Monday, February 20, 2012

Reason Rally: secular "values" and Reason

The "Reason Rally," to take place in Washington, DC on March 24th, is billed as the "largest gathering of the secular movement in world history."  The organizers claim that the rally will "deliver the good news:" that secularism is growing. They go on to state "the event is indeed a celebration of secular values."

Wow.  That's a lot to swallow, considering there are at least three hot-button topics just in that summary: (1) what are secularism's values, (2) is secularism really good news, and (3) does the title "Reason Rally" really apply well to a secularist gathering?

To summarize up front (for those who do not wish to read the long blog post), I contend that (1) secularism has no values (and cannot have values), (2) secularism is, in the long run, really really bad news, and (3) the title "Reason Rally" is actually a misnomer when applied to a secularist gathering; in fact, only in a theistic worldview does reason even make sense.

Before getting into that, though, I would like to point out that there will be a coordinated Christian response at the Reason Rally, and that a book from a Christian perspective, and in direct response to the Reason Rally, will is soon to be published.  (See more details at the website True Reason.)

First, what exactly are secular values, and why should they be celebrated?

I contend that the term "secular values" is actually something of an oxymoron.  If no God exists, and this universe is simply an accident full of only material and material causes, then why would there be immaterial values of any kind?  Furthermore, the most honest atheists, who have actually taken their worldview to its logical conclusion, end up in a very scary place.  Take Princeton Professor Peter Singer's views on abortion and infanticide, for example.  On his secularist view, infanticide is ok, as long as we can justify the fact that the infant has no expressed preference for whether it lives or dies.  As crazy and out there as it seems, this is the logical conclusion of his secularist worldview.

Famous atheist Richard Dawkins mirrors this statement in his book "A Devil's Chaplain," where he explains that the logical conclusion from a naturalistic evolutionary worldview is that humans have no more moral dignity and worth than a chimpanzee (or than any other organism, for that matter).  This is one of the places that I actually applaud Dr Dawkins, for honest reflection and taking his worldview to its logical conclusion.

To be clear, I am definitely not saying that all atheists will live this way.  On the contrary, of course most atheists do not.  But why not?  Because, even though the worldview they have chosen for themselves logically ends in a complete lack of moral values, we humans cannot seem to shake the feeling that such values exist.  So even though cold logic will lead an honest atheist to realize the world and universe have no meaning, and there is no reason to feel like our behavior should be restrained by any sort of moral code, we all know deep down inside that is not true.  Our intuition tells us there must be an objective moral code, even if we wish it not to be the case.

In other words, no atheist actually lives according to his worldview!

This is why you see so many atheists today twisting and turning to justify their worldview in light of its lack of values.  For example, atheist Michael Shermer insists there must be an objective moral code; it just came from evolution.  That way, he can rationalize his atheistic worldview with what he knows to be true: immaterial, objective morality exists. (And by the way, if you dig deep enough into Michael Shermer's view, you do find theistic, transcendent-to-evolution moral language smuggled in.  It's a classic example of an atheist using "borrowed capital" from the Christian worldview in order to get his atheistic worldview make sense.)

On the other hand, I think it's clear that secularism does lead to a degrading of our own personal moral values.  Even though most everyone does strive to be a "good person", if you do not believe anyone or anything is holding you morally accountable, then you can (for convenience, pleasure, financial gain, etc), compromise on what you would originally think is a moral standard.  Pretty soon, after enough compromising (and self-justification), you end up convincing yourself the moral value in question wasn't really part of the moral standard anyway.  I know this from my own life.  I used to be an atheist, and I wasn't a "bad" person back then.  But looking back on it, I can definitely point to a multitude of cases where I hurt others for my own selfish purposes, and I rationalized these instances away for my own self-justification.

For more discussion on this, see my series of posts on Postmodernism, Moral Relativism (here, here, and here), Evolutionary Morals, and Presumptions.

Second, is the fact that secularism is growing actually "good news"?

(And as a side note: did the organizers intentionally use that term, taking a subtle jab at Christianity, given that the word "gospel" literally means "good news?")  As I noted above, secular values, if they are even grounded in anything, actually degenerate into chaos when allowed to take their logical course. Why would the fact that secularism is on the rise actually be good news?

Another way you could ask this is, "What are the consequences of a secular worldview actually dominating society?"  Communist Russia, Hitler's Nazism, and Mao Tse-Tung's regime are all commonly-cited examples of the horrific results of a state-enforced secularism.  I am aware that many atheists will try to twist out of this charge, stating that these regimes did not have atheism as their primary belief system, and that atheism itself is not a belief in something (it is rather a non-belief in something), and thus you can't place the blame on atheism's shoulders. However, it is clear that worldviews have their consequences, and the Reason Rally is a direct (and self-promoted) proof that atheists consider secularism to be a belief system/worldview.

Finally, does secularism really have reason on its side?

While most people's knee-jerk reaction would be, "Of course," if you dig down deeper, you'll find that theism is the only worldview that actually makes rational sense.  Unfortunately, the name "Reason Rally" is a classic example of a loaded term in marketing.  Just by its name, it is implying that only in secularism will you find reason, rationality, and logic.  Why would anyone want to waste their time with religion, which can be characterized as superstition, mythology, and fairy tales?

Clearly, I don't agree with that implied position.  In fact, as I've argued in the past, reason, logic, and the rationality of the universe find a much nicer fit within theism.  To take it one step further, atheism is actually in conflict with rationality, reason, and logic.  Let me provide a brief summary of this for you.

The laws of physics, the laws of logic, and the rationality of the universe are all something that we would expect if the universe were the product of a rational mind (i.e., God).  As far as we can tell, each of these things is an immaterial, transcendent reality, something that makes no sense in a materialistic worldview.  The positive philosophical and scientific evidence for theism is overwhelming, and to deny it is a matter of volition rather than rationality.

Furthermore, the atheistic worldview not only provides a more uncomfortable fit for logic and reason, it actually does violence to our reason.  The secular worldview posits the occurrence of a series of astronomically improbable events to explain the existence of this universe and the fine-tuning necessary for life.  The common explanation for this is that we happen to live in a "very lucky" universe.  But if it is indeed luck, and we explain away every unlikely event (or, to phrase it another way, every event we don't like) as chance, then why in the world would we think any day-to-day events would conform to the common laws of probability?  Why not have extremely unlikely events occurring all the time?  No, the atheist only posits the weird stuff happening when it's convenient.  Furthermore, our own cognitive ability, as the product of blind chance, somehow has rationality and correspondence to reality.  This makes no philosophical sense.

As you can see, secularism definitely has not cornered the market on reason.  On the contrary, only on theism do reason, logic, and rationality exist.  For more on this topic, see my series of posts on logic and theism (here, here, and here) and on our free will decisions (here and here).