This fucknutter supreme did just that. Don’t be fooled! Alby may have dressed this question up in a party dress that would make Rupaul drop her sequins. He may have gone out of his way to make it look as though here be an exchange between two fine Hardvardly gentlemen in Stanfordish clothes and Oxfordful language, a smoking stogie, velvet jacket, a snifter of brandy and a monocle. He may have dipped the question in gold leaf, exposed it to Mozart and sent it to boarding school in Switzerland. Make no mistake though, the question is that of a dunce. A backwoods, Deliverance-style dunce.
First, the set up. After a chance meeting in one of the finer establishments in the world, no doubt over a tumbler of Courvoisier, Jack Handey here’d found himself a brand new token atheist email buddy to whom he could proselytize to while lying in bed with his platonic life-partner, Spot.
Said token atheist friend, a writing enthusiast, decided to send our touched little buddy a snippet of prose he’d penned about Acadia National Park. Jeeboner says,
My new pen pal had sent me some of his writing about Acadia National Park. It spoke of “the profound responsibility of our consciousness: to use our understanding of nature to guide our conduct within nature,” and it added, “In this bloom of space-time, human reason can try to understand the development of all matter, from stars and galaxies to our own planet, fellow creatures, home island, and selves. It is our nature and duty to do so.”
Now, here’s what I read: a man is relaying a moving experience he had while exploring breathtaking parts of our world. He further explains that it left him feeling a responsibility toward the natural world.
Here’s what I did not read: Please, take this profound experience I’ve just shared with you, and twist it to try and prove God’s existence to me.
But we know that’s what the crosslicker did, don’t we, beards and boobs?
Indeed he did. He followed up this story of a beautiful experience in a stunning park, with this tortured, thoughtless question:
I wondered just why we had a duty to use our capacities for the various purposes he mentioned or, indeed, for any purpose at all. I made it a multiple-choice question: A) I made these duties up. If I hadn’t, they wouldn’t exist. B) My culture made them up. I’m just a product of my culture. C) These duties proceed from a source outside myself and my culture.
He made it a multiple choice question. A multiple choice question.
Is there anything more dishonest in conversation, than posing a question about someone’s worldview with multiple choice answers? No. The official answer to that is no, there is nothing more dishonest, disrespectful or indicative of a complete lack of intelligence or ability to perform intellectually above the age of say… 7.
Not surprisingly, token atheist friend did not answer the question.
But he never did [answer the question]. There could be other reasons for his failure of course, but I like to think I confounded him.
No. You didn’t confound him. What you did do, is make it clear you had no respect for him, his ideas, his opinions, his worldview nor a single ounce of respect for intellectual honesty. What you did do, is illustrate the fact that you are out of your league engaging in such conversations. What you did do, is turn him off you. There are people out there who are willing to converse honestly, not ask loaded questions, and respect that relaying a story about a trip to a park is not an invitation to try to convert.
How could you have responded to the piece about Acadia National Park in such a way that may have indicated that you did, in fact, respect your special heathen friend? Here are a few ideas:
1. “I quite enjoyed your description of the park and how it made you feel. My feelings are that our duties and obligations to the natural world are divinely commanded. What’s your take?”
This question is posed in such a way that indicates you trust this grown man will be able to articulate his own opinion without the assistance of predetermined multiple choice answers that came from your own worldview.
2. “Wonderful piece! I wrote something similar. Tell me what you think. [insert bit of writing on divinely commanded morality].”
This is focusing on your own beliefs, and does not attempt to change his.
3. “I truly enjoyed this piece about Acadia National Park.”
How about don’t try to bring up your differences re: religion unless it is the relevant topic at hand? Is it possible for an atheist to have a conversation with a theist about something totally unrelated to He-Be-Jeeby, and not have it turn into a quest to get a heathen on the pearly gates guest list?
As far as actually answering the question goes? I’ll give it a shot for your estranged godless penpal, but first, we’re going to have to add some answers to your ridiculously short-sighted multiple choice list. We’ll keep the three you managed to write yourself:
A) I made these duties up. If I hadn’t, they wouldn’t exist.
B) My culture made them up. I’m just a product of my culture.
C) These duties proceed from a source outside myself and my culture.
And I’ll add a couple more:
D) These duties can be deduced from observing the negative consequences of not performing them.
E) These duties are innate as I am biologically predisposed to have concern for my home and the creatures with whom I share it.
To illustrate choice D: Decades of burning fossil fuels has led to a layer of greenhouse gases getting thicker and causing the Earth to warm. We can deduce from this observed fact, that we have a duty to find alternative, greener fuels.
To illustrate choice E: Dogs don’t shit where they sleep. This could, hypothetically, be proven by science to apply to humans at some point but still a valid answer when poking someone for their personal opinion.
My answer? D. I can observe the world around me and determine the difference between the negative consequences to my actions and positive consequences. I know it’s my duty to pay my bills because I have observed the consequences of not doing so. I know it’s my duty to value all life on this planet, because I understand how ecosystems work; how delicate they actually are and that it wouldn’t take much to screw it all up, changing the face of our planet for good.
I could list off all the duties I currently accept as my own, and give you a good, real world reason for why it exists, but to be honest, I feel as though this would be way over our morally righteous, pew-perched, pseudo-philosopher’s head.
Before we go though, a quick look at the duties Mr. Faithful’s unbelieving friend spoke of: “to use our understanding of nature to guide our conduct within nature” and “human reason can try to understand the development of all matter, from stars and galaxies to our own planet, fellow creatures, home island, and selves. It is our nature and duty to do so.”
It’s very simple to explain why we have the duty to use our uniquely human ability to understand the world around us and adjust our behaviour based on what we learn. We have to have an understanding of nature to be able to live in harmony with it – if we don’t, we will experience negative consequences. In fact, we already have, many times. When we witness horrific oil spills, or the destruction of the rainforest in South America or watch a body of water turn from perfectly clean drinking water to a toxic pool of sludge, we are all pretty darned sure afterwards that we have a duty to avoid these things in the future. The duty is clear: we must learn how the natural world works and how to avoid completely screwing it up because we have seen what screwing up parts of it has already done. Some may ignore this duty, but it’s there nonetheless.
God doesn’t need to tell us to keep our world in working order. He doesn’t need to tell me to keep my house clean or pay my bills. God didn’t intervene when I adopted my dog to make sure I did so at a high-kill-rate animal shelter. He didn’t tell me to care about the human rights issues I do care so deeply about. No God had to tell me what my duties are, all I ever had to do was open my eyes and see the world around me.
Perhaps, Alby-bear, had you considered the consequences of being so utterly disrespectful and short-sighted to your token atheist buddy, you’d still have one to brag about. Where was God when your duty as a friend was to edit yourself?