Kyle Butt, a contributor at Apologetics Press an online database of conservative Christian apologetic material, makes a number of pejorative statements that relate to atheism and ethics outside of a theistic framework. His article "Beware of Dawkins' 'Common Sense' starts out with the statement that Richard Dawkins' "atheistic assumptions" make it "impossible to arrive at a legitimate set of ethical judgments." Butt makes the faulty assumption that Dawkins is some type of a figure head for all atheists as he faults atheism in general for the views of Dawkins. This brief review of Butt's article will unveil the unjust criticisms that he makes of Dawkins and atheistic morality while emphasizing the humanity of pseudo-theistic ethics.
In The God Delusion Dawkins makes the point that indoctrinating a child in a religion is a form of mental child abuse. Dawkins then asserts that it is against "common sense" to teach a child to be religious. Regardless of what one's opinion is of Dawkins' position about childhood religious indoctrination, Dawkins unmistakably draws upon "common sense" as a source of morality. To Dawkins, common sense is a sufficient, though fallible guide to making appropriate moral decisions. Dawkins does not posit that common sense is perfect or incapable of misleading. He, as Butts points out, is willing to concede that common sense will sometimes lead us to think or observe the phenomenal in ways that are misleading due to evolved limitations.
Butts asks, "Should we trust our 'common sense' when making moral decisions?" The implied answer is, "No." Butts asserts that it is necessary to look to the "Truth revealed by the Creator" to establish morality. Butts then faults non-absolute moralities, like those of most atheists, for being non-absolute and hence illogical. What Butts fails to acknowledge is that there is no explicit and consistent ethical "Truth" in the form of a comprehensive and relevant ethical workbook for mankind. We have the Pentateuch, a smattering conglomerate of irrelevant laws and backward ethical assumptions. We have the Gospels which build upon and universalize the Jewish Scriptures but which are likewise limited in scope. How does possessing an infallible source of ethics serve one if that source is ethically oblique and often contrary to modern values? How does Butts, for example, establish women suffrage, civil rights, freedom of religion, and freedom of sexual choice from the Bible? These are ethical matters that he accepts, to some degree, but that are often contrary to biblical patterns of relevance to the same.
Infallible authority always borders on abuse. If one is not capable of being critical of a source, because it is deemed infallible, it is impossible to ameliorate an ethical conclusion that is otherwise based on the infallible source. What if, for example, the findings of science and medical research finally catch up with the pastoral world, convincing it that homosexuality is largely genetic and/or predetermined before birth? Will the fundamentalist pastor embrace the ethical implications of this, or will she continue to assert her majority perspective to the un-Constitutional deprivation of others from legal rights? Will she jettison the Bible as she should in the daylight of reason and moral burden? No, she will likely continue to hide herself from the devil's details in the guise of the "Creator's Truth" revealed by an ancient tribal numen and repeated by the homophobic Paul. But, that is another issue.
Butt's position on the absolute "Truth" would be bettered if he had a perspicuous written revelation. The fact is the Bible is so shrouded in interpretive red tape that it is foolish to assert that one actually relies on it for morals. Morals are relative, and it's high time that the Christian believer realizes and acknowledges that her ethics are not in line with the Bible—they exist regardless of the Bible's teaching. She is just as much reliant on "common sense" in moral judgment as the atheist. But, the atheist is in a better position because she is willing to accept that her standards are fallible and open to consideration. Amen.