Monday, August 11, 2014

My Response to Ken Ham's Direct Accusation That An Atheist Has No Moral Compass

Mere hours ago, gentle readers, I found via my Facebook feed that my friend and admired colleague Dan Arel, of Alternet, The Huffington Post, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science fame, was to be speaking briefly on the radio of an overrated Christian station, regarding Ham's feelings being "attacked" by secularists. In order to support my friend, but also to provide another well-needed atheist voice on the station, I struck up the number and hammer-dialed until I got through.

With Ham on the line, I heard Dan defend well the economic concerns of Ham's Ark Encounter park, namely whether or not it would be supported by public dollars (which, in a sense, it is). Ham deftly evaded the questions put to Dan by calling him a liar and the station quickly hung up the line, which Dan wrote about here. I waited in eager anticipation to get in my own question, which was apropos my own concerns on the morality of the Bible, especially on the Old Testament, on which Ham considers himself an expert.

When my opportunity came, (which can be heard here, around timestamp 47:17) I decided that with such little time a simple question would be in order to ask Mr. Ham: if Noah's action to curse his grandson for a crime he didn't commit was moral or not. Rather unexpectedly, Mr. Ham (who lives well up to his latter name with his response) asked me why I should care at all, as an atheist can't have an ultimate basis for a moral compass and therefore shouldn't mind what Noah did in any case. His Twitter clarification is below to avoid any confusion on his thoughts.

My own quickly-typed reply and subsequent erroneous syntax notwithstanding, I was surprised because I expected a theist of Mr. Ham's debating experience not to supply such a remarkably soft-ball and trite response; an answer I have heard many times while debating theists. And, since I had promised him on air that I would be happy to continue this discussion on another platform in regards to available time, I am required by my duty as a gentleman and as a commentator on the topic to provide a more definitive answer, here.

Can an atheist have a moral commentary, since a theist assumes he doesn't have an ultimate center from which a moral judgement is made? 

The answer is whole-heartedly yes, for the most obvious of reasons. An atheist performs an action to the public scrutiny of human solidarity -- we understand whether or not an action is wrong based on our evolutionary psychology. We know that killing is wrong because it would have weakened the integrity of the social unit. We know that adultery is wrong because it would have destabilized the primacy of genetic progression. We know that pederasty is wrong because it is traumatic to the child, whose health is paramount in the proliferation of the species. But, more poetically and importantly, we understand that in doing harm to our fellow humans, we toxify the idea of love and spread social entropy in its place; a thing at which our humanity balks. In tandem with this, we distinctly understand that a violation of these principles means that we would have to answer to ourselves, and not to someone else's imaginary friend, conjured for the purposes of enforcing such self-moral observations in the first place. For these reasons and more, not believing in god allows for the greatest possible morality, as we thereby base our actions not on faith, but on human retribution and an established social order. 

This is without saying that my inquiry of Mr. Ham was made from the politest possible grammar, and his response was more than deprecating, but even abusive. I'll not suffer to be called by a creationist hack to be lacking in human decency, while he touts as a moral teaching a book which commands the slaughter of innocent peoples, the quashing of free thought, the subjection of women, and the sacrifice of children. It goes without comment to say that the moral platform is, in this case, self-illuminating, but some comment from Yours Truly will do no harm to amplify the contrast. 

Mr. Ham, I do sincerely hope to hear a response from you, as our radio conversation was cut so inappropriately short. In your followup, I desire that you address better the argument now placed before you, rather than the callous and tawdry evasion that you gave to the original questions. 

And best of regards to Dan, who led the charge and who has, with ultimate vigor, continued the civil discussion with Mr. Ham on his Twitter account. ( I imagine the continued correspondences between us all should be enlightening. 


  1. Ken Ham certainly lives up to his name here. The whole discussion seems to be based on a grand sense of misdirection. Almost each question was answered with such a bland display. I thought Christians were those who had the definitive answers. I guess it's all just ham in the end.

  2. I had a wonderful comment written out and blogger deleted it when I clicked "publish."

    I'm curious how atheism allows for the greatest possible morality "as we thereby base our actions not on faith, but on human retribution and an established social order." I'm probably misunderstanding, but how does that work? The established social order tends to favor oppression, and human retribution tends to strike those who stand against oppression.

    There are some theists (like Theodore Parker) who believe that God has set the universe on a moral arc toward justice. Do atheists believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice? Would those who believed in that be more likely to side with justice, even if the established social order sided with injustice and human retribution attacked those who stood for it? Would there be harm if many people believed that was the case, and the fact that it was the case was God's will, or would there be good - regardless of whether it was the case or not?

    I'm curious. I haven't had many conversations with atheists, and I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

    Peace :)

  3. Also, sorry for the weird icon. I blog at I'm a real person, I promise.

  4. Hello, David. Thanks for an awesome question.
    Not to sound like I'm ducking it, but I am actually writing a book on the subject of atheist morality right now. Your question comes in play and I don't want to give too much away. I'm cranking it out as quickly as I can, so hopefully you won't have to wait too long.

    I'll definitely take a look at your blog. In the meantime, take care!