Pastor Rick Henderson wrote en editorial in yesterday’s Huffington Post provocatively titled, “Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.” While he does correctly state, “it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview,” there is very little else in this article which he gets right.
Here’s Pastor Henderson:
While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews. While some want to state that atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it. Every expression of atheism necessitates at least three additional affirmations: 1. The universe is purely material. It is strictly natural, and there is no such thing as the supernatural (e.g., gods or spiritual forces). 2. The universe is scientific. It is observable, knowable and governed strictly by the laws of physics. 3. The universe is impersonal. It does not a have consciousness or a will, nor is it guided by a consciousness or a will.
His first point is confused. Probably even most Christians believe the universe is purely material. Presumably what he has in mind instead is this statement: “Reality is purely material.” If that is what he means, however, he’s wrong. The belief that all of reality is purely material is called materialism.
Atheism is not materialism. (I, for one, am an atheist but not a materialist.) In fact, atheism isn’t even about materialism. Atheism is simply about the (non)-existence of God/god(s). There are many atheists who are open to the existence of immaterial, impersonal entities (so-called “abstract objects“).
So Henderson could not be more mistaken when he writes, “Denial of any one of those three affirmations will strike a mortal blow to atheism.” A denial of materialism does not strike a mortal blow to atheism.
But let’s keep going and see where he goes from here.
“Anything and everything that happens in such a universe is meaningless. A tree falls. A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery. A dog barks. A man is killed for not espousing the national religion. These are all actions that can be known and explained but never given any meaning or value.”
Even the sort of materialism Henderson has in mind doesn’t lead to the conclusion, “the universe is meaningless.” In the context of his article, there are two kinds of meaning: objective/cosmic/meaning-with-a-capital-“M” and subjective/personal/meaning-with-a lower-case-“m.” Materialism does seem to rule out the first kind of meaning; it does not rule out the second. The second kind of meaning is all we need in order for life, the universe, etc. to be meaningful.
A good atheist — that is, a consistent atheist — recognizes this dilemma. His only reasonable conclusion is to reject objective meaning and morality. Thus, calling him “good” in the moral sense is nonsensical. There is no morally good atheist, because there really is no objective morality. At best, morality is the mass delusion shared by humanity, protecting us from the cold sting of despair.
Like many moral apologists, Henderson is confused about the distinction between entailment and consistency. Consider the question, “Which fast food restaurant is the best?” Suppose there are only two possible answers: McDonald’s and Burger King. Suppose I am a McDonalds-ist, i.e., someone who believes McDonald’s fast food is the best.
Now suppose someone asks me, “Which team will win next year’s Super Bowl?” There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League (NFL) and so thirty-two possible answers. McDonalds-ism is consistent with all thirty-two possible answers:
McDonaldis-ism could be true and Seahawks-ism could be true (i.e., the Seattle Seahawks could win);
McDonalds-ism could be true and Colts-ism could be true (i.e., the Indianapolis Colts could win); and
My belief in McDonalds-ism tells us precisely nothing about what I must believe about the next Super Bowl if I want to be consistent. Thus, McDonalds-ism does not entail any answer to the question about the next Super Bowl winner.
Along the same lines, atheism tells us nothing about whether objective morality is true. Atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It is neither an ethical theory (like utilitarianism) nor a meta-ethical theory (like moral objectivism or moral realism). Atheism entails only one or two conclusions about ethics or meta-ethics:
(1) any theological ethical or meta-ethical theory (such as Divine Command Theory) is false; and
(2) depending on how atheism is defined, then atheism may also entail that noncognitivism is false.
If atheism is defined positively as the belief that God does not exist, then atheism presupposes that the sentence “God does not exist” expresses a proposition and so can be true or false. If, however, that sentence expresses a proposition, that in turn entails that the sentence “God is perfectly morally good” expresses a proposition. But if the latter expresses a proposition, then ethical noncognitivism is false. (See here.)
Let’s move on. Henderson writes:
For those of you who think you’re about to light up this supposed straw man and raze me to the ground, consider the following:
I do think Henderson is tearing down a straw man. His mistake, typical of many moral apologists for theism, is that he uncritically latches onto quotations from atheist nonphilosophers (specifically, biologists) who support his position, while revealing no evidence he is even familiar with the work of atheist philosophers who reject his position.
“Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.”
We’ve commented on biologist William Provine’s claims about morality before. (See here.) I’ll summarize the most important here: It’s far from obvious why Provine thinks that “Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.” At first glance, this seems very implausible because meaning lies within the domain of philosophy, not science. One can’t help but wonder if Provine presupposes scientism and that his statement about the purported conclusions of “modern science” are really just a statement about the implications of scientism. That really doesn’t matter one way or the other, however. All that matters is whether Provine has given a good reason to think that modern science leads to the conclusion that there is no ultimate meaning, which he hasn’t. Provine has provided nothing more than a mere assertion of bias for the non-existence of ultimate meaning for humans.
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected? Again, we have a biologist making sweeping claims about philosophy (specifically, metaethics) and, again, we are given no argument for those claims.
Finally, Henderson quotes E.O. Wilson:
“No species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history.”
–Edward O. Wilson
Like Provine and Dawkins above, this summary sentence by Wilson offers no argument for thinking that its claim is true.
Moving on, Henderson then considers (and rejects) two ways in which atheism and objective morality might be reconciled:
(1) Morality is the result of socio-biological evolution. (I’ve commented on this before. See, for example, here.)
(2) Morality is logical, by which Henderson means that atheists can behave morally. I agree with Henderson that atheists who make this objection have completely missed the point.
What we don’t find in Henderson’s piece is even a hint that he’s aware of serious defenses of objective morality without God by philosophers who specialize in meta-ethics, such as Erik Wielenberg, Quentin Smith, or G.E. Moore (to name just a few).
In short, while Henderson has repeated all of the main talking points for a theist trying to score cheap debate points in a debate about morality without God, he hasn’t even come close to giving a logically correct argument for the claim that “There is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.” Related Posts:
1. Every law has a law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.
3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver.
Like the earlier arguments, this argument is deductively valid. Like the earlier chapters about this argument, I plan to briefly summarize G&T’s defense of this argument before offering my critique.
(i) Moral Laws, Lawgivers, and Obligations: For the most part, G&T defend premise 1 through the use of simplistic slogans, such as “every prescription has a prescriber” (170) and “there can be no legislation unless there’s a legislature” (171). The most charitable interpretation of G&T’s appeal to these slogans is that these slogans function as arguments from analogy. But the analogies with the Moral Law are weak. “Laws” require a “lawgiver” only if they are, in fact, given (made). Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws (“legislation”) began to exist. Not all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (1), they actually provide the basis of an argument from analogyagainst premise 1, based on the following negative analogy.
4. The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and morality did not begin to exist.
5. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
6. Therefore, the laws of morality do not have a lawgiver.
This entails, accordingly, that premise 1 is false.
G&T’s second supporting argument for premise 1 implicitly appeals to what’s known as a “social theory of obligation.” That G&T make this appeal isn’t obvious, so I first need to defend that interpretation before addressing it. Although they don’t use the phrase, “social theory of obligation,” they do argue, “if there are moral obligations, there must be someone to be obligated to” (171). That argument presupposes a social theory of obligation, which holds that “obligations” are made in the context of a relationship between persons in which a demand is made. Thus, I think the most charitable interpretation of this statement is to treat it as a second supporting argument for premise 1.
I’m inclined to agree with G&T that obligation is inherently social, but notice there is a difference between individual obligations and the concept of obligation itself. Thus, let us distinguish between (a) the source of obligation in general; and (b) the source of specific obligations.
Regarding (a), the important question, a question that J.L. Mackie asked, but that most defenders of divine command theories of moral obligation have ignored, is how obligation in general could be created by the commands of any person (including God). Let us suppose that God exists and commands us to perform action A. God’s commandment to perform A could make A morally obligatory if and only if there were a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands. But if there is a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands, then that entails the existence of at least one autonomous moral obligation. It follows, then, that God is not the source of all moral obligations. Thus, as a potential explanation for all moral obligation, the appeal to divine commands reduces to “The reason there are moral obligations is because there is at least one true moral obligation,” which is no explanation at all. At best, this explanation merely describes the relation between religious moral obligations (i.e., obligations based on God’s commands) and an autonomous, secular moral obligation (i.e., an obligation which is not based on God’s commands). We’re still left with the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, an obligation which cannot be justified by God’s commands. So the appeal to divine commands does not explain the deeper issue of why there are any moral obligations at all. This blatant circularity renders God’s commands worthless as an explanation for moral obligation in general.
As for (b), individual obligations are created by persons, but the obligations need not be the result of conscious acts by those persons. If the relevant prior obligation exists, then a person can create an obligation through a conscious act like commanding. For example, if God exists and has commanded that humans observe the Sabbath, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation to obey God’s commands. Or again, to pick a secular example, if a parent tells a child to take out the garbage, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation children have to obey reasonable requests made by their parents.
But other obligations do not seem to be the kind of obligations which need to be commanded. One example is the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, despite the fact that no person created that obligation. Another example would be the prima facie moral obligations which parents have to their children, despite the fact that infants obviously cannot command anything. These examples show that the source of obligations can be relational (i.e., grounded in a personal relationship) but not dependent upon a conscious act. This also explains why impersonal objects—what G&T call “materials” such as atoms, molecules, and other physical particles—cannot be the source of obligations. Obligations cannot come from an impersonal universe, but it doesn’t follow that there are no obligations in an impersonal universe.
In sum, if even one moral obligation can exist without God, then there’s no reason to think that most moral obligations can’t exist without God.
(ii) The Existence of a Moral Law: G&T offer eight reasons in support of the Moral Law: (1) the Moral Law is undeniable; (2) we know it by our reactions; (3) it is the basis of human rights; (4) it is the unchanging standard of justice; (5) it defines a real difference between moral positions (e.g., Mother Theresa vs. Hitler); (6) since we know what’s absolutely wrong, there must be an absolute moral standard of goodness; (7) the Moral Law is the grounds for political and social dissent; and (8) if there were no Moral Law, then we wouldn’t make excuses for violating it.
While there are various points of detail in G&T’s case for the Moral Law’s existence I would dispute, I’m going to skip over them. I agree with their overall point that what they call the “Moral Law” exists.
(iii) Confusions about Absolute vs. Relative Morality: G&T identify and address what they call six “confusions” about absolute morals: (1) absolute morals vs. changing behavior; (2) absolute morals vs. changing perceptions of the facts; (3) absolute morals vs. applying them to particular situations; (4) an absolute command (what) vs. a relative culture (how); (5) absolute morals vs. moral disagreements; and (6) absolute ends (values) vs. relative means.
I’m not sure that there is much to argue with here. Like their defense of the Moral Law, there are various minor points I could make but, again, I’m going to let them pass. I agree that, as they stand, many objections to the Moral Law are weak because they confuse various distinctions.
(iv) ‘Darwinist’ Explanations of the Moral Law: G&T offer a multi-pronged critique of E.O. Wilson’s Darwinian explanation for the evolution of a moral sense. (1) The Moral Law is immaterial and so cannot be reduced to matter. (2) Morality cannot be merely an instinct. (3) Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. (4) There can be no “real good without the objective Moral Law” (188). (5) Darwinists confuse moral epistemology (how one comes to know the Moral Law) with moral ontology (the existence of the Moral Law). (6) “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188).
Following prominent moral philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, let’s divide moral theory into two branches: substantive ethics and metaethics. Substantive ethics is probably what the average nonphilosopher has in mind when thinking about “morality;” it has to do with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth. Metaethics is literally “about ethics,” in the sense that it is focused on the nature of substantive moral claims. Sinnott-Armstrong has identified six branches of metaethics, shown below in Figure 1.
Of those six branches, three are relevant to various moral arguments for God’s existence. First, moral ontology “asks whether any moral properties and facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have.” Second, moral epistemology “concerns roughly whether, when, and how substantive moral claims and beliefs can be justified or known.” Finally, third, moral psychology “asks about the nature and sources of moral beliefs and moral emotions, such as guilt and shame, as well as about our motivation to be moral.”
Corresponding to these three branches of metaethics are three types of moral phenomena which are sometimes claimed as evidence for God’s existence.
Branch of Metaethics
Fact to be Explained
Moral Values, Moral Law, Moral Obligations
Moral Emotions (such as guilt, shame, obligation)
G&T’s moral argument is an argument about moral ontology. Wilson’s sociobiological explanation for morality is about moral psychology and epistemology. It follows, therefore, that objections (1), (2), (4) and especially (5) are irrelevant. (5) is particularly heinous since Wilson wasn’t even trying to explain moral ontology.
Let’s turn our attention to (3), the objection that Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. In fact, as Paul Draper argues, Darwinian naturalism offers a much better explanation for the distribution of self-centered and selfless behaviors among human beings.
In order to see why that is so, let’s begin with the fact that humans are effectively self-centered; our tendency to behave in self-centered ways is usually much stronger than any tendency to behave in selfless ways. Next, let’s divide altruistic behaviors into two types: kin altruism and non-kin altruism.
On Darwinian naturalism, the mixture of selfish and selfless (altruistic) behaviors we find in Homo sapiens is easy to explain. The Darwinian naturalist explanation for our overwhelming tendency towards self-centered behavior is obvious. Kin altruism is also easy to explain: behaviors that promote the survival and reproduction of my kin make it more probable that my genes will be inherited by future generations. Non-kin altruism is weaker than kin altruism and also absent more often than kin altruism. Given that kin altruism exists, this pattern or distribution is exactly what we would expect on Darwinian naturalism.
With theism, however, things are quite different. On theism, either God created humans directly (special creation) or indirectly (Darwinian theism or theistic evolution). Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He could create humans without making them inherently self-centered. Since God is morally perfect, He would have good moral reasons for creating altruistic humans. Furthermore, He would not create inherently self-centered humans unless He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. So given that humans are inherently self-centered, theism entails both that God is not constrained by biological goals like survival and reproduction (and hence does not need to create human beings who are inherently self-centered) and that He had a morally sufficient reason for creating inherently self-centered human beings.
While that is a logical possibility—it doesn’t disprove theism—that’s also a really big coincidence that Darwinian naturalism doesn’t need. The distribution of selfish and selfless behaviors among human beings is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. Therefore, that distribution is strong evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
Finally, what about G&T’s sixth objection, that “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188)? There is much to be said about this topic, too much to address here. Instead, I will simply make one point: I think G&T are being uncharitable to the idea of “biologically derived moral sentiments.” G&T are saying that if contemplating a certain action, such as bestiality, causes a person to feel disgust, that feeling of disgust provides no reason at all for the person to avoid bestiality. But that’s false. The desire to avoid the emotions of guilt, shame, and disgust are often powerful motivators. If G&T disagree, then I invite them to attempt to do something they find disgusting! They will quickly discover that their feeling of disgust does, indeed, provide a reason for not doing an action.
(v) The ‘Consequences’ of Darwinist Morality: According to G&T, Darwinist morality implies that the following are morally permissible: (1) racism and genocide; (2) infanticide; (3) using “retarded” people as laboratory subjects or food; and (4) rape. G&T support the claim that each of these alleged implications is an actual implication of Darwinist morality by appeals to authority.
I will make some general comments regarding this section as a whole before addressing each of these alleged consequences of Darwinist morality. Some General Comments:
First, G&T, like many (but not all) theists who engage in moral apologetics, misuse the word “implication.” In logic, to say, “X implies Y,” means that Y is true whenever X is true. A corollary of this point is this: if it is possible for Y to be true when X is not, then X doesn’t imply Y. As a professional philosopher, Geisler is surely aware of this point, but he (inexplicably) seems to forget it when he (and Turek) repeatedly refer to what they call the “consequences,” “implications,” or “logical outworkings” of Darwinism. Each of their claims regarding the alleged “implication” of Darwinist morality is refuted by this simple point. If atheism is true, the Holocaust, infanticide, the abuse of the mentally disabled, and rape can still be morally bad. Since that is even possible, it follows that none of those things are “implications” of atheism.
Second, contrary to frequent claims in moral apologetics, atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It’s neither a (substantive) ethical theory nor a metaethical theory.
Third, in order to justify their claim that “Darwinism” has such outrageous moral consequences, G&T rely upon a series of arguments from authority. Again, as we saw earlier, arguments from authority can be logically correct (inductive) arguments in some circumstances, such as (a) the argument correctly quotes and interprets the authority; and (b) there are no equally qualified authorities who disagree with the authority quoted by the argument. As we shall see below, however, each of their arguments from authority fails to satisfy these requirements. It follows, therefore, that none of their arguments from authority make their conclusions probable: they fail to establish that “Darwinism” has the moral implications which G&T claim that Darwinism has. Regarding (1) (racism and genocide), G&T quote the following passage from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf:
If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with the inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.
Based on this passage, G&T conclude that “Adolf Hitler used Darwin’s theory as philosophical justification for the Holocaust” (189).
This example is multiply flawed, however. First, remember that G&T define “Darwinism” as a belief in impersonal, unguided evolution. In the passage just quoted, however, Hitler talks about nature’s “wishes.” Since the idea of nature (or Nature) as a conscious being with “wishes” and “efforts” is incompatible with Darwinism, this passage contradicts the claim that Hitler was a Darwinist, much less someone who subscribed to ‘Darwinist morality.’
Second, in the passage quoted above, Hitler commits the is-ought fallacy, viz., by moving from exclusively non-ethical premises to an ethical conclusion. In its logical form, Hitler’s argument may be summarized as follows.
All living things are engaged in a struggle for survival; only the fittest survive. [non-ethical premise]
Therefore, it is right to allow the strongest to survive and wrong to allow the weakest to survive. [ethical conclusion]
This argument is deductively invalid, however. Its conclusion does not follow from its (sole) premise.
Third, Hitler (and his racist followers) were (and are) factually incorrect. A key part of his argument is the presupposition that some human races are ‘superior’ to others. Not only is that presupposition false, but notice that it does not follow from evolution, much less Darwinism.
Fourth, as an argument from authority, G&T’s appeal to Hitler is logically incorrect. If we abbreviate the conclusion of Hitler’s argument as G, then the logical form of G&T’s corresponding argument from authority is as follows.
(5) The vast majority of statements made by Adolph Hitler concerning metaethics are true.
(6) G is a statement made by Adolph Hitler about metaethics.
(7) Therefore, G is true.
Even if Hitler had been an authority on metaethics, this argument would fail because all or virtually all competent authorities disagree. But Adolph Hitler was not an authority on metaethics. So G&T’s argument from authority is evidentially worthless: it provides no evidence at all—nada, zero, zilch, zip—for the claim that “Darwinist morality implies that racism and genocide are ethically right.” Regarding (2) (infanticide), G&T quote moral philosopher Peter Singer’s statement, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” G&T then go on to argue that a consequence “of Singer’s outrageous Darwinian ideas” is infanticide: “He believes that parents should be able to kill their newborn infants until they are 28 days of age!” (190).
This argument is only marginally better than the last. G&T’s quotation of Singer fails to establish the conclusion that “Darwinist morality implies that infanticide is morally right or permissible.” (a) While Singer is an authority on moral philosophy, this argument from authority fails because equally competent authorities, including Darwinists such as James Rachels, disagree. (b) G&T commit the is-ought fallacy by moving from an exclusively non-ethical premise (“Darwinism is true”) to an ethical conclusion (“infanticide is morally right or permissible”). Reading (3) (the moral status of the mentally disabled), G&T reach this remarkable conclusion by quoting the late moral philosopher James Rachels. Here is what G&T write (190):
Speaking of retarded people, Rachels writes:
What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?22
As horrific as that would be–using retarded people as lab rats or food–Darwinists can give no moral reason why we ought not use any human being in that fashion.
22 James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 186.
Suffice it to say that G&T nowhere say or even hint at the fact that Rachels opposed the very view which G&T attempt to saddle Darwinism with.
As someone who has read Rachels’ important book several times, I am baffled how G&T could possibly justify this outrageous, slanderous interpretation of Rachels. First, notice the bracketed word [Darwinism]. Rachels was not considering the doctrine of ‘Darwinism’ at this point in his book. Rather, he was talking about the doctrine of “qualified speciesism.” Here is how Rachels defines it.
But there is a more sophisticated view of the relation between morality and species, and it is this view that defenders of traditional morality have most often adopted. On this view, species alone is not regarded as morally significant. However, species-membership is correlated with other differences that are significant. The interests of humans are said to be more important, not simply because they are human, but because humans have morally relevant characteristics that other animals lack.
With that definition in mind, let’s review what Rachels actually wrote about qualified speciesism.
There is still another problem for this form of qualified speciesism. Some unfortunate humans—perhaps because they have suffered brain damage—are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?
This leads to my second objection to G&T’s quotation of Rachels. Not only was Rachels talking about qualified speciesism, not Darwinism, but Rachels was describing a problem with qualified speciesism. In other words, Rachels was arguing against qualified speciesism. There is simply no justification for G&T trying to saddle Rachels with a view he explicitly calls a “problem” and, in fact, rejects.
A few pages later, Rachels goes on to make a distinction between “having a moral obligation” and “being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.” In his words:
… we must distinguish the conditions necessary for having a moral obligation from the conditions necessary for being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.
For example: normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture one another. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong. (Linguistic capacity might be relevant here; without language one may not be able to formulate the belief that torture is wrong.) When someone–a severely retarded person, perhaps–lacks such capacities, we do not think he has such obligations and we do not hold him responsible for what he does. On the other hand, it is a very different question what characteristics qualify someone to be the beneficiary of the obligation. It is wrong [to] torture someone–someone is the beneficiary of our obligation not to torture–not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing that it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain. Thus a person may lack the characteristics necessary for having a certain obligation, and yet may still possess the characteristics necessary to qualify him as the beneficiary of that obligation. If there is any doubt, consider the position of severely retarded persons. A severely retarded person may not be able to understand what torture is, or see it as wrong, and yet still be able to suffer pain. So we who are not retarded have an obligation not to torture him, even though he cannot have a similar obligation not to torture us.
The above passage proves that Rachels was opposed to “using retarded people as lab rats or food,” the exact opposite of the picture painted by G&T’s selective, misleading quotation of Rachels. In fact, rather than “downgrading” the moral status of mentally disabled humans to that of animals without rights, Rachels went in the opposite direction by “upgrading” the moral status of intelligent animals so that they, like even severely mentally disabled humans, can be the beneficiary of moral obligations.
At this point, I can only come up with two explanations for why G&T would do this: either they’re ignorant (they didn’t read or understand the book) or they’re dishonest (they knew full well that Rachels was talking about limited speciesism, not Darwinism, and Rachels opposed using the mentally disabled as lab rats or food). Neither of these explanations reflects well upon G&T. Regarding (4) (rape), Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer wrote a controversial book, A Natural History of Rape. G&T apparently haven’t read the book, for instead of quoting it directly, they quote Nancy Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer. Pearcey quotes the following passage: rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” just like “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck.” G&T are, once again, committing the is-ought fallacy. The argument seems to be this.
If Darwinism is true, then rape has a biological explanation. [non-ethical premise]
Therefore, if Darwinism is true, then rape is ethically right or permissible. [ethical conclusion]
Like the previous arguments, this one is fallacious. The fact, if it is a fact, that rape has a biological explanation does not ‘imply’ that rape is ethically right or permissible. And it’s far from obvious that rape has a biological explanation. Again, if Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer is supposed to be an argument from authority, that argument is weak. First, if G&T are suggesting that Thornhill and Palmer believe that rape is morally acceptable, the former have misinterpreted the latter. As Pearcey explains, “The authors are not saying that rape is morally right.” Second, as Pearcey’s own article admits, equally well qualified authorities disagree with Thornhill and Palmer. To cite just one example, evolutionary biologist (and Darwinist) Jerry Coyne has produced two scientific critiques of Thornhill’s and Palmer’s biological claims. It’s unfortunate that G&T’s readers won’t know about this from reading their book.
Unlike G&T, Pearcey herself actually tries to bridge the is-ought gap. She writes, “to say that rape confers a reproductive advantage sounds perilously close to saying that it is useful or beneficial.” At best, however, Pearcey’s statement merely expresses a half-truth. To say that rape confers a reproductive advantage may mean that it is useful or beneficial to the rapist. It does not mean, however, that it is useful or beneficial to the victim or to society at large. Furthermore, as Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark point out, even if rape confers evolutionary benefits on the rapist,
it does so at great expense to others, not just the rape victim but society at large. The fact that the actor benefits does nothing to change its moral status, since morality is defined in terms of common welfare. In fact, some of our most severe moral judgements are reserved for behaviors that obviously benefit the actor at the expense of others (e.g., betraying one’s country for a large financial reward), and therefore require an exceptionally strong moral response to counterbalance the personal gain.
So in order to show that ‘Darwinism’ implies that rape is ethically permissible, G&T would need to show that, on ‘Darwinism,’ whatever may be useful to an individual is ethically permissible. G&T haven’t shown that.
Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”
 Robert M. Adams, “Divine Commands and the Social Nature of Obligation” Faith and Philosophy 4 (1987), 262-275; cf. Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 245-246.
 J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 114-15.
 Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Skepticisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
 Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
 Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
 Paul Draper, “Darwin’s Argument from Evil” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (ed. Yujin Nagasawa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 49-70 at 61-63.
 Atheism does entail that overtly theistic metaethics (or, to be more precise, theistic moral ontologies), such as Divine Command Theories and Divine Will Theories, are false. By itself, however, atheism does not tell us which metaethical theory is true. If one defines “atheism” in a way that is compatible with theological noncognitivism, then just any nontheistic metaethical theory could be true. If, however, one defines “atheism” in a way that presupposes theological (and hence ethical) cognitivism, then the most we can say affirmatively is that atheism entails that ethical cognitivism is true. Even so, atheism still leaves wide open the question of which cognitive metaethical theory is true. Cf. Theodore Drange, “Atheism. Agnosticism, Noncognitivism” The Secular Web (1998), http://infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html.
 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1939), 239-240, 242, quoted in G&T 2004, 189.
 Cf. David Sloan Wilson, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B. Clark, “On the Inappropriate Use of the Naturalistic Fallacy in Evolutionary Psychology” Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 669-682 at 671.
 Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1st ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122-23, quoted in G&T 2004, 190.
 James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 184.
 Rachels 1990, 191-92. Italics are mine.
 Rachels 1990, 191-192.
 Thornhill and Palmer, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, “Darwin’s Dirty Secret,” World magazine, March 25, 2000, quoted in G&T 2004, 191.
 Pearcey 2000.
 J.A. Coyne, “Of Vice and Men: Review of A Natural History of Rape, by R. Thornhill and C. Palmer,” The New Republic (April 3, 2000) 27-34, republished electronically at http://www.uic.edu/labs/igic/papers/others/Coyne_2000.pdf; and Jerry A. Coyne and Andrew Berry, “Rape as an Adaptation: Is This Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, not Science?” Nature 404 (2000): 121-22.
 Pearcey 2000.
 Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark 2003, 678. Italics are mine.