with our unalienable rights?

He makes several statements in these two paragraphs that are, with all due respect to Dr. Novella, merely his subjective opinion - they are not based on facts or on history or on lived human experience. One such statement: “Therefore it is in everyone’s self interest to have a civilization with rules and for those rules to protect the individual’s right not to be killed.” Is it? Says who? That is an opinion, not a fact born out by history and human experience.

Was it in Hitler’s self interest to value the Jews lives, or was it in his self interest to devalue the Jews lives? One of the reasons Hitler rose to power was his scapegoating of the Jews for all of the woes of Germany in the 20's and early 30's. In other words, it was indeed in his self interest to devalue their lives and eventually kill six million of them. It was in Stalin’s self interest to allow 10-20 million Ukrainians to starve to death in the 1920's. The Ukrainians were resisting Stalin’s plan of agriculture collectives, so it was in his self interest to let millions of them starve so that he could implement his plans and consolidate his power. It was in Mao Tse Tung’s self interest to have 30-40 million of his countrymen killed in order to consolidate his power. It was in Pol Pot’s self interest to slaughter 2 million or so of his countrymen to consolidate his power. In today’s world, it is in Al Qaeda’s self interest to kill and maim and to cause as much anarchy as possible within Iraq and elsewhere. Killing serves their self interest.

In other words, the reasoning developed by Dr. Novella’s vast tradition of humanist philosophy has a huge flaw in it. There are many instances throughout history, throughout human experience, and even in today’s society, where devaluing someone else’s life is indeed in a person’s self interest. One other quick example: abortion. It is in the self interest of the women wanting abortions, and the people making money from the abortions, to devalue the life of the unborn human being.

Speaking of abortion, I would be willing to bet that Dr. Novella, as an atheist, has no problem with abortion. Yet, he states: “As humans it is in all our self interest to value human life.” First, notice that his valuation of human life is based on self-interest, specifically, self-preservation - is that objective? Second, is it part of the vast tradition of humanist philosophy to value the lives of all children in the womb and to therefore be opposed to abortion? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Dr. Novella:

Martignoni rejects all such reasoning a priori as “subjective opinion.” He writes:

"If you ever want to drive home the point of all of this with someone who claims to be an atheist, after asking them if Hitler was right and going through all of what we talked about above regarding the Declaration, ask them to give you a reason for why it would be wrong for you to kill them. Just look them straight in the eye and say, “Can you give me an objective moral reason for why it would be wrong for me to shoot you where you stand?” You might startle them. But, no matter what they say, simply reply, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion. I don’t believe that. Give me an objective moral reason, not simply your opinion.’”

Martignoni is telling his readers not to think about what someone else might tell them on this issue, just blindly repeat “that’s just your opinion.” (This is the intellectual equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “Na na na na na, I can’t hear you.”) The humanist/philosophical answer is not just opinion - it is the result of sound reasoning. Martignoni apparently does not know the difference.

John Martignoni:

"The humanist/philosophical answer is not just opinion - it is the result of sound reasoning." Really? Whose sound reasoning? What if I disagree with that "sound reasoning?" What if I don't think it is "sound reasoning." Here Dr. Novella again makes my case for me. He offers his opinion. Does he offer any kind of proof? No. Just an opinion. If the reasoning that he has displayed in his comments herein is a sample of the "sound reasoning" he is speaking of, then I have every reason to reject it as being sound.

The valuation of human life that his "sound reasoning" has come up with is based on the principle of reciprocity and the principle of self-preservation. In other words, it is based on something other than the principle that human life has inherent value. Please tell me how valuing someone’s life based on a “don’t shoot me and I won’t shoot you” philosophy is objective? Any valuation of another’s life that is based on the self-preservation of your life is entirely subjective. You’re saying that you will value their life if they value yours. If they don't value yours, then you are under no obligation to value theirs.

Plus, where does the "sound reasoning" produced by the vast tradition of humanist philosophy regarding the valuation of life lead us in regard to the value of human life vs., let's say, the value of worm life? Does a worm not have a right to life that is equal to a human being’s? If not, why not? Worms, as far as I know, don’t kill each other, so it is entirely possible that they have all concluded a social contract not to kill each other, and therefore their right to life should be respected as being equal to ours. Besides, according to Darwin, there is no inherent value anywhere on the spectrum of life...we’re all just chemical and biological accidents. How can anyone who believes life is simply a cosmic accident, then turn around and say life has inherent value? Do accidents have inherent value?

And, this is not the “intellectual equivalent sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying ‘Na na na na na, I can’t hear you.’” Dr. Novella is either ignoring, or is ignorant of, a vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy that spans thousands of years and upon which I am basing my claim. I have listened to the thoughts on the value of human life generated by the vast tradition of humanist philosophy and have, through sound reasoning and logic, realized that they boil down to: 1) Well, we just do; 2) In order to save my tail I have to value the other’s guy tail; 3) We all have the will to live, therefore, that gives us value. And that’s pretty much it, as evidenced by Dr. Novella’s own comments. So, based on sound reasoning, and on thousands of years of the vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy, I can confidently say that if God does not exist, any reason you give me for why I shouldn't shoot you, is not an objective moral standard...it is indeed merely your opinion (regardless of whatever reasoning your opinion may be based on)...which I am free to reject if I so choose.

Dr. Novella:

It is no surprise, therefore, that his solution is to surrender all reasoning to blind faith. While he falsely accuses, based upon a fallacious straw man argument, that the “atheist” defense of life is thin, his faith-based defense is downright vaporous. First, he assumes that God-based value is objective, but it isn’t. It is based upon authority, and not the authority of God as Martignoni and other apologists would argue, but on the authority of some person who is self-appointed to interpret the will of God. Martignoni’s approach leads inexorably to the setting aside of logic, reason, even basic common sense and submitting oneself blindly to the authority of a priesthood.

John Martignoni:

Whoops! I think Dr. Novella is letting a little of his bias and bigotry show! This is a sample of what passes as "sound reasoning" in the vast tradition of humanist philosophy? If Dr. Novella thinks my faith is a "blind faith" that "leads inexorably to the setting aside of logic, reason, even basic common sense," then I can say with certainty he has never read Augustine or Aquinas or Justin Martyr or Fulton Sheen or Cardinal Newman or pretty much any other Catholic writer. Is his ignorance, bias, and bigotry, all of which are clearly on display here, the product of the vast tradition of humanist thought of which he speaks?

The fact of the matter is, if there is a God, and we were created by that God, and that God loves us and gives us certain "unalienable rights," and thereby gives us value because of His love for us - that is indeed an objective valuation of human life. In that instance, human life has value that does not depend on another human being. It has inherent value. It does not have value because it is wanted. It does not have value as part of some social contract based on each individual's desire for self-preservation. It has value because it is, period.

That is objective. It is not based on any religious authority. It is not based on the authority of the priesthood. It is based on an authority completely outside of the human race. That is an objective standard.

Now, Dr. Novella obviously does not believe in God, but, for the sake of argument, if I'm right, and there is a God and He created us and loves us as His children, and gave us our human rights (as the Declararation of Independence declares), then the valuation for human life that I subscribe to is indeed objective. In that scenario, value is inherent in each human life. Dr. Novella can argue against there being a God, but, he cannot argue that the scenario I outline, if there is a God, does not result in an objective value for human life. If he does, then, again, I think he needs to work on those "critical thinking skills" his Skeptical Society was founded to promote (you know, I'm kind of skeptical of their goals).

Dr. Novella:

And, while Martignoni would (falsely I might add) blame the atrocities of Hitler on atheism, the track record of faith and the value of human life is not a good one. History is replete with examples of those who used their religious faith to conclude that the life of others does not have value.

John Martignoni:

Dr. Novella accuses me (falsely I might add) of blaming the atrocities of Hitler on atheism. Again, I challenge him to quote the section of the article where I did what he claims. If he can’t find it, I challenge him to apologize and to retract his statement.

Have there been many who have used and abused religion as an excuse to kill others? Absolutely. Does that have anything to do with my arguments? Absolutely not.

Dr. Novella:

The true human frailty that leads to such atrocities is our tribalism. We are hardwired to think of the world in terms of us vs them. The struggle of civilization is to transcend our tribalism, in essence to view all of humanity as part of our tribe. Sectarian religions are decidedly counterproductive in this endeavor. The real threat to the value of human life is the setting aside of reason, not the setting aside of faith.

Martignoni goes on to argue that atheists should have no legal rights, a claim I will address in next Sunday’s entry.

John Martignoni:

“We are hardwired to think of the world in terms of us vs. them.” In other words, our “tribalism” is apparently part of our genetic makeup, according to Dr. Novella. Well, if our tribalism is part of our genetic makeup, then isn’t it there, according to Darwinian theory, because it is necessary for the survival of the species? And, if it is necessary for the survival of the species, then isn’t that a good thing - Darwinally-speaking?

Dr. Novella’s statement that “sectarian religions are decidedly counterproductive” in the endeavor to “transcend our tribalism,” is patently absurd on the face of it and displays either gross ignorance or stupendous idiocy. There are more than one billion Catholics on the face of this earth. They are from every race, every nation, every color, every tongue, every tribe. Our Catholic Faith helps us to transcend our differences. It has helped me to see Africans, Asians, South Americans, Europeans, Australians, and North Americans as all part of my “tribe.” That is counterproductive to overcoming tribalism?

If he reads the history of Islam, it served to unite the many and varied Arab tribes and today includes people of most, if not all, races, nations, colors, tongues, and tribes. Now, I personally may disagree with the tenets of Islam, but I cannot deny that it unites its adherents across tribal, national, and cultural barriers. Religion unites billions of people across borders, across races, across languages, across tribes, in a way that nothing else does. To say otherwise is to either ignore the facts or, again, to be bereft of critical thinking skills.

Do religious differences still result in problems? Absolutely. But, if we didn’t have our religions uniting us to the degree that they do, how much worse off would we be?

Dr. Novella, because of his prejudices, draws a false dichotomy between faith and reason...even though faith underlies much of what he believes. I reject that false dichotomy. I believe we need both faith and reason. And, finally, I do not condemn those without faith, in the same manner that Dr. Novella condemns those with faith.

In Conclusion
Hope you've enjoyed it. And I hope all of you have a great weekend!
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