Dennis Prager?

I read this article by Dennis Prager in NRO this morning:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/359999/response-richard-dawkins-dennis-prager

I haven’t read much of his stuff but I have been lead to understand he is quite good.  Then I read this article.  I don’t understand who his intended audience is but his arguments for the existence of God are facile to say the least.  I …

  1. A Beleaguered Conservative

    Prager is not making an argument about whether God exists.  He is arguing that if you believe no God exists, and if you think this through all the way down, then there is no reason to be moral.  To grasp his argument, it is helpful to turn to Plato’s Republic.   In that famous dialogue, Socrates is conversing with young men from the Athenian elite.  The young men are trying to determine whether they should strive to become tyrants, because as tyrants they will be able to satisfy every desire they have — for example killing a man who is married to a woman they want and then taking the woman.  They contend that justice is for saps and for the weak.  Those who are capable of becoming tyrants and getting whatever they want are “real men.”  If you are capable, if you have the ability, why not become a tyrant and live exactly how you please? 

    It is extraordinarily difficult to answer this question without invoking God.  Socrates has such a difficult time answering it that, at the end of the Republic, he has to postulates that God will punish you if you become a tyrant.                               

  2. Wade Moore
    Ray Gunner: I’ve listened to Dennis for years.  Here is his basic point: an atheist can have moral standards without God, but he cannot have unalterable moral standards without God.  · 3 hours ago

    Well, then he is arguing a very fine point indeed!

    So God exists, has given us a moral standard and we have the world we have – some have accepted it others have not.  But in any case this is the world God has made.  If God does not exist we still have the same world, same flawed people, some with a moral standard, some without.  Where does that moral code come from?

    A Beleaguered Conservative: Prager is not making an argument about whether God exists.  He is arguing that if you believe no God exists, and if you think this through all the way down, then there is no reason to be moral. 

    Yes, if you “think this through” almost all the way down you might decide you can do whatever you want.  And then you meet another person who thinks the same way…

  3. katievs
    Wade Moore

    If God does not exist we still have the same world, same flawed people, some with a moral standard, some without.  Where does that moral code come from?

    You beg the question there, do you?

  4. Wade Moore

    Yes it does.  And that is the question atheists are trying to answer…without invoking a god.  All of Mr. Prager’s arguments presuppose that God exists so, naturally, the atheist’s counter arguments are going to seem silly.

  5. Majestyk

    What I posted on FB in response to Dennis’s posting:

    As an atheist I will rise to the challenge of why murder specifically is wrong. The first principle being that you own your life and have free will to do with it as you choose, it is therefore evil for a person to deprive you of that which you own outside of due process of law. Evil tends to be destructive and good constructive – but that isn’t to say that all evils are unnecessary and all goods necessary

    Moral truth exists independent of the sanction of a deity.  We know this because you cannot find a society where the cardinal virtues consist of murder, rape, theft and arson.  All societies outside of the sphere of Judeo-Christian essentially honor these concepts.

    The ones that don’t revere the natural rights of Life, Liberty and Property are rightly described as Hell on Earth; I’m looking at you, North Korea.

  6. Annefy

    Hmmm. I listen to Dennis a lot. I’m not sure if it was him debating with C Hitchens, but I’ve repeated often that Hitchens benefited morally being raised in a religious home and didn’t lose all that when he rejected God and became an atheist. If I can direct you to Prager University, you might find an answer to your question : http://www.prageruniversity.com/mobile/Religion-Philosophy/

  7. katievs

    Majestyk, why could an atheist not say, “Who cares what’s good for society; I’m doing what’s good for me?”  What would another atheist have to say against it, ultimately?

  8. Majestyk
    katievs: Majestyk, why could an atheist not say, “Who cares what’s good for society; I’m doing what’s good for me?”  What would another atheist have to say against it, ultimately?

    Any rational atheist is also conversant in the notion of the division of labor, the invisible hand of economics and the concept that even though we are individuals who own our own lives, we are also dependent upon others in society to perform tasks and work that we simply can’t do ourselves.

    Are there are irrational, nihilistic atheists who might act that way?  I suppose – just as there are irrational, nihilistic people who identify as religious – but, there are a raft of statistics that show that atheists are generally more law-abiding, better educated and have higher incomes than the average member of society.  They certainly don’t ACT as though their lives don’t matter and like the only things they care about are themselves.

    I’ve seen dueling studies regarding the charitable giving habits of atheists, but I imagine that if you strip out giving to churches (not a very efficient means of giving to charity) Atheist giving probably outstrips religious giving.

  9. Majestyk

    Penn Jillette answers this question in a slightly different way.

    When asked what keeps him from engaging in these behaviors in the absence of a celestial dictatorship his answer is this: “I’ve already raped and killed everybody I want to,” which is to say, none.

    Ethical behavior is its own reward, as very frequently it is returned in kind.  The problem as always is that there is an irremediably irrational cohort of humanity, incapable of empathy.

    No matter how much training in morality or what the manner of threats that we use to deter such behavior (a free lifetime stay in prison with all the non-consensual sodomy you can get, AKA “Hell”) we are stuck with these people, I’m afraid.

    So, a better question in my opinion is: why are all of these religious people still acting unethically despite being threatened with an eternity of torment and agony?  The answer: It has nothing to do with that.

  10. katievs

    As I read him, he’s not arguing that atheists can’t be good persons with moral standards.  He’s pointing out, rather, that if there’s no God, there are no moral absolutes.  

    In other words, from the metaphysical premises of atheism, moral relativism follows. From the metaphysical premisses of atheism, there are no such thing as objective moral norms, only moral opinions.

    I think that’s true. 

  11. Ray Gunner

    I’ve listened to Dennis for years.  Here is his basic point: an atheist can have moral standards without God, but he cannot have unalterable moral standards without God. 

  12. Israel P.
    Wade Moore:   Maybe I am holding him to a higher standard …   

    We Jews are used to this.

  13. A Beleaguered Conservative
    Majestyk

    katievs: Majestyk, why could an atheist not say, “Who cares what’s good for society; I’m doing what’s good for me?”  What would another atheist have to say against it, ultimately?

    Any rational atheist is also conversant in the notion of the division of labor, the invisible hand of economics and the concept that even though we are individuals who own our own lives, we are also dependent upon others in society to perform tasks and work that we simply can’t do ourselves.

    Are there are irrational, nihilistic atheists who might act that way? 

    Your notion of rationality is arbitrary.  It would be perfectly rational for a criminal enterprise to dominate a neighborhood, or for tyrants to take power,  if they could get away with it.  Morality is simple a tool for the weak to prevent themselves from being dominated.  It is a false notion erected by sheep who are not able to live as they would like, but need the protection of the herd.  Recognizing the groundlessness and genesis of morality is the task of intellectual honesty.  (Not my views, of course, but Nietzsche’s, who saw what it meant to believe no God exists.)           

  14. Majestyk
    A Beleaguered Conservative

    Your notion of rationality is arbitrary.  It would be perfectly rational for a criminal enterprise to dominate a neighborhood, or for tyrants to take power,  if they could get away with it.  Morality is simple a tool for the weak to prevent themselves from being dominated.  It is a false notion erected by sheep who are not able to live as they would like, but need the protection of the herd.  Recognizing the groundlessness and genesis of morality is the task of intellectual honesty.  (Not my views, of course, but Nietzsche’s, who saw what it meant to believe no God exists.)

    Sounds like local government to me.  Nietzsche was also resigned to the fact of God’s lack of existence.

    In all reality, what’s to prevent somebody from coming up with a set of religious beliefs which glorified a race of supermen who were entitled to rape and pillage as they saw fit due to their superior nature?  Or a religion that encouraged its adherents to lie and obfuscate in order to propagate itself?  These things already exist or have existed.

    They don’t seem very moral to me.

  15. Bemused Canuck

    Majestyk – the article you reference in #13 is a great example of “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”.  It has all of the academic relevance of the study that showed a positive correlation between declining marriage and murder rates.

    Please allow me to clarify my point – I trust we at least agree that morality is objective.  There is right and there is wrong.  The motive for moral behaviour does not make the action more or less moral.

    My point is that religious people (regardless of what you might impute as their motivation) are simply more likely to behave in a moral manner.  And despite the atheist based article you referenced, most people would concede this point.

    To address your point regarding motive, I believe it is more honourable for a religious person to deliberately act in a moral manner because of their belief in universal standards than it is for an atheist to selfishly act in a moral manner.

    Look at history – Christians ended infanticide and slavery, and Christian cultures developed individual human rights and democracy.  Can you show similar evidence of widespread moral behaviour from atheistic cultures?

  16. Majestyk
    Bemused Canuck: My point is that religious people (regardless of what you might impute as their motivation) are simply more likely to behave in a moral manner.  And despite the atheist based article you referenced, most people would concede this point.

    To address your point regarding motive, I believe it is more honourable for a religious person to deliberately act in a moral manner because of their belief in universal standards than it is for an atheist to selfishly act in a moral manner.

    Look at history – Christians ended infanticide and slavery, and Christian cultures developed individual human rights and democracy.  Can you show similar evidence of widespread moral behaviour from atheistic cultures?

    Ah, the old Secular Criminality argument.

    If you’re looking to me to defend the likes of Mao, Stalin or Pol Pot, I can refer you right back to Prager when he talks about the most dynamic and infectious religion of the past 100 years: Leftism.

    Officially, these regimes were atheist.  Unofficially, they were cults of personality and Socialism.  

  17. A Beleaguered Conservative

    Majestyk

    Sounds like local government to me.  Nietzsche was also resigned to the fact of God’s lack of existence.

    ——————————————————————————

    Nietzsche was not resigned to the fact of God’s nonexistence.  He, of course, did not believe in God, but he thought the recognition that God did not exist was the greatest calamity mankind has ever faced.  He thought this was a calamity because he saw what it meant.  In a way, his entire project was to solve what he believed to be the severest test history has bought, the death of God.     

    Your question about the inadequacy of the content of a religious morality is correct.  However, this does not solve the moral problem.  If there is no God who will punish you in an afterlife, there is no reason to be moral in this life, if that makes you happy.  Some people may be too weak to act on this fact, but for those who have vigor, whole new possibilities of experience are opened up.  That, at least, is what a person who is intellectually honest would contend, according to Prager.  And it is very difficult to defeat Prager’s argument.                        

  18. Majestyk
    Doing some digging, I found a study released via a FOIA request back in ’97 that looked at the religious affiliation of Federal prison populations.  Needless to say, even adjusting for the fact that fewer people identified as either atheist or secular in 1997, their numbers were hugely underrepresented relative to their share of the population. EDIT: This table did not come through. 
  19. Bemused Canuck
    Majestyk

    Bemused Canuck: Look at history – Christians ended infanticide and slavery, and Christian cultures developed individual human rights and democracy.  Can you show similar evidence of widespread moral behaviour from atheistic cultures?

    If you’re looking to me to defend the likes of Mao, Stalin or Pol Pot, I can refer you right back to Prager when he talks about the most dynamic and infectious religion of the past 100 years: Leftism.

    I see what you’re doing here – while Prager clearly talks about the morality arising from the Judeo-Christian belief in God, you are lumping anything that remotely appears religious into the mix in order to refute a correlation between religion and morality, and thus push the agenda that atheism is moral and God is not necessary for morality.

    Nice try, but no dice!!  Leftism is largely atheistic, which means that you have put forth a self-contradicting proposition.

  20. Majestyk
    A Beleaguered Conservative: Majestyk

    Your question about the inadequacy of the content of a religious morality is correct.  However, this does not solve the moral problem.  SNIP  And it is very difficult to defeat Prager’s argument.  

    Failure to act morally is likely to result in your early demise and/or incarceration.  It will end essentially, with the destruction of your life.

    An intellectually honest atheist would have to concede that this is the only life we have and that to act in such a way would have the adverse affect of causing your one and only life to become a ruin.

    The vast majority of people who engage in the immoral behavior we’re discussing are doing so in the face of already believing that God will punish them eternally and the temporal authorities here – or perhaps they’re just delusional about that? – and continue to act that way in defiance of that fact.

    There is no system of morality or punishment/reward which can completely overcome the irrationality of some people.  

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