Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Butt[er] Morality

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.


  1. I find it very amusing how you are able to group Christians together as seeing the Bible as some sort of ethical guidelines and equally amusing that you group all atheists together as being willing to accept that their standards are fallible and open to consideration. But hey if putting people into those nice neat little boxes makes you happy then go for it. Sure a lot of Christians and atheists fit into your boxes but we both know not everyone does. I imagine that you and I would disagree on percentages of those that fit in your boxes but I don't find that relevant.

  2. While I can see this post as grouping atheists as all willing to accept their standards are fallible, I don't see it as similarly grouping Christians together as all deriving ethical guidelines from the Bible. I just think Scriptulicious has himself come from that fundamentalist school of thought and sees it as prevalent in some Christians' thinking. I would not be surprised if Scrip had once himself been a fan of Butt (and I don't mean that to sound so salacious :)).

  3. My vote for quote of the week, "I would not be surprised if Scrip had once himself been a fan of Butt"

  4. Zee . . . your sense of humor is unmatched.

    On quite a few occasions, you have pointed out how some of us have stereotyped others.

    Your point has sobered my thinking concerning stereotyping Christians, in particular.

    I don't think, however, that you realize how different you are compared with the Christians that I've personally spent my life around.

    Nonetheless, I will personally try harder to recognize the distinctions within a group, rather than lumping them all together into a convenient stereotype.

  5. Hello Zee,

    You obviously do not fit the stereo-type. But, for the same of discussion, I am using the stereo-type that I am most familiar with. I used to be a fundamentalist with multiple different titles. I was an Orthodox Jew, a Netzarim geyr toshav, a Seventh-day Adventist, an Independent Baptist, a "[KJV] Bible Believer," a classic Pentecostal (Assembly of God), a oneness Pentecostal, a Lutheran, Evangelical Free, etc. etc. I have been in these shows, and I feel as though I speak from experience when I choose to represent Christian, and to a only slightly lesser degree, Jewish perspectives.

    I do not understand you, at least sometimes I think I do, but they I read comments like this that make me wonder. Would you mind describing your view of how morality or ethics relates to the Bible?

  6. "fan of butt..." well, there is an evolutionary hypothesis (and just that for now) about why women of the hominid lineage developed larger breasts and it relates to male fondness of developed gluttonous cheeks. so, in that sense all men would be a fan of that. but, in Philo's sense, though not a fan of him literally, I was a fan of his type of thinking at one time.

    I wrote a poem about him just recently on Tandi's blog in response to his articles about slavery. I will repeat it:
    White is white. Black is black. Unless you're in the world of this literary hack. Then your black's on track and your white's not right. That's okay cuz God's quite trite--unable to transcend the day's finite light.

    so, obviously I must like him enough to write a poem about him. dunno

  7. "so, obviously I must like him enough to write a poem about him."


    I agree that I don't think that I fit your stereotype and I personally know a number of Christians with similar views. Most Christians that have similar views can relate to some of the typical atheist critisizms of the ignorant Christian. I'm used to being critisized by both Christians and non-Christians in religious discussions which at times results in me just keeping my opinion to myself. Not as often as others would probably like though.

    "Would you mind describing your view of how morality or ethics relates to the Bible?"

    The Bible is not a book of morality or ethics and I don't understand why you would assume it is supposed to be.

    Primarily the Bible is God's revelation about Himself. While telling about Himself to man, He tells us who we are, why the world is here, and what our place is in it. As part of God's self revelation He reveals much about the nature of man, people suck or that man has gone wrong and needs to come back to God and also how this may happen which is through Jesus Christ who died for my sins. The purpose of the Bible is also to give a history of God's dealings with man and especially with His chosen people the Jews.