In this panel discussion with audience participation, philosophers Onkar Ghate and Robert Mayhew discuss the “New Atheists”—including Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins—contrasting their approach to moral values with that of Ayn Rand, describing their cultural significance, and probing their philosophies.
Onkar Ghate is a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Robert Mayhew is a professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University. This panel was recorded live at Objectivist Summer Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s so commonly reported that Islam forbids Muhammad’s portraiture that it seems almost a waste of space to repeat it. After all, isn’t that why some Muslims were so outraged in 2006 when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten depicted Muhammad in an unflattering light? Isn’t that why the Metropolitan Museum of Art pulled three paintings of the prophet? Isn’t that why the TV show South Park had to censor all mentions of Muhammad in a 2010 episode? “Islam forbids images of Muhammad,” CNN boomed in a headline last week.
But the reality is substantially more complicated. The Koran, in fact, does not directly forbid the portrayal of Muhammad. And the second most important Islamic text, the Hadith, “presents us with an ambiguous picture at best,” wrote Christine Gruber of the University of Michigan. “At turns we read of artists who dared to breathe life into their figures and, at others, of pillows ornamented with figural imagery.” The most explicit fatwa banning the portrayal of Muhammad, she notes, isn’t tucked into some ancient text. It arrived in 2001. And its creator was the Taliban. The ban is a very modern construct.
Q: I am concerned about the “global warming” movement, and think that it might be a worse threat than Islamic Fundamentalism. Do you agree?
A: The global-warming movement is one offshoot of today’s mysticism and statism. As many have observed, it represents in essence the onetime pro-industrial Reds changing—with the same purpose, but to be achieved this time by different means—into the anti-industrial Greens. The global-warming call to statism will have harmful effects but, I think, the movement is going to be short-lived; too many people remember how recently we were terrorized by the prospect of an imminent, man-caused ice age, and before that by the doom of over-population, DDT, etc.
The danger to the West is not this kaleidoscope of absurd concrete-bound threats, but the philosophy which makes their common denominator stick. This is the very philosophy (unreason and self-sacrifice) which is the essence of religion.
If and when people do become frightened by all these projections of the Apocalypse, it will not advance the secular or quasi-religious doomsayers, but merely push people more strongly into the arms of their basic teachers, who have taught them their intellectual and moral framework and who promise safety from everything, in the hands of God.
The Greens offer no solution to the disasters they predict but sacrifice for worms and forests, a big and permanent cut in man’s standard of living, and a big increase in government. This is not exactly a platform which will attract a mass base; its adherents will mainly be corrupted intellectuals, with not much national influence. The religionists, by contrast, offer as the solution to all problems a firm code of values, moral principles supposedly provided by God and proved through the ages—and claim to promote the dignity of man and his eternal joy. Which of these contenders do you think people will follow?
To compare ecology and religion in terms of the threat to our future is to fail to understand the power of abstract ideas. No political movement, however popular at the moment, can compete in the long run with a basic philosophy.
Dr. Ghate discusses the “new atheists” — men like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who have lodged important, new criticisms of religion in the wake of the attacks on 9/11. Topics covered include: the connection between faith and force; The nihilistic streak of the “new atheists”; The need for a rational alternative to religion.
Does support for capitalism require belief in Christianity? Dr. Ghate explains why the contrary is true — until capitalism is severed from religion, he argues, a true moral defense of capitalism is impossible and unconvincing. Topics covered include: the authoritarian mentality of the secular left; the left as the secularization of religion; the wider meaning of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.
Uh pope? What happens when your faith and religious expression ridicules and insults my rational, scientific, philosophical views?
Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good. But he said there were limits. By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Yes you can “insult” and “make fun of the faith” of others. That is precisely what freedom of speech protects.
If someone curses you, you are free to curse them back. What you are not free to do is to punch them, i.e., to initiate force against them.
The answer to bad speech is good speech. Not violence. One should only “expect a punch” from a savage. To sanction such violence in principle is to sanction the murder of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo.
Limits to speech are where the speech causes physically injury, i.e., yelling fire in a crowded theater where there is no fire, etc. Punching causes physically injury. Spewing curses, drawing pictures of “the Prophet”, and indicating errors about religious doctrines do not violate the rights of anyone. Quoting Thomas Jefferson:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.”