26 January 2009

Dennis Prager: If There Is No God, Part 5

(Note: This is Part 5 in the series started here.  The previous installment is here. In each post, I comment on one of the fourteen points made by Dennis Prager in his article, “If There Is No God.”)

Dennis Prager’s Point #5:

If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates. (Note 1.)

In fact, there is no “fate after death,” if Prager means experiences that can be perceived by the dead person.  When a person dies, he’s dead.  His soul and body die.  (By “soul” I am referring to the non-material, but very real, aspects of a person: his mind, his will, his character.  I certainly do not mean some sort of mystical, eternal spirit that floats around the heavens.)  A conscious being that dies can no longer be conscious; if it were, it would still be alive.

The human mind requires a physical platform: the human brain.  The human brain requires the human body for its self-sustaining actions, its energy source, and its contact with the world.  When the organism dies, the mind dies with it.  The raw material - the matter that makes up the corpse - continues to exist, of course, but the living thing is gone forever.

It’s hard to state the point without being redundant and tautological.  To die is to cease to live.

There is simply no justification for claiming the possibility that a human can experience anything after death, never mind for inventing the entire apparatus of heaven, hell, purgatory, God, Satan, etc.  Alas, this is another instance of Mr. Prager claiming something to be true solely because he wishes it to be true.  I understand why such fantasies are popular - it feels good to think that murderers and rogues who get away with their crimes during their lifetimes will be punished after they die - but the wish does not make it so.  

If we want torturers and murderers to experience a different fate than do innocent men and women - in other words, if we want justice - then it is essential for us to establish the proper social system here on earth.  This is the very purpose of a proper government: to protect its citizens from others who use or threaten to use force against them.  For all it may do to placate the frustrated and helpless masses, fabricating elaborate tales of heavenly retribution does nothing to punish criminals. 

The nature of Prager’s claim here in point #5 is actually identical to that of point #3, in which he lamented how tragic life is without God.  So, I’ll refer the reader to my response there for more details.

(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)


1.  Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.


Anonymous said...

It seems curious that one whose philosophy passionately claims to use only reason could arrive at the conclusion that "there is no 'fate after death'". Doesn't this imply knowing the presumed unknowable? Doesn't that require just as much faith as Christianity does?

Likewise, while no Christian would claim that you are senseless due to your rejection of God's existence (mistaken, yes, but irrational, no), statements like "Prager claim[s] something to be true solely because he wishes it to be true" are not helpful to reasoned discourse. Christians are irrational (by your definition, not mine - I wouldn't use the word here) solely due to their acceptance of the idea of God's existence. You reject this idea merely because of the inability to observe God directly, not because of a reasoned disproof of His existence. Thus, what you consider "irrational" and "wishful" is merely DIFFERENT. Your claim of Prager's ideas being "wishful thinking" does not make it so in itself.

I agree with your thinking that we need an appropriate system of justice here on earth, but that is not topical to Prager's point here. He is not attempting to deny the need for justice on earth by claiming that denying God's existence results in insufficient afterlife consequences (I know, an oxymoron to you, but still not related to earthly justice).

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous.

Well, my basic reply here is that the onus of proof is upon one who claims positive knowledge. I am simply not required to make a “reasoned disproof” of God’s existence. I need not disprove that Martians built the Egyptian pyramids or that tarot cards tell the future. There are countless claims that I lack the ability or inclination to disprove, but that does not make those claims valid or true.

Knowledge does not consist of holding every conceivable (and inconceivable) thing to be true until it can be proved false. Such a notion is exactly backwards. Knowledge is properly acquired by observing facts obtained directly by perception, which facts may then be organized, integrated, and formed into concepts by a process of abstraction.

Interestingly, of all the things that can be arbitrarily asserted, God is a special case in that descriptions of God are typically quite literally impossible. For instance, claims about extra-sensory perception, impending ice ages, or global warming are typically accompanied by actual facts that are arranged or distorted to serve the agenda of the claimant; thus, such assertions, though arbitrary or dishonest, do not usually involve the suspension of universal axioms. However, claims about God actually embrace contradictions, reject logic, and eschew the perceptible world. The very act of seeking physical evidence of God would constitute a breach of faith.

Notice that I wrote “description of God” above, for God resists an actual definition. I respectfully invite you, Anonymous (or anyone else), to define what is meant by “God,” and to support the definition with some indication of why “He” exists at all. To do so, you are at a significant disadvantage - not because it has never been done satisfactorily in all of history (though that is true), but because, as I wrote above, you will be faced with an impossible dilemma. Either you will adhere to facts and objective reality, in which case your concept of God will become smaller and more delimited until it withers altogether, or you will rebel against devilish reason and accept a leap out of reality. (You need not leap headlong out of reality, of course. It takes just one step to depart from the realm of objectivity, one “minor” evasion that you convince yourself can be successfully hidden within the otherwise logical structure, like “fudged” data in a scientist’s lab report.)

A final comment. You wrote, “Your claim of Prager’s ideas being ‘wishful thinking’ does not make it so in itself.” This is perhaps intended as a sly rebuke: “See! You, Bourque, engage in arbitrary assertions just as much as Prager does!” But this is not the case at all. I am simply taking Dennis Prager at his word, reporting his position at it is presented by Dennis Prager. Your point is correct and uncontroversial, but it also misses the mark. (If Mr. Prager is a diabolical liar, then I stand corrected; I retract my “wishful thinking” accusation and replace it with a considerably more severe one.)

My assertion takes Prager at face value. Essentially, every point of his falls into this form, and in this he is clear and unapologetic: “Without God, x would be true. If x were true, the result would be bad. Therefore, there must be a God.” This logic is dimly evocative of argumentum ad absurdum, except that instead of the conclusion being absurd (i.e. indicating a contradiction), it is merely unpleasant or undesirable. No matter how much I respect the man, unpleasantness in Mr. Prager’s worldview does not constitute a universal contradiction.

Incidentally, this false logic is identical to that of Ivan Karamazov, who is perhaps my favorite of Dostoyevsky’s characters. Prager himself refers to this in his final point of the article, so again, it is not my claim that “makes it so,” but Prager’s own words.

Pam Roberts said...

I think Dennis really shoots himself in the foot with this point. After claiming that god is the only possible source of objective good and evil, he then judges god. He says, "Only if there is a *good* God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates.". Well, isn't god supposed to be, by definition, good? If God were to give both Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler the same fate, that would be, by definition, good.