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What got a user banned from Richard Dawkins Facebook page

June 6, 2014

Earlier this week I heard (via John Dickson’s Facebook feed) that someone got banished and got banished and deleted from the Richard Dawkins Facebook Forum. It is a fascinating post and was reproduced by John Dickson on Facebook and I quote it here:

Atheists don’t believe people are a special or privileged species. In other words, we are no different to slugs. When atheists (like Stalin) treat people like slugs, they are being quite consistent with their philosophy.

Christians do believe people are special and privileged. We are God’s “children”, and have inherent value and dignity. When we treat others badly, we are being *inconsistent* with our philosophy.

“Love your neighbor” doesn’t follow logically from atheism. It’s not integral to that philosophy. It does follow logically from Christianity, and is absolutely integral.

If “There is no God,” then “Love your neighbor” is optional.

If “Christ is Lord”, then “Love your neighbor” is fundamental.

I can see why this piece captured the ire of the atheist community and I’m keen to hear what atheists on this page make of it.  This comment raises lots of questions raised about what is ‘consistent’ with an atheistic philosophy. I realise that many atheists will disagree with this comment and propose that atheism is ‘simply’ non-belief, but I’m unconvinced and I’ve written elsewhere on this blog. Most notably on  my recent atheism is more than non-belief post where I say in point 7 that an atheist must affirm that ‘a human being is of equal intrinsic value to a tree or a rock’. My point is the same as the above commenter who says that ‘we are no different to slugs’. Hence I tend to agree with the sentiments of this piece.

This piece makes several challenging statements to the atheist:

How does ‘love your neighbour’ flow naturally from an atheist worldview?

Or perhaps even more fundamentally: how does secular humanism (with the proposed imperative to ‘love your neighbour’) flow naturally from atheism?

I’m intrigued how atheists can make this jump. I suggest that a ‘secular humanist’ philosophy flows unnaturally from an atheistic perspective because the universe is indifferent to whether we love or not. Loving your neighbour flows more naturally from Christian theism in which humans do have dignity and value? (as the above comment makes clear)

Further, I’m also wondering if this piece should have been deleted and the user  banned? What was so ‘unreasonable’ about the post that required censorship? The post wasn’t vulgar or rude. It was certainly offensive, but it was only offensive if you ignore the inherent implications of an atheistic worldview. I think it was pointing out the stark difference of the natural conclusions of two very different worldviews.

So how can atheists justify ‘love your neighbour’? Keen to hear thoughts.


From → Comment, Philosophy

  1. There are few remarks that can be made about the content, Rob, and I might do so sometime over the next few days.

    There are other issues around the alleged banning, however.
    One is that this post could reasonably be considered spam by the site’s admins. Facebook can be an open forum, but it isn’t necessarily that. A user can choose to leave or delete any content they like if it is on their wall. It isn’t necessarily a free-for-all.

    Another factor is that it isn’t clear that it was this specific comment that caused the alleged banning. Allan Smith (the comment poster in question) has admitted that he was a regular poster on that site. He said that it was this post that was responsible, but what isn’t clear is whether there was an ongoing dialogue, with further back-and-forth that might have been even more spammy. In fact, this question was even put to him on John Dickson’s wall, and he has, to date, avoided answering that.
    So at the moment, all we have is Allan Smith’s word, and an implication, that it was this specific post that was objected to

    Regardless, it doesn’t matter. One of the site’s admins (and there are several/many, who are all unpaid volunteers), has presumably seen Allan’s content as spam and blocked him. So what? That’s their prerogative, because it’s their facebook wall. It’s not like he doesn’t have any other medium to make his views known.

    • Paul, would be keen to hear your thoughts on the content. But you make a fair point regarding the banning. Yes, you can choose to leave or delete comments and users as a site admin and it’s true he hasn’t commented on John Dickson’s wall about the specifics of his history which might be telling (are you friends with John at all?). Who knows the history behind it, he might have been warned about posting before? That is a fair point and I do take it.

      My response to that is that it’s unfortunate that he has been banned after a post like this, for I think it might be an avenue of potentially rich and interesting dialogue. Smith has written provocatively about a potentially difficult area for the atheist. If Richard Dawkins’ foundation is an ‘oasis’ of reason, I’d hope that we can have sensible conversations about the ‘hard edges’ of a particular philosophy.

  2. Ignostic Atheist permalink

    It always strikes me as weird that people consider atheism to be a worldview. It is the lack of a worldview. It is believing that the disparate and mutually exclusive world views of most of the people in the world are wrong. When you remove the facade of a god from your empathy, morality, and humanity, you are left with empathy, morality and humanity. What you don’t have is a god that you purport to be responsible for these phenomena. Secular humanists do not need to be atheists in order to join the club, they only need to remove that facade and then recognize that nearly everyone has the capacity to experience these human emotions.

    If “There is no God,” then “Love your neighbor” is optional.

    Perhaps. And yet most atheists do it anyway.

    If “Christ is Lord”, then “Love your neighbor” is fundamental.

    Certainly, but somehow significant numbers of Christians engage in rampant hating of their neighbor, all the same.

    • Thanks for the comment Ignostic – although I do have to disagree a little on presenting atheism as a worldview. I do acknowledge that atheism is ‘lack of belief’, but this idea has many consequences and this is a ‘worldview’.

      I agree that when you remove ’empathy, morality and humanity’ you retain those things yet the point of the post is a question – which ‘worldview’ i.e. atheism or Christian theism is going to lead you to value those things? The issue isn’t ‘do these things exist’, the question is ‘which is more likely to lead to those things’.

      Just wondering if you might be able to clarify for me exactly how secular humanists don’t need to be atheists?

      Thanks for the comments. Always welcome.

      • Ignostic Atheist permalink

        Perhaps what you’re not considering is that very few people go straight from fundamental ideas like God’s absolute morality to atheism. As such, acknowledging the reality of atheism is less of a worldview change than a conclusion that we cannot contort the concept of a god into the shape of the worldview we do have.

        Moderate Christians, and, in fact, Jesus, espouse many humanist ideals that are brushed aside by the more extreme. So, in that regard, perhaps humanism does not flow from atheism, as you suggest is necessary, but instead it flows from a shared humanity. As such, it is secular, but not necessarily atheist.

  3. matt permalink

    Maybe we should be very fearful of the Christian who turns to Atheism (as opposed to the person who begins as an Atheist) believing that he or she no longer has to love their neighbour since there is no absolute morality….

  4. Lion IRC permalink

    A lot of the atheist antipathy at these fora derives from angst and emotional insecurity (IMHO).

    We are lead to expect rational, enlightened, ‘Vulcan’ intellectual reasoning from atheist forum skeptics, but instead, Mr Spock unleashes vitriolic and emotional outbursts which betray a deeper lack of self-control.

    It’s what Peter Hitchens called “The Rage Against God”.

    And ironically, they misconstrue Christian calmness (inner peace) as arrogance, which tends not to help.

    I was very recently banned from one AvT venue for replying;

    Not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or nakedness, peril, sword…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature…

    Yes, I guess that DOES come across as a little bit arrogant doesnt it.”

  5. Can you tell us more about this? I’d like to find out some
    additional information.

  6. Hi Rob. I agree with Ignostic. Being an atheist just means you don’t believe in god(s). It can’t lead to any particular world view. There are no inevitable “consequences” of being an atheist, other than not believing in god. What effect that lack of belief produces will vary from person to person.

    Why, because I’m an atheist, am I obliged to affirm that ‘a human being is of equal intrinsic value to a or a rock’? I see no connection between the two positions at all.

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