Religulous!

I don’t see many recent movies, and I have not seen Bill Maher’s 2008 documentary, Religulous, in which he makes fun of religious people.  But I am aware of the kind of argument he is making.  He made it again briefly at the Academy Awards (which I also usually don’t watch, but I caught about 10 minutes of it this year).

The argument is basically this: religion is bad for the world.  It causes people to do bad things.  Therefore, the world would be better off without it. 

Obviously, Maher comes to this question from an atheistic perspective, or at the very least from an agnostic perspective.  And what is so ironic about that is that he has no basis within his own worldview to level that kind of charge against religious people.  Allow me to explain.

In order to make the kind of moral argument that Maher wants to make, one has to believe that there is a transcendent standard of right and wrong to which one can appeal.  Maher cannot charge religion with being “bad” unless he has a notion in his mind about what is “good” and how this something “bad” deviates from that standard.  But the key question is this: on whose authority has Maher determined that such-and-such scenario is “good” and such-and-such is “bad”?  Why is a world without religion morally superior to one with it?  Maher cannot make this argument without presupposing the very kind of transcendent standard that only a transcendent Lawgiver could establish.  Without God (or, to answer the agnostic’s objection, without some kind of knowledge of who God is and what he expects of us), there is no ground for any kind of moral standard.  Nothing can be truly “good” or “bad” in a world without God.  Everthing just “is.”  When Maher says, “Religion is bad,” what he really means is not, “There is an objective standard of good that religion transgresses,” but rather, “I happen not to like religion and its effects.”  Well, fine.  I happen not to like coffee, but I’m not going to go on a crusade to eliminate it! 

I assume that Maher holds to a Darwinian theory of origins, given that Darwinism is the only live option for atheists as a counter to the Christian story.  And that provokes me to wonder: how do Darwinists account for religion?  It must be part of the evolutionary development of the species.  The fact that it is widespread and persistent among human beings indicates that it must have some kind of value for survival and perpetuation.  If, on Darwinian grounds, evolution has given us religion, how can we turn around and say that religion represents a backwards and regressive movement for humanity?  How can an atheist argue, on the basis of his own worldview, that it matters that a religious person’s belief in God does not correspond to reality?  Correspondence to reality is irrelevant for Darwinism.  What matters is not what is or is not true, but rather what promotes survival.  And religion would not be an ingrained characteristic of humanity, on Darwinian grounds, if it did not somehow contribute to the evolutionary process.  Even if God does not exist, I am not obligated (on Darwinian grounds) to disbelieve in his existence.  It may, in fact, be better for me to believe that he does exist, if belief in God is one more step in the evolutionary process.

Not only does Maher have no transcendent standard to which to appeal to critique religion, he fails to understand that, even on the terms of his own atheistic worldview, religion is still a good thing.  That is utterly religulous!

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11 Responses to “Religulous!”

  1. bobxxxx Says:

    “And that provokes me to wonder: how do Darwinists account for religion?”

    I figure it has something to do with the fact that most people are bloody stupid.

  2. bobxxxx Says:

    Of course the brainwashing of young gullible children explains why religions didn’t go extinct a long time ago.

  3. bobxxxx Says:

    “The fact that it is widespread and persistent among human beings indicates that it must have some kind of value for survival and perpetuation.”

    Bullshit. There’s at least a billion atheists on this planet and they survive just find without your childish belief in a magic space man. Grow up asshole.

  4. fenderpooh Says:

    Bob,

    First, of all, there is nowhere near a billion atheists on this planet. Second, my claim was not that survival was impossible without religion. It was, rather, that, on Darwinian grounds, something that is widespread and persistent within a species must have some kind of value for survival. That is what natural selection means. If religion did not somehow aid survival, then all the religious people would have died off (or perhaps killed each other, in Maher’s scenario) thousands of years ago. The fact that this has not happened puts the Darwinist in an awkward predicament: he wants to claim that religion is bad, and yet for some reason the evolutionary process has failed to purge it.

    Perhaps one could argue that evolution itself has failed here, but then one would be setting up another transcendent standard by which to place a value judgment on evolution, and I would like to know on whose authority.

    You mention “the brainwashing of young gullible children.” Now, given my own worldview, I would say that is a bad thing, and I don’t believe that is necessarily what is happening in many religions. But let’s view this from your own atheist perspective: how can you say that brainwashing gullible children is bad? What law does it transgress? What transcendent standard does it violate? If you can’t answer that question, then you are left with the assertion, “I happen not to like the brainwashing of young gullible children.” Well, fine. I happen not to like coffee…

  5. Ali Says:

    You happen not to like coffee??????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. fenderpooh Says:

    Yes, Ali, it’s true. You may be surprised how many of us are out there…secretly disliking coffee, but unable to be who we are for fear of society’s judgment.

    I dream of a day when coffee dislikers will have the freedom to be who they are, out in the open, without fear of judgment. I dream of a day when coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers alike can sit at the same table and have a drink together (but not coffee all around).

    I’m actually hoping that geneticists will look into this to determine if there is some kind of “coffee dislike” gene that will finally enable us to convince society that God made us this way, and we are just being who we are. 😉

  7. Ali Says:

    LOL. Well, I found that if you add about 3 spoons of sugar, it actually tastes quite nice. Of course, it means you increase your sugar dependency, but there’s a price for everything.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    What comes to mind is a quote from one of our country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, when writing to an atheistic Thomas Paine:

    “He who spits in the wind spits in his own face…If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it?”

    The founding generation was nearly unanimous in a belief that religion was the most important force for moral education of the people (even Jefferson believe this). A moral education that was absolultely necessary for the future of the republic!

  9. Luke A. Says:

    Sorry, forgot to fill out my name on the above ^^^^

  10. fenderpooh Says:

    Good point, Luke. The truth is, America would not exist without belief in God, for the very notions of equality, democracy, and the inalienable rights of all is predicated on the dignity of every human being as conferred by God.

    I do think, however, that the Declaration of Independence uses a poor choice of words when it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” If these truths were really self-evident, democracy would probably be the norm, not the exception, throughout history. I think these truths are not self-evident but are matters of faith, based on divine revelation.

  11. Luke A. Says:

    That was Franklin again. Jefferson’s original draft contained the phrase “sacred and undeniable”. Franklin and the Committe of Correspondence made the change to “self-evident”, one of the few that were made from Jefferson’s original.

    Regardless, the statement was:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

    This phrase had more to do with liberty and as an affront to Divine Right. But of course democracy..or specifically a republican form of governement…naturally flows from this assertion. This statement makes obvious that tyranny, either by mob rule or by the crown, was to be rejected, as is the rule by a birth-right aristocracy.

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