Pharyngula

BioLogos?

Oh, no…it’s an irresistible magnet. Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, with funding from the Templeton Foundation (who else?), have put together a whole website full of fluffy bunnies and pious weasels to reconcile science and faith. It’s a rich vein of the worst of pseudo-scientific apologetics, and I am stunned by it — not because I am impressed by the substance, but because it is such a target-rich environment. Having read both Collins’ Language of God, with it’s amazing conversion experience that had to have impressed all with its depth and majesty, and the equally wooly-minded Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I can say I knew these two would have put together a web site exactly like this.

Like I say, I’m overwhelmed with the tripe available on that site, so I’ll just have to take a poke at one small example. They actually have a page to address the question of How does the evil and suffering in the world align with the idea of a loving God?. As one who often hears the atheists accused of being philosophically shallow, this page is a consolation: it’s a collection of tired cliches that don’t answer the question. There’s the usual “Free will!” blather, and the “god works in mysterious ways” nonsense, and as a special bonus, there’s the extra-special “We Christians are special because our god suffered, too” excuse (which answers nothing, but raises many more questions about this contradictory deity of theirs). One curious thing about the approach this site takes is that it is slathered with Jesus everywhere — if you aren’t already a New Testament lovin’ evangelical, you are not going to be at all impressed.

But here’s one special case of their problem of evil logic, of interest to us non-Jebusites.

Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists

Evil also poses problems for the nonbeliever. Claims that torture is wrong even though the victims of torture might be terrorists with useful information appeal to some external standard. But what is this standard? Such claims need to be grounded in something if they are to be asserted with such confidence. So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

Um, no. This is all wrong. Evil is not a problem for us. I believe that we are a rare cosmic accident in an impersonal and hostile universe — the natural state is one which is largely inimical to our existence. I also don’t think human beings are designed at all, but evolved by natural mechanisms, and that we are not by any means optimized for anything, let alone any kind of local definition of goodness. That bad things happen, that accidents occur, that many normal events can lead to our death or suffering, that humans are flawed and can harm one another…all of that is to be expected. We atheists certainly do not have the kind of problem with evil that a believer in a universal benignity would have, so this is a bit of a dodge.

Now you could turn it around and say that atheists have a problem with goodness, which is ultimately what Collins/Giberson are trying to say. But once again, Collins makes the same mistake he did in his book — he can’t imagine any source of morality other than an external imposition by a moral entity, and reveals again that he doesn’t actually have any understanding of evolution.

We are social animals. We are the children of a particular kind of animal that improved their chances of survival and reproduction by cooperation, working together as a family/tribe/nation. We have an operational, working definition of what is good and evil that is defined by our history: goodness is that which has promoted the survival of our community and ourselves. Anyone who has a reasonable grasp of Darwinian logic ought to be able to see that this is the kind of property that can emerge from forces entirely within a group’s history, with no exogenous agent required.

I certainly do have grounds to be outraged at the use of torture. Those are fellow human beings who are experiencing pain: I empathize with them, I see them as fellow members of the greater community of humanity, and I can rationally see that a society that allows torture is one in which I and my family are less safe. I do not need a little god sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “Oh, PZ, you aren’t supposed to enjoy that person’s suffering”.

My sense of horror and outrage points me to a common humanity, not some invisible magic man who wills it because he works in mysterious ways.

Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences. It does not imply the truth of the statement. You’d think a couple of high-powered Christian apologists flying high on buckets of money from a billionaire might have been able to avoid errors in logic 101, but nah…these are guys with brain-poisoning from an overdose of faith.

Also by the way, Jerry Coyne has his own favorite parts of the site. Maybe you do too!

Comments

  1. #1 protocol
    April 29, 2009

    Francis Collins is exhibit#1 for how religious thinking can turn an otherwise exceedingly smart gentleman into an utter moron. I am sure he switches the ‘reasoning’ part of his brain off when offering his tortuous (and frankly, idiotic) justifications for biblical faith.

  2. #2 AgnosticNews
    April 29, 2009

    It’s always some extreme dichotomy with apologetics… Assert “God” or “Nothing” and go from there. The specific apologetics of this brand are a waste of time past this assertion, whether it’s morality, ‘design’, ’causes’, or whatever superimposed weakly philosophical construct they can contrive.

  3. #3 jimvj
    April 29, 2009

    When Jebusites like Francis Collins say that morality is not possible without a God, they don’t mean any ol’ god; they mean the ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD, which just happens to be the God they believe in.

    The sheer arrogance of telling 1 billion Hindus, 1+ billion Muslims, and billions of Buddhists, etc, that they basically cannot be moral is jaw-droppingly insanely immoral. But it goes merrily undetected by the morality filter provided to Collins by his God.

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    I recently read a creationist bragging that students in public schools simply don’t believe anything that Darwin said. I suspect that he was right about many of them.

    So it’s fine to fault Collins, et al. We have to remember that some will listen to them who would never listen to us, though. A message is good only if it gets through.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  5. #5 Brian888
    April 29, 2009

    “there’s the extra-special “We Christians are special because our god suffered, too” excuse”

    That’s not even a little true. The Olympian gods were supposedly devoured alive by their father. Zeus has to have Hephaestus split his skull open in order to relieve him of a debilitating headache (which turned out to be Athena). Odin hung on a tree for nine days (beat THAT, Jesus!) and sacrificed an eye for wisdom. Hell, ALL the Norse gods will suffer and die at Ragnarok. Osiris was hacked up into multiple pieces by Seth.

    Christians fail at mythology, both their own and that of other people.

  6. #6 Floyd
    April 29, 2009

    Thank you for preparing the perfect rebuttal for when I get questioned about how atheists could possibly have morals.

    Someday, I hope religious folks will understand how psychopathic it sounds to say “Only the belief in a vengeful god keeps me from committing evil!”

  7. #7 Giffy
    April 29, 2009

    Ok, lets say there is a god, what makes that being the moral authority. Power? That doesn’t seem to moral…

  8. #8 Matt Heath
    April 29, 2009

    Fucking hell. God as the only basis for morality? They are going there? For real?

    It’s not just that you patently can build non-arbitrary systems of morality without reference to eternal absolutes; it’s that if you couldn’t, God doesn’t help. Any apparent help a God-given morality gives vanishes with the question “Why is it moral to obey God?” (not to mention “How do you reliably work out what he wants?”).

    Third hand Hume, learnt from cereal boxes defeats this nonsense.

  9. #9 Chayanov
    April 29, 2009

    The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

    No, it points theists to the fact that their god is complicit in the existence of evil, and they have to go through mental contortions to reconcile that problem. Atheists don’t have to deal with any of that nonsense at all. Some people are jerks and they get away with being jerks, and that’s not good for all of us. Maybe humanity would benefit more if we did a better job of being human instead of hand-waving our problems toward magical invisible beings. You’d think smart guys like them could figure that out.

  10. #10 Brian
    April 29, 2009

    You don’t need reason not to find glee in someone’s torture, just mirror neurons.

    Here’s a great video of Dr Andy Thomson discussing the Evolutionary Psychology of Religion.
    Why We Believe in Gods – Dr. Andy Thomson – American Atheists 09

  11. #11 Mike in Ontario, NY
    April 29, 2009

    I have come to view the Original Sin doctrine as a form of severe and pervasive psychological abuse.

    If you learned that a school teacher was berating your kid every single day with direct messages that they are evil, they were born evil, and could only wash off the evil by doing what the teacher says, you’d be complaining long and loud to the school administration.

    Minus the Original Sin + eternal damnation rubbish, Christ Inanity loses all power to persuade new believers.

  12. #12 Luke
    April 29, 2009

    Surely it’s obvious even to a child that morality is not absolute?

    David Klinghoffer says on his website that atheism poses the problem that (paraphrasing) “it makes questions of morality really difficult”. Well boo f***ing hoo. Who promised that life was going to be easy? God forbid we have to think for ourselves and work it out the hard way.

  13. #13 ckitching
    April 29, 2009

    Why do we fight against what we call evil? Because we’re conditioned (and somewhat biologically wired) to do so. Why? Because it’s good for our continued survival as a species to do so. Evolution hard at work once again.

    It’s not like this is a new insight, either. Friedrich Nietzsche proposed this over a century ago. It’s been restated in various forms even earlier than that, even in ages when expressing disbelief was a death sentence.

    The straightjacket of belief seems to stunt these people’s imagination when they try to speak about what other people believe.

  14. #14 Physicalist
    April 29, 2009

    If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis.

    Well, it’s a pointless tautology to say that if “there is no grounding for how things ought to be” then moral outrage has no basis.

    But the more relevant point point is that at least since Plato wrote the Euthyphro, educated intelligent people have known that it’s absurd to base morality on a belief in gods. All major schools of foundations of ethics (utilitarianism, Kantian, social contract, virtue ethics) are all god-free.

    It’s scary how often you hear this sort of silliness. We ought to make Philosophy 101 mandatory.

  15. #15 Brock
    April 29, 2009

    “Having read both Collins’ Language of God, with it’s amazing conversion experience”

    ITS, possessive, no apostrophe. You’ve done this a few times lately, PZ. If you want to be a writer, you need to break this habit ;)

  16. #16 inkadu
    April 29, 2009

    I also don’t think human beings are designed at all, but evolved by natural mechanisms, and that we are not by any means optimized for anything, let alone any kind of local definition of goodness.

    Hm. I’m pretty sure you don’t mean what I think that clause says, especially following natural mechanisms.

    Brian888- I am shocked at your ingratitude to Prometheus who is, at this very moment, chained to rock regrowing his liver for vultures eat again, just so you can have the benefit of technology and science.
    .
    A shorter way to phrase the first half of PZ’s argument is that atheists don’t have trouble explaining evil.
    .
    Popular morality is a mix of environmental conditions and necessities, tradition and culture, and, yes, our genetic monkey programing. Anyone who thinks that morality is something laser printed by God on resume paper in super-easy-to-read arial font is not thinking very hard.

  17. #17 Cappy
    April 29, 2009

    With the recent release of the torture justification memos, I wonder at the moral gymnastics that supposed christians wheeled to excuse themselves from simple humanity. I saw an interview with an interrogator who worked in Afghanistan who talked about getting all the good intel from offering food, cigarettes, and medical care. Not from torture. Love your enemies; THAT’S what Jesus was talking about!

  18. #18 Siamang
    April 29, 2009

    I do not need a little god sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “Oh, PZ, you aren’t supposed to enjoy that person’s suffering”.

    But, I thought the little angels were telling us we WERE supposed to enjoy the suffering of others:

    “When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!”

    -Jonathan Edwards

    http://evaluatingchristianity.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/the-delight-of-the-saints-in-the-suffering-of-the-damned-or-this-is-why-i-like-victor-reppert/

  19. #19 Helioprogenus
    April 29, 2009

    “Anyone who has a reasonable grasp of Darwinian logic ought to be able to see that this is the kind of property that can emerge from forces entirely within a group’s history, with no exogenous agent required.”

    Careful PZ, this comes awfully close to sounding like group selection. It can easily be misinterpreted as a support for it. It would be preferable to mention altruism as a product of our selfish desire to perpetuate our genes, and those genes that are nearest to our own.

  20. #20 kamaka
    April 29, 2009

    godless morals made simple:

    Take individual responsibility for helping to create a world worth living in.

  21. #21 Mike in Ontario, NY
    April 29, 2009

    Here’s a fitting quote that hit my inbox today from an atheist friend:

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? -Epicurus, philosopher (c. 341-270 BCE)

  22. #22 Curious reader
    April 29, 2009

    There is a massive problem with deity based morality.

    There are multiple moral codes floating about which claim a divine source. Even assuming a deity, when you compare these codes and pick one, you’re using human reasoning and thoughts to decide which is correct. I’m yet to see an apologist directly tackle that issue, but I’m sure someone has tried.

  23. #23 jsoutofbiblepgs
    April 29, 2009

    Ughhhh it’s SO tired.

    If Jehovah gave us “Free Will,” then he gave us the capacity for evil. Evil comes from Jehovah. Jehovah is evil (and good as well, but in any case, he is not benign.)

    ….and he’s one mysterious bastard, as the mind of evil tyrants usually are.

  24. #24 HappyHead
    April 29, 2009

    People who make claims like “my God is the only possible basis for morality, and without my God, everyone would be running around committing horrible atrocities” scare me. The main reason for this is, they’re basically saying: “If it wasn’t for my invisible friend here who has threatened to dunk me in a lake of fire for eternity if I do, I would dearly like to run around committing horrible atrocities. It sounds like fun!”

    When people make claims like that, I am torn between asking them why they want to commit horrible atrocities, and just getting the heck away from them, in case they come to the sudden realization that their religion is a load of BS, since they’ve already announced their plans for what they’d do if that happened…

  25. #25 llewelly
    April 29, 2009

    What do all the characters who attacked Dawkins on the grounds that The God Delusion was ‘philosophically naive’, or ‘ignorant of religion’ have to say about this article from Miller and Giberson?

  26. #26 Cat of Many Faces
    April 29, 2009

    Oh for fucks sake.

    I guess it bears repeating again:

    TORTURE DOES NOT GIVE GOOD INFORMATION

    It was designed to get people to confess to whatever you want, even if it is false! is this so hard to understand?

    I really am starting to hate these idiots. I learned better theological arguments in philosophy 101.

    This is embarrassing!

  27. #27 Sastra
    April 29, 2009

    Matt Heath #8 wrote:

    It’s not just that you patently can build non-arbitrary systems of morality without reference to eternal absolutes; it’s that if you couldn’t, God doesn’t help. Any apparent help a God-given morality gives vanishes with the question “Why is it moral to obey God?”

    Exactly. Theists are simply building the answer to their question directly into their system. “Okay: Assume that a God exists who is morally perfect and ought to be obeyed, okay? Now, wouldn’t this give us all an outside moral standard that’s perfect, and wouldn’t we be obligated to obey it? It would? The hard work is done! We win!”

    Nuh-uh. That’s cheating. “Morally perfect” according to whom? And where do we get that ‘ought’ from the ‘is?’ We all start out at the same place, theist and atheist alike.

    When theists demand that atheists “explain” morality, they switch back and forth between different questions:

    1.) Why do all humans share a common sense that there is a right, and there is a wrong?
    2.) When there are moral conflicts between people, how do we decide which group is morally correct?
    3.) When we have a moral conflict within ourselves, how do we know which action is right?
    4.) When we know the right thing to do, what motivates us to choose to do what we know is right, even when we don’t want to?

    Give an evolutionary answer to question #1, or an ethical answer to #2 and #3, and they act as if they were really asking #4. Address #4, and no, they were wondering about one of the other questions.

    But they don’t seem to have separated these questions in the first place — because their theistic answer is so simplistic, circular, and uninformative. We got morals from a moral source, and we morally obey this moral source because it’s the source of morals.

    Uh huh.

  28. #28 dave
    April 29, 2009

    The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

    Actually, it points us away from a God, or at least the Judeo-Christian God. For example, there are many verses regulating slavery in the bible, but none prohibiting it, such as:

    “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

    And how about this verse – this is the biblical Lord God Almighty speaking, ruler of all the Universe and it’s hundreds of billions of galaxies, master of time and space, and countless numbers of other suns and planets. He is infinitely wise and morally perfect in every way:

    2 Samuel 12:11-14 NAB: “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’”

    Is this the God that Christians get their morals from? There are hundreds other verses like this.

  29. #29 Ron Sullivan
    April 29, 2009

    Brock @ 15: If you want to be a writer, you need to break this habit ;)

    He is a writer (QED) and no, what he needs, as every writer does, is an editor.

  30. #30 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    Geez, what maroons. It’s obvious neither one of them has actually studied a lick of philosophy. Their “argument” against evil is self-referential and circular.

    The claim that natural evil is necessary to show god’s love has been shot all to hell as logically limiting/denying omnipotence.

  31. #31 Star
    April 29, 2009

    Slightly off topic but as I enjoy reading your blog, just wondered if you’d seen this bit of publicity?

    While reading this angry Christian rant about Swine Flu-
    http://baptistsforbrown2008.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/swine-flu-gods-latest-punishment-of-idol-worship

    (which is very entertaining by the way) I noticed the website it’s on ‘Republican Faith Chat’ has deemed you worthy enough to be on there hellbound sinners list

    http://baptistsforbrown2008.wordpress.com/sow/

    not only that but you’ve been given the title the worst sort of atheist which amused me as I’m not sure what “sort” that is, intelligent and interested in science perhaps?

    “8/9/2007

    P.Z Myers : P.Z. Myers is not only a Atheist of the worst sort, he is a scientist who promotes the lies of man kind evolving from primate love. ”

    I think it’s quite a compliment anyway, you’re listed alongside Richard Dawkins, many atheist groups, Barack Obama and slightly more bemusingly Britney Spears who unlike most of the others on the list is there for not wearing enough clothes rather than spreading atheist views.

  32. #32 Steve LaBonne
    April 29, 2009

    I have come to view the Original Sin doctrine as a form of severe and pervasive psychological abuse.

    It’s heartening that the more people think about it, the more they recognize the simple truth of Dawkins’s supposedly outrageous statement that religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse.

  33. #33 CJO
    April 29, 2009

    If you want to be a writer, you need to break this habit

    Um, no. That’s typing.

  34. #34 CJO
    April 29, 2009

    what he needs, as every writer does, is an editor.

    Again, no. That’s proofreading.

  35. #35 Cat of Many Faces
    April 29, 2009

    oh, one other thing:

    Biologos?

    And here I thought Tabula Rasa had closed…

  36. #36 llewelly
    April 29, 2009

    Cappy | April 29, 2009 2:18 PM

    I saw an interview with an interrogator who worked in Afghanistan who talked about getting all the good intel from offering food, cigarettes, and medical care. Not from torture. Love your enemies; THAT’S what Jesus was talking about!

    If you buy a book from a book dealer, does that mean the book dealer ‘loves’ you?

  37. #37 Interrobang
    April 29, 2009

    Sheesh. You don’t even need to get into philosophy to knock that crap down. Just, “What part of ‘pain hurts’ are you not getting?” Also, as most of us learned around the same time as we were picking up our first language(s), if you go around hurting other people, chances are, other people are going to hurt you, somehow or other. I mean, there’s deep profound explanations for things, and then there’s just overthinking.

  38. #38 H.H.
    April 29, 2009

    Hmm. BioLogos. Bio–as in biological. Logos–as in the word of God. So BioLogos seems dedicated to uncovering god’s handiwork as evidenced in biological life. Where have we heard this before?

    “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel.” –William Dembski.

    But don’t call Collins a creationist…that might hurt “the cause.”

  39. #39 jsoutofbiblepgs
    April 29, 2009

    @ #24-
    Yeah, it scares me too.
    This is similar to people who say that “homosexuality is a choice.” Those who say this are most certainly closeted homosexuals, bisexuals or bicurious people who believe that homosexuality is a temptation from which you must “choose” to be straight, instead of gay. The only thing stopping them from living a gay lifestyle is a fear of their god.

  40. #40 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 29, 2009

    baptistsforbrown2008.blogspot.com is satire, just like landoverbaptist.org, objectiveministries.org, and so on.

    There are hundreds other verses like this.

    From the Book of Isaiah:

    45:1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
    45:2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:
    45:3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
    45:4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
    45:5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
    45:6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
    45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    That was shortly before Persian dualism (Ahura Mazda vs Ahriman) was imported.

  41. #41 Ian A. A. Watson
    April 29, 2009

    Reminded of a story a friend told me, about an encounter with a religious friend of his.

    “You don’t believe in God? But if you don’t believe in God, there’s nothing to stop you from doing whatever you want.”

    “Well, I pretty much *do* do whatever I want. Why, did you think I was a mass-murderer or something?”

    The number of Christians who seem to think that the only thing stopping them from going on sprees of rape, murder and pillaging is the presence of a loving God… well, it’s concerning.

  42. #42 Brian888
    April 29, 2009

    [quote]Brian888- I am shocked at your ingratitude to Prometheus who is, at this very moment, chained to rock regrowing his liver for vultures eat again, just so you can have the benefit of technology and science.[/quote]

    I can’t believe I forgot Prometheus. The perfect example. Thanks!

  43. #43 Lowell
    April 29, 2009

    As part of the project, the BioLogos contributors are blogging weekly at beliefnet: http://blog.beliefnet.com/scienceandthesacred/

    The inaugural post by Collins tells the tale of an undergraduate biology major who has a crisis of faith after she was “home-schooled by loving parents who were dedicated Christians, and who made sure that she learned the deep and profound principles of their faith.”

    And what did she learn in her “loving” home-school environment? A “ultraliteral reading of Genesis promoted in many conservative churches – that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that all species of animals and plants came into being by individual acts of special creation by God.”

    Sounds really “loving.” Totally controlling your kid’s education and filling her head with lies. But Collins appears willing to overlook that.

    He’s more concerned with the unsympathetic professor who “made no secret of the fact that he thought religion was a waste of time.” That’s right. No reason to start telling her the truth now.

  44. #44 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

    First off, we can escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil. Maybe they could look up “nazis”?

    What I have the most problem with Collins, more than with Ken Miller as far as I know, is that Collins really would like to avoid looking to evolution to explain the horror at “evil”. Morality has a basis, but unfortunately for Collins, his particular morality does not have any basis, outside of certain social and historical developments.

    He cannot bear this, so he invents a “basis” for his particular morality, or rather, he adopts a “basis” that others invented. He does not want to allow that killing people in a certain tribe can be “moral” to human minds, and I understand his sentiments.

    One trouble is, his morality is simplistic as a result. If we adopted his attitude, we might simply suppose that the Holocaust simply could not happen–or at least, only a very few could cause such an evil.

    I noticed on UD a while back that one of the blogposters was claiming that atheists allow that the Holocaust is permitted, since there’s no “moral basis” (in the IDiots’ calculus, that is) for opposing the Holocaust for the “materialist.” All I could think was, clearly the Holocaust was permitted–by God.

    Our opposition to genocide, like the Cambodian or Rwandan genocides (to further the point that these are not unique events–and the Rwandan genocide had considerable participation by the populace) is indeed more difficult, or one might more accurately say, more in tune with the complexities of this world. No “law of god” stops genocide, and neither do the laws of humans and of religion.

    The fact is that we have come to oppose genocide especially due to the “materialist” views of the Enlightenment, which tended to universalize moral sentiments, and ideally did not allow for privileging certain peoples and viewpoints. Of course, media have brought the alien and distant close to our senses, as well.

    Blaming magic for morality would lead us to forget what led to the most universal morality ever in the history of humanity, Enlightenment values. These are also the values facilitating science, such as evolutionary theory. So although I do not doubt that some people need to fear the Magic Man in the sky to be as moral as they are (usually not very, in fact), it is by no means a prescription for creating a moral society.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  45. #45 agg
    April 29, 2009

    Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences.

    What annoys me even more is that theists almost always take it for granted that the mere existence of their deity serves their morality to us in a platter. “Logic” goes that if there is a creator and he says jump you gotta jump. This is ridiculous!

    Even if somehow the existence of their deity was firmly established, they still have a long way to go to make the case that that deity is actually worth listening to. What if, instead of tricking us by burying the fossils, like many creationists claim, he tricked us by making some people write the Bible (or any other Scripture(TM))?

    Gods or no gods, the moral decision on whether to listen to Scripture/deity of choice still rests on us in the end.

  46. #46 Cappy
    April 29, 2009

    llewelly | April 29, 2009 2:38 PM

    I took from the interview that treating people with some level of dignity will often get you more cooperation than torture. And I’m not saying coddle them, but even at Guantanimo it looks like they got all the good intel BEFORE they started torturing them. Torture is certainly not the christian thing to do.

    I always liked this:
    Love your enemies: it confuses the hell out of them.

  47. #47 Bruce gorton
    April 29, 2009

    The thing that gets me with that “Without God you cannot be moral” canard, is the unbelievable depth of bigotry it leads to.

    I mean, if without God you cannot be moral, then people who are without your specific God are suddenly somehow lesser to you, and therefore it is okay to treat them as such.

    It is an engine of dehumanisation, and it is the sort of wrong-headed wooly minded thinking that has plagued humanity throughout history, and yet somehow it is still treated by theists as though it is some sort of sage point.

  48. #48 Matt Heath
    April 29, 2009

    Didn’t a certain recent troll write “BioLogos” with the same annoying CamelCase? The same one that wrote AbioGenesis? Did we have Francis Collins or Karl Giberson telling us that transistors have moving parts?

  49. #49 Bruce gorton
    April 29, 2009

    The thing that gets me with that “Without God you cannot be moral” canard, is the unbelievable depth of bigotry it leads to.

    I mean, if without God you cannot be moral, then people who are without your specific God are suddenly somehow lesser to you, and therefore it is okay to treat them as such.

    It is an engine of dehumanisation, and it is the sort of wrong-headed wooly minded thinking that has plagued humanity throughout history, and yet somehow it is still treated by theists as though it is some sort of sage point.

  50. #50 Pete
    April 29, 2009

    Those of you who think you can get a non-arbitrary morality from biology are a little unclear on what the demand is…

    They aren’t just asking “What is the best way to avoid suffering”, they are asking “What should you do to be moral?”. They are asking about “ought”, and providing “is” doesn’t help.

    Of course as Sastra says they are also question-begging by ignoring Plato and saying that what magic man demands is necessarily morally right. But I think we can be forthrightful about saying that when we say “X is wrong”, all we are claiming is that we will not do X, and are willing to punish those who do X – and that is really all there is to being “right” or “wrong”. It’s okay to give up the idea of absolute morality.

  51. #51 SteveM
    April 29, 2009

    So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary [emphasis added].

    We have heard this too many times. It is not entirely arbitrary, there are definite constraints on ethical systems that will actually result in a productive, “healthy”, society. You can’t just pick any old set of rules and expect it to work out. It does not take a god to make it wrong to allow murder. A society that does not punish murder will soon not be able to function.

  52. #52 Andrew @ EC
    April 29, 2009

    Far more disturbing to me is Collins’ answer to question 19, in which he repeats common creationist canards about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I blogged about it here, and I have to say I’m still angry about it.

    What Collins has done here is NO different than what the cranks and frauds at the Discovery Institute do. He’s trying to use his legitimate scientific credentials to get people to accept a stunningly ridiculous view of science in a field where he is NOT an expert. It’s despicable.

  53. #53 Pete
    April 29, 2009

    Right SteveM, so ethics becomes a tool for designing a healthy society and healthy individuals. That utilitarian explanation is enough for me! However, it doesn’t satisfy the traditional moral philosophical questions of what is “right” and “wrong”. I don’t think those questions have any basis.

  54. #54 Tulse
    April 29, 2009

    laser printed by God on resume paper in super-easy-to-read arial font

    If it uses Arial instead of Helvetica, it’s probably Satan’s doing.

  55. #55 Jerry Coyne
    April 29, 2009

    I am just so down with the idea that my relatives were murdered in the Holocaust so that the Nazis would have an opportunity to exercise free will. (Some theologian actually said that . . )

  56. #56 dahduh
    April 29, 2009

    Hah. PZ’s objection has been anticipated:

    33. If human morality is an evolutionary artifact, where does that lead us?
    It should first be stated that if morality was developed through an evolutionary process, and yet there is a God whose character and authority is reflected in this morality, then the ultimate truth of right and wrong would still remain.

    So there; the full explication ‘coming soon’. But that’s what Jesus said…

  57. #57 Stu
    April 29, 2009

    Did we have Francis Collins or Karl Giberson telling us that transistors have moving parts?

    No no no, we had an EE BS & MS say that. (Still snickering)

  58. #58 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    PZ should pick up a book on metaethics.

    Collins is talking about the metaphysical basis for ethics.
    Humans are social animals… so what?? Without any kind of metaphysical foundation for those moral values all you can do is say (like many atheists have admitted) and Micheal Ruse has said “Morality is an illusion put in place by our genes to keep us social”.

    “Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences. It does not imply the truth of the statement. You’d think a couple of high-powered Christian apologists flying high on buckets of money from a billionaire might have been able to avoid errors in logic 101, but nah?these are guys with brain-poisoning from an overdose of faith.”
    It is not an argument from consequence. It is an appeal to moral intuition and experience.
    All of us intuitively know that certain events are objectively wrong such as the Holocaust. By appelaing to that intuition and experience they make the case for morals.

  59. #59 James Sweet
    April 29, 2009

    My favorite is their response to the “If God created the universe, then what created God?” question:

    http://biologos.org/questions/what-created-god/

    For about 2/3 of the article, they actually somewhat reasonably reject all of the usual (fallacious) arguments. Just one is tempted to give them a modicum of credit for this honesty, though, they pull a logical fast one:

    They start by asserting that, until recently, the theist and atheist were on even footing because the theist assumed a God that existed eternally and without cause, while the atheist assumed a universe that existed eternally without cause. While this is not quite correct, it is “close enough” that one might be tempted to agree with their premise for a moment. “But ah hah!”, they say, “Now that we know about the Big Bang, we see that the universe does have a beginning, therefore it cannot be eternal, therefore the atheists’ assumption breaks down!” Oy…

    Then they back up and admit that some cosmologists believe that the universe was created by a quantum fluctuation, which does not require a cause. But no, they say this doesn’t work because that requires there to have been a quantum vacuum, so then what created that? (Even if we follow their tortured logic and cleverly-misworded assumptions, it seems strange that they are okay with a universe that has existed eternally but not with a quantum vacuum that has existed eternally… hmmm…)

    The worst part, though, is that then they quote Bertrand Russell to basically make a case that all atheists live in a bleak meaningless world with no magic or wonder. Argh, I wish atheists would stop calling the natural world “bleak” or “despair” or whatever (and others have done it since Russell, I’m afraid). The natural universe is beautiful and wondrous! How can people not see this?! As far as the question of meaninglessness, it is nonsensical to speak of meaning without a sapient life form to hold that meaning — in fact, one could almost say that sapience is the ability to create meaning. So for me, saying that sapient life has no external meaning is kind of like saying that the Sun is the only body in the solar system that doesn’t receive any solar energy. Or maybe a better analogy is its like saying that if you don’t believe that “castling” is a valid move in Checkers, then you must believe that Chess doesn’t have any rules at all.

  60. #60 Leon
    April 29, 2009

    You missed the other obvious problem with their assertion about needing God to have morals: namely, that God’s morals lack a certain something in the morality department. Considering he killed and maimed at will in the Old Testament, invented genocide himself, not to mention created Hell in his second book, God’s morals are hardly the example we should follow without reservation.

    Sure we all agree there are good morals in the Bible too, but the fact that a person has to pick the good out from the bad is a strong sign that God is a questionable source of morality.

  61. #61 Physicalist
    April 29, 2009

    By appelaing to that intuition and experience they make the case for morals.

    But what they do not do is make a case for gods being the foundation for morals.

    Ineffable should pick up a book on metaethics, you won’t find divine command theory receiving a very warm assessment. Plato, remember?

  62. #62 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “But the more relevant point point is that at least since Plato wrote the Euthyphro, educated intelligent people have known that it’s absurd to base morality on a belief in gods. ”
    And ever since Aquinas wrote Summa Theologica (not to say anything of modern Christian philosopher like William Lane Craig, Mark Linville…)
    Everyone knows that Euthrypo poses a false dilemma and naturalistic ethical systems fail.

  63. #63 Stu
    April 29, 2009

    I love how the implication is that naturalistic explanations for morality are “arbitrary”, but religious ones are not. It red-lines my irony meter every single time.

  64. #64 H.H.
    April 29, 2009

    Bruce gorton:

    The thing that gets me with that “Without God you cannot be moral” canard, is the unbelievable depth of bigotry it leads to.

    I mean, if without God you cannot be moral, then people who are without your specific God are suddenly somehow lesser to you, and therefore it is okay to treat them as such.

    It is an engine of dehumanisation, and it is the sort of wrong-headed wooly minded thinking that has plagued humanity throughout history, and yet somehow it is still treated by theists as though it is some sort of sage point.

    Collins and AiG have exactly the same beliefs about morality, apparently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miULdI-qocg

    “If you don’t matter to god, you don’t matter to anyone.”

  65. #65 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “Ineffable should pick up a book on metaethics, you won’t find divine command theory receiving a very warm assessment. Plato, remember?”
    I don’t hold to divine command ethics either (I hold to divine nature ethics)

  66. #66 Tulse
    April 29, 2009

    Without any kind of metaphysical foundation for those moral values all you can do is say (like many atheists have admitted) and Micheal Ruse has said “Morality is an illusion put in place by our genes to keep us social”.

    So?

    All of us intuitively know that certain events are objectively wrong such as the Holocaust. By appelaing to that intuition and experience they make the case for morals.

    And we all know that intuitions and instinct can never be affected by evolution…

  67. #67 Matt Heath
    April 29, 2009

    And ever since Aquinas wrote Summa Theologica (not to say anything of modern Christian philosopher like William Lane Craig, Mark Linville…)
    Everyone knows that Euthrypo poses a false dilemma and naturalistic ethical systems fail.

    Ah really, everyone’s known they fail since Aquinas. Right. That will be why neither Hobbes, nor Kant, nor Bentham ever wasted time developing such systems, I take it.

  68. #68 nothing's sacred
    April 29, 2009

    this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis.

    Standard order appalling thickness and ignorance from the religious set. First, ethical systems are not entirely arbitrary, but even if they were that doesn’t mean they don’t work; what does that even mean? Consider legal systems — they work just fine even when they are completely arbitrary; some acts are ok, some aren’t, by fiat. Consider completely arbitrary rules handed down by religious authorities …

    Second, of course moral outrage has a basis — it has emotional outrage as its basis! If it didn’t, if it were just based on some stupid rules in a religious book, then it would be completely arbitrary. Something isn’t morally wrong just because someone says so or because it’s written in some book; in order get moral purchase there must be an emotional component that compels one. Of course, religions employ fear as the emotion, displacing the emotions of empathy that divide healthy humans from sociopaths.

  69. #69 Sastra
    April 29, 2009

    Oh, here’s something odd. I was glancing through the Biologos site, and came across this, which explains the difference between BioLogos and theistic evolution:

    Theistic Evolution, therefore, is the belief that evolution is how God created life. Because the term evolution is sometimes associated with atheism, a better term for the belief in a God who chose to create the world by way of evolution is BioLogos.

    Huh? “Because the term evolution is sometimes associated with atheism,” they’re agreeing to give up the term, admit that evolution is atheistic, and make up a new word? Isn’t this the opposite of the strategy which they’ve been pursuing up till now — arguing that evolution is not, not, not inherently atheistic?

    And I’m afraid that the important distinction between “God created life through evolution” and “God created the world through evolution” escapes me. It almost sounds as if they’re going to use evolution to describe the formation of the planets. But surely Collins and Miller are too wise for that, aren’t they?

    Puzzling.

  70. #70 Stogoe
    April 29, 2009

    ITS, possessive, no apostrophe. You’ve done this a few times lately, PZ. If you want to be a writer, you need to break this habit ;)

    Fuck off, pedant.

  71. #71 WillB
    April 29, 2009

    @ 31 I call Poe on the sites you link there.

    No Christian would say:

    “The Lord has never been good at exacting his vengeance with pinpoint accuracy. After all, the infants and unborn babies who died in the Great Flood and the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah weren?t particularly culpable criminals, the firstborn children in Egypt couldn?t really be blamed for the Lord?s beef with the pharoah and locusts generally don?t limit themselves to the bad guys. But hey, whenever God goes on a killing spree to rid us of the wicked, it?s inevitable that there will be collateral damage.”

    This reads like Edward Current’s more satirical twin sister. I love it.

  72. #72 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    My sense of horror and outrage points me to a common humanity, not some invisible magic man who wills it because he works in mysterious ways.

    Fine, I get the pont that you don’t need to appeal to magic in order to feel sympathy. And, granted, ethics can be grounded in any evolutionary worldview, in that evolution is a story about cooperation as much as competition. I understand that, and frankly at some level I believe it.

    But if that’s where we stop, this account of morality ends up where the evolutionary psychologists seem to often end up: dealing in uncertain speculation. There is a reason why, contra Wilson, that the philosophers haven’t been put out of business by that research programme. Many people seem to actually want ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to be things with an objective existence, rather than a set of subjectively-experienced tendencies. An explanation that confines itself to function (as biology must) may be all that you require, but I suspect you are exceptional.

    After all, what prevents a person with such a view when, considering a moral quandary, to effectively conclude: “Morality is not absolute. What we call ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be reduced to attitudes, rather than edicts, attitudes which are the product of a contingent historical process. Run the tape backward, replay the history of life, and our attitudes would likely be much different. There is thus nothing fundamental about what others call ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I am therefore free to act on my own interests and call them ‘good’, regardless of how much others may regard them as detestable.”

    I am sure there is an answer to this which does not require us to invoke some tyrannical deity as a First Cause, which is unsatisfying for logical reasons in any case. But whatever the answer is, it’s my opinion that it will end up incorporating elements which are not derivable from the protocols of science.

  73. #73 SteveM
    April 29, 2009

    “But ah hah!”, they say, “Now that we know about the Big Bang, we see that the universe does have a beginning, therefore it cannot be eternal, therefore the atheists’ assumption breaks down!”

    Except we do not “know about” the “Big Bang”. The Big Bang theory for the beginning of the universe only results from a linear extrapolation of the current expansion of the universe into the past. However we now know that the expansion rate is not now and can not have been linear (Gnuth’s “Inflation”). This makes it entirely possible for an infinite past and also infinite extant to the universe. All we can say about the past is that before about 14 billion years ago the universe was too dense for light to exist. Everything before that time is pretty much hidden from observation and can only be modeled mathematically.

  74. #74 Bob's bulldog
    April 29, 2009

    Fuck off, pedant.

    You are pissing off Bob. Not wise.

  75. #75 PZ Myers
    April 29, 2009

    All of us intuitively know that certain events are objectively wrong such as the Holocaust.

    Really? We all do? What about the people who planned and carried out the Holocaust? They didn’t think they were doing evil, they thought they were doing a great good for humanity.

  76. #76 Owlmirror
    April 29, 2009

    Everyone knows that Euthrypo poses a false dilemma and naturalistic ethical systems fail.

    “Everyone” being you and those who think exactly like you, eh?

    So… you would assert that the OT cannot possibly be the holy word of the one true God, given its repeated commission of and ordering of mass murder?

    Just curious.

  77. #77 Owlmirror
    April 29, 2009

    By the way, Ineffible, are you a morph of Facilis/Facile Princeps? Your arguments stink of presupposition and pathetic dismissal of counterarguments by radical skepticism.

    Don’t think that bears will be fooled by changing your name. They will sniff you out and tear you to pieces.

  78. #78 Sastra
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM #74 wrote:

    “Morality is not absolute. What we call ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be reduced to attitudes, rather than edicts, attitudes which are the product of a contingent historical process. Run the tape backward, replay the history of life, and our attitudes would likely be much different. There is thus nothing fundamental about what others call ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I am therefore free to act on my own interests and call them ‘good’, regardless of how much others may regard them as detestable.”

    A scientific approach will explain how human beings have evolved shared ‘attitudes’ about fairness and virtue — a common, basic moral sense and orientation. The problem with the caricature above is that the speaker is dealing with the entire human species and referring to “us” and “our” — and then veering off his focus into himself vs. others.

    An “objective” morality outside of human standards is worthless. What people really want is an inter-subjective morality all can agree on. That makes morality ‘real’ — within the framework of relationships. I think that’s more reasonable than having it be some sort of essence floating outside of nature, or whatever.

    But whatever the answer is, it’s my opinion that it will end up incorporating elements which are not derivable from the protocols of science.

    Right — we’re into philosophy and ethics, both secular areas. All science will do is help explain how we got the way we are — and it will do so with more detail than “humans are moral animals because a Higher Being of Goodness infused His nature into us, making us similar to Himself.”

  79. #79 nothing's sacred
    April 29, 2009

    Everyone knows that Euthrypo poses a false dilemma and naturalistic ethical systems fail.

    Ah, so those who don’t know this don’t exist. A cogent argument, that.

    You have a basic problem, Ineffable: patently stupid people are always going to have a hard time convincing smart people of anything.

  80. #80 Pierce R. Butler
    April 29, 2009

    … while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God…

    Would it be rude, crude, and arguably unethical to say that BioLogos has just demonstrated greater philosophical honesty than the National Center for Science Education’s “Faith Project”?

    Oh, really? Well, shucks – whaddya expect from a lowly Pharynguloid-ilk minion?

  81. #81 Bosch's Poodle
    April 29, 2009

    Certainly we don’t need religion to explain or defend the concept of human rights. The term itself clearly explains its basis: Human rights are those rights that extend to all people as a result of their being human. They’re rights that belong to humans for being human. So the foundation for these things – including the human right to be free from torture – is human nature. Much as PZ said.

  82. #82 PZ Myers
    April 29, 2009

    After all, what prevents a person with such a view when, considering a
    moral quandary, to effectively conclude: “Morality is not absolute.
    What we call ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be reduced to attitudes, rather than
    edicts, attitudes which are the product of a contingent historical
    process. Run the tape backward, replay the history of life, and our
    attitudes would likely be much different. There is thus nothing
    fundamental about what others call ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I am therefore
    free to act on my own interests and call them ‘good’, regardless of how
    much others may regard them as detestable.”

    Nothing prevents you from doing that, other than 1) some biological predispositions, 2) conditioning since childhood, and 3) pragmatism, which dictates that we don’t do evil so that we can get along with our necessary neighbors. Why? Have you noticed any gods flitting down to stop people who do detestable things?

  83. #83 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    @ Ineffable… the biggest false dilemma of this type ever posited was by a confirmed Christian, in Pascal’s Wager, with its clear deck-stacking.

    I also notice they don’t seem to be allowing comments on their site, or not posting them, to be precise.

  84. #84 Anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    ITS, possessive, no apostrophe.

    NO NO NO NO NO.

    That’s a bogus pedantic prescriptive schoolmarm rule, like the about splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions.

    It has nothing to do with how the English language actually works.

    Possessive ‘s is productive. You can apply it to it and get possessive it’s, of course. Why the hell not?

    You can OPTIONALLY contract out the apostrophe and get its, but the idea that it is an obligatory contraction is ridiculously unnatural.

    Correcting PZ on this is an impertinence, up with which he should not put.

  85. #85 nothing's sacred
    April 29, 2009

    After all, what prevents a person with such a view when, considering a moral quandary, to effectively conclude: “Morality is not absolute. What we call ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be reduced to attitudes, rather than edicts, attitudes which are the product of a contingent historical process. Run the tape backward, replay the history of life, and our attitudes would likely be much different. There is thus nothing fundamental about what others call ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I am therefore free to act on my own interests and call them ‘good’, regardless of how much others may regard them as detestable.”

    Nothing prevents people from being assholes, certainly not being a mindbogglingly stupid godbot.

  86. #86 JD
    April 29, 2009

    Yes, morality DEVELOPS and is reinforced by societies according to customary laws. It only requires a visualization of empathic suffering and the need for equality.

    No flying angel asses are necessary. And this includes any golden shit droppings.

  87. #87 tweetybirdie386sx
    April 29, 2009

    Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences.

    Actually it’s even worse than that. It’s more like: If god does not exist, then you have no morals…

    “The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.”

    Since you have morals, then god exists. An awesomely bad argument that can only succeed if “morals” is defined as something that is created by god, by definition. (Never mind that some people can escape the sense of horror and outrage.)

    You would think they would clue their own selves in when they say…

    “If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be,”

    Uhhmmm… Clue. Another creationist own-goal.

  88. #88 kamaka
    April 29, 2009

    I also notice they don’t seem to be allowing comments on their site, or not posting them, to be precise.

    Of course. They know very well they’d be Pharyngulised.

  89. #89 nothing's sacred
    April 29, 2009

    To put it another way, a moral sense is not a conclusion — that’s a category mistake; you either have it or you don’t. People who present the sort of argument Scott et. al. do are either sociopaths who lack a moral sense, or they are intellectually dishonest, because they know that their own moral sense is not the result of some logical argument.

  90. #90 Fogg
    April 29, 2009

    Ineffable:

    I hold to divine nature ethic.

    And so you have selected the Euthyphro’s second horn, and then pointlessly wrapped GoD around “The Good”, as if any other of GoD’s properties were relevant to it.
    Classic apologist obscurantism coupled with the smug satisfaction of saying almost nothing. Congratulations.

  91. #91 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    “If God did not exist, I, Francis Collins, would not exist.”

    Descartes gets trumped!

  92. #92 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Collins and/or Giberson say ” If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis.”.

    Got does not exist and the grounding for how things ought to be has its basis in the fact that all of us can feel pleasure and pain. We all want to minimize pain and maximize pleasure and the best and only way to do that is through cooperation. Hashing out the specific details of that in a complex world is open to much discussion but to suggest outrage at horendous evil has no basis because god does not exist is quite simply a lie.

  93. #93 Thomas Winwood
    April 29, 2009

    Pronouns don’t follow the same rule for forming possessives as nouns in English, #84. My, your, his, her, its, our, their. “It’s” is only ever a contraction of “it is”, “it was”, “it has” or some such.

    I agree, however, that proscribing split infinitives and preposition-final sentences is incorrect.

  94. #94 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    “If God did not exist, I, Francis Collins, would not exist.”

    Descartes gets trumped!

  95. #95 Bill Dauphin
    April 29, 2009

    Anonymous(ly Wrong):

    ITS, possessive, no apostrophe.

    That’s a bogus pedantic prescriptive schoolmarm rule, like the about splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions.

    Bzzzt! Unlike the “rules” you correctly identify as pedantic formalisms, with no real basis in the structure of the language, its [no apostrophe] really is the correct possessive form of it.

    Possessive ‘s is productive. You can apply it to it and get possessive it’s, of course. Why the hell not?

    Well, aside from the fact that that’s not the way it is, its already has another meaning: It’s the contracted form of it is.

  96. #96 nothing's sacred
    April 29, 2009

    #84: stupidest post in thread, even more stupid than the godbotting

  97. #97 Tulse
    April 29, 2009

    Many people seem to actually want ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to be things with an objective existence

    And I want to have sex with Natalie Portman. So? The universe does not have to conform to people’s wants.

    After all, what prevents a person with such a view when, considering a moral quandary, to effectively conclude: [...] “I am therefore free to act on my own interests and call them ‘good’, regardless of how much others may regard them as detestable.”

    What prevents it is all the other people who disagree with that sentiment. How is this substantially different from if there were objective morality? People obviously act in “evil” ways in this world, so I’m not sure why you think “God tells you to be good” is any better, or would result in any different outcome, than “Society tells you to be good”.

  98. #98 tweetyweet386sx
    April 29, 2009

    And I want to have sex with Natalie Portman. So? The universe does not have to conform to people’s wants.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8e6-IeQ0aw

  99. #99 Just as anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    That’s a bogus pedantic prescriptive schoolmarm rule, like the about splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions. It has nothing to do with how the English language actually works. Possessive ‘s is productive. You can apply it to it and get possessive it’s, of course. Why the hell not? You can OPTIONALLY contract out the apostrophe and get its, but the idea that it is an obligatory contraction is ridiculously unnatural.

    Wrong. Possessive pronouns do not take an apostrophe, and not because it has been “contracted out.” This goes for yours, hers, theirs, ours, and, obliquely, his and whose as well as its.

  100. #100 Ian L
    April 29, 2009

    Love the post.

    I will say though, that I don’t like the term “accident” when referred to humans, or any creature. Accident infers that something wasn’t supposed to happen. This gives the impression that there was a plan, albeit vague. So it’s really just a terminology issue. We are here because that’s just how natural mechanisms work. I think we need to take this word away from creationists or ID’ers. When they say it, or we use it, it creates the image that there was something else that was supposed to happen, implanting an idea of a plan.

    Any ideas about that?

  101. #101 Owlmirror
    April 29, 2009
    Ineffable:

    I hold to divine nature ethic.

    And so you have selected the Euthyphro’s second horn, and then pointlessly wrapped GoD around “The Good”, as if any other of GoD’s properties were relevant to it.
    Classic apologist obscurantism coupled with the smug satisfaction of saying almost nothing. Congratulations.

    If, as I suspect, Ineffible is the presuppositionalist apologist Facilis (or is mentally indistinguishable from that sort of presuppositionalist apologist), arguing from “divine nature ethic” actually chooses whichever horn of the dilemma is convenient at any given moment.

    Facilis has cheerfully defended God using bears to murder children (or “young men” — he says) in 2 Kings 2:24.

  102. #102 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2009

    If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

    What does “non-emotional outrage” even mean? Did horror and outrage stop being emotions when I wasn’t looking?

  103. #103 paul fauvet
    April 29, 2009

    The discussion about torture is extraordinary – are these Christians completely unaware of the history of their Church?

    Early medieval rulers sometimes had qualms about using torture. Not so the Vatican. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV issued the papal bull “Ad Extirpanda”, which was the carte blanche for the Inquisition to use torture.

    Everything was permitted in the struggle to wipe out “heresy”, a term so vague that it meant anything the Pope wanted it to mean.

    Vatican-sanctioned torture went on for centuries – and when Calvinists got into power they weren’t much better.

    And to bring it bang up to date – was it atheists who authorised the use of waterboarding against Al-Qaeda suspects?

    So before Collins and Giberson give us lectures about the divine roots of our distaste for torture, perhaps they’d care to eplain why how so much torture in the historical record has been committed by devout Christians?

  104. #104 Flapper
    April 29, 2009

    [...]moral — as opposed to emotional[...]

    Someone really should check out Hume.

  105. #105 H.H.
    April 29, 2009

    If morality is objective and absolute, then can someone point me to the final draft? All these theists who insist that morality is not subjective can’t ever agree on what that absolute, objective morality actually entails. You would think at some point it would dawn on them why that is.

  106. #106 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “Really? We all do? What about the people who planned and carried out the Holocaust? They didn’t think they were doing evil, they thought they were doing a great good for humanity.”
    Thanks for responding PZ.
    As for those people , it is not enough for someone to be wrong for us to distrust our intuitions. to make a parallel analogy.
    You have a strong intuition that the external world exists. However several groups in eastern asia teach the external world is an illusion.
    However we still think it is sensible to obey our intuitions in this case

  107. #107 Anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    Thomas,

    I think you’re missing my point. I know that prescriptivists say you should do it, so in that sense there’s a rule being broken.

    I am also saying that it’s a bogus rule, like the one about ending a sentence with a preposition. It’s not a real, useful rule describing how the language naturally works, and is quaint, even hokey.

    (Note that Bob’s bulldog @74 is wrong about this. Bob the Angry Flower agrees with me—the simple, reasonable rules about ‘s do NOT include the weird exception for pronouns. It’s perfectly reasonable to be annoyed about people not learning the basic, entirely reasonable rules, but if you impose unnatural and arbitrary restrictions like the pronoun rule, you’re just asking for it.)

    Bill Dauphin:

    There’s no rule that says a possessive can’t be spelled the same way as a contraction—in fact, they usually are. Consider the following two example sentences:

    Bill’s wrong.

    Bill’s statement is wrong.

    Why should the rule be any different for pronouns than for nouns generally?

    There’s a reason a lot of people get this “wrong”—the rule is arbitrary and stupid.

    As for “that’s the way it is,” nah. I think “the way it is” is changing, and in this particular, that’s a good thing.

    Sure, editors may ding you for it, because they have an interest in following the bogus rules of “proper” writing, but on a blog? Fuck ‘em.

  108. #108 Bob's bulldog
    April 29, 2009

    Hmmmm, correct–I posted the wrong Bob cartoon. Maybe you’ll like this one better.

  109. #109 CJO
    April 29, 2009

    I am also saying that it’s a bogus rule, like the one about ending a sentence with a preposition. It’s not a real, useful rule describing how the language naturally works, and is quaint, even hokey.

    Are you really still on about this, and at length now? Your confusion on this subject is voluminous, so I guess I see why. The convention for rendering pronouns as possessives without an apostrophe has nothing to do with “how the language naturally works,” and it’s nothing like an arbitrary grammatical proscription; it’s an orthographic convention. It disambiguates the contraction of it is from the possessive of it in written language.

    the rule is arbitrary and stupid.

    So are a lot of English spelling conventions. (Is the spelling of knight “hokey”?) But that’s what they are: conventions. You ignore them at the expense of being understood

  110. #110 TimG
    April 29, 2009

    Collins argues a distinction between our ‘arbitary’ ethical system and his absolute system from his god. Ours is not arbitary, it arises from social interplay and possibly some sort of Darwinian evolution. How it arises is not the factor here. Collins hypocrisy is that his comes from the same place. He and others of his ilk argue for some absloute set of ethical standards, but where are they? Which version of which bible – and ommitting which inconvenient parts. Which bits are literal truth and which open for interpretation. For an absolute standard it certainly has a huge amount of different interpretations over time and distance, even within any one particular sect.

  111. #111 El Pedanto
    April 29, 2009

    The iPhone belongs to Kat. It is Kat’s iPhone. The iPhone is Kat’s.

    The iPhone belongs to her. It is her iPhone. The iPhone is hers.

    Spot the difference? Even our arch-descriptionist anonymous friend has to admit it would be wrong to say “It is her’s iPhone.” It is equally wrong to say “The iPhone is her’s.”

    The iPhone belongs to him. It is his iPhone. The iPhone is his. (Not “him’s”.)
    similarly:
    The iPhone belongs to it. It is its iPhone. The iPhone is its. (not “it’s”.)

    Oh, but on a blog, who cares?

  112. #112 Owlmirror
    April 29, 2009

    As for those people , it is not enough for someone to be wrong for us to distrust our intuitions.

    What the hell is that supposed to even mean? What does it have to do with the Holocaust?

    You have a strong intuition that the external world exists. However several groups in eastern asia teach the external world is an illusion.
    However we still think it is sensible to obey our intuitions in this case

    Yet they cannot demonstrate that the external world is an illusion. They can fool some of the people some of the time, with genuinely advanced tricks, but they cannot actually manipulate reality — “the external world” — according to their complete whim.

    And again, what does that have to do with the Holocaust?

  113. #113 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    More moronity from Ineffable @106, who still hasn’t taken note of Pascal’s false dilemma.

    Those East Asians think it makes sense to override intuition and act as if matter actually didn’t exist. Your post proves nothing.

  114. #114 Lee Picton
    April 29, 2009

    Pedant here:

    “It’s” has two and only two uncontracted meanings – it is, or it has. Present tense only.

    Its is the third person singular possessive. No allowance made for what is “productive” (whatever the hell that is).

    Holbach as well as others should take note. And yes, proper grammar is necessary for good communication and improper grammar makes one look less intelligent when a smart person is reading it.

  115. #115 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 29, 2009

    You have a strong intuition that the external world exists. However several groups in eastern asia teach the external world is an illusion.

    Yes and The Heaven’s Gate cult taught that the Earth was about to be recycled and to avoid that we needed to leave the planet immediately.

    Which has exactly the same bearing on PZ’s point as does your disjointed comment.

  116. #116 Stefan
    April 29, 2009

    Doesn’t it just scare you how someone as intelligent as Francis Collins is taken in by his own childish fantasies? What a scary thing that their brains are hijacked by the understandings of a 3 year old and they don’t even see it… You just want to shout WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    Alas – that will not come to pass…

  117. #117 kamaka
    April 29, 2009

    Heya it’s its-

    Seems silly to be in an extended debate about apostrophe usage in this locale…It’s a blog, the tone is supposed to be conversational.

    Blog, gawd, teh gay, teh stoopid, intertubes, bwahaha, xtian, godbot, on and on. Plus so many abbreviations and “laws”, I need two lingo dictionaries and Wikipedia just to follow along.

    But lets’ not misuse apostrophies!

  118. #118 Foggg
    April 29, 2009

    Owl Mirror:

    arguing from “divine nature ethic” he actually chooses whichever horn of the dilemma is convenient at any given moment.
    Facilis has cheerfully defended God using bears to murder children (or “young men” — he says) in 2 Kings 2:24

    Well, I don’t think you can infer that his meta-ethical stance is using both horns from just that. He would instead roll out the usual: “The nature of The Good” does not contain some blanket unqualified “don’t kill teens for mocking”, but rather compelled God to achieve some larger Good in these circumstances. God’s arbitrary Will, as horn #1, was not responsible.
    In practice of course it’s just as arbitrary to us in the end, since the hidden, non-arbitrary Good-known-only-to-God can justify any atrocity, but theoretically it’s not the result of God’s arbitrary whim.

  119. #119 tweetytweetbird386sx
    April 29, 2009

    Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences.

    Actually it’s even worse than that. It’s more like: If god does not exist, then you have no morals…

    Actually it’s even double worse than even that. It’s more like: You have morals, therefore a god exists, and this god gives people morals. (As opposed to, say, having a god exist, but then getting morals from the “morals bunny”, or perhaps the “pink morals unicorn”, or maybe even the “little green morals faeries” instead of from this god. Who says god has to give people morals even if it does exist?)

    Where they get off jumping to such egregiously unwarranted conclusions, I have no freakin idea.

  120. #120 Bill Dauphin
    April 29, 2009

    I know that prescriptivists say you should do it, so in that sense there’s a rule being broken.

    I am also saying that it’s a bogus rule, like the one about ending a sentence with a preposition.

    The difference is that the latter is not a rule at all, but just a (as you say) schoolmarmish prejudice, while the latter is an actual rule, despite the fact that you dislike it. Dismiss people as “prescriptivists” all you want, but languages operate according to rules, and in natural languages, the rules aren’t always exactly what your logic tells you they should be. Deal with it… or learn Esperanto.

    There’s no rule that says a possessive can’t be spelled the same way as a contraction

    I wasn’t positing any such rule; I was answering your query as to “why the hell not?” The rule, as others have pointed out, is that possessive pronouns (unlike common or proper nouns) generally do not take apostrophes; my comment about the contraction related to “why the hell” we should not change/ignore that rule.

    Why should the rule be any different for pronouns than for nouns generally?

    Because it is what it is; should “don’t enter into it.” There’s no logical reason that some nouns should have irregular plural forms, either… but if you want to be understood (and thought to be literate), you don’t just make up your own personal version of the language. English has evolved; you keep trying to make out like it’s been intelligently designed.

    There’s a reason a lot of people get this “wrong”—the rule is arbitrary and stupid.

    In my observation, people get this wrong because they, for some unknowable reason, simply love using using apostrophes. Folks these days use apostrophes like movie gangsters use bullets, forming incorrect plurals (e.g., Used Car’s for Sale) and possessive pronouns even worse that it’s (e.g., her‘s) with the proverbial speed of summer lightning. I see apostrophe errors (yes, I mean unambiguous errors; I’m not just being curmudgeonly) everywhere, even in cases where the correct usage is clear and uncontroversial.

    Sure, editors may ding you for it, because they have an interest in following the bogus rules of “proper” writing, but on a blog?

    Editors (and I am one, professionally) generally care about communicating clearly, and most often that’s achieved by following the established rules of the language. Any code works best if everyone who uses it agrees on what it is.

    …but on a blog?

    Blog comments are a very informal, conversational form of writing, and I wouldn’t generally call someone out for using it’s or its incorrectly (or for any common editorial error, for that matter)… but when you get all up on your hind feet to defend your incorrectness and attack the correct usage, what’s a boy to do?

    Fuck ‘em.

    I’m all for editors getting fucked… but I’m guessing playing electric guitar (or football) would be a more reliable pull.

  121. #121 Cath the Canberra Cook
    April 29, 2009

    @CJO: no, it is editing: specifically, copy-editing. Proof-reading is about reading the proofs – the pre-printed draft with layout and all that. Copy-editing is the one that’s focussed on the text independent of its layout.

  122. #122 tweetybirdie386sx
    April 29, 2009

    Actually it’s even double worse than even that. It’s more like: You have morals, therefore a god exists, and this god gives people morals.

    Actually, it’s even triple worse that that. It’s more like: You have morals, therefore a god exists, and this god gives people morals, and the name of this god is “Mr. McJeeberJeebers”. Talk about putting the horses before the carts!

  123. #123 CJO
    April 29, 2009

    Cath,
    Yes, a good copy editor will fix things like that. Depending on the kind of environment we’re talking about, oftentimes they are expected just to line-edit and not spend time on spelling or other corrections at that level. Here we do a proofreading pass on manuscripts, pre-layout, and copy editors don’t do spelling (or aren’t required to). The compositors have their own proofreaders, of course, who really do look at page proofs. In an electronic environment, like a blog, the lines blur even more. I made the point only to correct the notion that “an editor” is someone who works at the level of spelling and punctuation. I know from experience that it’s not true, but you’re right that a copy editor is an editor too.

  124. #124 frog
    April 29, 2009

    Wow, they push this childish crap? You don’t even have to run afoul of the naturalistic fallacy to justify morality, because all that morality requires is consistency with a preferred experience.

    There doesn’t need to be any kind of external standard. I think torture is wrong, because I hate the kind of societies that torture — they’re ugly, stupid, and self-destructive. You should agree with me, if you are against ugly, stupid and self-destructive.

    If you like ugly, stupid and self-destructive, then I don’t give a damn about your opinion.

    No need for fancy, shmancy philosophies or “external standards”. My internal standard tells gives me a clear basis for morality; and those who don’t share that internal standard are psycho potential serial killer scum — to the majority of the human race, their opinions are worth less than the turd on the bottom of my shoe.

    I have no problem opposing and legally prosecuting those who would turn my world into shit. Only a childish relativism requires inaction; a mature relativism actually supports strong action, given a time and a place.

  125. #125 Alex
    April 29, 2009

    Actually, it’s even triple worse that that. It’s more like: You have morals, therefore a god exists, and this god gives people morals, and the name of this god is “Mr. McJeeberJeebers”. Talk about putting the horses before the carts!

    I would zoom-out one more level and not just focus on morals.
    It’s like saying: I want there to exist something that brings comfort to my fears of the unknown, and goodness to this hostile existence. So I’ll attribute to this thing all that is comfortable and good, which confirms the fact of its existence.

  126. #126 Bryan W/a 'y'
    April 29, 2009

    I personally liked question 8.

  127. #127 frog
    April 29, 2009

    Helioprogenus: Careful PZ, this comes awfully close to sounding like group selection. It can easily be misinterpreted as a support for it. It would be preferable to mention altruism as a product of our selfish desire to perpetuate our genes, and those genes that are nearest to our own.

    And so what? Is no-group-selection some kind of article of faith now?

    Group selection must be an emergent property of gene-level selection — so it’s best not spoken about unnecessarily. On the other hand, it is necessary for such basic features as sexual reproduction, since the emergent property is impossible to directly derive from the gene-level selection.

    It’s much like trying to do biology. Biology is an emergent property of physics. If we could go directly from physics to biology, we would — except it’s impossible. If you can stick to physics, that’s better — but we can’t, because the information about the physics required to predict the emergent properties quickly approaches infinite.

    Unless someone can explain how non-group selection leads to sexual reproduction. Even altruism seems to be trying to force a square peg into a round hole — outside of a few simple cases that are amenable to direct mathematical calculation.

  128. #128 Faintpraise
    April 29, 2009

    The line about no man being an island popped into my head while reading this (one of my favourite quotes).

    Why do I care when other people suffer? Because I’m a person and I can imagine what it’s like to be them!

    Simplistic but that’s it in a nutshell really. No God required.

  129. #129 John Phillips, FCD
    April 29, 2009

    Brian888 said

    Odin hung on a tree for nine days (beat THAT, Jesus!) and sacrificed an eye for wisdom.

    Perversely, Jesus had a bad weekend to rob us of our wisdom and con us into becoming death cultist slaves.

    Who is the more ‘moral’ of the two.

  130. #130 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    PZ favors me with a reply:

    Nothing prevents you from doing that, other than 1) some biological predispositions, 2) conditioning since childhood, and 3) pragmatism, which dictates that we don’t do evil so that we can get along with our necessary neighbors. Why? Have you noticed any gods flitting down to stop people who do detestable things?

    I wish! Like a good policeman, where are the Furies when you need them? Though, if I only do ‘non-detestable’ things because I’m worried about personal consequences, can I really be said to be moral? Another problem for the philosophers, I guess. Again, I recognize that this isn’t a problem for you, but you’re going to have a hard time getting traction with any approach that stomps on the warm fuzzies. I’ll repeat what I said, with emphasis: “An explanation that confines itself to function (as biology must) may be all that you require, but I suspect you are exceptional.”

    Sastra weighs in:

    A scientific approach will explain how human beings have evolved shared ‘attitudes’ about fairness and virtue — a common, basic moral sense and orientation.

    I like that approach. I’ve always been more in sympathy with Wilson, Trivers and Dawkins than with S.J. Gould.

    An “objective” morality outside of human standards is worthless.

    Definitely true if no such morality exists.

    What people really want is an inter-subjective morality all can agree on. That makes morality ‘real’ — within the framework of relationships. I think that’s more reasonable than having it be some sort of essence floating outside of nature, or whatever.

    Sure, and science can (and should) inform the construction of such a framework, but we have to admit that this is a daunting task. We don’t have an inter-subjective morality that all can agree on yet, and even if we stumble upon some new scientific insight into how morality works, do we imagine that we are going to supplant traditional ethics any time soon? Vast numbers of North Americans are certainly not willing to embrace a purely functional account of morality derived from Darwinian principles alone, for reasons I’ve previously raised.

    The fact is, people are impatient, and when they are scared they become more willing to embrace moral prescriptions from authority figures that offer them the illusion of certainty. Consider waterboarding: I think it’s torture, but millions of my fellow Americans are still willing to defend it as a legal and appropriate response to an unprecedented threat, regardless of what the science says about the value of torture.

    Right — we’re into philosophy and ethics, both secular areas.

    Hello? Last time I checked, there are many philosophers and ethicists who work out of various religious traditions, including those with an authoritarian stance on morality.

    Tulse:

    And I want to have sex with Natalie Portman. So? The universe does not have to conform to people’s wants.

    I had no idea that you were on Pharyngula, Mr. Christopher. But no, you’re right. Reality doesn’t have to conform to our desires, but we’re not talking about what’s real, but how people want to conceptualize good and evil. If we propose ethical systems that are radically at odds with those desires, then it’s going to be a hard sell, no matter how well-informed by the science…and right now the science doesn’t give us that much to hang our hats on.

    I’m not sure why you think “God tells you to be good” is any better, or would result in any different outcome, than “Society tells you to be good”.

    Let me be frank. I’m not sure that it is better. I’m inclined to think it is worse. It’s a bankrupt morality that that says you should be ‘good’ because you’re afraid of being punished by a supernatural tyrant. Many people who call themselves followers of Jesus have (rather scarily) suggested that they would cheerfully commit rape and murder if it wasn’t for God’s existence. Ick.

    But you have to admit that while a person might believe they could fool society, they’d be less likely to believe that they could get away with fooling God. To the extent that someone really believes God exist, they might be less likely to do something wrong that they knew they could otherwise get away with. Again, this is hardly the sort of ‘morality’ I’m interested in promoting…

    Sacred Machine:

    People who present the sort of argument Scott et. al. do are either sociopaths who lack a moral sense, or they are intellectually dishonest, because they know that their own moral sense is not the result of some logical argument.

    Isn’t that a false dichotomy? Couldn’t I just be a dumbass who doesn’t understand all them big words and phrases? Or maybe I’m a sociopath, AND intellectually dishonest.

    Or…here’s a thought….I’m actually a Darwinian, and take the Darwinian account of how morals emerge rather seriously, and really understand how unsettling (and unsatisfying) such an account is for many people. I find your description of this faculty as ‘a moral sense’ that people either have or don’t unhelpful. That’s like Moliere’s ‘explanation’ of a sleeping pill, that it has a ‘dormitive principle.’ It doesn’t explain anything, any more than invoking a supernatural origin explains anything.

    As far as proscription is concerned, any assumption that theism leads me to buy into the contemptible argument that ‘God is required for morality’ is unwarranted by what I’ve written here. I’m skeptical about any attempt to derive propositions of value from propositions of fact.

  131. #131 MadScientist
    April 29, 2009

    Hahaha .. nothing new in the “god is necessary for ethics to exist” nonsense. There was this moron called “Saint Thomas Aquinas” who wrote that sort of crap about 800 years ago, except that Thomas’ weasel instincts resulted in him taking a few hundred pages to make his ridiculous statements which can be summed up as:

    God exists because there is a god. There is a god, so ethics can exist. Ethics exists because of god and therefore cannot exist without him.

    If you can take such a simple set of absurd statements and stretch them out for thousands of pages, then you would have achieved the level of ‘stupid’ exhibited by Thomas Aquinas. Many religious people have tried but they have all failed – is it possible that Aquinas was uniquely stupid or are there just too many distractions like the XBox in the modern world?

  132. #132 Peter
    April 29, 2009

    But you have to admit that while a person might believe they could fool society, they’d be less likely to believe that they could get away with fooling God.

    Pascal’s Wager.

  133. #133 melior
    April 29, 2009

    Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists

    In that case, I don’t see why he can’t understand that their non-answers work just as well for non-imaginary beings. What part of “we atheists are all ineffable” doesn’t he get?

  134. #134 Tulse
    April 29, 2009

    if I only do ‘non-detestable’ things because I’m worried about personal consequences, can I really be said to be moral?

    But isn’t that what many Christians are worried about? Don’t they act the way they do out of fear of divine punishment, either in this life or the next?

    If we propose ethical systems that are radically at odds with those desires, then it’s going to be a hard sell, no matter how well-informed by the science

    Science is not proposing ethical systems that are radically at odds, since a) from an atheist perspective the ethical systems we’re talking about are pretty much the ones we already have, and b) science’s role in this is merely to explain where our ethics comes from, not to prescribe a morality.

    I suppose you could argue that such explanation is at odds with our metaethical desire to have an objective morality. In which case, I repeat, I’d like to have sex with Natalie Portman, but the universe doesn’t seem to always conform to our wishes.

  135. #135 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Hatfield said “We don’t have an inter-subjective morality that all can agree on yet”.

    Well maybe not all, but certainly the vast majority can agre that we both feel pain and pleasure and that we’d like to maximize the benifit and minimize the pain we have in our lives and that to do so requires cooperation. That the vast majority of us feel empathy for others is the ultimate foundation of all morality.

  136. #136 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Hatfield said “Though, if I only do ‘non-detestable’ things because I’m worried about personal consequences, can I really be said to be moral?”.

    If you have empathy for others and worry about personal consequences then you can be said to be moral.

  137. #137 'Tis Himself
    April 29, 2009

    One of the things that has always annoyed me about the claims for a deity-derived morality is which deity? The OT Yahweh who thinks cotton-polyester blend shirts are immoral? The Aztec Huitzilopochtli who thinks ritual cannibalism is moral? The Hindu Kali, who thinks human sacrifice is moral?

  138. #138 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    Scott,

    Though, if I only do ‘non-detestable’ things because I’m worried about personal consequences, can I really be said to be moral?

    You can be said to act morally, not necessarily to be intrinsically moral, but that’s pedantry. Clearly, it depends on the definition – if one defines ‘being moral’ as ‘acting morally’ (the empirical view), then yes, you can be said to be moral.

    Anyway, why do you think that’s problematic?
    Actions, not intent, are what count in the real world.

  139. #139 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    Well maybe not all, but certainly the vast majority can agre that we both feel pain and pleasure and that we’d like to maximize the benifit and minimize the pain we have in our lives and that to do so requires cooperation. That the vast majority of us feel empathy for others is the ultimate foundation of all morality.

    What would Jeremy Bentham make of Hannibal Lecter?

    In fact, what would John Stuart Mill make of slasher movies in general? That pain/pleasure distinction seems murkier than it did a moment before. You have a sizeable fraction of the North American populace that regards such imaginary snuff flicks as entertainment.

    I guess I’m looking for something that appeals less to our sympathies and more toward our self-interest, something like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. But I suppose we could model that in terms of units of comfort vs. discomfort?

  140. #140 windy
    April 29, 2009

    I’ll repeat what I said, with emphasis: “An explanation that confines itself to function (as biology must)

    You should stop repeating it, since it’s false. Biology does not confine itself to functional explanations. There are also historical explanations, byproduct explanations and so on. A naturalistic explanation of morality will also take into account neurobiology and social interactions in explaining how morality develops individually, not just how it arose in our ancestors.

    And it’s ironic that you scoff at functional explanations as too unsatisfying for most people – the “warm and fuzzy” God-gave-us-morality-so-we-would-behave-good is itself a functional explanation.

  141. #141 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    In which case, I repeat, I’d like to have sex with Natalie Portman, but the universe doesn’t seem to always conform to our wishes.

    Well, don’t tell that to George Lucas.

  142. #142 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Haffield, I have no idea who Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill are so I don’t see your point. As slasher movies don’t harm anyone they are perfectly moral. Ultimately that’s what morality is – do whatever you want but harm no one. Of course sometimes there are conflicts between us and then the specific moral thing to do is open to much discussion but the ultimate principles couldn’t be much clearer. The fact that we all feel pleasure and pain and want to maximize the benefits in our lives while minimizing the negative is the ultimate objective source of morality. An imaginary god is not an objective source of morality, but our nature as feeling beings is.

  143. #143 Sastra
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM #130 wrote:

    An “objective” morality outside of human standards is worthless.
    Definitely true if no such morality exists.

    True even if it does exist — if it’s really outside of human standards. That would mean that it doesn’t appeal or share in what people consider good, or evil, or right, or wrong. Cthulhu morality, perhaps. Or “God is good, but not in the sense that you and I understand what “good” means.” Egads.

    Right — we’re into philosophy and ethics, both secular areas.

    Hello? Last time I checked, there are many philosophers and ethicists who work out of various religious traditions, including those with an authoritarian stance on morality.

    But the broader categories of philosophy and ethics themselves do not depend on theism. They are not atheistic, of course, but secular. “What is truth? “What is good?” “How ought we to live?” Specifically theistic responses to those questions are a subset, one type of answer.

  144. #144 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Scott Hatfield said “I guess I’m looking for something that appeals less to our sympathies and more toward our self-interest”.

    And I’ve proposed that to you. Ultimately the only goal all can agree to is to maximize the benefit and minimize the negative for all in an equal fashion. In order to mazimize for all we must cooperate.

  145. #145 Scott
    April 29, 2009

    I don’t know — I don’t think that there is any universal source of morality, independent of or dependent upon religion. Morality is arbitrary. It has largely to do with our early socialization, physiology, psychology, etc. As the father of a 2.5 yr old I discover every day that children (at least my child) have no conscience. Daily, my wife and I help her develop one through modeling and teaching. If we modeled/taught different standards, she would accept them and apply them.

    Remember that until recently society loved a good hanging or a brutal fight to the death (e.g., with a gladiator or a lion). These things weren’t abhorrent to the minds of the audience because they hadn’t been socialized to think that they were abhorrent.

    Empathy is separate from morality, but is closely linked. I’m not convinced that empathy is innate — but I’m not sure. There must be volume of literature on these topics that I should look at. I’m speaking only from ignorant contemplation.

  146. #146 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Scott I’d agree that not everyone has empathy, but combine empathy with self interest (maximizing the benefit and minimizing the pain) and you have an objective source of morality – it is not arbitrary.

  147. #147 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2009

    There must be volume of literature on these topics that I should look at.

    I’m sure I’ve posted this for you before, Scott:

    http://www.amazon.com/Narrow-Roads-Gene-Land-Collected/dp/0716745305

    that book should be readily available from any major public or university library as well.

    especially concentrate on the chapters involving the evolution of social behavior.

    BTW, when Collins first wrote up his “Moral Law” argument, it was obvious he had completely ignored the entire field of ethology and animal behavior.

    ignorance is no excuse for a bad argument.

  148. #148 windy
    April 29, 2009

    In fact, what would John Stuart Mill make of slasher movies in general? That pain/pleasure distinction seems murkier than it did a moment before. You have a sizeable fraction of the North American populace that regards such imaginary snuff flicks as entertainment.

    Oh for fs. When Mill was young, they still had public executions in Britain. Do you really think things were less “murky” then? And do we need to go into how Christians (not you personally, Scott) have flaunted their version of torture porn for two millennia?

  149. #149 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    I might add Scott that just because your 2.5 year old and some people have no conscience doesn’t mean there is not an objective best way to behave. Empathy develops over time in most of us. That it takes a few years for most of us to appreciate that others feel the same things we do shouldn’t surprise us.

  150. #150 Priya Lynn
    April 29, 2009

    Although many people think their toddlers have no conscience a study shows that is not entirely the case:

    Study Shows Babies Try to Help By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer
    Thu Mar 2, 4:16 PM ET

    WASHINGTON – Oops, the scientist dropped his clothespin. Not to worry ? a wobbly
    toddler raced to help, eagerly handing it back. The simple experiment shows the
    capacity for altruism emerges as early as 18 months of age.
    ADVERTISEMENT

    Toddlers’ endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated
    brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease
    out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.
    Psychology researcher Felix Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in
    front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books.
    Sometimes he “struggled” with the tasks; sometimes he deliberately messed up.
    Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books,
    each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds ? but only if he appeared to
    need it. Video shows how one overall-clad baby glanced between Warneken’s face
    and the dropped clothespin before quickly crawling over, grabbing the object,
    pushing up to his feet and eagerly handing back the pin.
    Warneken never asked for the help and didn’t even say “thank you,” so as not to
    taint the research by training youngsters to expect praise if they helped. After
    all, altruism means helping with no expectation of anything in return.
    And ? this is key ? the toddlers didn’t bother to offer help when he
    deliberately pulled a book off the stack or threw a pin to the floor, Warneken,
    of Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, reports Thursday
    in the journal Science.
    To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other
    people’s goals plus possess what Warneken calls “pro-social motivation,” a
    desire to be part of their community.
    “When those two things come together ? they obviously do so at 18 months of age
    and maybe earlier ? they are able to help,” Warneken explained.
    But babies aren’t the whole story.
    No other animal is as altruistic as humans are. We donate to charity, recycle
    for the environment, give up a prime subway seat to the elderly ? tasks that
    seldom bring a tangible return beyond a sense of gratification.
    Other animals are skilled at cooperating, too, but most often do so for a goal,
    such as banding together to chase down food or protect against predators. But
    primate specialists offer numerous examples of apes, in particular, displaying
    more humanlike helpfulness, such as the gorilla who rescued a 3-year-old boy who
    fell into her zoo enclosure.
    But observations don’t explain what motivated the animals. So Warneken put a few
    of our closest relatives through a similar helpfulness study.
    Would 3- and 4-year-old chimpanzees find and hand over objects that a familiar
    human “lost”? The chimps frequently did help out if all that was required was
    reaching for a dropped object ? but not nearly as readily as the toddlers had
    helped, and not if the aid was more complicated, such as if it required reaching
    inside a box.
    It’s a creative study that shows chimps may display humanlike helpfulness when
    they can grasp the person’s goal, University of California, Los Angeles,
    anthropologist Joan Silk wrote in an accompanying review. Just don’t assume they
    help for the reasons of empathy that motivated the babies, she cautioned.

  151. #151 Anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    What an arrogant reply Ichthyic — its a blog, I’ll post my ( ignorant — i.e., I haven’t studied the literature on this topic) musings at will, thanks. I presume that your tone stems from mistaking my identity with a different Scott; we’ve never had any discourse. I’ve included my URL now so that you can be clear about who you are addressing. “Scott” is not very unique, I reckon.

    Furthermore, I welcome you to direct me to any literature that you think is relevant, but for the sake of conversation (again, this is commentary on a blog post, for the sake of entertainment), you must directly MAKE your point if I am to understand your objection to my posts.

    –Scott

  152. #152 scott
    April 29, 2009

    Sorry,

    In my haste I forgot to sign my comment, Ichtyic.

    –Scott

  153. #153 frog
    April 29, 2009

    Scott: I like that approach. I’ve always been more in sympathy with Wilson, Trivers and Dawkins than with S.J. Gould.

    Depends on what question you’re asking. Yes — we’re all monkeys, and monkeys must be structured in certain ways due to our evolutionary history.

    But really, how surprising are the results that we can recognize reciprocal and complimentary trade, and hate cheaters? That really doesn’t constrain morality a great deal, does it, other than to say in essence that humans have morality?

    For practical matters, that’s fairly trivial — we wouldn’t be having the discussion in the first place if we didn’t recognize “Wilson” reality. We have two eyes, see with a certain range of receptors,… that still tells me only trivialities about fashion.

    But the questions we really want to ask — what should we do in specific — are more Gouldian. They depend on contingent contingencies… You can justify anything from cannibalism to Buddhist solipsism with your gang. I want to decide whether to be a cannibal or a Buddhist — not much in our evolutionary history tells me which way to go there. It depends on this very moment, everything we’ve learned, exactly who I am and what I love.

    It’s like the argument over whether an “artistic” sense is evolved. Yes, yes, yes, all folks like tunes to some extent or other. But that determines so little — it answers none of my questions about why some love certain kinds of tunes, or even why some very general commonalities in musical tastes occur.

  154. #154 Scott
    April 29, 2009

    Priya Lynn,

    Interesting article, but to properly test the idea of innate empathy or altruism would be well over the ethical line accepted by modern scientists. However, I’m sure that truly unsocialized children that have received effectively no positive treatment or care are in abundance, so you could probably (and indeed people surely have) learn a lot from a retroactive correlative study. The book “Becoming attached” certainly lays out the horrid history of orphanages and their impact on development.

    Imagine that you were cruel and unfeeling. You could socialize your child to a very different standard … e.g., no good behavior goes unpunished … and that child would surely adopt the code of behavior that you instilled and their sense of morality would be very different. How might you socialize them in a way that would remove empathy from their behavioral repertoire…..?

    S

  155. #155 Kagato
    April 29, 2009

    I will say though, that I don’t like the term “accident” when referred to humans, or any creature. Accident infers that something wasn’t supposed to happen.

    I just accidentally the whole universe. Is that bad?

  156. #156 Badger3k
    April 29, 2009

    Haven’t read the comments, but…what a fricking moron. Has his apologetic-ridden brain been overwhelmed, so much so that he doesn’t realize how backwards his argument is? If morality comes from a god, then whatever that god says is moral. The ultimate arbitrary morality there is. That’s why slavery and genocide were once ok – apparently YHWH changed his mind, and what was once moral is no longer moral. Pathetic argument.

    Why am I reminded of Uncle Hulka – “Lighten up, Francis” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrllCZw8jiM)

  157. #157 Michael Hawkins
    April 29, 2009

    How about we start calling charlatans like this what they are? The New Creationists.

    I have written about my favorite parts of this terrible website.

  158. #158 truthspeaker
    April 29, 2009

    PZ, in the first paragraph you have an “it’s” that should be an “its”.

  159. #159 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    GENERAL BROADCAST TO AVOID CONFUSION:

    I am not the ‘Scott’ who is also commenting on this thread.

    PRIYA:

    Scott Haffield, I have no idea who Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill are so I don’t see your point.

    Sorry, Priya. You were essentially espousing the utilitarian point of view in ethics, which is associated with Bentham and Mill. I was just being cheeky in linking them to a fictional character….but of course sadists exist.

    FROG:

    But the questions we really want to ask — what should we do in specific — are more Gouldian. They depend on contingent contingencies… You can justify anything from cannibalism to Buddhist solipsism with your gang..

    My gang? I’m assuming you mean from the point of view of those who want to understand human behavior as a product of natural selection, as opposed to those, like Gould, who attempted to suppress this approach.

    But I wasn’t attempting to offer something proscriptive (how to behave). My interests were descriptive: how something evolved, and whether it was/is to some degree adaptive.

    And, just so you know, I think Gould’s distaste for adaptive explanations was politically driven and hasn’t really made any headway with evolutionary biologists, in part because the chief effect of his spandrels argument was to raise conceptual difficulties for the adaptationist program, rather than to offer a stimulating alternative.
    Speaking of which….

    WINDY:

    Biology does not confine itself to functional explanations. There are also historical explanations, byproduct explanations and so on. A naturalistic explanation of morality will also take into account neurobiology and social interactions in explaining how morality develops individually, not just how it arose in our ancestors.

    Well, you know, that is true. ‘Spandrels’ are such an ‘explanation’. Though, as my previous remark shows, I’m a lot less impressed by the claim that ‘so-and-so may be an accident of history’ than the claim ‘so-and-so is strongly conserved, let’s look for possible function.’ But I stand corrected. But (arggh), wait…

    SASTRA:

    But the broader categories of philosophy and ethics themselves do not depend on theism. They are not atheistic, of course, but secular. “What is truth? “What is good?” “How ought we to live?” Specifically theistic responses to those questions are a subset, one type of answer.

    You’re right, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Just a little too eager to see theism included. I retract my imprecise gloss. (sigh)

    ICTHYIC:

    BTW, when Collins first wrote up his “Moral Law” argument, it was obvious he had completely ignored the entire field of ethology and animal behavior.

    Couldn’t agree more. I was shocked and disappointed.

  160. #160 Blind Squirrel FCD
    April 30, 2009
    Where are the furies when you need them?

    No, not that kind of furie.

  161. #161 Sean Michael
    April 30, 2009

    Of course, slasher films do not cause harm to anyone* (and, obviously, are enjoyed by some), there’s no reason except for silly elitism to condemn them.

    *The only possible exception I can imagine is someone impressionable being traumatized by some of the imagery (obviously, the best way to prevent that is with responsible parenting, as children are the most susceptible to that), and/or someone deciding to imitate what they saw — but that is, as far as I know, an old pro-censorship canard, and that virtually all studies of the issue do not indicate a causative link between viewing media violence and violent behavior (if this is incorrect, by all means, I’d love to be pointed to the study in question).

  162. #162 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    I am not the ‘Scott’ who is also commenting on this thread.

    ah, sorry, thought it was a typekey thing.

    Well, for *new* Scott then, I apologize for having thought I had posted that information about Hamilton to you before.

    Still, it makes a perfect read for what your stated interests were.

  163. #163 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    you must directly MAKE your point if I am to understand your objection to my posts.

    I had no objection to your previous post, only to continuing to make the argument about altruism and social behavior without even having read the relevant literature first.

    hence why I posted the link to one of the best pieces of literature that illustrates how scientists think altruism evolved, which was in direct response to your statement.

    as to the “ignorance is no excuse for a bad argument”, that was in direct reference to Collins, but stated as an admonition to not bother continuing to argue about the potential evolution of morality and ethics without having first perused the literature on the very subject, or risk making the same mistakes as Collins.

    like for example, when you say:

    but to properly test the idea of innate empathy or altruism would be well over the ethical line accepted by modern scientists.

    this is flatly NOT the case, as you would be well aware of if you had read anything about the evolution of social behavior from either Hamilton, Wilson, or practically any textbook on animal behavior currently available.

    There was a relatively recent review (and a number of relevant papers besides) of studies that have been done on the evolution of altruism in animals not that long ago, I’ll post it if I find the direct link, but it really isn’t hard to google up hundreds of articles on the subject.

    It’s possible you are using a specific definition of “altruism” that you consider “untestable”, but if so, is it then really relevant?

  164. #164 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    How might you socialize them in a way that would remove empathy from their behavioral repertoire…..?

    unnecessary.

    again, there are many case examples of genetic abnormalities or physical brain injuries that can remove empathy from the behavioral repertoire.

    which of course is something else Collins completely ignored.

  165. #165 Anonymous
    April 30, 2009

    Seriously… do these logos advocates realize that this concept arose 500 years BEFORE Jesus…

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/presocratics/

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/

    And I KNOW this is not the most reliable source, but still some good information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos

  166. #166 Citizen of the Cosmos
    April 30, 2009

    I can not understand why people keep bringing up the problem of evil. Biblegod is not a loving and benevolent god. Now, it’s possible that people believe in some other god, and not Biblegod, and that this other god really is a loving and benevolent god. But the only problem then is that they have decided to believe in something which is obviously not true. It makes more sense with a god that doesn’t care, than it does with a loving god. So the problem of evil is certainly not a problem for Christians.

  167. #167 Bob Evans-aka Metsguy
    April 30, 2009

    PZ said: Like I say, I’m overwhelmed with the tripe available on that site,…”

    Shouldn’t you have written, “As I said,…” PZ? After all, your a college “professor.” Isn’t it bad enough that you’ve confused the usage of: “its,” (used as a possessive pronoun), as distinguished from, “it’s,” (used as a contraction of): it is, or, it has? By my count, you’ve made the its-it’s error eight times in the last fourteen months.

  168. #168 Kitty
    April 30, 2009

    After all, your a college “professor.” Isn’t it bad enough that you’ve confused the usage of: “its,” (used as a possessive pronoun), as distinguished from, “it’s,” (used as a contraction of): it is, or, it has?

    My emphasis.

    Pot, kettle, black.

  169. #169 Bruce Gorton
    April 30, 2009

    Citizen of the Cosmos

    There is another problem: That our morality does not have a perfect source is actually a major strength to it, as our experience develops what we consider right and wrong can be ammended.

    However if the source to your morality is inherently perfect due to its source being perfect – then ammending it is only going to make it worse.

  170. #170 Julie
    April 30, 2009

    Not sure if someone above has mentioned this, but please edit “it’s” to say “its” in the possessive, not contraction, form. Thank you!

    “Having read both Collins’ Language of God, with it’s amazing conversion experience”

    - From someone who literally gets stuck on errors and can’t read any further!

  171. #171 NoFear
    April 30, 2009

    BioLogos Question 7: What factors should be considered in determining how to approach a passage of scripture?

    “Applying a method of interpretation to scripture passages can be a daunting task”….

    No shit. Shouldn’t that tell you something?

  172. #172 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    By my count, you’ve made the its-it’s error eight times in the last fourteen months.

    So that’s how you spend your time.

    interesting…

    *rolleyes*

  173. #173 MattB1
    April 30, 2009

    There?s a false dichotomy around which I think both religionists and those arguing for some pure, scientifically justifiable ground for morality are wrapping themselves. Let me offer this Gordian-knot-slicing verbal equation:

    Non-scientific =/= supernatural.

    There you go. Like many others I have decided, of what appears to be my own free will (I know, I know, whole different debate) that human life and well-being has intrinsic value. I don?t need a magical entity to ?grant? that intrinsic value, nor any scientific theory that ?explains? my decision. The only thing that calls it into being is my (apparent) will that it exists ? when it comes to deciding on questions about Ethics (or similar intractably non-objective properties such as ?Beauty?) I am, in a wholly non-mystical way ? my own personal god. As are we all. Why won?t that do?

  174. #174 AlanWCan
    April 30, 2009

    Ouch, that whole site is just one long infommercial to hawk their books.

  175. #175 frog
    April 30, 2009

    Scott: But I wasn’t attempting to offer something proscriptive (how to behave). My interests were descriptive: how something evolved, and whether it was/is to some degree adaptive.

    The question is, how interesting is that? If you want to ask the really interesting questions from a moral point of view, the adaptive questions are trivial. And from an evolutionary point of view, I just don’t see a great deal of interesting work to be done there — most of the truths are trivialities; wouldn’t that effort be better spent studying the evolution of self-modifying genetic systems like the immune system, or even the transformation of a grasping limb to a walking limb, or most interesting, how you add holes to an embryo.

    And, just so you know, I think Gould’s distaste for adaptive explanations was politically driven and hasn’t really made any headway with evolutionary biologists, in part because the chief effect of his spandrels argument was to raise conceptual difficulties for the adaptationist program, rather than to offer a stimulating alternative.

    Oh, let’s not get into motivations. Everyone (interesting) is driven partially by their world view, by what they hope is true. Unless you’re accusing Gould of being dishonest, of not being a good-faith arguer but just a bot like the ID people or Maoists, his politics are entirely irrelevant unless you’re a historian of science.

    The Gouldian point is that there are limits to fields — that some subjects aren’t the business of evolutionary biologists. So of course he wouldn’t give a program forward; he’d say that the ball should be turned over to the humanists.

    I think it’s unfortunate that so few of us in every field have that kind of humility — to recognize the limits of our methods. Everyone wants to solve every problem with the tools they have. That lack of respect for properly defined limits is a huge problem in every field of endeavor, most clearly exemplified by the religious, but also found every time folks try to over-reduce — the biologists who want turn all psychology into neuroscience, the physicists who want to turn all biology into physical chemistry…

    Humility is sometimes more valueable than knowledge. It’s the only protection from self-delusion.

  176. #176 Blue Girl
    April 30, 2009

    If the only thing keeping the little-brains from committing raping, pillaging and wanton killing, I don’t want to be anywhere near one of them at the moment they lose their faith.

  177. #177 cicely
    April 30, 2009

    Blue Girl @ 176:

    If the only thing keeping the little-brains from committing raping, pillaging and wanton killing, I don’t want to be anywhere near one of them at the moment they lose their faith.

    And it doesn’t even do that reliably, or the prisons would be much, much emptier; not to mention occasions when it has been considered perfectly all right to do these things in the name of religion (generally to “infidels”, or “heretics”).

  178. #178 Marcus Ranum
    April 30, 2009

    Re: toddlers and “conscience”
    Even puppies have a “conscience” if that’s how it’s defined. :)

    One of the things I love to watch is when humanists/rationalists talk about moral systems, empathy, etc, and conspicuously neglect the other creatures on earth that also show those behaviors. Would not any system of non-religious morals that works for humans have to also work for all animals capable of the basic behaviors which make it up? For example, are dogs moral beings that just aren’t quite as smart as we are?

    Bentham tried to deal with this problem and wound up leaning towards animal rights and a bunch of other interesting things. I’m not raising this point in an attempt to divert discussion down that path, but if we atheists are announcing we can make working moral systems without god, they may need to be a whole lot more complete than we currently want to pretend they have to be. I would argue than a non-religious moral system that works needs to be able to address my dogs’ tendency to occasionally kill and eat rabbits. Holding humans as special is a huge intellectual flaw in religious thinking that we need to overcome.

    (Plan B, which I prefer, is to just be a nihilist and brush the whole thing off as pointless self-aggrandizing delusion)

  179. #179 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    The Gouldian point is that there are limits to fields — that some subjects aren’t the business of evolutionary biologists. So of course he wouldn’t give a program forward; he’d say that the ball should be turned over to the humanists.

    I think it’s unfortunate that so few of us in every field have that kind of humility — to recognize the limits of our methods.

    Oh, nuts. I am trying to imagine an eminent biologist of the last half-century who was less humble than Gould, and I am coming up short. Gould’s fundamental beef with sociobiology was not one of hubris on the part of the sociobiologists, but what he and other lefty academics of his error saw as the dangers of applying evolutionary theory to humankind.

    That’s not the way science is supposed to work. We’re not supposed to let people’s ideology dictate in advance what sort of work should be pursued. We should follow the evidence, not worry about whether or not it might bruise our tender feelings. Saying, in effect, ‘I think it is unwise to examine such-and-such scientifically, so I’m going to punt this over to the humanities’ is a confession not of humility, but of failure. At best, Gould’s spandrels are a cautionary tale to adaptationists that they need to do a better job of formulating testable hypotheses. At worst, it’s a clever but misleading argument whose intent is to suppress scientific inquiry.

    Anyway, this is all moot now. Gould’s no longer with us, and these ideas of his have never made had much traction with working biologists. You’re backing a losing horse.

    on the part of science; he made that argument

  180. #180 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    I apologize for the dangling sentence fragment. It was lunch.

  181. #181 Tulse
    April 30, 2009

    Gould’s fundamental beef with sociobiology was not one of hubris on the part of the sociobiologists, but what he and other lefty academics of his error saw as the dangers of applying evolutionary theory to humankind.

    Those dangers would be dangers to science, since as far as I can see, the sociobiologists of his era did suffer from hubris. The Mismeasure of Man does a pretty good job of pointing out the scientific problems with sociobiology, such as making grand pronouncements from practically no data, wildly extrapolating to humans from distantly-related organisms, ignoring simpler non-evolutionary explanations, and asserting that all interesting behaviour must be a) adaptive and b) evolved (and those to things are not equivalent).

    At best, Gould’s spandrels are a cautionary tale to adaptationists that they need to do a better job of formulating testable hypotheses.

    Damn straight they do, yet the evo-psych folks often seem to get away with sloppy thinking and handwaving and conclusion-jumping that would not be tolerated in any other field (including ethology). Evo-psych can be good science — it often isn’t.

  182. #182 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    From someone who literally gets stuck on errors and can’t read any further!

    That apparently includes reading the comments section.

  183. #183 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    I apologize for the dangling sentence fragment. It was lunch.

    Well, you should stop trying to eat your words then, Scott.

  184. #184 Ichthyic
    April 30, 2009

    …oh, and, on a more serious note:

    At best, Gould’s spandrels are a cautionary tale to adaptationists that they need to do a better job of formulating testable hypotheses. At worst, it’s a clever but misleading argument whose intent is to suppress scientific inquiry.

    agree wholeheartedly that there were (and still are) a lot of people (not just Gould) warning of the misapplication of “every trait must have a selective advantage”, but I don’t think Gould’s intent was ever to suppress inquiry. Hell, I rather think he dealt with that issue personally wrt to his arguments for punc. eq., and would himself not have maintained that his detractors were (for the most part, anyway) in effect trying to suppress inquiry.

    At the same time, there were indeed a lot of people so afraid (scientists and not) of how even the QUESTIONS regarding the evolution of human social behavior would be abused by those who really had no interest in scientific endeavor, that I think there indeed may have effectively been a good deal of work that went undone because of that fear.

    I also think that it’s possible that the current “evo-psych” movement might even be a rather reactionary response to those earlier fears.

    The bottom line here being that IMO, NOMA was mostly generated out of fear. Fear that’s still there, and primarily comes from seeing what irrational knuckleheads like the late D. James Kennedy like to build strawmen of science out of.

    Someday, it would be nice to be able to move beyond those irrational fears.

    Encouraging atheism is a good way of helping that along, though really I think we need to be moving towards looking at the underlying psychology of people like Kennedy, Roberts, Fallwell, etc., who apparently are so driven by dissonance to become such irrational fucknuts to begin with.

  185. #185 frog
    April 30, 2009

    Scott: That’s not the way science is supposed to work. We’re not supposed to let people’s ideology dictate in advance what sort of work should be pursued.

    Whether you agree with Gould or not (his death is fairly irrelevant — most great scientists are dead) on a scientific basis is completely disjunct with his policies.

    Once again, unless you are accusing Gould of dishonesty, it’s irrelevant what he wanted — argue the point and not the man. With creos it’s perfectly fair to argue the individual — because they are blatantly dishonest and bad-faith opponents.

    But Gould was a good scientist. He may have been motivated by a moderately left philosophy — but then you could just turn it around, and claim that Wilson’s science is driven by his moderately right ideology (right here being US liberal center-right).

    Both Gould and Wilson intend to follow the evidence; both are blinded to some extent by their world-view, and to folks on the other side seem to be excluding what to them is obvious. So what’s new? This story goes back to Newton and Liebnitz.

    And who gives a crap? Neither one is a liar, neither one has been caught cheating. Honestly, when I hear someone harping about “leftist” or “rightist” scientist I immediately start to doubt whether they are good-faith opponents, or just ideologues trying to deflect criticism with a pre-emptive strike.

  186. #186 frog
    April 30, 2009

    Scott: Oh, nuts. I am trying to imagine an eminent biologist of the last half-century who was less humble than Gould, and I am coming up short.

    Hmm, I’m not sure you know what intellectual hubris is. I’m not talking about arrogance — I’m talking about ignorant claims of knowing the unknowable. I can walk down the hall where I’m at and find 20 folks who have greater hubris than Gould. It’s generally found among the intellectually second-class, and not the first-raters. Competent eminence is vary rarely associated with this kind of hubris — they usually like the fight and have the security to recognize error.

    In actual fact, intellectual hubris is usually coupled with a lack of outward arrogance — it’s the lack of intellectual security which leads folks to defend absurd positions with all their political might. You can pick up any biology journal and find 50% of papers that continue to use methods that were discredited decades ago — that’s the hubris I’m talking about, thoughtlessness, ignorance and political power.

  187. #187 Ichthyic
    May 1, 2009

    You can pick up any biology journal and find 50% of papers that continue to use methods that were discredited decades ago

    hmm, I’m genuinely curious. Have you one at hand that you’re thinking of?

    If not, can I suggest one or two?

    try:

    Copeia and Animal Behavior

    and/or

    Trends in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

    those should cover both field, and lab, and are considered well respected journals referenced often enough, without having the onus of being Nature or Science.

  188. #188 James F
    May 1, 2009

    frog #186

    You can pick up any biology journal and find 50% of papers that continue to use methods that were discredited decades ago

    Ichthyic #187

    hmm, I’m genuinely curious. Have you one at hand that you’re thinking of?

    Let me up the ante. Find me one paper published in a biology journal this year that uses methods “discredited decades ago.”

  189. #189 frog
    May 1, 2009

    Icthyic:

    I haven’t looked at those four journals — but I’d expect that they do decent statistics, since in general, folks trained in ecology and field biology (whether or not they are currently working in the field) do good statistics, just like psychologists generally do. They know how to count, as opposed to neuroscientists and other folks on the molecular side of things.

    But open up Nature Neuroscience, JGP or any journal that publishes material primarily funded by the NIH — molecular biology. Almost every fucking article applies normal distribution statistics to non-normally distributed data.

    Scott F: Find me one paper published in a biology journal this year that uses methods “discredited decades ago.”

    You’re an idiot — that’s exactly the kind of hubris I was talking about up-thread. Let me grab one sitting on my desk: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/322/5902/744

    Look at almost every figure with “error bars”, where they apply the first and second moments of normal distributions to data that is either normalized. Some of those appear to be approximate poisson distributions, where the variance is equal to the mean (sd is the square root of the mean)! But the error bars have no skew, so we know that they weren’t applying even an approximately correct analysis. There’s a confidence limit for such distributions, which is different from the standard error.

    Some of the others would have the distribution for a 1d random walk between two barriers. I have no idea what the distribution for that is — I can’t seem to find any thing giving a general form for it. You probably have to run a simulation to get the proper parameters.

    Or here’s the third article from Nature Neuroscience: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v12/n5/pdf/nn.2312.pdf

    where they’re doing the same thing.

    The literature is full of another example: treating ratiometric data as if it were normal. Such data is most likely a Cauchy distribution, which has NO mean or variance, and has to be dealt with non parametrically.

    Here’s the first paper from the current JGP: http://jgp.rupress.org/cgi/content/full/133/5/467/FIG2

    It’s from a good lab. Figure 2a gives us standard error bars on normalized data. God knows what the underlying distribution is! We know it’s not Gaussian (it’s not Cauchy either)… You often see such error bars on data which is a ratio of two sets that is arguably normal.

    The harder challenge is finding a paper that doesn’t commit a gross error because the authors and reviewers are innumerate, at least in molecular biology.

    And no one even knows enough to apply non-parametric methods that avoid the whole question of the underlying distribution. I see a paper that does that maybe once a year; then there’s the option of not doing a statistical analysis. If the results are clear enough, often statistical analysis is simply an attempt to add unwarranted confidence.

    I guess you’re just too ignorant, Scott, to even notice that folks are running a con on you. Want a barely used bridge with that probability distribution?

  190. #190 frog
    May 1, 2009

    Icthyic:

    Lord, the Copeia stuff is better than the mainstream in molecular biology. They tell you the distribution they’re using! They use something else than Gaussian! They give you details! They describe their regressions! Wonderful.

    I just pulled out the first three articles from the last month, and they’re all better than almost any article from the molecular side of the world.

  191. #191 James F
    May 1, 2009

    #189

    While you mischaracterized those examples as the use of “methods discredited decades ago,” I would agree that improper use of statistical analysis is a problem in biology. Thanks for what amounts to a clarification.

  192. #192 Ichthyic
    May 1, 2009

    Almost every fucking article applies normal distribution statistics to non-normally distributed data.

    ahh, that makes more sense now. Thanks.

    You’re absolutely right that field biologists have had when and where best to apply nonparametric statistics drilled into them early and often. Biostatistics has become an entire field of endeavor in and of itself.

    I had no idea there was a such a large disparity between mcb types and zoo types in how they do their analyses, however.

    I would have assumed that in general, lab results would have a more normal distribution (being typically much more controlled with more replicates) than field experiments.

    Is it possible that mcb types also have this potentially erroneous assumption in their heads? What about health-related fields? I’m sure I’ve seen several studies looking at the relative power of parametric vs. nonparametric applications to variously skewed from normal datasets, but don’t know how much the information has permeated various fields other than my own.

    I’m unsurprised, if a bit redfaced, to say I’ve never examined statistics usage in microbiology much.

    In my field, commonly the problem isn’t the application of the wrong model to data, but rather that experiments themselves often show greater or lesser signs of pseudoreplication (often unavoidable).

  193. #193 Grisha
    May 2, 2009

    I think that our opinion about infanticide would be different, if we evolved from lions. In lion groups a new residential mail expels the old one and purges minors to promote his own genes.

    By the way, I could never understand what existence of some supernatural entity has to do with moral. I also could not understand what special qualifications “religion workers” have to be an authority on moral. I do not mean any scandals, just by default.

    And finally, science can not produce any moral standards as somebody suggested or argued against in this discussion – anything that we call moral, ethic, or legal related are result of judgment and consensus, not scientific process. We cannot expect scientific solution for a question when live starts: at conception, after five month of pregnancy, or after kids left for college – we have to make a collective decision.

    Thanks.

  194. #194 Dr. Duke
    May 5, 2009

    PZ wrote:
    “…
    I certainly do have grounds to be outraged at the use of torture. Those are fellow human beings who are experiencing pain: I empathize with them, I see them as fellow members of the greater community of humanity, and I can rationally see that a society that allows torture is one in which I and my family are less safe. …”

    And I assume you would extend that outrage to the torture of primates, mammals, and even insects. Pulling the wings off a fly may cause less outrage than kicking a dog, but it depends on many things, such as did the dog deserve to be kicked and how hard was it kicked. The world not binary black and white it is full of shades of grey. As far as I can see, whether someone claims to believe in this or that God or not has no direct influence on their ability to discern where to draw the line between dark grey and black. Even drawing the line between those who belong to the same “tribe” (is it all Christians, only Catholics?) is not any easier with religion than it is without.

  195. #195 watchout
    January 26, 2010

    PZ Myers you need to have more respect to those who are your superiors in both intellect and accomplishments.
    You don’t like him for one reason he’s smarter than you! He has a relationship with God which also anger you. Your just a sour, tired, dried up Dawkin boot liker who has contributed nothing to the field of science except retard it.

  196. #196 Rorschach
    January 26, 2010

    Your just a sour, tired, dried up Dawkin boot liker who has contributed nothing to the field of science except retard it.

    Yeah PZ likes to wear them Dawkin boots, so comfy, and last a lifetime…

    You, on the other hand, seem a confused angry illiterate individual that has to post on 8 month old threads in the safety of the american night.

  197. #197 negentropyeater
    January 26, 2010

    Is there a name to the following law :
    the older the thread is on Pharyngula, the higher the probability that the author of the first new comment on that thread will be a silly godbot ?

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