Pharyngula

The Washington Post had a ‘conversation’ on a very stupid question:

Do you believe in heaven or hell? If not, why not? If so, who’s going there and how do you know?

It’s a stupid question, because the only sensible answer is “no” and “because there is no evidence for it, nobody has been to either place and come back to tell us about it, and everyone who makes claims about them is using them as a carrot-and-stick to compel you to obey them”. Unfortunately, What the WaPo did was gather a bunch of gullible theobabblers, and it’s a collection of the most absurdly pious garden mulch this side of the Crystal Cathedral. It’s got short essays from the Dogmatic A-hole Brigade (Chuck Colson and Cal Thomas) to a swarm of blithering churchmice who squeak out vacuous promises of eternal love.

It’s uniformly awful, with one exception: the token nonbeliever, Susan Jacoby. She doesn’t believe in either heaven or hell.

But I certainly do believe in purgatory. Purgatory is wondering whether the human race in general, and my fellow Americans in particular, will ever grow up enough to realize that we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity—not because we are looking forward to being entertained by harpists among the clouds or are terrified of eternal flame.

That’s the only one worth reading in the whole bubble-headed, mindless collection. It’s also the one that gathered the most comments. That should tell everyone something right there—shouldn’t we all be tired of the empty promises and delusional fantasies of the theologically inclined by now?

(via gnosos, who has a shorter summary of many of the articles)

Comments

  1. #1 Edd
    June 28, 2007

    That Jim Cooper fellow, ‘the 17th Rector of Trinity Church-St. Paul’s Chapel in the city of New York’ – what he’s written is both bonkers and incredibly irresponsible. You’d think a relatively senior churchman writing in the Washington Post would make at least a token effort to have a clue what he’s talking about.

  2. #2 Hidari
    June 28, 2007

    As a fellow atheist please don’t take this the wrong way, but Susan Jacoby’s argument that suicide attacks are something to do with Islam (or religion in general for that matter) is false. As should be well known by now (it isn’t but it really should be), the majority of suicide attacks to date have been carried out by the Tamil Tigers: a Marxist/atheist group. Recently there were suicide attacks in Ankara carried out by the Marxist/nationalist PKK.

    There is no evidence that belief in an after-life makes you more likely to commit suicide. Durkheim’s argument (for what it’s worth) was that ‘modernity’ and (therefore, presumably) secularism was likely to RAISE suicide rates. Most religions have extremely strict injunctions against suicide and Islam is no different, which is possibly why atheists (Marxists) are more likely to use suicide bombing as a tactic than radical Islamic groups. (To repeat: the contrary is often stated in the West but is false).

    Even when radical Islamic groups DO use suicide bombing, it’s simply because they can’t strike back any other way. CF Hizbollah who began as the ‘kings’ of suicide bombing: but as soon as their funding increased they turned themselves into a more conventional guerilla army. CF also Hamas who use ceasefires etc. and who have openly admitted that they would fight the Israelis in the ‘conventional’ fashion if they had the money to equip and train a ‘proper’ army.

    Research into the lives of the 9/11 bombers has shown that Mohamed Atta (etc.) were much more similar to, say the Red Army Faction (in terms of motivation etc.) than to the religious zealots of the past. He was most strongly motivated by hatred of American foreign policy, NOT the prospect of eternal life. If Atta had been an atheist would he have done the same thing? Probably.

  3. #3 Mark Nutter
    June 28, 2007

    Hidari, I notice you don’t cite any evidence to support the claim that secularism/atheism is more likely to raise suicide rates or encourage suicide attacks. (More likely than what?) As for the Tamil Tigers, I don’t think anyone is arguing that religion is the only reason people commit suicide attacks. But religion most definitely is a factor in many suicide bombings, especially against innocent civilian targets, and needs to take its share of the blame.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/16/AR2005071601363_pf.html

    And let’s not forget the role of religion in defining what it was about American foreign policy that Mohamed Atta hated so much. Would there even be an Israel for Islamists to hate, if it were not for the millenial obsession of American fundamentalists and evangelicals? Not to mention, of course, the role of the Jewish religion in defining Jewish ethnicity and Zionism.

    Just because there are suicide bombings that do not involve religion, that does not mean that there is no suicide bombing that does. Religion is in this up to its neck, and it is misleading to deny it. There are other factors too, and these also deserve consideration, but that does not make religion innocent here.

    m

  4. #4 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    “we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity”

    Why ought we to treat one other decently on the basis of common humanity? What is the nature of “humanity?” Why should “humanity” be the basis of anything?

  5. #5 CalGeorge
    June 28, 2007

    Oh, goodie.

    Always nice to get a few more doofuses on record.

    Good for a few laughs.

    “Look at me, I’m an idiot!”

  6. #6 IanR
    June 28, 2007

    Of the ones I read, Cal Thomas was the worst…you could get that from any fundie (at least Colson was concise). I thought Jacoby was a bit predictable – I don’t like to read something that doesn’t tell me anything new.

    I thought NT Wright’s was the most interesting – I don’t agree with him, but he put the pieces together differently, gave me something I hadn’t thought of, hadn’t read a hundred times. Having a thought I haven’t had before is always good.

  7. #7 frank
    June 28, 2007

    “Go to heaven for the climate; go to hell for the company.” Mark Twain

  8. #8 Sobex
    June 28, 2007

    I realize #4 is most likely a trollish comment. Nonetheless, I will answer the questions.

    “Humanity” is the commonality that we all share with each other as members of the same species. You cannot feel any commonality if you think that the person walking down the street who has, say, a different skin tone, or a different accent, is not a member of the same community. It is one’s sense of empathy which helps one to realize that others have desires, goals and needs similar to one’s own. Historically, feelings of empathy have only extended to one’s own tight-knit tribe, or local town, or parish. It should be a modern goal to strive to extend this empathy towards all fellow members of our species. I’d argue that this extends to our fellow great apes, but we haven’t achieved full empathy with our fellow human beings, so one step at a time 🙁

    That being said, we also recognize that some of our closest relatives (brothers, sisters, parents) have individual differences in tastes and interests, and thus the concept of individual liberty becomes important. As we recognize that we do not wish others to interfere in our various pursuits, we codify our desire not to interfere in various intellectual/physical pursuits of others unless they threaten the liberties of others. Herein lies the motivation for championing the cause of individual liberty over the tyranny of the majority.

    “Humanity” should be the basis for creating our legal / moral structure, because we are affirming that we are capable of understanding ourselves as individuals and as a species. If you claim that we are not capable of understanding ourselves, that only some mythical “god” can provide this, then we should act as Thomas Paine suggested, and only trust “divine revelation” when it is presented directly to us. Even if your twin brother had received some “divine revelation”, Paine would say that you are not obliged to accept it as true because it would be hearsay coming from his mouth to your ears. Thus, any and all holy texts are rendered invalid as moral authorities, given that they are works of man. This then leaves us to create our moral values/ legal codes based on … the reasons I mentioned at the beginning 🙂

  9. #9 bernarda
    June 28, 2007

    It reminds me of Joe Hill’s song with line “pie in the sky”.

  10. #10 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Hi,

    It wasn’t just a trollish comment. I genuinely wonder. People seem to take it for granted that common humanity is the basis of morality. I don’t see this.

    “It should be a modern goal to strive to extend this empathy towards all fellow members of our species.” Where does this “should-ness” come from? Why “should” we try to extend sympathy? What normative reason do we have to do so?

  11. #11 Jimmy
    June 28, 2007

    I think you need to make it clear what we are talkin about here:Coulter’s Hell(Yellowstone)?

    OR Ann Coulter’s Hell (Brimstone)?

  12. #12 Dono
    June 28, 2007

    You “genuinely wonder” why people should treat each other decently on the basis on common humanity?

    I appreciate an inquisitive mind as much as the next guy, but jeez-louise, the question answers itself.

  13. #13 CalGeorge
    June 28, 2007

    How to become a pastor, rector, theologian, bishop, religion professor, etc.:

    1) Read Bible. Thoroughly (this is the hardest part!).
    2) Bible in hand, become expert in bullshitting by attending a bullshit seminary (also known as a “theological” seminary) or other facility of religious indoctrination. [Note: also consider the shorter path to success – self-bestowed credentials! Just go out and start blabbering. It might take a while, but you will eventually attract a crowd of stupid people (they’re everywhere).]
    3) Making a living by attracting money: Smile. Bullshit. Con. Important: make people feel good! And always, always sound profound! Make promises about Jesus (Don’t worry! No one will be able to prove that you are bullshitting, that’s the beauty of it!)

    Congratulations, you are set for life. People will legitimize you with their “flocking” behavior. You have a cushy life without having to do much of anything – except bullshit! What could be better?

    Bravo!

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    June 28, 2007

    Actually, I think it is an interesting question. Would we expect bears to treat each other well on the basis of their common ursinity? Should beetles be decent to one another because they share a common coleopterousness? I don’t think it’s necessary at all for individuals of a species to be kind to one another for that species to thrive.

    It’s just that we take for granted that we are not that kind of species. We are social organisms, and we depend on the bond of the clan, the tribe, the culture in order to survive. It’s not a matter of cooperating so that we go to heaven, it’s so that we aren’t lonely naked soft easy prey with pathetic claws and teeth in this world.

  15. #15 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    That’s precisely what I question – the self-evidence of such a belief.

    WHY is common humanity the basis of morality? (What IS common humanity, anyway?)

    Basically, what reason does anyone have not to be a solipsist, morally speaking, other than that they feel like it at the moment? Isn’t the morality of common humanity simply convention? Is it really the only normative basis we have?

  16. #16 Mark Plus
    June 28, 2007

    Speaking of heaven and hell:

    http://www.veoh.com/videos/v645608CMmYR8zH

  17. #17 Kseniya
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo, I think if you turn your focus away from “should” and towards “do,” the answer will be clearer.

  18. #18 b_nichol
    June 28, 2007

    According to the bible, how many humans have actually been “taken” up to heaven? Or sent to hell or purgatory?
    Answer: none, nada, rien, zip, …

  19. #19 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Kseniya,

    I’m not quite sure what you mean.

    We do, indeed, generally treat people humanely, but I’m going for more than just description. I want proscription. I’m just not sure there is any.

  20. #20 Mystic Olly
    June 28, 2007

    It looks like Robert Pape’s argument has some validity .. .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dying_to_Win:_The_Strategic_Logic_of_Suicide_Terrorism

    And even though it is a wiki article (boo wikipedia!), he has catalogued the majority of suicide attacks since 1980 in his paper and has come to the conclusion that is largely Nationalism (in the form of objecting to a foreign army) that drives suicide bombings. Unfortunately Nationalism can find many roots in religion. (Hey, that is my holy country, that is my holy city, my saint rode to the seven heavens on a horse from here, my dead Celtic god’s head is buried under your house (which would be Bran buried under saintly Albion) etc.)

    So you can blame whatever, but I find the belief in an afterlife and rewards beyond this world to be a deep, malignant, pus-oozing, angry red sore on the quivering arse of mankind.

    Mystic, sometimes not, Oli.

  21. #21 PalMD
    June 28, 2007

    Interestingly, it isn’t necessary for most people to have a written code of ethics in their pocket to know how to act humanely. Lots of evo literature on that, but, regardless, proscription, punishment, etc, shouldn’t really have to be a part of it–EXCEPT we do need written laws to make certain society functions. Not everyone agrees on everything…hey, it ain’t a theocracy…yet.

  22. #22 cureholder
    June 28, 2007

    I found this comment from Cal Thomas hilariously stupid:

    >>>Scripture repeatedly teaches the existence of a literal Heaven and a literal hell. Whether you believe depends on whether you think God is telling the truth and His Word is reliable.<<< I like how he skips over the particularly ludicrous portion of this claim, namely that "scripture" actually IS the word of god. Whether you believe, according to Thomas, is a function of how reliable you find that "word," not whether that word exists or not.

  23. #23 mojojojo
    June 28, 2007

    (sigh) I believe I am in Hell right now…

  24. #24 Mystic Olly
    June 28, 2007

    PalMD,

    As a contractarian ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract ) I consider that we only need laws that govern certain interactions between individuals. Things like being honest about food labelling, (see the Meat Hope scandal where I live in Japan http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070626a1.html ) which basically means being honest about advertising. And the like.

    PS I realise food-labelling is a minor aspect, but it has been all over the press for the last three days so I thought I would mention it.

    Laws negotiate contracts, not morals. I don’t, and I maybe you might agree with me, commit acts of violence and theft because they are illegal, but largely because I don’t want to. Now where that “want” comes from is the domain of the evil scientitians and their plot to take over the world.

    Oli

  25. #25 octopod
    June 28, 2007

    Really, I think there isn’t any “should” about it, and there’s nothing special about humannness as opposed to…mammal-ness? chordate-ness? animal-ness? alive-ness? that should compel our sympathy. Dono and Sobex, I can see why you might have the knee-jerk response you did, but really the question doesn’t answer itself — there’s no prescription, and besides, species is a category with plenty of its own problems. (Says the paleontologist.)
    After chewing on this for a long time, I’ve come round to a sort of atheist-Buddhist harm-minimization, trying to not destroy anything I don’t need to destroy, and do the best for everything in the universe in a sort of order starting with myself and what I care most about, and going outward from there…not perfect, but what can you do.
    It’s tricky, isn’t it, this living without some celestial nanny to whack your knuckles when you get it “wrong”?

  26. #26 Uber
    June 28, 2007

    Scripture repeatedly teaches the existence of a literal Heaven and a literal hell. Whether you believe depends on whether you think God is telling the truth and His Word is reliable.

    Lets say Ol’ Cal is correct despite the protests well everyone else on what it actually specifically says about either. In my view the very existence of a place of torture and suffering for finite acts removes any pretense of kindness and/or forgiveness. If God is all loving it precludes such a place from being tolerable to such a being let alone created by the same. Then again one could counter God isn’t all loving or forgiving but I don’t think that would sell well.

  27. #27 Ken Watts
    June 28, 2007

    Kseniya:
    Exactly.

    Bravo:
    Empathy is just a human trait. We care (to greater or lesser degree, depending on the alternatives) about other humans because we are a social species.

    So the answer to the question “why should we care?” (in the sense that I think you ask it) is “No reason at all.”

    But the answer to the question “Why do we care?” is “because we’re humans, and that’s what we do.”

  28. #28 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    So if there is no reason why we should care, then why write things like “we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity”? That is simply false, then.

  29. #29 Mark Nutter
    June 28, 2007

    No, there is a “should” too. We should care for one another because each of us, individually, benefits from being part of a mutually-supportive group (provided that the group finds a reasonable balance between the interests of the individual and the interests of the group, of course). If we all practiced every-man-for-himself anarchy, the result would be a significantly lower standard of living for all of us. Cooperation and mutual support are simply strategies that maximize the benefit for the group and the individual.

  30. #30 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    But we have no grounds for criticizing religious believers. Their beliefs just help their group cohere.

  31. #31 Dutch Vigilante
    June 28, 2007

    ” But the answer to the question “Why do we care?” is “because we’re humans, and that’s what we do.” ”

    Expect that we don’t.
    Sure we’re nice and all to our closest kin and friends. And some of us might even give to charity and drag an old woman across the street. But most of us don’t care about people beyond that (Not getting into the ones who actually harm others.)

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo, think of your own long-term self-interest. Reciprocal altruism.

    And then behold the fact that it’s innate. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “If I do good, I feel good. If I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” Natural and sexual selection against assholes, I presume.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo, think of your own long-term self-interest. Reciprocal altruism.

    And then behold the fact that it’s innate. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “If I do good, I feel good. If I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” Natural and sexual selection against assholes, I presume.

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?
    June 28, 2007

    But we have no grounds for criticizing religious believers. Their beliefs just help their group cohere.

    We criticize the side effects.

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?
    June 28, 2007

    But we have no grounds for criticizing religious believers. Their beliefs just help their group cohere.

    We criticize the side effects.

  36. #36 Pete
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo (@19) – I think you mean prescription, and it is a forlorn hope: there isn’t any. There is no objective normativity or morality, no sound ultimate reason why anyone “should” do anything.

    There are several reactions you could have to this. You could become a nihilist and start breaking windows and end up in jail or worse. Or you could sit in a room, lock the door and stare at the wall. Or you could keep on doing whatever you’ve been doing. It’s like when the training wheels come off.

    The naturalist/atheist/materialist view does not offer any bedrock source of morality — but religion doesn’t either and never did (Plato showed that long ago). Let’s admit this and get on with our lives.

  37. #37 commissarjs
    June 28, 2007

    You’d think a relatively senior churchman writing in the Washington Post would make at least a token effort to have a clue what he’s talking about.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA

    It’s pretty easy to be an expert about something that doesn’t exist. You can make up any crazy thing you want and it’s just as accurate as anyone elses made up crap.

  38. #38 Bob L
    June 28, 2007

    >>”I found this comment from Cal Thomas hilariously stupid:
    >>>Scripture repeatedly teaches the existence of a literal Heaven and a literal hell. Whether you believe depends on whether you think God is telling the truth and His Word is reliable.””

    I was noticing some of theist their comments about Jacoby’s article getting snippy about being mocked by atheists in but this quote from Thomas’ shows why this happens; Thomas won’t even concede an atheist just doesn’t believe in any of it. No, we’re atheists because we secretly know there is a God, it is just we hate Him for selfish personal reasons. Kind of hard to have any kind of civil discourse with someone who refuses to admit you even have a separate point of view on the issue.

  39. #39 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    “No reason at all.”
    .
    “No reason at all.”
    .
    WRONG-WRONG-WRONG-WRONG
    .
    Where do you people get such a weapon-grade B/S ? Are you really ready to give in to the “atheists have no morality” nonsense or what ?
    Bravo, what’s wrong with you ? Are you a fundamentalist trying to turn your misconceptions about nonbelievers into a self-fulfilling prophecy ? Or perhaps a straussian ?

  40. #40 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Nope – genuine atheist here. I don’t think you can get ethics from naturalism. Naturalism is true. Thus, no ethics.

  41. #41 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    why exactly do you think one can not get ethics from
    (sic)naturalism ?
    Who told you such an obvious nonsense, and how did you get to believe it too ?

  42. #42 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Sorry if this is double posted. Problems with my internets.

    Have you ever read anything by Moore or Mackie or Nietzsche? They convinced me.

  43. #43 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    My thinking on this one is:

    1) Consider what the world is like if we all go around stabbing each other in the back, literally or metaphorically.

    2) Consider what the world is like if we’re nice to each other.

    3) Which would you rather live in?

  44. #44 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    That just seems like a very tenuous basis for morality. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

    You can’t really make any reply to the Machiavellian who says do what you want as long as you can get away with it. Appearances are what matter, not what you actually do. If you can be “bad” and no one stops you, you have no reason not to be “bad.” Trying to be “good” is just following the herd mentality.

  45. #45 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    Whether there is a hell or not, I think it prudent that mankind live according to the Beatitudes. Would make for a better world. PZ calls it the selfish gene, St Paul calls it flesh. Both are really saying the same thing whether one chases your ghosts or not.

  46. #46 Brownian
    June 28, 2007

    You can’t really make any reply to the Machiavellian who says do what you want as long as you can get away with it. Appearances are what matter, not what you actually do. If you can be “bad” and no one stops you, you have no reason not to be “bad.” Trying to be “good” is just following the herd mentality.

    How about the idea that it often feels ‘good’ to do ‘good’? I enjoy seeing other people happy. Is that herd mentality? Maybe, but it’s about on par with enjoying a tasty meal, since most everyone does that on occasion too.

    Now why is that an insufficient argument against Machiavellian ethics?

  47. #47 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    That’s a perfectly acceptable practical answer. Intellectually speaking, though, we can’t really respond. To say that we should “protect rights” or something, though, is intellectually dishonest, since there is no “should.” Of course, there’s no reason not to be dishonest, really, since there is no right or wrong.

  48. #48 chris
    June 28, 2007

    I like to challenge those people who believe there is a heaven and hell to personalize it. My father was a practicing and unrepentant homosexual. (he suppressed it long enough to stay married and have two kids, but that’s what was done in the 60’s) Anyway, he died a couple of years ago. Anyone who believes needs to be able to tell me to my face that my father is right now in hell enjoying his eternal suffering for violating god’s law. Some of them can do it, and bully for them if they can, but most dance around it by saying something about god considering each case individually, and they’re sure my father was forgiven at the pearly gates and allowed in. It pisses me off every time.

  49. #49 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    “They convinced me.”

    Well, they convicted me too… They convicted me, that they got it all wrong, Each in a different way. ( it feels rather odd to see such different philosophers in one sentence, anyway )
    I could start to go on about where and how any of them was mistaken. But… that would not help us with this argument.
    What I need is to learn where you got it wrong.
    So, please, answer my previous question. Explain us, why do you think that one can not get ethics from “naturalism”( what ever you mean with that).

  50. #50 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    errata : convinced convinced convinced
    too much coffee and no sleep

  51. #51 Mark Nutter
    June 28, 2007

    It depends on what you mean by “right” and “wrong”. If you mean in a dogmatic religionist sense that some higher power somewhere has set up an arbitrary list of do’s and dont’s, then maybe there isn’t. However we’re still going to be constrained by reality, which is going to make some approaches more successful than others. “Right” and “wrong” are guidelines we use to encourage the approaches that experience has shown to be the most successful. In some cases, it may be that the guidelines are only successful in answering people’s superstitious fears and personal biases (e.g. anti-gay “morality”). But I think there are grounds for proposing a practical, reality-based morality that seeks to find the proper balance between benefit to self and benefit to society. Too much benefit to self is crime/anarchy/dictatorship, and too little benefit to self is slavery/oppression. Balance is the pragmatic rule of reality-based morality.

  52. #52 Pete
    June 28, 2007

    Stephen Wells has it right, it’s just that simple. To ask for something “more” than that, such as an ultimate, ungrounded source for morality, is a hopeless impulse. It’s as hopeless to find the ground of “should” in behavioral science or primate sociology as it is to find it in religion. Science can tell us why we do what we do and what things are likely to make us happy, etc., but not what we “should” do. Just because normativity isn’t grounded in god doesn’t mean that it is grounded in something else.

    It’s like an organized sport: a bunch of people get together and decide to do a certain thing. In our case, we agree that we will behave a certain way (decently; in accordance with laws; etc) and punish people when they don’t. This doesn’t mean there is no such thing as morals or ethics, any more than that there is no such thing as football.

  53. #53 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    It seems perfectly clear that morality is simply an adaptation resulting from evolution. There is absolutely no reason to think that it has any “truth.” There are such widely differing beliefs regarding morality that it is hopeless to try and peel some central core out of them all that might be “true morality.”

    Mackie’s error-theory has me convinced. When we make ethical statements we try to assert something true. However, all of our ethical statements are false. There is no metaphysical reality to back our statements up. Such entities would be “queer” and we would have no way of knowing they existed, if they did exist.

    If we try to take a utilitarian tack, we must ask why the greatest number for the greatest good should be our goal. That doesn’t seem to be a self-evident principle, nor is it one that I’ve seen convincingly argued for.

    Tell me why you think Moore’s Open Question argument against naturalism fails. It seems cogent to me. The good is not a natural property. However, since there are no non-natural properties, there is no good at all.

  54. #54 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    The good is not a natural property. However, since there are no non-natural properties, there is no good at all.

    If we accept that there is no good, there can be no bad. Would that be an accurate statement?

  55. #55 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Right. No good, no bad, no right, no wrong. Only individual preference.

  56. #56 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    Right. No good, no bad, no right, no wrong. Only individual preference.

    How can this be true? We could then neither say the Holocaust or the Crusades were wrong.

  57. #57 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Yeah. It might suck, but that’s the logical conclusion.

  58. #58 thwaite
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo,

    Even if you’re determined to elide the useful distinction between what’s reasonable and what’s rational, unlike Stephen Toulmin in his philosopause book RETURN TO REASON after his lifetime studying Wittgenstein in historical context, I’ll speculate there’s really a rational case to make:

    Social morality is like the persistent numerical parity of the sexes – it wouldn’t make sense for one sex to ‘win’. Both build from our biological natures (the origin of sex obscure but related to anisogamy; social sympathy much more recently emerging from the simply rational empathy which seems part of primates’ Theory-Of-Mind complex). And both can constitute Evolutionarily Stable Strategies (ESS) which endure over generations. As to why such ESS are good things – well they perpetuate life, and I think that turtle’s on bedrock

    ESS are usually analysed using game theory, used in evolutionary and behavioral biology since John Maynard Smith and recently explored in detail by Brian Skyrms’ books: EVOLUTION OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT (1996); The STAG HUNT AND THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL STRUCTURE (’04). From the blurb of the former: “Game theory is skillfully employed to offer quite new interpretations of… social phenomena, including justice, mutual aid, commitment, convention and meaning. The author eschews any grand, unified theory.”

    A less quantitative analysis is given in Chris Boehm HIERARCHY IN THE FOREST. He examines the natural history & adaptive utility of coalitions against dominant individuals among non-human primates – coalitions which presumably enlist sympathies. He’s not shy about anthropological parallels.

    And of course Geoffrey Miller’s THE MATING MIND argues at length that altruism and sympathetic actions are part of what’s favored by the intense sexual selection within humans. As his chapter heading quotes, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (this after a section discussing Nietzche’s ‘pagan virtues’, which Miller sees as foundational and necessary but not sufficient for his analysis).

    Any more and I’d be rambling… sorry about that.

  59. #59 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    Yeah. It might suck, but that’s the logical conclusion.

    Yes it would be logical. This puts mankind in a place that is untenable. If there is no good or bad then how are we to learn from our mistakes, because there are no mistakes. History is and will be always governed by the preference of the imediate, judged by no one.

    The future would be only a random sequence of preferernces rather than a controling destiny. Which means to me that man is destined to the whims of the wind of time. There can be no better world nor no new man.

  60. #60 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    The Physicist: excellent summary. Yes.

    thwaite: What does all that have to do with normativity or lack of?

  61. #61 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    excellent summary. Yes.

    Then hope is a futile exercise.

  62. #62 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo, could you tell us the difference between concrete things and abstract concepts ? and also the difference between the word and its meaning, please.
    I’ll then explain why both the “queer” and the “open question” are little more than silly word games based on conflating them.

  63. #63 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Yes. Hope for humanity in the long run is, but then, did any atheists not think so? In the end the sun will supernova. There is nothing human that will last, and even if something human does last, all humans will be long gone. There is no eternal significance for any atheist, even those who think there is real morality. What I don’t get is why they have hope, when everything is bound to end in fire.

  64. #64 mojojojo
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo: But we have no grounds for criticizing religious believers. Their beliefs just help their group cohere.

    1) We don’t? 2) They do?

    Are you sure you are not getting faith (a state of mind) and religion (scriptural strictures) mixed up here? What I mean is, if group cohesion is primary function of religious belief, then how do you account for sectarian dissent?

    Morality is relative, true. Religious dogma is also relative in it’s appraisal of what makes a “good” or “bad” adherent of a particular religion. But religious dogma is not the basis of human morality; surely something more like an innate “conscience” is responsible. Without one, I believe might happily have murdered a hell of a lot of immoral/ammoral people by now. And is that alone not the best evidence that morality is not entirely relative and does serve an evolutionary purpose?

  65. #65 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    But religious dogma is not the basis of human morality; surely something more like an innate “conscience” is responsible. Without one, I believe might happily have murdered a hell of a lot of immoral/ammoral people by now. And is that alone not the best evidence that morality is not entirely relative and does serve an evolutionary purpose?

    Born with conscience, this is an interesting theory, but then how does one mans conscience differ from others.We are born with eyes and they all see pretty much the same thing. But morality itself seems to be more of a cultural phenomena instead of an innate one.

  66. #66 LM Wanderer
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo,
    I believe you will find one answer to your question by reading the book here http://tinyurl.com/3bedgh. Thanks.

    LM Wanderer

  67. #67 mojojojo
    June 28, 2007

    But morality itself seems to be more of a cultural phenomena instead of an innate one.

    Duh! You don’t have to be a behavioral scientist OR a religious scholar to figure that one out. My whole point was the universality of the moral impulse.

    BTW, thank you, Bravo, for being MUCH more thought-provoking than the run-of-the-mill troll 🙂

  68. #68 Sobex
    June 28, 2007

    “What I don’t get is why they have hope, when everything is bound to end in fire.”

    Is that what all your questioning is about? Are we nontheists supposed to feel hopeless because we don’t think we will exist “forever”? Here’s a better question … why would you WANT to live forever? Have you seriously given that real thought? Sure, I’d like to be long lived, as in thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years. But once you get into the millions, let alone eternity — you really find that appealing? Yikes.

    Here’s a positive opinion from the nontheistic view of the universe: we as human beings are one of the few (many? only?) ways in which a purely material universe has become able to reflect upon itself. Why would we want this small flame to perish? Surely the human species will become extinct one day. But to the extent that we are capable of understanding the concept of species, and can modify our own genetic coding, it would be nice if we had a hand in creating our successors who will continue our quest to understand the universe we live in.

  69. #69 The Physcist
    June 28, 2007

    My whole point was the universality of the moral impulse.

    That makes no sense to me, as there is no univesality of the “moral impulse” unless one can first define morality. Unless one simply defines morality as behavior, no matter the behavior, then the whole concept of moral impulse is a no sequitor.

  70. #70 PZ Myers
    June 28, 2007

    This is getting ridiculous.

    1. Whether we have “hope” or not does not matter at all in determining whether atheists are right or not. There is no god, no afterlife…it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got some delusion of heaven or not.

    2. Similarly, the end of the human race someday is irrelevant. All who read this will also be dead in a century. Does your inevitable personal extinction mean you do not savor your life now?

    3. You’re hung up on a theistic abomination, that the value of your life rests in some personal redemption and paradise after death. It doesn’t. The value of life comes of living it. People who moon about thinking their life is meaningless because it will end someday need a good kick in the butt. Get outside and feel the wind in your face.

    4. We are human animals. Among our talents are a capacity for a social existence — interactions with others other than ourselves in which we find personal enjoyment and which we can use to better ourselves. We also have complex minds with foresight and imagination and empathy. There is virtue in simply exercising our natural abilities.

    People who think mortality = futility really annoy me. You’ve been poisoned by religion.

  71. #71 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    Mortality simply means that you can’t hope to experience stuff that might happen after you’re dead. This has nothing to do with any of the things that I actually hope for- a short list includes sex, food, dancing, scientific discoveries, travel and good books.

  72. #72 mojojojo
    June 28, 2007

    That makes no sense to me, as there is no univesality of the “moral impulse” unless one can first define morality. Unless one simply defines morality as behavior, no matter the behavior, then the whole concept of moral impulse is a no sequitor.

    As others have pointed out, you are conflating an abstract concept or principle (morality) with concrete examples of that concept (moral behavior).

    Since we are discussing rhetorical devices, I’d classify yours as highly “circular logic”; no wonder you are so dizzy. Oh, and that’s “non sequitur.”

  73. #73 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    PZ, you seem to underestimate the magnitude of Bravo’s wrongness.
    On his no_up_no_town_bizarro_world there would be no hope even if we were in fact immortal

  74. #74 thwaite
    June 28, 2007

    thwaite: What does all that have to do with normativity or lack of? -Bravo

    The most enduring moral norm I can think of is: enduring. Living, and in a way which doesn’t knowingly curtail future generations (think ecologies, not abortions). Choosing a viable ESS. Choosing coalitions with those who have simlar priorities. To focus the mind: this is the primary rational basis for arguing against strategic use of nuclear weapons. I doubt than any other would suffice for all the several cultures which have deployed such machinery now. These are reasonable goals, sensu Toulman above, and the fact that their strict rationality is difficult to articulate says more about language than about the goals.

    What’s so funny about peace, love & understanding?

  75. #75 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    I most certainly do not think we need immortality to enjoy life. The idea of hope, though, is futural. The Physicist was talking about the future of mankind. If there is no telos for humanity, no end that it is created for, then I think the concept of hope for humanity’s future is pointless. I don’t understand why people think it is good that the human race as a whole continues into the future. Yes, we would like ourselves and our loved ones to continue (at least for a little while, if not indefinitely), but there is no hope that there will be a “new man” or a “better future” for humanity as a whole.

    “There is virtue in simply exercising our natural abilities.” This is false. Perhaps from the standpoint of Evolution (if it were a sentient force) acting morally would be good, but there is no such viewpoint. If morality is nothing more than a selected for trait, it is not normative. There is no substantive content; it is just vague fellow-feeling for those around us.

    You cannot get from “is” to “ought.” Just because humans are evolved to feel certain ways does not mean that it is good that they feel certain ways. It does not mean it is bad, either, though. It just means it is.

    For a naturalist, I think it is as much a delusion to believe that there is right and wrong as it is for theists to believe in God.

  76. #76 Brownian
    June 28, 2007

    “Just because humans are evolved to feel certain ways does not mean that it is good that they feel certain ways. It does not mean it is bad, either, though. It just means it is.”

    So is that evidence for, against, or having nothing to do with your earlier claim?

    “You can’t really make any reply to the Machiavellian who says do what you want as long as you can get away with it. Appearances are what matter, not what you actually do. If you can be “bad” and no one stops you, you have no reason not to be “bad.” Trying to be “good” is just following the herd mentality.”

  77. #77 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    It’s reasoning in the same vein. Not evidence of any sort.

  78. #78 Kseniya
    June 28, 2007

    Empathy, like all human traits, develops. That it is not present at conception (or birth, or at age 3) does not mean that there is no component part of empthaty that is not in some way innate. In some individuals, empathy never develops to maturity. The physiological analogues should be obvious. No?

  79. #79 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    Unsupported assertions pile upon each other :

    “If morality is nothing more than a selected for trait, it is not normative.”

    “There is no substantive content”

    ” You cannot get from “is” to “ought.” ”

    “it is as much a delusion to believe that there is right and wrong as it is for theists to believe in God”

    No reasons given, no explanations, nor justifications… I suppose, expecting them from someone who thinks there is no “should” is an exercise in futility too

  80. #80 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Give me a reason why we should listen to our moral sense if it is ONLY a result of evolution. Or, give me a reason why it is not simply a result of evolution, and might have some other sort of validity. I don’t think our moral sense has any validity. Tell me why I’m wrong.

    Say someone likes to kick others for fun. Should this person refrain from kicking others for fun for any reason other than that it is in his own personal interest to do so? Is morality anything more than merely acting in our self-interest? I don’t think that it is. In other words, if you can do something that would normally get you into trouble without getting into trouble, and you want to do it, do you have a reason not to do it? I don’t think you do. Tell me what reason this person would have, if you think I’m wrong.

  81. #81 Brownian
    June 28, 2007

    “It’s reasoning in the same vein. Not evidence of any sort.”

    Then I don’t understand how you came to assert the following:

    “Trying to be “good” is just following the herd mentality”

  82. #82 Kseniya
    June 28, 2007

    everything is bound to end in fire.

    Ah… So that annoying little Westover Baptist ditty is prophetically correct after all!

    Re: The Futility of Eventual Extinction

    Well, hey. An earth that is destined to perish in flames still looks, in local space-time, like a thriving ball of life, lust and no small amount of strife. There is no shortage of things to hope for, believe me. Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings – nor with an eventuality so remote.

    I don’t know about all y’all, but my knowing that a book has a last page in no way prevents me from enjoying it and reaping whatever benefits it has to offer. To do otherwise would be silly, to say the least – would it not?

  83. #83 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    I try to act in such a way that, if everyone acted like me, the world would be the kind of place I’d like to live in. Maybe that’s “self-interest” per you, but I’m still baffled where you think you’re going with all this.

    As for a “better future for humanity”; why exactly would the future supernova of the Sun in some billions of years affect my hopes and desires for a better (more comfortable, more interesting, preferably less murderous) world for humanity in the next few generations? Anyway, for all we know, in a few billions year’s time our distant descendants will, say, be accessing alternate timelines to deliberately sample unlikely events and produce the spontaneous reduction of entropy, or some other heat-death-avoiding exercise.

  84. #84 Kseniya
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo: Your last post takes a rather simplistic approach to this question. It depends on the nature of the something and on the context in which the something is perpetrated, doesn’t it?

    Rosa Parks did something wrong that she knew could get her in trouble. So did Jeffrey Dahmer. It could be argued that both acted purely out of self-interest. Were their actions morally equivalent? Discuss.

  85. #85 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    Your use of the phrase “ONLY a result” is a value judgment too. Precisely the thing you say is not possible. So you argument undermines itself just like if you screamed “I’m mute!”

  86. #86 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    By “getting in trouble” I meant being forcibly stopped from doing what you want.

    If X wants to kill someone, and can get away with it, is there any reason that X shouldn’t? If there isn’t any reason, then morality is simply convention, simply acting in one’s self-interest. (i.e. if X couldn’t get away with killing someone, it would be in X’s self-interest not to kill someone, because then X would be put in jail or executed, and, presumably, X doesn’t want this to happen.)

    Why do you act in such a way that the world would be a better place? What is your reason for doing so? Is it a (quite vague) moral law? Where does it come from, if it is? Or is it (more likely, I think) that you simply like acting that way?

  87. #87 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    “ONLY a result of evolution” is a (putatively) factual statement. Not an evaluative one. It would be a value statement if facts were value statements, but that they are is at best disputed, and more likely is not believed by anyone.

  88. #88 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    WRONG

    “is a result of” is a factual statement

    “is ONLY a result of” is an evaluative statement – you assign a value inferior to something else to it.
    You say is not enough in some sense, so you have to have some criteria to evaluate .

    And to the X wants kill Y,

    morality is an evolutionary strategy for a social animal.

    And it is an empirical fact that the strategy “kill her if you
    like” is utterly inferior no matter what short term gains you could have from the murder. On the long run it has been shown to be self-defeating. And in evolution, that is the only thing that does count.

  89. #89 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    But why on earth should I care what evolution has done or might be doing?

  90. #90 PZ Myers
    June 28, 2007

    OK, you shouldn’t care. Buh-bye! Be nice (I know, that’s pointless) and don’t do anything that would hurt anyone else when you terminate yourself!

    Hey, how about cutting to the quick here and telling us what reason you have for continuing to live, instead of telling everyone else they don’t have one?

  91. #91 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    Basically because you are subject to it too.

  92. #92 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    Since we are discussing rhetorical devices, I’d classify yours as highly “circular logic”; no wonder you are so dizzy. Oh, and that’s “non sequitur.”

    Sorry for my sloppiness. No, I was not speaking of Moral behavior, but morality. If morality is simply what people choose it to be, then there is no need for the word in our lexicon, that was all I was saying.

    If there is no good and bad between cultures because of the instinctive qualities of the human being then we shouldn’t confuse ourselves with the word “morality” when discussing human behavior, because it doesn’t exist.

    Unless of course one decides as a group to make up certain rules from a reasoned approach by empirical evidence, that certain things are a bad thing. For example drinking to much is detrimental to ones health therefore the natural world tells us that drinking too much is bad idea. This however, creates a paradox of the self vs community relationship.

  93. #93 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    So because ballroom dancing is what people choose it to be, we don’t need a word for “waltz?”

  94. #94 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    I never said I didn’t enjoy my life, or that I wanted other people to kill themselves! Where did that come from?

    I’m just trying to make the point that morality is an illusion. Don’t have time to write a paper on it now though.

  95. #95 Pete
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo, you start out with a correct premise: that there is no objective ground for normativity. But you are drawing far too many conclusions from it.

    No objective ground for moral right and moral wrong does not mean “No good, no bad, no right, no wrong. Only individual preference.” Just like no objective ground for the rules of baseball does not mean “No runs, no hits, no errors”.

    You’re like a spectator in the stadium saying, “Who says he was out – how do you justify that? Those ‘official’ rules of baseball have no objective ground for their normativity!”. Sure, you are correct – but what an irrelevant point that is!

    I think you might be hung up on the huge atrocities like the Holocaust (why oh why mention the Holocaust – has any argument ever been made clearer by it?) and Crusades. You might feel bad that you can’t stand there and shout “that was Wrong!”. Well, you can’t. But just because no one can look up whether the Crusades were Objectively Wrong (in God’s book, I suppose), does not mean it’s senseless to say it was wrong.

  96. #96 T_U_T
    June 28, 2007

    I don’t like to repeat myself, but morality, being an evolutionary strategy is not, and can not be an illusion. Whether you care about it or not, is utterly irrelevant here.

  97. #97 The Physicist
    June 28, 2007

    So because ballroom dancing is what people choose it to be, we don’t need a word for “waltz?”

    That’s not at all what I said and “waltz” does not follow morality, which cannot be determined or defined by naturalism. If it is be determined that killing yourself with drugs is wrong (morality defined) from where does that come, and if it cannot be proved, then morality does not exist and there is no need for the term.

  98. #98 David Harmon
    June 28, 2007

    It seems perfectly clear that morality is simply an adaptation resulting from evolution. There is absolutely no reason to think that it has any “truth.”

    On the contrary… the most striking fact of evolution is exactly that it only supports stuff that “works”! Morality shows up in social species because the need to maintain a functioning group implies certain things about individual behavior.

    Bravo: Many of your respondents are dancing around a pair of four-letter words. Having written and deleted a lengthy rant about “what morality is”, I realized that wasn’t your question. Then I realized that your question is actually a “wrong question”. You surely have no problem being good to yourself, right? How about family and friends, that is the people you want to benefit?

    The real question isn’t “why should you be good?”, it’s “to whom should you be good?”. And the answer depends on who you consider part of “your tribe”, the community you identify with. For some people it’s restricted to “their own sort”, or even directly to their family or clan. For a lot of people around here, the answer expands to most of humanity, and sometimes beyond. The difference becomes important when you need to deal with strangers….

  99. #99 Dahan
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo,

    You didn’t answer PZ’s question on what reason you have for continuing to live. I’m sure that wouldn’t take an entire paper to answer.

  100. #100 thwaite
    June 28, 2007

    I don’t understand why people think it is good that the human race as a whole continues into the future.
    …well, hell, when the Dalek fleet shows up, we won’t enlist you… and never mind the endogenous ecological threats to humanity.

    Say, have you been reading John Gray’s Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals lately?

    I don’t believe you’re giving due weight to the evolutionary argument and tomes I cited above. We are what we are – and even if for some reason we don’t choose to be that any more, we do well to know in detail what we are.

    Tell me what reason this person would have [to respect social norms in the absence of immediate punishment], if you think I’m wrong.

    The evolutionary punishment isn’t immediate, but tends to prevail: the logic in Miller’s MATING MIND is that murderers and other bad actors aren’t popular (which is mostly true) and will have fewer offspring. Snip from p.330:

    When we favor kindness in courtship, we are favoring a real personality trait… In the leading “five-factor” model of personality, one of the factors is “agreeableness.” …[includes] compassionate, loving sincere, trustworthy and altruistic. …When people are asked to rate personality features as positive or negative, the agreeableness feature always tops the chart. …Also, agreeableness appears to be moderately heritable, so agreeable parents tend to produce agreeable children.
    By looking for sympathy during courtship, people may also be trying to avoid psychopaths. True psychopathology (“antisocial personality disorder”) is very rare, occurring in less than 1 percent of the population, but psychopaths account for a very high proportion of murders, rapes, assaults and other serious crimes. Psychopathology is basically the absence of sympathy. There are fewer female psychopaths [they tend to be poor mothers] …

  101. #101 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    thwaite: Say I don’t want to have offspring. Then trying to “act in accord with evolution” doesn’t motivate me. Evolution as a phenomena cannot tell us how to act. Studying evolution can help us understand how humanity has continued, but it doesn’t tell us why we should want it to continue. It can’t because it is a scientific theory; it has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong.

    RE: Morality being an illusion: I mean not, of course, that morality doesn’t exist; clearly, human groups have codes of conduct. The question is whether any of those codes of conduct are more legitimate than others; is there a true code of conduct, is there a code of conduct that all humans everywhere should abide by. If so, what is it, how do we know it, where does it come from?

    RE: Reason to live – intellectually speaking, there is no reason to continue to live. On the other hand, there is no reason to commit suicide.

    David Harmon: What I’m trying to get at is the fact that we have no basis, other than preference, for saying to others that they should or shouldn’t act in a certain way. If my tribe includes gay people, and I want gay people to be able to marry, I can’t say to people who’s tribes don’t include gay people, “You should be nice to gay people and let them marry.” On what basis would I make such a claim? Point to the moral law that would tell us that all people should be treated the same way.

    The baseball analogy is one I’ve heard before. We can make rules and then try to follow them. Me saying that the rules were created doesn’t mean that the rules aren’t real now. However, to someone who doesn’t want to “play the game” what do we say? Maybe there is nothing to say. I want there to be something to say, though. I feel like there isn’t something to say to them. Perhaps wanting there to be some all-convincing argument is a misplaced desire.

    Are there any rules of conduct that I must accept, if I am to stay within the bounds of rationality? Maybe there are, but I’m not sure. Now, to someone who doesn’t want to stay in the bounds of rationality, perhaps the only response is suppression or coercion. That doesn’t feel intellectually satisfying. Maybe it’s just a hang up I need to get over, though.

  102. #102 Michael Glenn
    June 28, 2007

    Doesn’t part of the problem lie in insisting there “should” be a purely rational basis for moral behavior?

    Rationally, Jews, Christians, and Muslims are moral (to the extent they are) because their Jealous God will punish them if they aren’t. There’s no rational “should” there beyond how you “should” behave to avoid punishment.

    Rationally, adherents of many Eastern religions are moral (again, to the extent they are) because they will be punished in their next life if they aren’t. There’s no rational “should” there either, beyond the avoidance of punishment.

    Rationally, naturalists are moral because they recognize that bad behavior is more likely to be reciprocated by bad behavior. There’s no rational “should” there as well, only a recognition of reality.

    The only “should” lies in what you want. If you want people to treat you well, then you “should” seriously consider treating them well first.

    So, yeah, in a way it’s personal preference, but combined with a recognition of what’s more likely to work out best for everyone in the long run.

  103. #103 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    If it’s about staying within the bounds of rationality, that’s not so much a question about morality as it is about sanity, no?

  104. #104 Pete
    June 28, 2007

    I want there to be something to say, though. I feel like there isn’t something to say to them. Perhaps wanting there to be some all-convincing argument is a misplaced desire.

    There is plenty to say, e.g.:
    “If you don’t want to play, then at least do not disturb us. If you do we will devote substantial energy and time to finding you out and sanctioning you”

    But you apparently do not just want something to say – you want to say something that by mere force of persuasion compels a certain behavior. You want a “basis” for your exhortations. But you also realize that there is none. That doesn’t mean you must stop making them. Yes, this is a hangup, and I think you will get over it and realize the world works just fine without such a basis and always has.

    Here’s a suggestion: take the “should”s you want to say and rephrase them as conditional promises (like I did above).

    I will note that there is no absolute morality under any religion, either. No religion has ever provided any; but they have tricked some people who haven’t read Plato into thinking they have provided it. “God commands” is not objective either. This is really a deep philosophical question and has nothing to do with Atheism, as many people have been pointing out.

  105. #105 s taylor
    June 28, 2007

    The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher [booktv.org]

    Upshot: a preacher who didn’t believe in hell.

  106. #106 Stephen Wells
    June 28, 2007

    We tend to get a lot of theists complaining that atheism removes an absolute ground for morality; whereas the truth is there never was any such absolute ground, certainly not in religion. It’s a bit like complaining that roast beef doesn’t taste good compared to ambrosia, the nectar of the gods. There is no such thing as ambrosia, and the roast beef is delicious.

  107. #107 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Yes, it doesn’t specifically relate to atheists.

    I’m just assuming that most atheists aren’t moral realists. Perhaps that is a false assumption.

    If you’re not a moral realist, then your options are bascially noncognitivism, constructivism, or skepticism.

    I don’t have a good feel for how many people are noncognitivists there actually are, but I think probably not too many. The idea that moral statements can be reduced to “Boo X” or “Hurrah X” seems clearly false to me.

    Yes, there is an aspect of that, but I think if you asked most people, they would say they are trying to make factual statements. That is why I am a skeptic like Mackie. Moral statements are putatively true. People appeal to objective standards when making them. The objective standards people appeal to simply don’t exist.

    Probably more common is the contstrucitivist approach – morality is what ideally rational observers would all agree upon. This is probably quite practical, but, as I said above, I just feel that it isn’t quite satisfying. It seems too much like fictionalism – we’re going to pretend that these moral laws exist objectively. Perhaps someone who doesn’t want to play the game is simply irrational. But then why be rational? Why not just be a hedonist?

    I think skepticism is the most convincing position.

    Now, this has nothing to do with whether I want to keep on living, or whether I think other people should commit suicide or not. Some have said that being mortal does not take away the enjoyment of life now; it seems that lack of objective morality does not either.

    I just have a hard time seeing why anyone would be moral or want to be moral if morality is not objectively true, true regardless what people might think. Human rights seem to depend on whim, if they are not objective. Granted, they do depend on whim in historical fact, but without objective standards of human rights, criticizing human rights violations seems somehow odd to me.

  108. #108 Numad
    June 28, 2007

    “We tend to get a lot of theists complaining that atheism removes an absolute ground for morality; whereas the truth is there never was any such absolute ground, certainly not in religion. It’s a bit like complaining that roast beef doesn’t taste good compared to ambrosia, the nectar of the gods.”

    I’d go even further than that. Even if one admits the existence of a supernatural entity, the fact is that divine edict still wouldn’t be an absolute ground for ‘objective morality.’

  109. #109 thwaite
    June 28, 2007

    So, yeah, in a way it’s personal preference, but combined with a recognition of what’s more likely to work out best for everyone in the long run. – Glenn

    Basically yes – an ESS, ultimately for the children.

    Say I don’t want to have offspring. – Bravo

    This is actually my personal choice: no progeny, for both genetic considerations and some idealisms. Humans are unique like that – able to forego reproduction voluntarily. (I’ve had several dozen classes of academic ‘progeny’ – that’s not entirely irrelevant.)

    But it doesn’t mean I’m immune from all the physical and mental ‘whisperings within’ (curse you, Barash) which evolved to favor kids, including the social proclivities suited to mate choice and to decades-long pair-bonds for their maturation.

    I re-read the target article here (just for grins) and realized that there is a ‘hell’ even for evolutionary naturalists: it’s a failure of reproductive success, be it genetic or ‘memetic’.

    Wasn’t it Haldane who speculated that a moral philosopher-bee in any social species would have a very different take on what’s normative?

  110. #110 cureholder
    June 28, 2007

    I loved this:

    >>>It’s pretty easy to be an expert about something that doesn’t exist. You can make up any crazy thing you want and it’s just as accurate as anyone else’s made up crap.<<< I made a similar comment to my political theory Ph.D adviser while I was working on a paper regarding Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. I wrote in a cover letter, "Arguing with Hegel is like arguing with Dr. Seuss. It's difficult to construct an argument against someone who seems to make everything up out of thin air?" Never did get that Ph.D . . .

  111. #111 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 28, 2007

    Nomination: Bravo, in the category, “Best Imitation of a Turing Test.”

    “I just have a hard time seeing why anyone would be moral or want to be moral if morality is not objectively true, true regardless what people might think.”

    Look, man, what makes you think that human beings – ANY of them – THINK in terms of what you are pleased to identify as “objectivity” let alone “objectively true”? What the heck are you looking at? People? I think not.

    By your own requirement for “normative grounds” that ought to exist independently apart from our minds, your “objectivity” doesn’t exist either. NONE of the conceptual trappings of the human mind exist OUTSIDE of the human mind or our collective minds in the form of a culture.

    So WHAT? Why “SHOULD” they???

    What makes YOU think that there is a natural standard for “objectivity”? You keep asking as if you were actually interested in an answer.

    But here’s something you can chew on for awhile: human beings – as subjective and ignorant and vascillating and etc. as they may be – are themselves products of nature, nay? While ALL of them are subject to the actual physical environment, NONE of those human beings can consciously respond to it other than by their CONCEPTUAL MODELS of their environment based on their experience. Some conceptual models (as with those within the arena of morals and ethics, like empathy and compassion) are demonstrably more effective at promoting social cohesion and individual “feel-good” effects, however justified, than models that reject them are. They work because they promote benefits to the social group as a whole. Individuals get the benefit if the group benefits too, y’know.

    Your problem is that you don’t want to make a distinction between a CONCEPT and the ACTUAL OBJECT of a conception…or you actually THINK that a concept can only exist if is already somehow sanctioned by nature with an independent existence outside of our minds. Since you find nothing out there that serves as a suitable foundation for YOUR concept, you make the ridiculous claim that the CONCEPT doesn’t exist.

    Yet concepts verily exist. We’re neck-deep in sublime and lousy ones. Mostly, unfortunately, lousy ones, like yours.

    Yeah yeah yeah, go ahead and repeat that there isn’t any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘justice’ or whatever else of the general ilk in nature. What can be more tiresome than somebody repeatedly trumpeting that the Sun is BRIGHT? But these are CONCEPTS of the genetically and culturally-cultivated HUMAN MIND. Of COURSE we won’t see any basis for them OUTSIDE of our heads. So WHAT? How can that possibly mean the CONCEPTS don’t exist?

    The important thing is that human beings harbor conceptual models of reality, however unmeasurably slippery they are, and they DON’T need to have any “objective/normative basis” existing outside of our heads for them to exist IN our heads. Those human beings are products of nature, and therefore those CONCEPTS (not the straw man you beseach must exist elsewhere nature) exist in natural reality: therefore, CONCEPTS of morality and altruism exist, QED. WE are the repositories of those pesky whispy concept thingies that so often confuses the heck out of otherwise rational folks, but that doesn’t mean the concepts, sublime or lousy, somehow “don’t exist.”

    Its been a bad tick season, digging the heads out. Either that, or you might request that your programmer upgrade your code to include the missing bits that would definitely make you seem more “human”. For now, your imitation doesn’t succeed in persuading me that you are entirely human, although the faulty logic bit is a charming strategy.

    [BTW – i see your programmer has added a nice touch by incorporating an “ism-generator” (“If you’re not a moral realist, then your options are bascially noncognitivism, constructivism, or skepticism”). Oooh, I like when you talk dirty like that. Off to the allergy meds chest now….and maybe something for Lyme disease.]

  112. #112 truth machine
    June 28, 2007

    The discussion of morality here is remarkably ignorant, especially for a bunch of naturalists. We’re well behaved towards other people because our parents and others in our society trained/indoctrinated/programmed us to be so, it being in their interests to do so. If they did their job properly, then we’re good little machines who have an internal ethics. The reason we should be well behaved toward others is because we want to — that’s what we value, because we were crafted to value it. But it seems that there are a lot of naturalists who are really dualists, resisting the fact that they are machines and thinking of themselves as being sui generis. Odds are that Bravo is a libertarian — a result of poor programming.

  113. #113 Bravo
    June 28, 2007

    Arnosium, do you know nothing about metaethics? I wasn’t just making those names up because they sounded cool. Those are the theories that philosophers wrestle with, not the result of some “ism-generator.”

    To hell with the argument. You win. Morality doesn’t exists but it does. We can have our cake and eat it too. If we can just study evolution closely enough we will discover all of the secrets or morality; evolution will make us all be good. We just need to act in accord with evolution.

  114. #114 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    Moral statements are putatively true. People appeal to objective standards when making them. The objective standards people appeal to simply don’t exist.

    This is the sort of transparently false just-so story that makes so much of professional philosophy worse than worthless. People like you and Mackie simply can’t be bothered with the facts when they get in the way of your theories. Any examination of what people really do will reveal that appeal to the social contract, personal authority (“it’s wrong because I’m your mother and I say it’s wrong”), and such things as the bible, which they misconstrue as objective, but which certainly exist. Mostly, though, they don’t appeal to anything at all, unless pressed to justify their claims, in which case they invent some rationalization, much as people with certain kinds of brain damage make up stories to explain their own behavior that is completely inexplicable to them. And the underlying reason is the same — the reasons that people feel strongly that some things are right and some things are wrong are opaque to them. Our self models are of autonomous free willed agents, but our models are factually wrong. The reasons that we have these strong feelings are a-rational — they come not from a deliberative process, but from the biological facts about our brains, which result from a combination of out evolutionary history and the sort of personal history that I noted above — our childhood indoctrination (funny how closely most people’s religion-based moral claims track their parents’ and their community’s). We no more have our own reasons for our moral preferences than we have our own reasons for becoming aroused by the thought of having an orgasm; our conscious reactions are forced upon us by sub-conscious brain processes (this is actually true of all of the content of our consciousness). But folks like you and Mackie attack these issues as if there were no biology, as if people were free to pick and choose their preferences, and so you seek some sort of rational justification for those preferences. This is, as Marvin Minsky and Daniel Dennett say, pre-computational thinking. All of these knotty philosophical problems have already been swept away by the computational/cognitive/cybernetic revolution that reveals the mind to be a physical process of the brain (what’s it like to be a process, Nagel should have asked), but most philosophers are quite unaware of it, and many seem to be downright proud to be so completely divorced from empirical considerations, just as those Greek philosophers thought it beneath them to look in the horse’s mouth before considering the number of its teeth.

  115. #115 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    I wasn’t just making those names up because they sounded cool. Those are the theories that philosophers wrestle with, not the result of some “ism-generator.”

    Ha, that is funny. Most philosophers form a cult of sorts, a cult that generates isms just a surely as religions generate mythologies. These categories of isms are built upon layers of misunderstandings and rarely examined assumptions. Wittgenstein and Quine blew much of this to smithereens, showing that much of what philosophers do is playing logically incoherent (and thus all that “wrestling”) word games, but most philosophers have ignored them. I like how, when philosophers criticize Dennett’s views on the basis of not offering a complete ontology of mental phenomena, he points out that they are in no position to complain when they can’t even provide an ontological theory of laps and smiles. The fact is that, at a very basic level, these philosophers don’t really have any idea what they are talking about.

  116. #116 chips
    June 29, 2007

    the religion ones sure get people going. Mr. Meyers it seems every for you has to have some sort of proof. Does the unknown scare you becuase you don’t understand it, you must be scared of being called unintelligent. How do you get into this mind set, that there is nothing to believe in what so ever, and you constantly bash the Christian religion. What do you believe in? No God, how is that possible. I’m not saying all read the bible everyday and go to church every sunday. But, how did the big bang happen then, something had to put it into motion. Gases can’t just appear from nowhere science proves that. I am not telling to you to believe in God, nor am I some religious nut. But you need to lighten up, and not be so narrow minded.

  117. #117 Quigley
    June 29, 2007

    How can someone tell you about heaven or hell, if every that goes there, goes there after they are dead. You sound like an avid science believer, you should now that dead people can’t talk. Nobody knows what happens after death, so that means anything can happen after death, including heaven and hell. So don’t be so quick to dismiss those to options.

  118. #118 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    You are undoubtedly right that most people don’t have a developed theory behind their moral reactions – it is all character formation from when they are younger. Their reasons probably are opaque to them. Maybe I should say that it seems to me that if people were forced to try to overcome that opacity, they would be more likely to say something like “X is wrong” is an objective fact – it is true regardless of whether or not anyone thinks it is true. Perhaps this is a wrong intuition on my part.

    I wonder why, though, if many atheists think as you do, why so many atheists are up in arms against the Christians. How are you able to claim that your moral feelings are any more right than theirs? If all moral feelings are a result of evolution, and rationality plays no role, how can atheists and theists, who putatively come from the same evolutionary background, have such different moral intuitions? Are our intuitions less opaque than a Christians? Does that make them more right? Why should we trust our reasoning abilities at all?

    If religion developed because it was adaptive, and yet religion is false, then clearly evolution doesn’t care about giving us epistemological equipement that works!

    If we realize that morality is all just unconscious biological adaptation in our minds that doesn’t correspond to any higher truth, why should we enlightened ones be bound by the same rules that the unenlightened religious crowd are bound by?

    You seem to agree with me that there is no such thing as moral truth – that is, true statements about morality that would be true regardless of whether anyone believed they were true or not. How is morality still possible if this is true? What are our moral first principles? What conclusions about right action follow from this starting point?

  119. #119 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    But then why be rational? Why not just be a hedonist?

    Why not indeed. But then, why not commit suicide? Or why not smash one’s toes and fingers with a hammer? Is there some rational reason to avoid death or pain? Or is seeking rational reasons for such things barking up the wrong tree? (The answer, since you seem so dense about such things, is yes, it is.)

  120. #120 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    Maybe I should say that it seems to me that if people were forced to try to overcome that opacity, they would be more likely to say something like “X is wrong” is an objective fact – it is true regardless of whether or not anyone thinks it is true. Perhaps this is a wrong intuition on my part.

    Well, yes, that’s what they would do — that was my point. They don’t have any rational explanation for their certainty, so they have to rationalize a justification by attributing the basis for their certainty to an “objective” source. But that doesn’t mean that they are “moral realists” — they’re non-reflective and pre-philosophical, so such a characterization is a category mistake; it would only apply if they were familiar with and had weighed the arguments. But philosophers who are moral realists are plainly wrong because it’s obvious that these rationalizations are rationalizations, that the attribution of moral judgments to objective standards is incorrect.

    I wonder why, though, if many atheists think as you do, why so many atheists are up in arms against the Christians.

    Lots of atheists haven’t considered these issues carefully, and so don’t think as I do, but that’s neither here nor there; they have many other reasons to be “up in arms against the Christians”, reasons that are obvious and well-known, and it’s hard for me to think of you as not being stupid for asking such a silly question.

    How are you able to claim that your moral feelings are any more right than theirs?

    Ah, yes, you are indeed a cretin, to pose such a ridiculous strawman. I’m an ethnic Jew; if I can’t claim that my moral feelings are more right than Hitler’s, then what basis do I have to oppose him? That you can’t think of any makes it a waste of my time to engage any further with such a fool. But here’s a hint: I don’t think my moral feelings are any more right than a wild lion’s, an earthquakes’, or global warming’s, but I still have reason to be concerned with their behavior.

  121. #121 chips
    June 29, 2007

    Why is asking someone what they believe in a stupid question. Its a perfectly liable question, someone could ask you, “do you believe in gradualism or puntucated equillibrium?” Is that a stupid question? No, its becuase its your point of view, you are very narrow. You have tunnel vision, you only see from your side.

  122. #122 Numad
    June 29, 2007

    “What do you believe in? No God, how is that possible. I’m not saying all read the bible everyday and go to church every sunday. But, how did the big bang happen then, something had to put it into motion. Gases can’t just appear from nowhere science proves that.”

    A creator doesn’t solve that problem. What put the creator there? If it’s unreasonable to say something about “gases” then it’s unreasonable to say it about supernatural intellects. The opposite is also true. If you say that it’s possible that a creator has always existed, then you have to admit that it’s possible that anything else (‘gases’) can also have always existed.

    This isn’t that difficult to understand.

  123. #123 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    How is morality still possible if this is true?

    There’s no law of logic or physics that it violates, dumbkopf, so the burden is on you to prove that “morality” isn’t possible. Good luck with that one.

    What are our moral first principles? What conclusions about right action follow from this starting point?

    What part of “barking up the wrong tree” don’t you understand? Morality isn’t derived from principles, it’s not a result of rational deliberation — that’s an is/ought fallacy, you twit. As Schopenhauer observed, you can do as you wish, but you cannot wish as you wish. But then, perhaps Arnosium Upinarum is right, that you aren’t human and aren’t programmed to have any moral values, and so it seems to you as if such values are chosen.

  124. #124 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    Here’s the problem with many vocal atheists today. They seem to be unreflective logical positivists, to think that all beliefs must have clear evidence and deductive proofs showing why those beliefs are true. I would respond (somewhat glibly) “Show me irrefutable evidence and deductive proofs for the belief that all beliefs should be based upon irrefutable evidence and deductive proofs.”

    I think I have been guilty of the same sort of stance regarding morality and moral theorizing.

  125. #125 Numad
    June 29, 2007

    Bravo,

    I’m sorry, but that type of paradox is perfectly useless beyond simply recognizing them.

  126. #126 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    “Gases can’t just appear from nowhere science proves that.”

    I love how these ignoramuses who are usually so contemptuous of science invoke it — incorrectly — when it suits them. The Big Bang didn’t produce “gases” — not immediately — and what scientists think did happen, based on the scientific evidence, is of course not disproven by science.

    If you really want to understand how the Big Bang happened (but you don’t), go read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” (but you won’t).

  127. #127 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    So truth machine, did you choose to be an atheist or were you born that way?

    What is/ought problem do I have? Saying that moral principles should be derived from rational reflection, when they aren’t? That is maybe calling for an ought that cannot come to pass, but saying that morality is self-evident, and the moral principles we are born with are all we have and are just fine is what is usually thought of as ignoring the is/ought distinction – it says that they way morality is is the way it should be.

    Unreflective moralizing – hurrah!

  128. #128 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    I think I have been guilty of the same sort of stance regarding morality and moral theorizing.

    Bravo, Bravo. It seems you may not be a moron after all.

  129. #129 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    Numad, are you saying the logical positivists were right?

  130. #130 neoplatonist
    June 29, 2007

    This was probably one of the best blogs I’ve seen so far. There are actually educated and intelligent people here. Bravo sees things the way he (I’m assuming male) does because the information he has assimilated support the constructs he has built in his mind as being “correct.” What I see is someone trying to reason though his own duality of intellect v. innate animal instinct. Of course, I am oversimplifying.

    I agree with many of you in that taking a viewpoint from a purely individualistic stand would give us no abject reasoning to be moral or know what morality is. But, as we are not evolving in a vacuum, the societal factor plays a major role in what are acceptable behaviors and the standards to which we “should” adhere.

    Therefore, the context for morality falls within the social evolution more so than in individual evolution. There is no getting away from this unless we become asexual.

    If each of us were left to do whatever we pleased then chaos would ensue. Man understood these concepts thousands of years ago and developed religions to keep the people from arbitrarily killing each other off to gain possessions or even take care of basic needs. Like everything else, these traditions have been ingrained into the societal fabric so deeply as to be almost imperceptible from our innate animalistic behaviors. When we question our beliefs and seek reasons for “why” we do what we do, we are merely growing. This does not mean that what we have learned is a bunch of crap, but (like so many on this blog have already stated) rather, we come to an understanding of our true “self” v. what society has deemed appropriate for the survival of its “self.”

    That being said, I must deal with my own demons of what is reality and what is science fiction.

  131. #131 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    Here’s the problem with many vocal atheists today. They seem to be unreflective logical positivists, to think that all beliefs must have clear evidence and deductive proofs showing why those beliefs are true.

    But then again, you’re certainly no genius. evidence and deductive proof are in different realms; how many times do scientists have to say that science isn’t in the business of deductive proof for bozos like you to stop insisting they demand deductive proof? But beyond that, the vast majority of atheists say that the burden of proof is on religionists to justify their claims, while the religionists wrongly demand that atheists prove that there is no god. Once in a while, though, atheists like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger offer firm empirical arguments that there almost certainly isn’t a god. Rather than try to refute these arguments, the religionists say stupid and false things about atheists being logical positivists. Most atheists wouldn’t really give a fig what religionists believe or can justify if they would get out of our faces, stop trying to subvert the separation of church and state, stop trying to destroy science education, stop flying planes into buildings, stop with the “faith based initiatives” and their oppression of gays and “liberals”, etc. etc.

  132. #132 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    You talk like all of those things actually matter.

  133. #133 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    So truth machine, did you choose to be an atheist or were you born that way?

    Are you really so retarded as to think those are the only alternatives? Did you choose to believe that there is no greatest prime and that humans and monkeys have a common ancestor, or were you born that way? I’m an atheist for the same reason that I have those beliefs — it’s the best inference from the available evidence.

    saying that morality is self-evident, and the moral principles we are born with are all we have and are just fine is what is usually thought of as ignoring the is/ought distinction

    This is so stupid and wrongheaded I don’t know where to start. I must point out that it involves at least four strawmen and a fabrication. I didn’t say that morality is “self-evident”, I said it’s justification is opaque to us — just the opposite. I didn’t say that we are “born with” moral principles, and I didn’t say the “moral principles” we start with are all we have, I referred to moral values. Nor did I say anything was “just fine” — I made no such normative judgment, I was describing the nature of our moral judgments. And none of that has a flying fig to do with the is/ought distinction, which is between normative and descriptive claims, an error that you just made again.

    I take it back, you really are a stupid moronic cretinous git. And I have other things to do. Ta ta.

  134. #134 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    You talk like all of those things actually matter.

    They matter to me because I’m built that way. As for “actually” mattering there’s no such thing, but you’re too bloody stupid to see that you truck in the very sort of absolutism that you say you’re skeptical about.

    Ok, I really gotta go.

  135. #135 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    In other words, you chose your atheism. But you think “those things” matter because you were born that way. Which is it?

    I just think its funny when people who don’t believe in object moral values talk as if such values did exist. Try telling someone you don’t believe that it is a moral fact that, say, gays should have equal rights, but that you think they should anyway. See how far you get. People who don’t think gays should have equal rights will say you’re silly for talking about rights if you don’t think they actually exist and then will ignore you.

  136. #136 neoplatonist
    June 29, 2007

    It is sad when someone of obvious intelligence and above average knowledge of aspects psychology, philosophy, science, and religion would resort to condescending, adolescent behavior to promote his point. Is it your purpose to change a civil debate on innate v. learned morality into a militant debate of whether your point of view is the best because you’ve become the most antagonistic?

    Oh yeah, your disdain for philosophers and philosophizing did not go unnoticed. I’m sure you’ll appreciate my name and that I am of Greek descent to boot. I guess I must have the philosopher gene and I’ll use science, logic, common sense, witty quotes, humor, psychology, and a slew of other tools to debate you…all night long…

  137. #137 truth machine
    June 29, 2007

    In other words, you chose your atheism.

    No, you stupid fuck, I didn’t choose my atheism any more than I chose my belief that 1+1=2 — I have no choice but to believe that 1+1=2; no other avenue is open to me.

    So so so fucking stupid. And that goes for neoplatonist too, who can jerk himself off all night long if he wants, because I’m finally closing this window.

  138. #138 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    Human rights seem to depend on whim, if they are not objective. Granted, they do depend on whim in historical fact, but without objective standards of human rights, criticizing human rights violations seems somehow odd to me.

    Why? We criticize works of art, culinary dishes, and performance in sports all the time, without objective standards to back us up.

    You can criticize human rights violations on grounds of compassion, fairness, human brotherhood, etc. Since humans have some broad psychological similarities just as they have physical ones, it’s reasonably likely that others will find some of your arguments persuasive. Not because they should, but because they do–that’s the way we seem to work. They may also be persuaded by the simple fact of your outrage, since people seem to be swayed by strong feelings in others.

    None of this is normative. You criticize human rights violations because you want them to stop, and criticism frequently helps them to do so.

    Now it’s certainly possible that you end up talking to someone who completely rejects all of your ethical attitudes. When you tell them that, say, slavery involves the degradation and suffering of innocents, and that appalls you, maybe they’ll respond that the degradation and suffering of innocents fills them with pride and satisfaction. In that case, the conversation kind of dead-ends–but at least you’ve actually learned something about them.

  139. #139 T_U_T
    June 29, 2007

    Ill try to keep it simple because you seem to be on the war footing with your own cognitive machinery.

    RE: Morality being an illusion: I mean not, of course, that morality doesn’t exist; clearly, human groups have codes of conduct. The question is whether any of those codes of conduct are more legitimate than others; is there a true code of conduct, is there a code of conduct that all humans everywhere should abide by.

    Look. Morality is a code of conduct, and thus definitely exists iff some code of conduct exists. And various codes of conduct do come with a value assigned to them that tells which ones are better and which worse. We call it fitness.

    If so, what is it, how do we know it, where does it come from?

    duh !
    It is (surprise! surprise!) the best code of conduct of them.
    We can find out which one it is like we find out any other things empirical (it’s called the scientific method, dude. )
    And where it comes from ? It is imposed upon us by the environment. ( yes, that is the ultimate source of morality. The world around us. )

    Note also that if you start to ask your “but why should I” question, you are in fact asking “Why should I do the best thing I should do ?” and thus the answer is “duh! Because it is is the best thing you should do” 😉

  140. #140 Numad
    June 29, 2007

    “Numad, are you saying the logical positivists were right?”

    Did the logical positivists say anything about discussing things with you being a waste of time? If they did, then yes.

    You’ve decided, before this, that no moral standard short of some impossible Objective Morality actually mattered. People try to explain any point in the immense middle ground between utter nihilism and the position you might actually hold but don’t actually outright defend, and you just say ‘that’s not convincing’, while obviously not registering anything that has been said. You continue to pretend that there’s no possible middle ground. I suspect that your little pretense here that not being impressed by your paradox means addhering to a more or less defunct philosophical position is closely related to that.

    That’s just too close in general form to a fallacy for me.

    In any case, you conceded the discussion several posts ago.

  141. #141 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    Evolution selects for the most fit individuals. If the most fit individuals are ones who are racist and misogynist, then we should act like that?

    Some people have suggested that perhaps aggressive behavior leading to, for example, rape is an evolutionary adaptation. It probably isn’t, but pretend for a moment it is. Does that mean we should go around raping if we feel like it because it is adaptive?

    Is spreading our genes in whatever way possible the measure of morality?

  142. #142 Numad
    June 29, 2007

    That nonsense:

    “So truth machine, did you choose to be an atheist or were you born that way?”

    Is also right up there, for reasons already stated.

  143. #143 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2007

    The Bravo Program (#111) says, “To hell with the argument. You win.”

    Say, that was a nice touch. Kudos to your programmer for incorporating a fine simulation of human pique.

    The Bravo Program says, “Arnosium, do you know nothing about metaethics?

    Sure I do. Absolutely. I know NOTHING about “metaethics”. (But I surely have a knowledge of ethics, and I understand the meaning of “meta”). I may not know much what PHILOSOPHERS think (in fact I sincerely doubt that philosophers

    know anything clearly about what other philosophers think), but I can handily attach “meta-” as a prefix to lots of words like that as well as any self-proclaimed ‘philosopher’ AND realize that much of my thinking is META-ized in the first place. I suspect this is true of most everyone, whether they are aware of it or not. Its in the nature of the human mind to cross-process all conceptual components on a “meta-level”. Not much explained, but it sure as hell sounds sexy, doesn’t it?

    The Bravo Program says, “I wasn’t just making those names up because they sounded cool. Those are the theories that philosophers wrestle with, not the result of some “ism-generator.” ”

    Excuse me? “Noncognitivism, constructivism & skepticism” are “theories”??? NO WONDER I can’t stand philosophy! Reminds me of religion. Lot’s of yammering and no substance. Philosophers “wrestling” with this gunk impresses me not an iota.

    The Bravo Program says, “Morality doesn’t exists but it does. We can have our cake and eat it too. If we can just study evolution closely enough we will discover all of the secrets or morality; evolution will make us all be good. We just need to act in accord with evolution.” [sic]

    Interesting touch there with the typo. If only your programmer had bothered to make sure that your ‘philosopher identity’ actually READS TO COMPREHEND what you are compelled to comment on, you wouldn’t have made such an idiotic statement. DO NOT PRETEND that I said anything that correlates with your statement. I would thoroughly resent it if I thought you were a human. Then again, perhaps your thinking is driven by one or another kind of program anyway, and you may not be entirely responsible for your strident demands. Philosophy will do that, since it is based largely on the proposition that one can arrive at just about any conclusion with a sufficient amount of vigorous hand-waving. (Ah, yes – get their attention. That’s it! We’re more than halfway there! Its all really about the dialectic arts! Just persuade ’em and it MUST be true! Sounds kinda sorta tiresomely familiar, doesn’t it?)

    However, right now I’m seriously entertaining the notion that maybe there isn’t as much of a substantive difference between how philosophers and cleverly programmed computers “think” as I originally thought. Too bad your programmer thought to be able to fool folks by assuming that people are mostly like philosophers. Ha Ha.

    The Bravo Program says, “If we can just study evolution closely enough we will discover all of the secrets or morality; evolution will make us all be good. We just need to act in accord with evolution.” [Presumably, with a tincture of sarcasm].

    Well, now you’ve done it. I don’t think ANY code-writer ANYWHERE could POSSIBLY be SO BRILLIANT as to produce a program that so PERFECTLY simulates the ignorance on a par with the common garden-variety religious human being. That’s really HARD! Seriously!

    The simplest explanation must be that you are a human idiot after all. But I still think you are a clever and sophisticated program.

    That aside (and if you can put your considerable philosophical ego aside – please) I am amazed that a complex intellectual simulation such as yourself can generate such stinking bullshit, especially after I and almost all of your other

    opponents on this thread said absolutely NOTHING of the kind. Not only have you failed the Turing test, but even if you WERE human, you’ve failed any elementary basis for being a human being.

    In parting, here’s a little something that both you and your programmer can dwell on: what you can’t see not only doesn’t constitute evidence, it doesn’t even consitute an argument. Really. Leave it alone – especially if you can’t bring yourself to READ responses properly.

  144. #144 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    I wonder why, though, if many atheists think as you do, why so many atheists are up in arms against the Christians. How are you able to claim that your moral feelings are any more right than theirs?

    Why would they have to be? They’re my moral feelings; of course I’ll be “up in arms” when someone does something which conflicts with them. I don’t think my taste for sugar is any more objectively valid than a beetle’s taste for dung, but if someone slips crap into my cupcakes, I’d still complain.

    If all moral feelings are a result of evolution, and rationality plays no role, how can atheists and theists, who putatively come from the same evolutionary background, have such different moral intuitions?

    Much of the time they don’t have very different moral intuitions. If one person believes in demonic possession and faith healing and immortal souls and a god who sends everyone who annoys him to Hell, and the other person does not, they’re likely to behave very differently even if their underlying moral attitudes are nearly identical.

  145. #145 T_U_T
    June 29, 2007

    You definitely should improve you (mis)understanding of evolution.
    Fitness is a property of things that can be passed on to the next generation.
    An individual can not be inherited, so talking about the fitness of an individual is as meaningless as talking about the taste of mersenne primes or the opinion of a brick

  146. #146 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2007

    truth machine (#113) says, “The fact is that, at a very basic level, these philosophers don’t really have any idea what they are talking about.”

    Bingo. Well said, all of your posts!

  147. #147 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    Look. Morality is a code of conduct, and thus definitely exists iff some code of conduct exists. And various codes of conduct do come with a value assigned to them that tells which ones are better and which worse. We call it fitness.

    But that hardly correlates to anyone’s idea of better or worse. If fitness dictated value, celibacy would be the gravest of sins. (Well, assuming you didn’t put the resources thus conserved into encouraging your relatives to have lots of kids.)

  148. #148 T_U_T
    June 29, 2007

    I do not think that anyone thinks that celibacy is a good thing 😉

    Besides that, you don’t pass on only your genes, you do pass on your memes too ( and among them ideas about the best code of conduct(aka morality) ), so a strategy that causes some of its users to sacrifice the spread of their genes to spread of their memes could still be advantageous in some rare situations

  149. #149 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2007

    The Bravo Program says, “Evolution selects for the most fit individuals. If the most fit individuals are ones who are racist and misogynist, then we should act like that?”

    Yeah. “IF”.

    You consummate imbecile. And you call yourself a “philosopher”??? I don’t think many professional philosophers would like being associated with idiots who are adept at concocting completely arbitrary and nonsensical “If>Then” scenarios.

    Then again, one cannot be entirely sure that, in actuality, philosophy isn’t just another in a long line of sophisticated games based primarily on the twisting of facts in order to serve a pre-ordained position. This is ANCIENT OLD HAT SHIT!

    The Bravo Program continues: “Some people have suggested that perhaps aggressive behavior leading to, for example, rape is an evolutionary adaptation. It probably isn’t, but pretend for a moment it is. Does that mean we should go around raping if we feel like it because it is adaptive?”

    It probably isn’t entirely true that you are a COMPLETE ignoramus, but let’s suppose that it is PARTIALLY true. Does that mean that anybody here should refrain from disagreeing with you because it would be socially maladaptive?

    The Bravo Program says, “Is spreading our genes in whatever way possible the measure of morality?”

    Is spreading any kind of BULLSHIT in whatever way moral? I ask YOU.

    How clever of your programmer to have written a subplot of code that generates rhetorical questions. Perhaps you can get your programmer to personally help clarify the many inconsistencies and contradictions in the wasted effort you have invested in this thread.

    Oh, never mind. The Turing Candidate undoubtedly reflects an equally dismal capacity to comprehend in its creator.

  150. #150 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2007

    Anton Mates said, “I don’t think my taste for sugar is any more objectively valid than a beetle’s taste for dung, but if someone slips crap into my cupcakes, I’d still complain.”

    Beautifully put!

    It seems, dear friends, that even amongst many of the avowedly atheist (never mind the agnostic) there remains a powerful tendency to think in terms of a supernatural “reality”.

    There’s a deep bullet that needs rooting out.

  151. #151 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    I do not think that anyone thinks that celibacy is a good thing 😉

    Joking aside, do you think it’s actively a bad thing? If not, how can we evaluate a moral scheme as “better” or “worse” based on fitness?

    Besides that, you don’t pass on only your genes, you do pass on your memes too ( and among them ideas about the best code of conduct(aka morality) ), so a strategy that causes some of its users to sacrifice the spread of their genes to spread of their memes could still be advantageous in some rare situations

    Advantageous for the meme, certainly; but again, that doesn’t have much to do with whether the strategy’s good or desirable from a human point of view. Richard Dawkins considers several objectionable religious ideas to be extremely effective memes, such as “Tell this to everyone you can find or they’ll go to hell; don’t listen to their counter-arguments or you’ll go to hell.” Sky-high fitness, massive historical success, but that doesn’t make it good for us.

  152. #152 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2007

    The Bravo Program (#116) says, “why [are] so many atheists…up in arms against the Christians. How are you able to claim that your moral feelings are any more right than theirs?”

    It is astonishingly dense of your programmer not to equip you with an elementary capacity for observation. But let me producve a brief summary of my personal reasons:

    1. Atheists would have had nothing whatever to say if it weren’t for the FACT that christians and their long list of evangelist and missionary cohorts hadn’t bullied their way into the lives of countless innocent people and their cultures, SCREAMING at them that their ways were WRONG and threatening that they would end up in HELL if they didn’t subscribe to the christian vision of supernatural AUTHORITY. That’s also true of Islam and most other religions in general. Its particularly pernicous in the Abrahamic traditions, however.

    2. I’ve been quite capable since the age of seven of recognizing the deceit involved and resisting their “moral authority” on grounds that are perfectly acceptable to ME, as an INDIVIDUAL, deciding that a “holy middleman” between myself and a putative ultimate who was alleged to be PERSONALLY CONCERNED WITH ME was an obvious man-made contrivance. By the age of nine I fully realized that LYING and MISREPRESENTATION were the basic craft of the business of religion. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and do not like anyone trying to tell me that I haven’t or that I somehow misinterpret what I’ve seen.

    3. My grounds for criticizing christians in particular and religion in general stems from an abiding PERSONAL interest in the future of MY family and MY friends and MY nation and MY culture and MY species and MY PLANET, which religion seeks to monopolize as their own property. The hell they will.

    4. I do NOT like it whenever anybody tells me “the way it is” based on THEIR belief, or because they THINK that their righteousness is supported by THEIR notion of a supernatural being. I do NOT subscribe to anyone’s notion of an authority that disturbs MY life or the lives of those I hold dear, including the entire planetary population.

    5. I UNEQUIVOCALLY HATE it whenever these assholes mess around with the minds of our kids. OUR CHILDREN. OUR FUTURE. The future of OUR country. OUR WORLD.

    Nope, you guys can’t have it your way. Never. Ever.

    You might explain why the hell you and other christians are so up in arms against atheists? The fact of the matter is, the center-of-the-reality-road is with the atheist. Religious mob concentration doesn’t for a moment validate a damned thing except how far delusion in human beings will deflect them from a NORMATIVE HUMANITY.

    The TRUE deviant is the religiously motivated. The religious are the cultural group that has no authentic natural-cultural guide to moral and ethical behavior EXCEPT for a supernatural whim. They have no moral compass EXCEPT for an ancient, static and proudly held example of inerrant certitude. I am quite comfortable at rejecting such a lousy tradition, no matter how ancient its roots. There ARE better methods of conducting one’s life and dealing with real issues.

    I DON’T have to defend any false claims that my “moral feelings are any more right” than theirs by any criterion that you raise, goddammit. THEY are the ones who have long since and continuously (and abusively through mental and physical violence) imposed their moral rectitude on humanity. MY personal criteria for “righteousness” are every bit as robust as yours are, thank you very much.

    Oops, forgot. You don’t think humans can bank on the non-existence of their concepts and traditions. Blundering me. I forgot you’re a PHILOSOPHER. Pardon.

    Yes, I DO take religion as a personal affront. You better believe it, bub. No, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You’re just a lousy philosopher. You aren’t properly programmed for actually understanding anything, so don’t bother trying to fathom it.

    Tell your programmer to take a long hike. He’ll know what I mean.

  153. #153 Carlie
    June 29, 2007

    You definitely should improve you (mis)understanding of evolution.
    Fitness is a property of things that can be passed on to the next generation.

    No. Fitness is a measure of how much genetic information, usually measured by number of offspring, an individual leaves in the next generation. It is absolutely a characteristic ascribed to individuals.

    Carry on.

  154. #154 T_U_T
    June 29, 2007

    Carlie, just three words : google “inclusive fitness”

  155. #155 Bravo
    June 29, 2007

    “5. I UNEQUIVOCALLY HATE it whenever these assholes mess around with the minds of our kids. OUR CHILDREN. OUR FUTURE. The future of OUR country. OUR WORLD.”

    This smacks of moral realism. Who the fuck cares about “our country” or “our world?” Those feelings are completely arbitrary if there are no moral facts behind them. “Our world” can go to hell for all I care; I’ll be long dead by the time our world self-destructs. Am I wrong to feel this way

    “You might explain why the hell you and other christians are so up in arms against atheists?”

    When did I ever say I was a Christian? I don’t believe in religion of any sort. Religion can suck a fatty. I was just commenting on the fact that atheists still talk like religious people do – as if there were some moral reality that makes them right.

    If there is no such thing, though, why should we or I care about evolution? If there is no overarching meaning to anything studying evolution and biology is just as much mental masturbation as philosophy is.

  156. #156 CCP
    June 29, 2007

    Man this shit is boring. In this corner, wearing the philosophical dayglo orange trunks, weighing in at less-than-zero, the challenger “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”!!! And in this corner, wearing the ecclesiastical purple trunks, weighing in at the-accumulated-mass-of centuries, the Champeeen, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”!!!! let’s have a fair fight, nothing below the belt, break when I tell you…

    Think I’ll study something real…like biology…

  157. #157 Hid Hisama
    June 29, 2007

    I had dreams of being in hell and being buddies with the demons there. Hitler might be the leader of them in that realm. The more believeable answer is hell is this planet on a bad day for most and heaven is when it turns out rosy and nice.

  158. #158 thwaite
    June 29, 2007

    I do not think that anyone thinks that celibacy is a good thing 😉 -T_U_T

    No, but self-restraint from progeny is now an unqualified good thing, given the fullness of human population now. And even social constraints against progeny can be justified, as in China. So more of us should be choosing the naturalistic ‘hell’ I mentioned above, of reducing if not eliminating our genetic reproductive success. Most of the developing world isn’t choosing thus.

    Celibacy itself is neither good nor bad, but is uncommon and not a genetically heritable trait, though it seems to be a recurring meme.

    I mentioned a scenario of normative ethics in a self-aware social insect, which I thought due to Haldane. Perhaps him, but also Darwin:

    I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours. In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct

    and then

    If … men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering

    These quotes are from DESCENT OF MAN, 1st ed’n, as quoted in Helena Cronin’s THE ANT & THE PEACOCK.

  159. #159 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    Carlie, just three words : google “inclusive fitness”

    Um, if you actually do this, you’ll find that inclusive fitness is a property of individuals (or at least is often considered that way). Heck, just look at the abstract of the paper in which Hamilton introduced the concept:

    “A genetical mathematical model is described which allows for interactions between relatives on one another’s fitness. Making use of Wright’s Coefficient of Relationship as the measure of the proportion of replica genes in a relative, a quantity is found which incorporates the maximizing property of Darwinian fitness. This quantity is named “inclusive fitness”. Species following the model should tend to evolve behaviour such that each organism appears to be attempting to maximize its inclusive fitness. This implies a limited restraint on selfish competitive behaviour and possibility of limited self-sacrifices.”

    Hamilton, again:

    “The social behavior of a species evolves in such a way that in each distinct behavior-evoking situation the individual will seem to value his neighbors’ fitness against his own according to the coefficients of relationship appropriate to that situation.”

    Yes, your inclusive fitness depends on what happens (statistically) to your relatives. That doesn’t prevent it from being a property of the individual, any more than the property of being a grandparent, uncle or aunt.

  160. #160 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    Who the fuck cares about “our country” or “our world?”

    We do. You aren’t obligated to care as well, but neither are we obligated to stop caring just because you don’t.

    Those feelings are completely arbitrary if there are no moral facts behind them.

    So are all our feelings. So what? We still have them.

    “Our world” can go to hell for all I care; I’ll be long dead by the time our world self-destructs.

    Why should you care less about the state of the world at a time when you’ll be long dead, than about its current state? That’s completely…arbitrary.

  161. #161 The Ultimate Trade
    June 29, 2007

    Kudos to all you extremely moral atheists – I’m certain many of you will be among the most moral people in hell. You’ll have plenty of religious people to keep you company as well, as being “religious” doesn’t save you according to the Bible and in fact may hinder your salvation…

    ..well, that probably isn’t exactly true, there likely won’t really be any company in hell, I don’t know. Many near-death experiences report of being taken into extreme blackness with no company whatsoever, just invisible torment – and that does correlate with some scriptual reference about “outer darkness” so the idea of being there with all your “friends” or the “company” that Mark Twain wrote of is likely an completely incorrect notion – it is more likely you’ll be totally alone in pitch blackness…

    the good news is that seems to be a temporary holding bin, as eventually everyone who’s name is not written in the “book of life” goes into the “lake of fire” with Satan and all his demons, where there is “much wailing and nashing of teeth, the smoke which from arises for all eternity” – so maybe you’ll be out of the darkness and have some company then…

    but it’s nice that you are moral, ethical, and nice to people for “humanity” sake, makes living in this world a little easier for everybody else, and we do appreciate it

    oh, and you evolutionists who believe in survival of the fitness-est, kudos to you to – of course the odds against the DNA molecule having developed by accident on it’s own have been calculated to be approximately 1 with 40 thousand zeros after it to 1 against…

    …but, many evolutionists will say it doesn’t matter what the odds are because obviously it happened, after all we are here and we have DNA –

    well, there is another possible explanation! It’s called creation – now if you want to believe in the thing where the odds are 1 with 40 thousand zeros after it to 1 against and has no upside potential but definite downside potential good for you – personally I think I’ll choose to believe in the thing that the odds are 1 with 40 thousand zeros after it to 1 in favor of and has potential upside and no potential downside…

    …well, I guess there might be a little upside in being an atheist, you get to feel like you are smarter than believers, somehow genetically fortunate to have a superior brain which sees the obvious that the stupid believing masses somehow can’t see – I wonder though after your death the moment you realize you have a separate spirit which still has a conscious awareness, how smart and superior you will feel at that moment…

  162. #162 Kseniya
    June 29, 2007

    The Ultimate Idiot has spoken.

    *yawn*

    Oh dear. The utter factlessness of it all is putting me to sleep…

  163. #163 zer0
    June 29, 2007

    “…nobody has been to either place and come back to tell us about it, and everyone who makes claims about them is using them as a carrot-and-stick to compel you to obey them.”

    This statement hits the nail on the head 100%. I have felt this way for a long time. Man is innately capable of good, but religion has done little to proliferate that. How many wars have been fought because of religious piety. How many countless millions of people have been murdered in the name of “God”. Religion was Mankind’s first attempt at controlling the masses, and it spiraled horribly out of control into so many different sects and doctrines. I don’t need to devote myself to an invisible man in the sky to know the difference between right and wrong. I will not murder children, or rape women, or fight my fellow man needlessly because I am godless. People with Faith need to realize that atheists and agnostics don’t necessarily care to prove you all wrong or make you not believe anymore. We just want to live in our little corner of the world without the fear of hell and eternal damnation if we don’t appease your “God”.

  164. #164 Anton Mates
    June 29, 2007

    of course the odds against the DNA molecule having developed by accident on it’s own have been calculated to be approximately 1 with 40 thousand zeros after it to 1 against…

    Learn, my child.

  165. #165 Keith Douglas
    June 30, 2007

    And nobody mentioned Carl in all of this? His magnum opus includes a part called “Heaven and Hell” …

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