Two Birds, One Stone, and Lots of Fallacies: A Response to Lawrence Krauss
The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage has been reignited recently by the story of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and her subsequent incarceration and release from prison. Everyone has some commentary on this situation, even Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss. This paper is a response to Krauss’ article titled “All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists” published at The New Yorker.
In the opening paragraph of his piece Krauss makes the statement, “Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma.” It seems to me that Krauss is guilty of a hasty generalization here; he names no specific religion or teaching, rather he seems to group them all together in order to argue against them all. He simply makes no point here.
Krauss also asks the question “To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?” To illustrate his point, Krauss presents a Straw man, “imagine, for example, a jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran suggested that he should be allowed to behead infidels and apostates. Should he be allowed to break the law?” In order for Krauss to make his point, he does not take issue with the actual issue in question, rather it is easier for him to create a hypothetical situation—that everyone should find repugnant—and then use that as a basis to illicit an emotional response and argue against religious freedoms that are in no way tantamount to decapitation. It is much easier to argue against a man made of straw, than a woman of flesh and blood.
Krauss believes we live in a secular nation, “The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another. That’s one of the reasons why a modern secular society generally legislates against actions, not ideas.” In this statement Krauss seems to imply that United States is a secular nation, though his statement is rather ambiguous, it is most likely that he is indeed discussing the United States, as this is the nation in which the Kim Davis case is occurring. If this is the case, his statement is patently false: The United States was founded upon Judeo-Christian values and beliefs, and even those founding fathers that didn’t consider themselves Christian still invoked God or a Creator as the basis for moral authority. This is well attested to and there is no need to delve into this further here.
Krauss rightly argues, “The government has a compelling interest in ensuring that all citizens be treated equally.” I think everyone agrees to that. However, where Krauss goes wrong is when he argues, “But ‘religious freedom’ advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action.” Again, Krauss is relying upon a straw man argument, which is, of course, fallacious. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a Davis supporter argue for the elevation of their beliefs over those of anyone else. Conversely, what they are arguing for is a compromise, that Davis be permitted an exemption from issuing these licenses which conflict with her strongly held religious convictions. This compromise offered merely asked that Davis name be removed from these certificates and that her clerks under her could issue licenses to same-sex couples, so long as the documents do not contain her signature. This compromise would let same-sex couples get the documents required for marriage while also maintaining Davis’ convictions. Thus, the compromise put Davis’ convictions and those of the same-sex couples on equal footing; both are accommodated, and one is not elevated over another.
“The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more,” argues Krauss. Krauss’ statement is simply contrary to fact; has religion in the United States inhibited freedom, or was it religion that enabled the creation of a free Democratic society where citizens could enjoy freedom?
“Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.” To this I agree; however, I suspect that Krauss considers any law that enables someone to opt out of issuing same-sex marriage documents—but allow other clerks issue them—as elevating religious belief over those rights of others, when, in fact, it is not.
Aside from the Davis controversy, Krauss also makes the claim, “ . . . science is an atheistic enterprise.” To be clear, this claim by Krauss is in the context of open questioning in every direction. But, by making the claim science is an atheistic enterprise seems to be presumptuous. If one were to argue that science is a religious enterprise, Krauss would likely argue contrary to the point. It seems to me that science should be an agnostic enterprise; it should not presume to know the conclusion it wishes to prove, doing so is begging the question. Presuming Atheism and using science to prove that presupposition is fallacious reasoning; honest inquiry must necessarily be done in all directions.
Dr. Krauss also seems to argue rather circularly when it comes to the issue of abortion. He argues that tissue from abortions will be used to save lives through research, which may be true, but one could simply counter that argument with, “why do adult lives matter more than those of unborn children?” Krauss seems to think “The more we learn about workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems.” if this is his belief, as he claims it is, why think adult lives have any value at all? In opposition to those wanting a de-funding of Planned Parenthood, Krauss offers a combined straw man/ad hominem argument. He argues that those in opposition are anti-science. What he does get right is that opponents to Planned Parenthood’s selling of aborted child parts see the life of the child as sacred—a point I fully agree with; why would anyone think that human life is not sacred? We should do research to save lives, but not at the expense of sacrificing others, especially those of the unborn.
Lastly, Krauss invokes ethics as a guiding principle for both the sciences and civic life. Considering his previous comment regarding the perceived purposeless of the universe, why invoke ethics? What principle is he relying on here? If he is implying that ethics makes things better he is arguing that there is a way in which things ought to be, if he is arguing there is a way things ought to be, Krauss must be arguing for an objective standard in which to measure these guiding ethics. If the universe is purposeless, as Krauss thinks, why think there is a way in which things ought to be; Krauss is using objective morality, a point, which his beliefs do not support. With all this being said, Krauss article showcases a failure to come to conclusions using valid premises in a coherent and logical manner.