The Muslim activist, his God and objective morality
Atheists, by virtue of being atheist, think there’s nothing wrong with deliberately flying light planes into buildings, killing thousands of people. This view was expressed by a a 25-year-old Muslim from East London with a talent for self-advertisement, who hilariously describes himself as an “intellectual activist who has been working in the field of Muslim apologetics for almost a decade”.
In spite of all those years of activism, I only became aware of Adam Deen for the first time last week when, in the tradition of religious crusaders throughout history, he struck a blow for the god of his rather limited imagination by spamming a bunch of secular internet boards, posting links to youtube videos of himself and running away.
The boards include Atheist Forums, Raving Atheists and the very civilised Think Humanism, where he was welcomed and an attempt to engage him in discussion was made but to no avail. For this reason, I am dedicating this post to him. I am delighted to give him the publicity. He deserves it.
No doubt, there are people who are perfectly entitled to call themselves Muslim intellectuals but, having now watched a couple of Adam Deen’s videos, I can affirm that he is not one of them. A philosophy undergraduate at Birkbeck, the guy frequently has trouble articulating a coherent sentence and there’s many a twelve-year-old that can refute his muddled arguments. These, for the most part, are the same tired old arguments theists always come up with.
Take the one about morality, for instance. Adam says,
God is the best explanation of objective moral truths. My argument here is that if God does not exist then objective moral truths do not exist.
He goes on to say that objective moral truths are ones that are “valid and binding” regardless of our beliefs and opinions. So far this argument is identical to that presented by some Christians. In fact it could have been lifted straight from the debate between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens.
Assuming these religionists are correct and objective moral truths do come from God, what Adam fails to tell us is how we can know what these are. This, presumably, is where Muslims and Christians part company. A young Christian I heard speaking at a debate organised by the Central London Humanist group last week said that for the source of morality we have to go back to the Bible. Somehow, I doubt whether Adam Deen would agree with that. But if we substituted the Bible with the Qu’ran, he might get on board. From a Muslim’s perspective, Muslim objective morality beats Christian objective morality hands down, I should imagine. And vice versa, of course.
But, seriously, if God’s word, as recorded in whichever scriptures, is the source of objective moral truth, how does Adam Deen account for the fact that some Muslims fly planes into buildings in the name of the same God that he claims is the source of objective morality, while others — including Adam himself — proclaim such actions to be morally wrong?
The answer is that he doesn’t, he can’t and he will go to shameful lengths to avoid admitting it. At the end of this video of a debate hosted by Bradford University’s Islamic Society, Brian Layfield of West Yorkshire Humanists reminds Adam that humanists don’t fly planes into skyscrapers. Adam’s response has to be heard to be believed:
Well in the atheistic view there’s nothing wrong with that because they haven’t demonstrated that objective moral truths exist in the absence of God.
This labyrinthine piece of reasoning was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience.
His argument — for want of a better word — might be a bit more persuasive if it had in fact been atheists who flew those planes into the twin towers. But I know, Adam Deen knows and even the cheering fuckwits of the Bradford University Islamic Society know that atheists weren’t responsible for 9/11. Muslims were. Muslims who get their morality from the same source as them.
Because if the 9/11 bombers, the 7/7 bombers and anyone else who has screamed Allah Akbar before blowing countless innocent bodies plus their own to bits, don’t get their morals from the Qu’ran, where do they get them from? At the CLH meeting I mentioned earlier, the Muslim on the panel answered this question before it was even asked. With reassuring predictability he dismissed the various “misinterpretations” of God’s word as if they don’t matter. But they do matter because, for one thing, these “misinterpretations” provide horrible men like Geert Wilders with an excuse to make nasty films like Fitna, which depicts Muslims “misinterpreting” the Qu’ran and becoming murdering savages.
For another thing, if supposedly objective moral truths are open to different interpretations even by those who agree on their source (whether that be the Qu’ran, the Bible or anywhere else) then those objective moral truths aren’t a lot of use, frankly.
Alas, Adam, in your attempt to demonstrate that God is the source of objective moral truths, you have succeeded only in highlighting that the Qu’ran is just as useless as the Bible or any other religious book when it comes to determining what is best for humankind. (For that, surely, is the function of an objective system of morality.) If the God you worship is omnipotent, he has no excuses. He should have spelled his moral truths out so they were obvious to everyone with no room for misinterpretation.
Anyway, are these moral truths moral because they are commanded by God or are they commanded by God because they are moral? Adam doesn’t tell us.
Come to think of it, not only has Adam not demonstrated that God is the source of objective morality, he has also failed to prove that objective moral truths even exist. The case he makes for them goes like this:
Deep down we know they exist. We know these things are objectively morally wrong.
*sigh* Feelings about right and wrong demonstrate only that human beings have evolved a sense of right and wrong. Perhaps we are the only members of the animal kingdom to have done so, though this is arguable. (One of Adam Deen’s silliest arguments concerns the “lack of a moral paradigm” in the animal kingdom but whatever point he’s making gets lost in a muddle of contradictions.) But “knowing deep down” things are right or wrong doesn’t tell us anything about objective moral truths and to suggest otherwise is extremely dangerous because it leads to discrimination and oppression, misogyny and homophobia. There’s a clue in there as to how so much hateful, violent stuff got enshrined in the scriptures in the first place.
If God is really the source of morality then God help us! To quote Richard Dawkins:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Judging from the behaviour of some Muslims — those who fly planes into skyscrapers in the name of Allah, for example — I’d wager the God of the Qu’ran is no better.
One more quote from Adam,
It is hard to see how, in the absence of God, morals can be anything more than subjective expressions of personal taste.
No, Adam, it may be hard for you to see that but for those of us whose ability to reason hasn’t been diminished by years of indoctrination into one religion or another, it isn’t at all hard. For those of us who see the function of morality not as a passport to Paradise but as a means to determine how to live and behave for the good for humanity, for the planet and for the rest of the animal kingdom in this, the only life we can possibly know that we have, it is very easy indeed to see morals as something more than a matter of “personal taste”.
The best explanation for any of the sacred texts is that they are a product, not of any supernatural transcendent being, but of the “deep down” feelings and prejudices of men of a bygone era (and, given the cruelty and violence contained in the holy books, a bygone era is where those prejudices should have stayed). If religionists want to claim these are the word of God, the burden of proof is on them and they should address the Euthyphro dilemma while they’re about it.
Gods worshipped by Muslims or Christians are no better candidates for the source of moral truths than the gods of the Greeks or the Romans or the Vikings and the existence of objective moral truths neither prove nor disprove the existence of any of these or of the thousands of other gods that humans have worshipped since time began.
My own conclusion — apart from that Adam needs to do a lot of work on his critical thinking skills — is that there are two possibilities:
Either there are no objective moral truths, therefore human beings have to decide what is right or wrong. Or there there are moral truths but human beings can’t agree on what they are, so we have to decide what is right or wrong.
Either way, the result is the same. Human beings have to decide.