I'm a semi-regular reader of Common Sense Atheism, maintained by Christian-turned-atheist philosophy student, Luke. If you've never checked out Luke's site, I suggest you do. The commentary is usually thoughtful, and the integrity of the debate more than you typically find in the blogosphere. He's got what might be the most thorough collection of William Lane Craig material besides Craig's blog, and also links to over 400 debates between atheists and believers. Luke's blog is a genuine resource to (a)theism.
What originally turned me on to Luke's style was his sharp dismissal of much of what the New Atheists have to say. Luke ##— like myself — has a very low tolerance for sloppy atheist arguments. He's usually apt to call them when he sees them, too, which is all the better, as I've noticed atheists can be quite fond of towing party lines and refusing to rebuke their own, even when such is clearly called for. The only real negative I'd noticed up until last night was that I've seen Luke threaten to ban commenters (no, not me) for what I'd call nothing more than "disagreeable disagreement." While I don't know that Luke's ever banned anybody, I have absolutely zero tolerance for those who resort to censorship and moderation, and this opinion would not relent even of my own mother. Hence the offensiveness of even the suggestion.
Now, I know some of my regular readers are beyond tired of my arguments with other bloggers, and I understand. People generally don't like to be asked to take sides, and I'm not trying to burden anybody here, it's just that I felt it more appropriate to add my thoughts here as opposed to on Luke's blog. There exists a certain subset of atheists who like to conflate thoroughness with trolling and grandstanding, and by refusing to gas on at Luke's, I can effectively cut off such objections at the knees.
Last night I was perusing Luke's blog, and came across the following post, where Luke condones and links to this post on Alonzo Fyfe's Atheist Ethicist. Though I'd heard the name, this was the first time I'd ever visited Fyfe's blog. I'd heard good things about the man, both from Luke and others. I was quite shocked when I read his post, a few snippets of which follow:
Electing a young-earth creationist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk… a character trait that defines young-earth creationists is a character trait that people generally have reason to discourage through condemnation because that trait leads to death and maiming… The character trait I looked at is a willingness to blind oneself to evidence. The evidence for evolution and for the Earth being over 4 billion years old is so overwhelming that only a person with a morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence would not accept it. Assuming only that he has the mental faculties that would qualify him as a moral agent. THIS is the post in which I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.
Fyfe's out of his mind here. He's claimed nothing less than that those who disagree with the inferences he draws from facts are morally incompetent. I say bah to that, and would have expected Luke to object to Fyfe, but shockingly, Luke condoned Fyfe's screed.
After beginning by typing "Creationism is evil" in bold, Luke continues both in the OP and the thread:
Actually, is not the belief itself that is evil, but rather the set of desires that produces a belief in Creationism. For example, the desire to blind oneself to the evidence… the [creationist] must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck… I think Creationist values do contribute to death and maiming, for the reasons given quite clearly in Fyfe’s post.
Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it's not what creationists believe that's evil, but the "set of desires that produces a belief in creationism," specifically, "the desire to blind oneself to the evidence."
I'll be blunt here: Luke's arguments — and Fyfe's which Luke condones — are nothing short of the logical equivalent of a boxer's mouth, riddled with gaps, holes and inconsistencies. Though it may keep some creationists from questioning their belief, the desire to blind oneself to evidence doesn't produce belief in creationism. People who become creationists don't sit around saying to themselves, "I have the desire to blind myself to evidence; I think I'll believe God created the Earth in six days." Rather, some creationists acquire the belief first, and then become vulnerable to slothful induction and ignoring evidence.
Mind you, not every creationist ignores evidence. Some people simply draw different inferences from the same set of facts. Are we to call defense attorneys morally incompetent every time they appeal a prosecution? Now, I can hear what some of my atheist readers are surely thinking: "cl, it's impossible to be a YEC without ignoring evidence." I disagree. I've got an upcoming post that will address the YEC position, and typical objections to it, so I don't want to go into too much detail on the scientific support for Luke and Fyfe's demand that the entire world believe as they do.
Even an atheist reader named Ben chastised Luke for making an ad hominem argument, a charge Luke is strongly resisting. I agreed with Ben, and also charge both Luke and Fyfe with gross over-generalization and blanket statements. Luke responded,
..it is sometimes appropriate to make blanket statements about groups, for example if the group by definition has harmful characteristics. For example, we have no trouble saying that rapists make the world a worse place because they by definition thwart a great many strong desires… when we condemn rapists and Nazis we are not pretending to know everything about every racist and Nazi that has ever lived. We are condemning rapists and Nazis in their function as rapists and Nazis.
I've essentially addressed claims similar to Luke and Fyfe's in False Argument #11: Darwinism, Atheism & Evolution Lead To Genocide, Fascism, Holocaust. I recommend that post because of its relevancy. To be clear, I'm going to address three issues here: whether "creationist values" lead to death and maiming; whether Luke's blanket statements about creationists are justifiable on behalf of his appeals to the negative character attributes of rape-o's; and whether or not Luke made an ad hominem argument.
1) Do "creationist values" lead to death and maiming, as Luke and Fyfe contend? I say absolutely not, and I think they've stooped quite low for atheists with stated appeals to making the world a better place. After all, what do atheists say when Christians cast doubt on their policy-making competency solely on account of their (ir)religious position? For example, how did atheists react when U.S. Senator Monique Davis told Illinois atheist Rob Sherman he "had no right to be here," in reference to Sherman's testimony at the House State Government Administration Committee hearing — which Sherman as an American had every right to be at? Atheists strongly criticized Davis, and rightly so. So what makes Luke or Fyfe think their screeds are any less deserving of criticism?
Second, what exactly are these "creationist values" Luke and Fyfe allude to? I hate to break it to them, but not all creationists share the same values, and slothful induction is not an inherently creationist fallacy. People of all creeds and walks of life are prone to resisting evidence that challenges their worldviews; it's an innate human weakness I see atheists and others commit left and right. Luke and Fyfe are clearly being inconsistent by expressing the very same sentiments they'd object to if those sentiments were directed towards them.
Third, Luke claims that creationists "must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck." Folks, while I have no idea how many calendar years have passed since Earth has been extant, I myself am a creationist; I've never used a strawman or crocoduck argument to justify my beliefs. Who the hell is Luke to tell me what arguments I "must" make?
My belief that God created the Earth leads to death and maiming exactly as much as Luke and Fyfe's belief that God didn't create the Earth — and that's zilch. Zero. Nada. This is the same as Ben Stein blaming atheism or evolution for the Holocaust, QED.
2) Luke acknowledges the general banality of blanket statements, yet sought to justify his own against creationists via appeal to everyone's favorite social pariahs: rape-o's, Nazis, and racists. Luke claims it's okay to make blanket statement against these groups, because their beliefs ultimately entail behavior that "make the world a worse place because they by definition thwart a great many strong desires." Let's pare down a bit here and focus on rape-o's.
Does Luke's appeal to rape-o's justify his own blanket statements against creationists? I say hardly. First off, rape is an act whereas creationism is a belief. We can make blanket statements such as, "all rape-o's cause damage to society," because quite literally, they do — by definition — just as Luke claims. They cause direct damage to society by inflicting intense emotional and physical pain on their victims and their families — but more importantly — all rape-o's necessarily inflict this damage. The damage is an intrinsic feature of the act. IOW, it is impossible to be a rape-o without damaging society.
Now, it should be self-evident that it is possible to be a creationist without damaging society, and that's why I'm so disappointed in Luke and Fyfe. I say they both ought to retract the blanket statements, unless of course they don't care about isolating creationists who welcome evidence and shun strawmen.
3) Did Luke make an ad hominem argument? This is actually the point I care the least about, as it's no skin off my back whether he did or didn't. Honestly, I find Luke's strong resistance to the charges telling. Generally, an ad hominem is an argument against a person or group of people, as opposed to an argument against a position a person or group of people hold. Specifically, an ad hominem argument occurs when we reject premise X on behalf of something objectionable about person Y.
In Luke's defense, I've already stated that I'm aware Luke does not reject creationism on behalf of his dislike of creationists, so in that sense, his strategy deviates from textbook ad hominem form. Yet by no means is he off the hook, because the first requirements of an ad hominem have clearly been met: Luke belittles and insults his opponents, he just doesn't use those insults and belittling to justify his rejection of their claims. Rather, he uses the insults and belittling as support for his own claim, that creationists can't contribute to good policy-making. Textbook ad hominem or not, that's utter hogwash, my friends; it might as well be racism. What if Luke substituted "creationists" with "Jews" or "blacks?"
..when we condemn rapists and Nazis we are not pretending to know everything about every racist and Nazi that has ever lived. We are condemning rapists and Nazis in their function as rapists and Nazis.
Correct, because rape is an act and social damage is an intrinsic property of all rape acts. Luke continues,
..when I condemn Creationists, I am not saying that all Creationists are necessarily, on balance, bad people. I am saying that Creationists are, in their function as Creationists, evil.
Problem is, unlike rape, creationism is not an act, and there is no intrinsic social damage that necessarily entails any kind of creationism. We can say "rape is evil" on account of the pain and damage it necessarily entails. No such grounds exist to permit Luke's claim that creationism is evil, because creationism does not necessarily entail pain or damage. It can be ethically apprehended as much as Darwinism, atheism and evolution can be ethically apprehended. The only time creationists are "in their function as creationists" is when they are discussing their beliefs that God created the world. If those beliefs happen to compromise their policy-making, then the creationist has failed in their function as policy-maker, and we should attack thusly.
..there are many and strong reasons to condemn [creationist's] bad desires – or lack of good desires. Their bad desires and lack of good desires contribute to death and maiming. Are we getting any closer to agreement? Which part, now, do you disagree with?
He closes by merely repeating the assertion in question, and take a look at the pronouns he chooses, for example, "their" bad desires. What bad desires do I suffer from because I believe God created the world, Luke? What good desires do I lack? You can't even answer that without applying your opinion of all creationists to me, and that's fallacious as can be.
Even if I believed Earth was created yesterday, I could in a morally responsible manner address all the issues Luke and Fyfe claim I'm morally incompetent to address because I am a creationist (cf. Jayman's 3 on Fyfe's thread: "One need not believe in evolution to know how animals and humans interact with the environment presently").
In short, Luke and Fyfe are claiming I harbor bad desires and lack good ones on account of their perception of other people who share my belief. They're claiming I'm morally incompetent because I don't swallow their age-of-the-Earth claims without question.
Are we getting closer to agreement? Hell no! I'm getting closer to mildly offended!