Last time we met up, we talked about the first part of Chapter 10 of Before You Lose Your Faith. The writer of this chapter of the book, Keith Plummer, made a whole slew of false comparisons, committed half a dozen logical fallacies, egregiously mischaracterized the scientific method itself, then tried to forbid anyone from using reality-based evaluation tools on his religious claims for a variety of self-serving reasons. But that doesn’t mean he’s all out of tricks. Now, let’s get to the meat of his argument, the PROOF YES PROOF that all of his claims are ultimately true, the slam-dunk he thinks will have naysayers sobbing on their knees for his imaginary friend’s forgiveness.
Y’all ready for this?
It’s just the usual bog-standard Argument from Morality.
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Before You Lose Your Faith thinks that scientists can’t ever study morality
In the first part of the chapter, Keith Plummer tries to set his religious claims up as being exempt from any kind of reality-based testing. Despite the fact that he thinks his god does stuff in the real world all the time, he doesn’t want anyone to test his claims.
But there is one area where he’s all too happy to declare his religion to be the one true religion over all religions. And that area is morality.
Yes, morality. Because obviously, that’s the quality that culture-warrior evangelicals embody so incredibly consistently and reliably. And gosh, wouldn’t ya know it? That’s the one quality that scientists can’t possibly ever study with their ickie reality-based tools like the scientific method. Nope. The scientific method doesn’t dare come creeping around anything like morality! As he puts it (p. 88):
Moral knowledge is yet another casualty of scientism. When you insist that truth is restricted to scientific verifiability, you must do away with all claims concerning knowledge of right and wrong, justice and injustice, and moral obligation. Science isn’t capable of detecting or determining the existence of such entities as objective moral values and duties, since they’re not subject to apprehension by the senses. But are you willing for that reason to deny that they are real? To be consistent with scientism, you cannot.
Maybe that’s true for scientism, the strawman enemy that he’s been busily attacking all chapter long. But it’s not true for actual science, and it never has been.
Actually, scientists study morality, right and wrong, and justice and injustice all the damn time
I wonder if better science education might have clued Plummer in to the fact that scientists have been busy studying all of the things he claims cannot possibly be studied using reality-based tools.
Here’s a recent study regarding the development of prosocial obligations in American infants and children. Here’s an overview of how parents in the 1850s-1920s tried to bring up their children with a sense of morality. And here’s an interesting one from January asking how the Guatemalan Civil War might have changed the nature of “personal and societal trust.” Here’s another about Gen Z specifically. This one involves early childhood education in particular.
The entire field of game theory could easily be considered the study of how (and when) people engage with questions of justice/injustice, right and wrong, and moral obligation.
And you’d think that, as a Black evangelical, Plummer might know exactly what injustice feels like. After all, his white tribemates constantly commit injustices against those of his race. And when someone does us wrong or commits immorality around us, the emotions produced in us can, indeed, be sensed by reality-based instruments. For example, this 2018 paper studies the neurological changes produced in those facing injustice. In it, researchers found the parts of the human brain that light up with, respectively, the perception or experience of injustice. They also discovered that injustice produces various chemical changes in the brain.
But for Plummer’s purposes, we need to believe that morality, justice, and our understanding of right and wrong are just completely invisible to scientists. In his world, scientists may know, in a vague sort of way, that these qualities exist. They simply have no way whatsoever to study these qualities.
That premise opens the door for Keith Plummer to pave that gap with his religious claims.
The God of the Gaps rears his ugly mug in Before You Lose Your Faith
Long ago, non-Christians battled literalist Christians way more often. Back then, we mockingly called their god “the God of the Gaps.” Basically, every time humanity scored some advances in science that whittled away Christians’ claims, their god crept into the smaller and smaller gaps provided by those advances. Any time scientists couldn’t completely explain something, Christians claimed their god was responsible for it.
Many years ago, we didn’t understand a lot of things. We didn’t know where diseases like epilepsy came from. Nor what caused mental illness, misfortune, or natural disasters. We had no idea why some people committed shocking crimes while others in similar circumstances didn’t. Nor did we understand a lot of stuff about our world, like where the sun went at night or what happens to us after we die, or where the universe came from, what it looks like on the grand scale, and what’ll happen to it in the end.
Since humans are inquisitive little primates, we came up with explanations for all of this stuff. Not all of those explanations were true, of course. As far as we have ever been able to tell, the Egyptian god Hapi has nothing to do with the annual flooding of the Nile River. Nor do demons cause pigs to commit mass unalive or people to act strangely.
Christians’ source documents, meaning the Bible and other early Christian writings that helped establish the new religion’s contours, made a whole lot of claims about the world and the people on it. All religions’ source documents do this. Over time, we’ve learned better. For instance, I’ve never seen any Christian arguing that the stuff described in Matthew 27 as occurring around Jesus’ death really literally happened, right down to the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising in verses 52-53. Even Christians realize that that’s sheerest nonsense.
So here, because Plummer has incorrectly claimed that scientists can’t study these particular subjects, those subjects must be PROOF YES PROOF of his religious claims.
Using incorrect scientific claims to push through a sales pitch in Before You Lose Your Faith
If you ever get ahold of this book or even just this chapter, don’t miss it. We’ve already eviscerated Plummer’s claim to exclusive rights over justice, morality, and humans’ senses of right and wrong. But he goes on for pages about how these three qualities prove that his religion’s claims are true.
Here’s just a bare sample of what I mean (p. 89):
But let me ask you something. Do you know it’s wrong to unnecessarily inflict excruciating pain on another? Do you know it’s really wrong to physically or mentally abuse another person? If scientism is true, you don’t and you can’t. There’s no third way. Either abandon scientism or your claim to know moral truths; you can’t have both. If moral outrage at perceived injustice, suffering, abuse, and cruelty is to be anything more than a mere expression of personal or group preference, it must be grounded in something real, unchanging, and not of our making.
This is a gem of a paragraph. It’s beautiful in its fractal wrongness. Every single facet spirals off into more and more errors. It never ends. I don’t even want it to end. It’s everything I’ve ever said about evangelicals, and it’s all said back to us by an actual evangelical.
As we’ve pointed out already, “scientism” is simply his tribalistic strawman. It doesn’t really exist, except as an evangelical boogeyman. Rather, he’s attacking those who respect science and the tools of science as a means of assessing all claims about reality, including his own. And he attacks because those tools never, ever support any of the claims he makes.
The only way he can win here is by successfully convincing his marks that his special pleading (another logical fallacy) is valid: that Christians’ claims may not ever be assessed using the same tools that we all, ideally, use everywhere else on all other claims.
The problem: Christianity isn’t the only religion on earth
Every religion that we’ve ever learned about, ever, has had things to say about morality. For example, Hesiod, who lived around the same time as Homer (between 750-650 BCE), had quite a bit to say about morality. In his worldview, the gods of his time punished those who committed immorality. Here’s just a bit of it:
Do not ever cross the beautifully running streams of ever-flowing rivers on foot before you pray, keeping your eye on the beautiful streams and having washed your hands in the lovely clear water.
Whoever crosses a river with hands unwashed of wickedness incurs the anger of the gods, who will cause him pains in the future.
From the five-branched one, at a festive banquet of the gods, do not cut the withered from the green with gleaming iron.
Do not put the wine-pouring vessel on top of the wine-mixing vessel when people are drinking. For a baneful fate results in compensation for this.Works and Days
Overall, that’s great advice for anyone!
A couple of hundred years later in 399 BCE, an Athenian court famously ordered Socrates’ execution. Their official reason: impiety and the corruption of youth.
In Ancient Mesopotamia, the Sumerian sun god Utu embodied the qualities of justice, morality, and truth.
If Keith Plummer wants to claim that humans’ senses of morality, justice, and right and wrong exist because his god made them happen, he’s also just revealed that every other claimed god in humanity’s history also exists.
I’m sure he hopes desperately that nobody will remember that other religions existed long before Christianity, nor that all of those religions have always had the same basic things to say about everything Plummer claims is his god’s monopoly.
Failing the Unicorn Test in Before You Lose Your Faith
Some years ago, I began calling bad apologetics arguments like this one Unicorn Tests. If someone could use the exact same argument to support the existence of unicorns, then it was not a valid support for Christianity.
Here, we could word the Unicorn Test this way:
You have a sense of right and wrong, morality, and justice because Arnie, the Giant Magic Invisible Pink Unicorn, designed you to have them. The fact that you have them proves that he is real.
Most logical fallacies fail the Unicorn Test as well. Consider Plummer’s beloved Argument from Beauty, which we encountered last time we met up:
Beauty exists because Arnie, the Giant Magic Invisible Pink Unicorn, gave humans an appreciation for beauty. If you know what beauty is when you see it, then you already know that Arnie exists.
The Unicorn Test lays bare the poor foundations of Plummer’s logical fallacies. He needs to demonstrate that Arnie—er, his god—is real before making him the cause of humans’ perception of beauty, morality, right and wrong, or justice.
But Plummer can’t pony up that evidence (for many obvious reasons). So instead, he pushes extra-hard on his god being the reason why humans have these feelings and certainties.
Likewise, I’m sure he hopes desperately that nobody will remember that he never actually demonstrated that his god is real before asserting him as the source of everything he claims (incorrectly) that science can’t possibly study.
Hand-waving away evangelical hypocrisy in Before You Lose Your Faith
This also wouldn’t be a chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith if its writer didn’t find a way to address the rampant, shocking hypocrisy of evangelicals themselves.
I have to think that some internal study must have come out revealing that deconstructors often start their journeys out of evangelicalism after noticing that hypocrisy. Or perhaps this is simply more of their usual strawmanning of hypocrites.
I do think it’s true that hypocrisy often jars believers out of complacency. That certainly was the case for me, many years ago. If our claims were true, hypocrites should have been few, far between, and definitively and quickly addressed. That wasn’t what hypocrites looked like on the ground though. On the ground, they were numerous, constant presences, and often operated in plain sight for decades. Worse, powerful hypocrites often enjoyed the protection of both their fellow leaders and their flocks.
Noticing that definitely jarred me out of my unshakable faith. I couldn’t stop noticing hypocrisy everywhere, even in myself. How could this be true if Jesus’ spirit really did live inside us? If we desperately wanted to please him all the rest of the time? If we knew for 100% sure that Hell awaited the chronically disobedient?
Nothing’s changed since I deconverted, either. If anything, as evangelicals have driven out the more moderate voices in their ranks, they’ve only gotten worse.
But evangelical hypocrisy just double-proves that he’s right!
And according to Keith Plummer, if we have a problem with evangelical hypocrisy, then that double-plus-good PROVES YES PROVES that his religious claims are real. Because we wouldn’t have a problem with it if his god hadn’t made us to crave justice and morality.
The solution, of course, is to join an evangelical group. And what, his marks are just supposed to ignore all that hypocrisy again? Potentially put themselves in harm’s way again? Hope desperately that they somehow find a “church home” with members who behave at least a little like they kinda-sorta take their own claims semi-seriously?
Indeed, if his particular god didn’t build humans to want morality and justice, then those cravings would simply be like him hating lima beans: just some personal preference that means nothing to anybody else. I’m not exaggerating. That is the example he reaches for. Lima beans. That’s what he says this long-studied, long-attested, long-understood yearning for justice is, if his religion isn’t the real deal he claims it is. And wouldn’t that be just awful, he asks.
That’s an argument from consequences, by the way. Plummer never demonstrates that his god is real, but instead he claims that if his god weren’t real, then some terrible thing would be true. The terrible thing is not true, so therefore his god is real.
And then he name-drops C.S. Lewis to bolster his case.
(MAN ALIVE, I am so sick of every goddamned chapter of this godsforsaken book trying to use that absolutely bottom-tier apologist’s yammering to strengthen their already-abysmally-bad arguments. Lewis is just as bad as they are. None of them rise to the level of persuasive. None even manage to construct an argument that isn’t filled with emotional manipulation and fallacies. Most contain both. My annoyance is quickly building to a general C.S. Lewis post, but it’s not that bad……. yet. This book may break my resolve.)
We “must conclude” that his arguments are true and his god is real, in Before You Lose Your Faith
Keith Plummer summarizes his argument in his final paragraph (p. 91):
Before you conclude there is no evidence for
[Arnie the Magical Invisible Pink Unicorn] [Utu, God of the Sun] [the Greek gods]Christianity, consider that your moral intuition bears witness to [Arnie] [the ancient gods of Sumer] [the Greek gods]the God of the Bible. [Arnie] [Utu] [Hellenismos]Christianity makes sense of the inevitability of making moral judgments about others and ourselves. We can try with all our might to deny it, but we can’t escape on some level thinking that there is a moral straight line, any deviation from which is evil. [. . .] And that’s a problem for each of us, for which only [Arnie’s worship] [regular sacrifices to Utu] [correctly washing our hands before crossing the river]the Christian faith is the solution.
This, again, is a logical fallacy. He’s trying to claim that his god is responsible for our “moral intuition.” He’s never yet actually given us any reason to believe his god is real. But now we must believe that his god absolutely has to be real, or else we wouldn’t have moral intuition.
That’s literally all he has at this point.
Before You Lose Your Faith lost the deconstruction game long, long ago
We already know that the reality-based claims Christians make aren’t true.
- Prayer is the very definition of magical thinking
- Miracles never turn out to be actual miracles, ever
- Christians suffer from calamity and misfortune as much as anyone else
- In fact, given the American states dominated by evangelicals, they seem to suffer far more deaths and worse catastrophic losses from natural disasters than heathen-dominated states
- Their relationship rules just don’t work
- The more a Christian group leans on literalism, the more and the worse abuse scandals we can expect to see pouring out of it eventually
- Nothing Christians say about their earliest history can be supported with contemporary accounts, and that particularly includes the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising
- Today’s evangelicals seem like the most hypocritical Christians on record in the religion’s entire history, and for decades they have pursued policies seeking power over others and coercive temporal power over all spheres of life
If Keith Plummer is so certain that our “moral intuition” is PROOF YES PROOF that Yahweh/Jesus is real (but that no other gods or unicorns are), then he might want to consider that he and his tribemates are worshiping the wrong god. I mean, their behavior looks like clear and certain proof that they aren’t under the control of any god who actually cares about morality.
Seriously: Utu would never.
But it’ll always be easier for evangelicals to police those responding to their hypocrisy than it is to convince evangelicals to quit being hypocrites. Before You Lose Your Faith certainly can’t possibly do that. So instead, it wants to convince doubters that they can’t allow hypocrisy to lead to questions that their leaders can’t possibly answer adequately.
And if possible, it wants to convince doubters not to use reality-based assessment tools on their claims at all.
Good luck with that.
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Sneak peek for next week: We’ll be reviewing an actually good chapter from evangelical heretic Karen Swallow Prior. I was really surprised by her chapter, and pleasantly so at that! But alas, what she wants cannot happen in the tribe that created this book.