An Analogy So Bad, You’ll Feel Like You’re Taking Crazy Pills
Arguments for God and chatting about the sorts of things God likes are both kinda like Will Ferrell movies for me. Most of the time I get some really great belly laughs out of them. Some, like Old School, are worthy of a rewatch and only get funnier with age. Others, like Night at the Roxbury, have become deep regrets and make me wish I could get those two hours back. Finally, there are the masterpieces, like Anchorman 2, that work your gut muscles like you just did the Jillian Michaels 6 Week Six-Pack program in one night. James Anderson, a professor of theology but who should clearly be a professor of guffaws, just slaughtered my abs like it was my first time watching Step Brothers.
Professor Anderson is comparing human behaviour to software… and of course, he’s using this comparison to argue against atheists.
I heard this one-liner from fellow programmers many times when I worked in computer research. I probably used it myself on a few occasions. At the risk of killing a joke by explaining it, the idea behind the quip is to spin a vice as a virtue: to reinterpret a mistake as an unintended or undocumented benefit. A positive spin is placed on an error, suggesting that what might be seen as a fault is really a feature—even if an unintended one.
What does any of this have to do with atheism? I want to suggest that the distinction between bugs and features can help us see an inconsistency in the beliefs of many of our atheist friends.
Right off the bat, this argument is flawed, and here’s why:
1. Likening human behaviour to software assumes there is a programmer who wrote the software. Atheists don’t believe in a supreme programmer, so this line of reasoning will fail.
2. Comparing human nature to software is also presupposing that there is an ultimate purpose for which we have been “written”. Atheists do not believe we have an author-given purpose to fulfill. Again, your argument will not succeed with an atheist if you use this line of reasoning.
3. Human behaviour is neither vice nor virtue as it relates to everything in existence. The third moon of Saturn is hardly affected by a teenager running it up the flagpole to some MILF porn. Human behaviour is, however, consequential and inconsequential in relation to our survival and the well-being of others in our species.
Consider the following three views commonly held by atheists today:
1. Common human traits have a naturalistic evolutionary explanation.
2. Religion—especially theistic religion—is a bad thing.
3. Homosexuality is not a bad thing.
Okay, Prof. I’m considerin’.
The first of these points follows from the widespread acceptance among atheists of the Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution is taken for granted as the default explanation for where we came from and why we exhibit certain characteristics and behavior patterns.
No, it’s not “taken for granted as the default explanation.” It is, instead, extracted as an explanation after reviewing overwhelming evidence that supports it. Evolution also does not explain where we came from; how we originated is studied as abiogenesis. Evolution explains the diversity of life, not its origins. But you knew that didn’t ya, Prof? I mean… what sort of professor would argue against something they hadn’t studied already?
A second common view among atheists today is that religion, particularly religion centered on a personal creator God, is a bad thing. It’s not merely that atheists don’t personally care for religion. Rather, they’re inclined to make negative value judgments about religion and those who practice it.
No, Prof, that’d be an anti-theist. Atheists just don’t believe in God. Again, you knew this because as a professor you value being informed before you argue something, right?
it’s safe to say that only a minority of atheists in the West today take a negative view of homosexuality.
It’s not necessarily that we don’t take a negative view, Prof. It’s more about us not giving a shit what consenting adults do with their cock n’ balls. You know, we feel that’s kind of… well, it’s perverted to concern yourself with how strangers glaze the ol’ donut.
Both religion and homosexuality are common traits in human society (although the first is vastly more common than the second, and, it must be said, the prevalence of homosexuality is often overstated). Yet atheists typically view religion as a bad thing and homosexuality as a good thing—or, at least, as not a bad thing.
Most atheists see nothing wrong with homosexuality. This is true in my experience. However, the reason for that is not because homosexuality is “common.” It’s because there is no harm done by it, so disliking same-sex love in any fashion is a waste of time and energy. Yes, religion is common, perhaps more so than homosexuality (I would have to see numbers on that), but the consequences of religion now and throughout history have been immense, unending and abhorrent.
It’s really very simple, Prof. Atheists judge what human behaviours are good and bad by their consequences, not by how common the behaviour is. Usually, the prevalence of homosexuality comes up as an argument against hateful theists who claim it is unnatural. Pointing out that most species exhibit homosexual behaviours usually reduces that argument to dust, but it’s not the reason we support gay people.
You’re basically making the argument that atheists believe that if something is commonplace, it should be acceptable. By that logic, we would also support murder, drug abuse, alcoholism, obesity, etc, etc.
I’m wondering if you would give a student a failing grade on a paper if it was clear they didn’t think it through, Prof.
atheists treat religion as a “bug” but homosexuality as a “feature.”
No, Professor, we do not! We don’t treat any human behaviour as a “bug” nor any human traits as a “feature” because we don’t believe we have been written to have an ultimate purpose by some bearded celestial programmer.
We do, on the other hand, see some human behaviours as harmful and others with little to no negative consequence. If something hurts people more often than not, either physically or by stripping them of human rights, it’s pretty obvious that thing is not so great. Conversely, if something only affects the two consenting people involved and harms no one, then its difficult to find fault with it.
But the oddity is this: for the atheist both traits are understood to be products, or at least byproducts, of evolution. If the two traits are equally the result of undirected natural evolutionary processes, why treat one as a bad result and the other as a good result?
Because one causes harm, while the other does not. Once again, most atheists base what they believe to be good and what they believe to be bad, on the consequences, not how “natural” it is.
What objective basis is there for treating one as a “bug” and the other as a “feature”?
Now we’re just going around in circles.
Evolution thus favors traits that promote reproduction and survival. On the one hand, the positive correlation between religiosity and birth rates is well documented. Non-religious people tend to have fewer children.
Which would be a really great argument, if it weren’t for the environmental disaster we face in the near future which, it can be argued, will be caused in no small part by overpopulation. Survival is a complex thing, dependent on ecosystems and suitability to one’s environment. It’s not just about pumping out babies.
Homosexuality, on the other hand, hardly favors reproduction.
Not directly, no. However, loving, homosexual couples willing to adopt certainly increase the survivability of third world orphans. They can also find surrogates or sperm donors or any of the other myriad ways to have a baby without a man and a woman being married.
If everything in this universe is ultimately the product of undirected, purposeless, impersonal natural processes, there is no rational basis for saying that some features of the universe are objectively “good” while others are “bad.”
You are exhausting, Prof. No. Once again, good behaviours can be spotted by their good consequences. Bad behaviours can be identified by their bad consequences. Behaviours we should not give a second thought to can be identified by their complete lack of consequences to anyone but the consenting people involved.
For the serious atheist nothing in the universe—and therefore nothing in human society—can be literally “good” or “bad.” There are neither bugs nor features in an evolutionary naturalist universe, since both concepts presuppose an underlying design or intention behind the universe.
Yay! Now you have it! Now you understand that in the grand scheme of things (including all the billions of light-years of space out there) what we do means nothing. It is neither good nor bad. Howe