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Heather Mallick's Failure to Defend Atheism (Toronto Star)

One must wonder whether an intelligent defence of atheism is even possible. Most attempts are nothing more than bald assertions, usually sprinkled liberally with insults and couched in bad manners. Even the best attempts are invariably riddled with errors of fact and logic. If an intelligent defence of atheism has been made, I have yet to see it.

The latest such buffoonery is Heather Mallick’s “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s atheism,” published in the Toronto Star on September 24, 2012 (p. A23). It begins with a bald assertion followed by a non sequitur, and goes downhill from there. An analysis is instructive.

Ms. Mallick begins by describing a recent incident in New York City in which a futon was blown off a tall building and struck a passerby, who was rendered unconscious by the blow, but subsequently recovered. Ms. Mallick tells us, “It’s not a god in action,” though she does not tell us how she knows this or why we should accept this on her say-so alone.

Next, she asks, So why believe a god’s watching?

Well, two good reasons come to mind immediately, though neither has anything to do with futons. First, we and the world in which we live exist, and we and it were either created or came to being by spontaneous natural processes. Since all attempts to find a viable means for the latter have failed, the only remaining explanation is that we were created, and that requires God. (No wonder the Bible says, in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”.) Second, Jesus taught the truth about God and authenticated His teachings by performing miracles and by rising from the dead. When Ms. Mallick performs miracles and rises from the dead, perhaps we will consider whether to listen to her rather than to Jesus.

The next statement from Ms. Mallick is truly worth noting. She writes, This perfect reason for atheism actually happened in New York City on Wednesday.

Savour that, folks; a futon blowing off a building is “a perfect reason for atheism.” Repeat: A futon blowing off a building is “a perfect reason for atheism.” “Non sequitur” doesn’t seem to be strong enough to describe this, but it does show how vacuous the case for atheism really is.

Ms. Mallick then says, You may think this is proof there’s a god. I say it’s proof there’s not.

Savour this one, too, folks. No theist thinks that “this is proof there’s a god.” The sort of proof we offer is based on facts and logic, as outlined two paragraphs ago. But the proof the atheist offers that there is no God is that a futon blew off a building. Again, a futon blowing off a building proves there’s no god; that’s what Ms. Mallick offers. Anyone willing to bet his eternal destiny on this weighty evidence?

Next, proving that Ms. Mallick can sometimes spot the obvious, she avers that “Humans came to the young man’s aid” and then opines that “If we were religionists, we’d say it was god’s will. But this was humans at work.” Now, “religionists” may or may not say that this was God’s will, but Ms. Mallick dismisses that very possibility on the basis of a false dichotomy i.e. that it was either “god’s will” or “humans at work,” and cannot be both. She should be aware of what is known as multiple causality. For example, who is responsible for John Doe’s incarceration in jail? He himself is, because he committed the crime. The police are, because they caught him, and without that he’d be free as a bird. The jury members are, because they convicted him. The judge is, because he sentenced him to jail. The prison guards are, because they physically put him into a cell. In fact, any phenomenon may have more than one proximate cause in addition to the ultimate cause, so Ms. Mallick’s dichotomy is certainly false. The fact that “Humans came to the young man’s aid” in no way disproves (or proves) that this was God’s will.

Quelle surprise, Ms. Mallick next resorts to citing examples of bad behaviour by “religionists,” in this case the rioting in the Muslim world purportedly occasioned by “that absurd anti-Muslim YouTube video.” She tells us that Religionists rioted, people died violently … and the whole sorry cycle of religionists piling hate against each other continued.

If her goal here is to show that we are better off as atheists, however, there are two problems.

First, Ms. Mallick lumps all religions together as if they were the same, as if a religion that teaches “love your neighbour” is no different from one that tries to buy off gods by ripping still-beating hearts out of human sacrifices with stone knives (the ancient Aztec religion). That would be akin to arguing that “politics” are evil because, hey, look at what Nazism did and that’s a political system and all political systems should be lumped together. This approach is ridiculous.

For the record, I am not defending religion per se but Christianity. You know that particular “religion”, Ms. Mallick; it’s the one that created the freest and most prosperous societies in the world, (and thus the moral capital off which you are currently living), the one that created modern science, ended the slave trade, built schools and hospitals all around the world, and so on.

The second problem with Ms. Mallick’s trope is that we do not have to wonder what sort of societies atheists would build; we have already seen them in revolutionary France, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia, and currently in Cuba and North Korea. They are the cruellest and bloodiest societies in the history of the world. Only the truly ignorant, then, would believe that atheism builds a better world than does Christianity. As for “wonder[ing] how people could be so fantastically brutal to each other based on the idea that a god or prophet is guiding the untethered objects of this world,” if Ms. Mallick would study the Bible, she would learn about sin and its effects and she would no longer have to wonder.

The silliness continues. Ms. Mallick tells us that she’s “not singling out any one religion for [her] disbelief. That would be rude and un-Canadian.” Now, different religions make different, and usually mutually exclusive, truth claims and offer varying degrees of evidence in support of those claims. Wouldn’t it be wiser to examine the claims and evidence for each one on its own merits, rather than dismiss them all out of hand by assuming that if one is false then all must be false? After all, what if one of them is true? I suggest she examine the case for Christ; it is really quite compelling.

Next, Ms. Mallick extols the virtues of humanists, telling us that:

they don’t organize, campaign, harangue, or even mildly irritate people. They don’t send out multiple choices forms demanding that their children be taken out of class lest something possibly anti-religious be implied.

On the contrary, this country and the United States were built explicitly on Christian principles, and for the last half century humanists have “campaigned” and “harangued” in order to expunge every vestige of religion from public life and education.

For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, in his dictum in delivering the unanimous opinion of the court in the 1892 case Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (143 U.S. 457, 36 L.Ed. 226, 12 S. Ct. 511us) stated that “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

Is Ms. Mallick truly unfamiliar with the campaigns to, for example, remove prayer from public schools and local government, and to ban Bible distribution in schools? We now have the risible spectacle of a society in which 84% are theists and 16% are atheists and yet all public life is in accord with atheistic principles. No wonder humanists “don’t send out multiple choices forms demanding that their children be taken out of class”; there is nothing to which to object when you have everything your way.

Not that it has made for a better society, mind you. In the 1950’s, there was both prayer and Bibles in the public schools, and nationwide teacher surveys showed that the top three disciplinary problems in the schools were children talking in class, running in the halls, and chewing gum in class. Similar surveys now show that the top three problems in schools are violence, up to and including murders; sex problems including teen pregnancies and STDs; and illicit drug use. Can any thinking person seriously believe we are better off under atheism?

And so we come to the end of Ms. Mallick’s diatribe and her exposition of “a perfect reason for atheism,” which, as you recall, was that a futon flew off a building. And so we must continue to wait for an intelligent defence of atheism.

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