Joseph BH McMillan reviews The God Argument, The Case against Religion and for Humanism, by AC Grayling
The best I could say about The God Argument is that it is just another contribution to the singularly undistinguished tradition of the ‘thoroughly mediocre … utilitarian Englishmen’ who walk ‘clumsily and honorably in Bentham’s footsteps’. It also has that ‘small-soul smell’ of the ‘socialist dolts and flatheads’ in their drive for the ‘animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims.’ [Quotes thanks to Nietzsche]
AC’s method is a compilation of first-year ‘philosophy lectures’ denying the existence of a God, which are ‘glued’ onto a sort of ‘self-help’ tract for college freshers, although the latter would be better described as a ‘self-destruction’ tract being, as it is, a call for sexual experimentation, and a not so ambiguous suggestion that ‘responsible’ drug use is no worse than smoking or drinking.
The method betrays a typical duality of the liberal ‘mind’. First, they need to convince themselves that there is no such thing as God, then they can indulge themselves in sexual clichés, and the latest liberal trends. Of course, they need the former to justify the latter, otherwise their ‘consciences’ may play tricks on them.
The ‘argument’ is totally confused. Essentially, it claims that there is no objective right and wrong, and certainly not one ordained by any God, and that humans can themselves construct a set of ‘rights and wrongs’ for themselves. Well, of course they can. In fact, that is all the human race has ever done. Genghis Khan had his version, as did Stalin and Hitler.
But, no doubt, AC would argue that their ‘reasoning’ was defective. The liberal/humanist/etc argument goes like this: ‘if you ‘reason’ in the right way, you will agree with us. If you don’t agree with us that, in itself, is ‘evidence’ that you have not ‘reasoned’ in the right way’. The obvious fallacy in such an argument, even if it were true, is that it is a claim that there is an objective ‘right and wrong’ which is discoverable by employing the right procedure. Sounds a lot like ‘religion’ to me.
The only difference is that the liberal ‘god’ is ‘reason’. However, to adapt from Alf Ross’s observation about ‘justice’ (another liberal favorite), ‘invoking ‘reason’ [in support of an argument] is like banging on the table.’
I see no difference in the Atheist/Humanist/Rationalist invoking ‘reason’, to this: ‘There are many who say that reason is not the decisive factor, but that other imponderables must be considered. I believe that there can be nothing of value which is not in the last resort based on reason.’
That, of course, was Adolf Hitler. The fact is, as I demonstrate in my next book, reason is a neutral faculty. Contrary to what Kant claimed, it tells us nothing ‘on its own account’. Worse still, if reason and instinct were the only ‘faculties’ in the human brain, then it would be better for mankind if reason were expunged from the brain.
Yet, I should consider for a moment AC’s application of ‘reason’.
Since liberals are obsessed with sex, let me look at some of his ‘reasoning’ on that subject. In true liberal fashion, AC scratches around in zoology textbooks to find examples of promiscuous sexual behavior in animals which he cites as a sort of validation of his views. He finds the example of ‘bonobo chimpanzees’ which ‘engage in sex almost as a greeting, casually and often’. (I expect that little example must be titillating to impressionable young students – must get loads of giggles). And, no doubt, this engagement in sex ‘casually and often’ leads him to be able ‘to report that chances of loving and being loved more fulfilling than ever before improve with experience. Thus might the voice of experience speak’. His ‘experience’, I presume. [Pps 205,203 respectively]
That is the kind of nonsense I would expect to hear from some ‘love-struck’ teenager, not a professor of philosophy. It is the product of an academically institutionalized mind. It is rather pathetic that a human would justify primitive behavior by claiming to be imitating monkeys.
But it gets worse – a lot worse. First, AC feels compelled to share this great ‘revelation’ with the reader: ‘pleasure is good – and sexual pleasure a great good.’ [p206] Such ridiculous statements make even Bentham’s silly ‘felicific calculator’ of ‘pleasure and pain’ seem ‘profound’.
For AC, like all liberals, the entire focus of any relationship, and indeed life itself, is vanity – or what is euphemistically referred to as ‘self-fulfillment’. The creation of a new life is itself perceived as something that should benefit, or give ‘pleasure’ and ‘gratification’, to the parent or parents, and not vice versa. This is what is meant by those who want children as a kind of ‘fulfillment’ of their own lives. The focus is on them, not the life they create.
So it is not surprising that Grayling, like all liberals, focuses on just such nonsense, except he calls it ‘flourishing’. That, to AC, is what it’s all about – ‘flourishing’! [p192, and nauseatingly repetitive thereafter]
When we read AC’s chapters on ‘The Ethical and the Moral’, and ‘A Humanist on Love, Sex and Drugs’ (which says it all, really), we have to look very hard to find any mention of children, and none concerning the obligations human beings may have in respect of the new life they bring into the world as a result of their experimentation with ‘love, sex and drugs’. All we find is a grudging acknowledgement that the ‘moralist is rightly concerned about the harm done by divorce, for example to children … [so] … the chance of trying to build a good and satisfying life has to be done responsibly, to minimise the harm such disruption causes.’ [p191] And note that reference to children – not ‘especially’ to children, but ‘for example to children’. It’s like talking about being careful not to scrape the car as you reverse out the drive on your way to do some ‘flourishing’.
Such statements demonstrate just how irrelevant children are to the liberal/humanist ‘mindset’. A child’s welfare cannot interfere with the parents’ drive for ‘self-fulfillment’, or ‘flourishing’, as AC calls it. And in order to ‘minimise the harm’ caused by those who subscribe to this type of nonsense, AC suggests that people ‘work together in providing a solution’. [p192] In fact, there is a whole industry now catering for the harm caused by just this type of primitive ‘thinking; it’s called ‘marriage counseling’. It is great for those who cause the harm in the first place by their ‘lack … of intelligence and courage’ which renders them incapable of resisting every primitive sexual urge they experience, and their total lack of anything resembling empathy, even with their own children. Because it is the victims, the party betrayed and the betrayed children, who have to be sat down and told why the likes of a Grayling are not ‘flourishing’ with them around, that he needs ‘space’ to indulge his ‘needs and interests’, so they, the victims, must ‘understand …accept and tolerate it, and be open minded.’ And, of course, it is all done for the sake of the children. [p193]
And after making these childlike claims about human ‘flourishing’, and not letting anything get in the way of that, even your own children, he then goes on to map out precisely the type of sexual behavior that is guaranteed to cause enormous harm to others and your own children that everyone must then run around trying to ‘minimize’.
What a ‘bonobo’!!
It is clear, and the evidence is everywhere to be seen, that if self-fulfillment, or ‘flourishing’, is the focus of marriage, it is a betrayal of the life two human beings bring into the world. The parents create life for their own benefit, to satisfy some ‘want’ or ‘need’ in themselves: or because the ‘biological clock is ticking’. And when sexual gratification comes into the mix as well, the results are disastrous, but precisely what the likes of AC prescribe, and regrettably, what the majority of people practice today, especially in the Western world.
It is precisely this kind of bankrupt ‘thinking’ that has led to the mess we see today with the economic crisis, drug abuse, teenage delinquency, casual violence and crime, ever increasing divorce rates, single parent ‘families’, venereal disease as common as the common cold, political and financial corruption and scandals, and so we could go on. When children see parents obsessed with their own ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ in their pursuit of pleasure and ‘flourishing’, with little regard to the harm caused to their children, children become conditioned to believe that their only ‘obligation’ in life is also to satisfy whatever ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ their primitive instincts present to them, irrespective of the effect on others. But I expect that the likes of AC will be blissfully unaware of the connection between the ills which afflict the ‘modern’ Western world and their ‘philosophy of me’, never mind accept any responsibility for them.
AC, and the whole rather pathetic liberal/humanist/atheist/rationalist ‘movement’, seem totally incapable of comprehending that each human being is a unique, exclusive, and special individual who deserves to be conceived in a unique, exclusive and special act, and brought up in a unique, exclusive and special relationship, which in turn should endure for the benefit of even the next generation. Anything else is a betrayal of the human life two free individuals bring into this world by their own voluntary act. It is not a question of whether the sacrifices required to make such a commitment may generate any ‘sexual frustration’ in those who ‘lack … the intelligence or the courage’ to properly make such a commitment. Every human life deserves nothing less. [Quote from p214, in relation to drug addicts][For further explanation of what ‘unique, exclusive and special’ means, see my article The Meaning, and Essential Ingredients, of Marriage.’]
It is odd that the liberal ‘mind’ seems so incapable of grasping the fact that those things worthwhile in life, and most of us recognize that the creation of a human life is one of those things, require enormous sacrifices in respect of every aspect of life. The creation of a human life demands such sacrifices before, during and after the creation of that life. And yet, the sacrifice required in respect of the creation of human life doesn’t really amount to much more than sexual restraint – for women, don’t behave like a slut; for men, don’t be a Casanova.
Ironically, although I expect the irony will be lost on AC, those students who would wish the ‘honor’ of attending AC’s lectures (which would be a mystery worthy of philosophical and even scientific enquiry in itself), would be expected to have made very significant sacrifices in their youth to attain the grades worthy of being offered such a dubious ‘honor’. But for the creation of human life? No such sacrifices required!
All that said, I should at least extend a hand of gratitude to AC for providing me with the evidence I have been looking for to prove that the Harm Principle, as I say in my book, is nothing more than tendentious nonsense. The Harm Principle, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is an invention of John Stuart Mill (another thoroughly mediocre utilitarian English philosopher), and is regarded by Liberals as the pinnacle of human understanding. Not surprisingly, AC claims that “the simplicity of [the] principle should not mask its profundity”. [p194]
However, when we look at AC’s obsession with “flourishing”, we discover what he really means by the Harm Principle. According to AC we should be “concerned about the harm done by divorce, for example to children … [and try] … to minimise the harm”. The harm AC refers to, of course, is a result of the family getting in the way of someone’s “flourishing”. So when a person’s “flourishing” is being inhibited by a wife, or husband, or children, then the harm, according to AC, is actually being inflicted on the person whose “flourishing” is being inhibited. The ‘harm’ and hurt suffered by a wife, or husband, or children, as victims of a betrayal, through adultery for example, is of their own making because, according to AC, they don’t ‘understand …accept and tolerate it, and be open minded [about it].’ [p192] In AC’s ‘thinking’, the victims are to blame because they don’t have “a good general understanding of the minimum conditions for human flourishing”. [p192] The “conditions”, of course, are that they should not get in the way. And we don’t really need to be too careful about reading between the lines to understand that in AC’s view, as with all Liberals, “flourishing” is all about sex, and career.
So we see what AC really means by the Harm Principle: If those around you inhibit (harm) your “flourishing” in any way, you can dump them; and if they get hurt, then it’s their own damn fault for getting in your way. And it doesn’t matter that they depended on you, trusted you, believed in you, even loved you (although it would be unfathomable to imagine why anyone could find much to love in the sort of character painted by AC), or that you brought them into this world by your own voluntary act. If they are perceived as ‘harming’ your ability to “flourish” in any way, they deserve what they get. The Harm Principle is extreme and ugly narcissism.
Yet, being a Utilitarian ‘principle’, it is how all Liberals understand the ‘Principle’. Its ‘utility’ lies in the extent to which it serves the ‘self’. And in addition to things like marriage counseling, a whole industry has emerged producing streams of ‘studies, research and statistics’ to demonstrate that this tendentious narcissism doesn’t ‘harm’ those affected by the self-indulgence of those around them, and closest to them. The ‘studies, research and statistics’ show, of course, that if those close to your feel hurt or harmed by your self-indulgence, it only serves to reveal in them some character defect due to their inability to be “sensible, constructive and generous” in “understanding … [the] …conditions for human flourishing” – nothing that a bit of counseling can’t sort out.
The Harm Principle is just a pathetic excuse for self-indulgence at the expense of others.
Harm done by any action can only be objectively ascertained in relation to a set of clear and unambiguous moral principles, not subjective, self-satisfied pontificating about “flourishing”. Any violation of any of the Principles of morality (as described in Freedom v A Tyranny of Rights) is by definition harmful. But the consequence of a violation of a real moral principle cannot itself be a ‘principle’ – it’s a consequence. To define the consequence of an action as a principle to define the action is to turn logic on its head, which is precisely what AC does. To him, the only ‘harm’ that counts is any limitation to self-indulgence.
The homage AC pays to the Harm Principle is kindergarten ‘philosophy’. It goes something like this. Teacher tells the children that it is wrong to upset other children by taking away the toys they are playing with. Little Jack sees Tim playing a game with a toy and joins in the game. But Jack gets bored with the game and Tim doesn’t want to play what Jack says is a more exciting game, so Jack takes the toy and goes over to play his new game with Kevin, leaving Tim in tears. Teacher calls Jack over to give him a scolding for upsetting Tim. But Jack says that Tim upset him because his game was boring and Tim wouldn’t play his more exciting game. So it is Tim’s own fault for getting upset. That’s AC’s Harm Principle for you.
There is, of course, another version of the Harm Principle which finds its justification in deception. According to this version, it is OK to commit adultery, for example, as long as your wife or husband doesn’t find out about it, because what they don’t know can’t hurt them. It is the ‘philosophy’ of deceit. It can be applied to most things. It would thus be OK to commit fraud as long as the victim doesn’t realize that he has been duped, and you don’t get caught.
Whichever version of this ridiculous ‘principle’ we consider, the Harm Principle demonstrates the utter stupidity of founding ‘morality’ on the consequence of an action rather than the action itself, and its motivation. Adultery is wrong whether the victim knows about it or not. Fraud is wrong whether the victim knows about it or not. Theft is wrong even if the victim thinks missing property was lost rather than stolen.
The Harm Principle is just another way of saying that anything goes as long as you don’t ‘harm’ yourself by getting caught, because that would inhibit your ‘freedom’ to “flourish”.
We even now see this perverted ‘logic’ being invoked by governments against so-called whistleblowers. The argument goes that government suffers ‘harm’ by disclosures of unlawful activities by government agencies. The ‘harm’ claimed to be suffered is that the government has been caught, thus inhibiting its ability to continue with its unlawful activities, rather than the fact that the real harm done by its unlawful activities is to have put in place the mechanisms for the establishment of an authoritarian state.
It is unfortunate that a professor of philosophy can’t see the stupidity in such ‘thinking’, but that is what can happen when a life is spent in an institution surrounded by impressionable young teenagers hanging on your every word. You begin to live in a fantasy world. The problem is, however, that those impressionable teenagers take their fantasies out into the real world to wreak havoc on the rest of us. Cue crooked bankers, corrupt politicians, shameless insurance companies, and a host of other institutions that exist to relieve us of our property and freedom with “bewildering propaganda”.
Like the rest of The God Argument, the Harm Principle is fantasy ‘philosophy’ guaranteed to drag humanity down into the gutter.
In his book Dreams of a Final Theory, the physicist Steven Weinberg gives the anecdote of the complaining university Chancellor – the physics department costs an enormous amount of money with the experimental equipment it requires; the mathematics department is better, they only require pencils, paper, and wastepaper baskets; but the best is the philosophy department, they don’t even need the wastepaper baskets. In the case of The God Argument, a wastepaper basket would have been a sound, if relatively costly, investment.
The back cover of my book Freedom v A Tyranny of Rights says that for any philosophy etc to be of any worth it will have to clear the hurdle set by the Ten Principles of Freedom. Grayling’s work is written proof of that prediction.
Yet, to be fair to AC, I will present him with a riddle – perhaps he could set it as an examination question: ‘When Nietzsche mocked Kant for having discovered a ‘moral faculty in man’ he inadvertently solved Kant’s dilemma of being unable to identify what his ‘moral law’ actually was, and where it came from, for fear of offending against the charge of empiricism from the likes of David Hume.’
If AC hasn’t solved the riddle by the time my next book is published, I would be happy to send him a complimentary copy. BIG HINT: the solution can be found in this review.
Copyright © Joseph BH McMillan 2013