Today’s post is an example of the value of forming an “alliance of the best 51 percent” – including some who believe in God – against the worst 49 percent.
In yesterday’s post, “Priorities and the Bottom 49%,” I wrote that if a person insists on working only with those who agree with him on every issue, then he insists on working alone. Each person must be willing to work with those who disagree with him on some issues, to form an alliance of the best 51 percent against the worst 49 percent – to make the world better than it would otherwise be.
Forming an alliance of the best 49 percent against the worst 51 percent is just foolish. Prudence suggests drawing that middle 2 percent - the most marginal of the best 51 percent – the 2 percent that one least wants to be a part of the team – into the team.
[Note: I am well aware that, technically, we are not dealing with “51 percent” but “50 percent plus 1” to get a simple majority. However, I trust that the reader can translate this posting into more precise terms. Besides, there is value in having a margin of safety.]
The news recent has reported on a schism among evangelicals on the issue of global warming.
Note that, yesterday, I listed four general areas of concern that are more important than belief in God; (1) survival of the species, (2) global catastrophes, (3) health/medicine, and (4) the intellectual virtues of honesty, intellectual responsibility, and curiosity.
The issue of global warming fits within the second category.
This schism in the evangelical movement pits Reverend Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, against conservative evangelicals such as James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, and Paul Weyrich.
Cizik has been an outspoken advocate of what his branch of the evangelical movement calls ‘creation care’. Cizik and others like him take their inspiration from the Biblical claims that humans are the stewards of this Earth who are to take care of it for God. I suppose this would be like parents buying a pet for their child, and telling the child that it is her responsibility to take care of it.
Opponents to this stewardship philosophy say that the fate of the Earth is in God’s hands. Some cite Genises 8:22, “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.”
If I were at all interested in the subject, I would ask somebody to explain what this has to do with global warming, since global warming will not cause any of these things to cease. This strikes me as a clear example of somebody deciding what they want to believe then looking for quotes that they can twist and bend to fit their own opinion, rather than drawing their opinion from the source.
News reports also state that many of these evangelicals doubt that global warming has a human cause. Yet, this is just another piece of what is already an overabundance of evidence that these people have lost touch with reality. This is what follows from rejecting the form of study where success is measured by a proven ability to explain and predict empirical results, and adopting instead a philosophy that says that says that flights of the imagination and make-believe can pass for reality. The unfortunate consequence of that attitude is that reality proves to be tremendously unforgiving when we do not respect its laws.
Fundamentalism Threatens Humanity
Sam Harris has argued that religious fundamentalism is not only factually incorrect, it is a threat to human well-being. This branch of the evangelical community provides a case in point in support of Harris’ claim. They have lost touch with reality to such a degree that they are unable to understand, predict, and prepare for the future. The best that they can do is to comfort the victims. They price themselves on this ability. Yet, many of these victims exist precisely because these evangelicals stand in the way of those who would have been able to predict and prepare for these dangers.
It is common for fundamentalists to protest that they are persecuted by those who do not respect their beliefs. There is a limit to which one can respect the beliefs of another. Beliefs that threaten such widespread harm are not beliefs that any decent, moral person can respect. In fact, they deserve the full force of our contempt (subject to the limitation on the use of violence I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog).
We could, of course, ‘respect’ the beliefs of those whose faith leads only to their own suffering. We might say, “Go ahead. Kill yourself. It's your life.” Yet, even this represents a callousness that could not easily be justified as something a good person (a person with desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others) would feel.
However, the situation is quite different when a person’s beliefs threaten to kill, maim, or otherwise deprive others of a quality of life they would have otherwise enjoyed.
The Fishing Expedition
Imagine that you are on a fishing boat with four other people. The boat is taking on water, and the radio is out. It takes four people to man the pumps. Unfortunately, when Friday evening arrives, one of the four says, “This is the Sabbath. Scripture says that this is a day of rest. I will not man the pumps. If, God willing, the boat has not sunk by tomorrow night, then I will man the pumps. The fate of this boat is in God’s hands.”
In this case, there are three other people on the boat whose lives will be lost out of ‘respecting’ this man’s belief. ‘Respect’, in this case, does not come without a cost. It kills people.
When the other three passengers morally criticize and condemn this man, calling him a fool and commanding that he take his place at the pumps, he protests that they are the ones who are evil because they lack religious tolerance. “You do not respect my religious beliefs – and you are obligated to do so.”
There is no obligation to respect foolishness and stupidity when it gets other people maimed and killed. When it maims and kills only the fool, then there is some sense in which we can throw up our hands and say, “It is neither my fault nor my responsibility.” The situation changes when the fool threatens the lives and well-being of others.
However, let us now imagine that one of the passengers asserts that nothing in the Bible prohibits working on the Sabbath if it is to save a life. He can get the fool to the pumps without requiring that the fool abandon his religion.
The prudent atheist should recognize that the important result here is not getting the fool to abandon his belief in God – something he will almost certainly not do before the ship sinks. The important thing is to get him to the pumps. Once he is on the pumps, there will be time to talk to him about his religious beliefs and, perhaps, convince him of his errors. However, if he does not man the pumps, then much more than an opportunity to reason with him will be lost.
The atheist who says, "I will not man the pumps with a theist," is as much of a fool as the theist who says, "I will not man the pumps on the Sabbath."
Liberal Environmental Extremists
I also want to point out that there are absurdities on the other side. Those who think that conservatives cannot point to people whose views on the environment are absurd and need to be checked are mistaken.
The worst of those on the left are those who treat nature as having intrinsic value. As such, they are willing to argue for all sorts of human want and suffering, so long as nature is not disturbed. The worst of them argue for human extinction. Others argue that the proper role of humanity is to enslave ourselves to nature itself, making its care our only value.
I would also put in this category any who would argue that humanity quarantine itself on Earth and refuse to 'contaminate' the rest of the universe with our presence. It is as if an irradiated, lifeless rock in space has more value as an irradiated lifeless rock than used as a habitat for living things, such as man. As it turns out, confining humanity to Earth is substantially the same as demanding our extinction - a noble sacrifice for the protection of all of those irradiated lifeless rocks floating around out in space.
In fact, value exists only as a relationship between states of affairs and desires, and moral value exists as relationships between desires and other desires. Nature has value only insofar as it is such as to fulfill good desires – that is, desires that tend to fulfill other desires. If a modification of nature can make it better able to fulfill good desires, then that modification is good. There are fewer reasons to refrain from making those changes than to go ahead with the action.
Nature does have a number of abilities to fulfill desires. Poisoned air and water will tend to thwart desires. Furthermore, people seem to need places of natural beauty to unwind. Arguments can be made for wilderness areas, because they add an element of environmental and ecological stability to a system that could be knocked seriously out of whack if there are no limits placed on what we may do to nature. It also preserves options that may be useful in the future – just as a savings account preserves options. So, mine is not an argument that states that nature has no value. Only, it has no intrinsic value. Those who will sacrifice humanity to nature are no less of a threat than those who will sacrifice humanity to their god.
The Best 51 Percent
So, our alliance of the best 51 percent is not an alliance of atheists against theists, or even an alliance of liberals against conservatives. It is an alliance of the 51 percent who are most rational and in touch with reality, against the worst 49 percent who have broken apart from reality and whose fantasies and delusions make them a threat to others – more of a threat than most.
Among the best 51 percent, there must be room for some who believe in God.