Pharyngula

I’m still wrestling with Sam Harris’s and Richard Carrier’s ideas that there can be a scientific foundation for morality. I guess I am concerned with the claim that we can science our way to a moral society; I am more comfortable with the idea that we can develop an objective criterion for judging an act as not moral, or not just, or not contributing to the wellbeing of individuals or cultures. Can I, as a godless humanist, say that this is wrong?

An Islamist rebel administration in Somalia has had a 13-year-old girl stoned to death for adultery after the child’s father reported that she was raped by three men.

Yes, I’m sure I can. It is morally reprehensible, it is not fair or just, it does great harm not just to the victim but to the people who perpetrate such hateful acts, and to the rapists who are granted freedom to destroy more lives. The culture that would tolerate and encourage such behavior is not one I want to be a member of, and not even one that I want to share the planet with.

It is very hard to think about it purely rationally, though, when all you can feel is grief for a lost life and so many minds destroyed by hatred.

Comments

  1. #1 Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou
    May 9, 2010

    Argh, I hate culture which blames rape and sex on women and only women. Not only does it make the assumption that all women are evil, it makes men look like nothing more than sex crazed machines with no self control. Fucking patriarchal scumbags.

  2. #2 greg.bourke0
    May 9, 2010

    The question should be how anyone as a God loving/fearing human can justify this according to their faith and still view that faith as just. It is blindingly obvious to me that it is wrong but then I don’t need to manipulate any ancient texts prior to saying that.

  3. #3 OurDeadSelves
    May 9, 2010

    How is it irrational to be outraged at the taking of another’s life?

    There’s no reason to base morality on science. Respecting everyone’s basic humanity is enough to base your moral compass on, I feel.

  4. #4 Valdyr
    May 9, 2010

    Ah, but you have to have an absolute basis for morality, because… you have to, I’m telling you! If it’s not absolute, it’s useless, because…it’s just not absolute-y enough, and stuff.

  5. #5 vanharris
    May 9, 2010

    Quite honestly, I feel more disgust for the evil religion & its evil adherents than i feel grief for the tragic girl & her loved ones. But i’m in a very anti-religious mood right now.

  6. #6 Gregory Greenwood
    May 9, 2010

    This is not just outrageous and immoral, it is the closest you can get to an objective act of evil. Blaming the victim of the rape. Compounding sexual violence with the religiously sactioned murder of its target. I cannot express the depth and intensity of my disgust for the barbarous, misogynist bastards who have perpetrated this abomination and others like it. Any culture or religion that promotes this horror has much to answer for.

    I am with PZ. I would rather not share the same environment as the people who would do this.

  7. #7 Aaron Baker
    May 9, 2010

    It seems to me that statements of fact, though not dictating a given morality, are often (and pretty obviously) relevant to the moral positions we take. If you believe that the universe is certainly not ruled by an immortal Iron Age despot, that this life is probably the only one we’re going to have, and that there’s no objective basis for a belief in female inferiority or that female agency is somehow different from male agency, your normal empathy for other human beings is going to sicken you when you hear stories like this.

    In the absence of a bunch of improbable or manifestly false beliefs, people will still argue about morality–and still fail to be decent to one another; but they’ll have fewer occasions for viciousness. And science (or, more broadly, empirical investigation) has the best track record of giving us a more (rather than less) accurate view of the phenomena we encounter. That, I think, is its relevance to morality.

  8. #8 itsgood2bchildfree
    May 9, 2010

    Young girls face incredible obstacles wherever they live and work. There is always an established patriarchy that, simply, does not want them to succeed. In East Africa, we’re dealing with ancient tribal cultures that also permit genocide, bizarre witchcraft rituals and widespread environment degradation. This is a horrific murder, but Africa is still the world’s basket case and will be for decades to come. Don’t expect things to get better.

  9. #9 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    I guess I am concerned with the claim that we can science our way to a moral society

    I am more comfortable with the idea that we can develop an objective criterion for judging an act as not moral

    Wait a minute. This is one and the same thing. If there are objective moral criteria, then science is the right tool to discover them. Just like any other objective facts about this universe.

  10. #10 Ariela_HvM
    May 9, 2010

    You know, I agree PZ. Wouldn’t it be great if all the morally bogus people of this planet had their own planet, and all the decent people could just leave?! Then jerks like this can duke it out amongst themselves and stop preying upon the weaker.
    All the main world religions pretty much attack anyone who could potentially have a vagina, so this heinous act is no surprise at all. Shameless men…

  11. #11 raven
    May 9, 2010

    Somalia: Islamic supremacists forbid schools to ring bells because …
    Apr 16, 2010 … The bells just remind the Islamic supremacists of churches, and so they have to be silenced. “Bells toll no more for schools in Somali town …

    The Somalia Islamics have set new lows for humankind. It isn’t that they are sinking back into the stone age. They’ve gone way beyond that.

    Not seeing how ringing school bells is non-Islamic but piracy on the open seas is.

    Theocracies have had a well deserved bad name for millenia. Hope Texas, Utah, and Oklahmoma never get this bad.

  12. #12 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    If you want a simple, non-emotional, objective reason to condemn such barbarism, it’s that societies in which such insanity is acceptable are not stable.

    Either they will decide amongst themselves to reform their ways; they will have reform forcibly imposed upon them from outsiders; or they will be out-competed and therefore wither away.

    That is, evolution will take care of ensuring that morality becomes the norm. An individual who tries to adopt evolutionarily harmful behavior (that which is immoral) may perhaps gain some form of benefit, but is statistically much more likely to fail. Aggregate those statistics into a society and the result is obvious and inevitable to anybody who understands statistics.

    Or, as I keep trying to convince y’all, morality is simply an optimal behavioral strategy.

    The objections to this generally fall into two categories.

    “But I can spread my genes better by raping everything on two legs!” and similar variations about violent get-rich-quick schemes; often cited by the religious who are afraid of what’ll happen if they stop eating Jesus crackers. It’s trivial to understand this is false, as a society in which everybody went around rapin’ and theivin’s and murderin’ would not be able to compete against those which are civilized. An individual in a civilized society is better off than one in a criminal one, and a criminal in a civilized society does even worse than a criminal in a criminal society.

    “But I can think of these insane hypotheticals where somebody might want to do something really fucked up!” This is often followed by dogmatic citations of Hume. Come up with a hypothetical that exists in a universe where Spock isn’t wearing a beard and I might have a better time suppressing exasperation.

    Cheers,

    b&

    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  13. #13 cogent46
    May 9, 2010

    Let me propose a model for morality.

    1. An act is morally good if it is beneficial to the group.

    2. Conversely, an act is morally bad if it is a detriment to the group.

    Now I have not defined what is morally good and morally bad, but I hope that introducing the concepts of “group”, “beneficial”, and “detrimental” will be easier to agree upon.

    So, if you are a humanist, your group is the set of all humans. This little girl was a member of your group who’s very existence benefited your group. Killing her is a detriment to your group and hense is morally wrong.

    If you are a member of that sect that thinks that the girl’s behavior is a detriment to your group, then killing her is morally good.

  14. #14 hinakuu
    May 9, 2010

    If anyone should be killed, it should be those three men who raped her. And now the people who ordered her to be stoned to death. I’d like to put them all in a steel cage and set them on fire. This would somehow be very satisfying.

  15. #15 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    itsgood2bchildfree wrote:

    Africa is still the world’s basket case and will be for decades to come. Don’t expect things to get better.

    And Ariela_HvM wrote:

    Wouldn’t it be great if all the morally bogus people of this planet had their own planet, and all the decent people could just leave?!

    Things will get better in the impoverished parts of Africa, Afghanistan, North Korea, and the other hellholes in the planet for the simple reason that the “morally bogus” are (slowly) carrying out exactly such a segregation.

    Moral people either moderate the actions of the insane; flee; or die trying. When the latter two options happen more than the first, the society quickly spirals out of control into self-imposed extinction, perhaps aided by outside policing.

    Either humans will become progressively more moral or we will be the source of our own destruction.

    That’s not to state that we’ll live to see the results; these things are slow.

    And that’s especially not to state that we should sit idly by waiting for nature to take it course. If the reason why that’s a bad idea isn’t glaringly obvious by now, you have the mental capacity of Jesus of Turin.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  16. #16 BBCaddict
    May 9, 2010

    This gets right down to the base of why I became an atheist – reading over the bible (and the works of many,many other religions) I just got increasingly upset over the blame placed on the women. Scapegoating of womankind was a large factor in my decision to jettison the crap after trying to please my mom by going to church(es) and then realizing that she wasn’t happy either but desperately wanted to find the church that WOULD make her happy. She wants to believe and that desperate search made me NOT believe.

  17. #17 va.terrero
    May 9, 2010

    I agree with @T_U_T, I believe the issue most people will have “buying” the concept that we can in fact get our morals from science are our deep rooted prehistoric beliefs that there is something mystical about us, something different, an apparent sense of self-consciousness and free will.

    objectivity? if everything is objective it’ll kill the previous assumption and we’ll just be what? machines? biological machines? well we are… with umpteenth variations and different configurations that beg to the illusion that we are in fact unique and our decisions regarding some subjects “subjective”.
    I say that what we call subjectivity is in fact variability and that within there is a base, a foundation, a set of rules that are most probably common among all and that are things that science as a moral compass can serve to describe.

    Anyway I don’t think Sam Harris claims to be able to have science judge every moral action we take that would be unnecessary and frankly wasteful (but not impossible) but what he claims is that science is an excellent tool to give us a general universal and objective idea of what we should aim in terms of answering the big questions regarding morality. To offer a foundation.

  18. #18 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    cogent46, you’re on the right track, but you don’t offer any incentive for the individual to behave morally.

    That is, you’re missing the fundamental insight of game theory.

    The goal is an optimal strategy. You’re looking for one that maximizes your own chances of success. And, surprise! When your own success depends on the success of those around you, things that at first glance appear to maximize your success but at the expense of others isn’t such a great strategy after all.

    Try this on for size:

    I. Do not do unto others as they do not wish to be done unto.

    (The First Rule may be broken only to the minimum
    degree necessary to otherwise preserve it.)

    II. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to
    them likewise.

    III. An it harm none, do what thou will.

    The rules must be applied in that order. For example, following
    the second rule is not permissible in circumstances which require
    violating the first rule (except as provided for by the Exception).

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  19. #19 TWood
    May 9, 2010
    I guess I am concerned with the claim that we can science our way to a moral society

    I am more comfortable with the idea that we can develop an objective criterion for judging an act as not moral

    Wait a minute. This is one and the same thing. If there are objective moral criteria, then science is the right tool to discover them. Just like any other objective facts about this universe.

    That’s the same thought that I had when I read this. If it’s objective, why isn’t it subject to measurement?

  20. #20 Duckbilled Platypus
    May 9, 2010

    Wouldn’t it be great if all the morally bogus people of this planet had their own planet, and all the decent people could just leave?! Then jerks like this can duke it out amongst themselves and stop preying upon the weaker.

    To be honest I don’t want to leave this planet, but I’m all for shooting these people into space.

  21. #21 Woof
    May 9, 2010

    NUKE and PAVE is sounding more and more reasonable.

    Shooting these assclowns into space would be too expensive. Let’s just take away their air. They shouldn’t worry – I’m sure Allah will provide.

  22. #22 Molly, NYC
    May 9, 2010

    . . . and died knowing that her own father dimed her to these scumbags, without blinking an eye.

    Can you imagine what her life was like before being murdered?

  23. #23 William
    May 9, 2010

    Harris has not even hinted at the idea that he knows of some logical mechanism that imposes evaluative properties on a value-neutral world. As usual, he’s just some guy asserting things that sound appealing to him. This is not the realm of a coarse thinker like Harris. It is the realm of someone with a more philosophical bent.

    Until someone does come up with this mechanism the best thing we can try for is utilitarianism. Which, unfortunately, is quite intractable and often deals with counterfactuals.

    The best science can do is to determine what makes makes the most people the happiest, and try to achieve it.

  24. #24 Marshall
    May 9, 2010

    “Scientific” morality is falsifiable? I like that quite a bit. In the ‘natural’ world, you can do anything you can do… as society progresses, the members of that society form a consensus that various actions are not to be done. The process of exclusion becomes increasingly sophisticated over time… not monotonicly, sadly. So we preserve the idea of freedom within constraints, and we allow that different societies will have divergent ideas. We get away from the idea that there is ever “one right way”, or that the requirements for a moral life can ever be adequately described. What we would call “secular morality” is what exists at the intersection of the exclusions of the various sub-societies that are united under the banner of said seculorum.

    In the case under discussion, the activity described marks this “rebel adminstration in Somalia” as an out-group WRT modern humanist societies, to say the least.

  25. #25 Knockgoats
    May 9, 2010

    In East Africa, we’re dealing with ancient tribal cultures that also permit genocide, bizarre witchcraft rituals and widespread environment degradation. – itsgood2bchildfree

    Whereas in Europe and North America, everything has been racial tolerance, rationality, and careful environmental protection for centuries, hasn’t it?

    If you want a simple, non-emotional, objective reason to condemn such barbarism, it?s that societies in which such insanity is acceptable are not stable.

    Discuss, referring to the examples of the Roman Empire, the Maya, the Mongol Empire, medieval serfdom, the Conquistadors, etc., etc.

    Let me propose a model for morality.

    1. An act is morally good if it is beneficial to the group.

    2. Conversely, an act is morally bad if it is a detriment to the group. – cogent46

    Let me respond that this is stupid and dangerous nonsense. It’s exactly the reasoning that led to forced sterilisation of the “unfit” in the USA and much of Europe.

  26. #26 Dae
    May 9, 2010

    @ cogent46 #13,

    Ben Goren has the right of it, and said that better than I was about to. I’ll add one thing, though -

    So, if you are a humanist, your group is the set of all humans. This little girl was a member of your group who’s very existence benefited your group. Killing her is a detriment to your group and hense is morally wrong.

    If you are a member of that sect that thinks that the girl’s behavior is a detriment to your group, then killing her is morally good.

    This kind of relativism requires either complete isolationism – all arbitrary communities establish what is “right” among them, and those communities can’t interfere with each other – or the paradox case of a heinous act like the one in the post being “moral” in the reference frame of the Islamic Nutjob Consortium but an obvious affront to human rights and decency to (hopefully) the rest of us. “Anything goes if you believe it hard enough” is pretty much the hallmark of religious fundamentalism, and clinical insanity. A strictly relativistic moral system is effectively the absence of one, since ideological gerrymandering allows any act to be “moral” if you can define a demographic that thinks it’s okay.

    I suppose if you live in a space station orbiting Alpha Centauri all by yourself and have no chance or opportunity to interact with or be affected by human society, you have no incentive to care about abuses perpetrated by other cultures or “groups,” but since none of us do, it benefits us to work toward a global community that honors and protects the individual security and freedom of each member. (per Ben Goren’s point about game theory and optimal strategy)

  27. #27 cogent46
    May 9, 2010

    Ben Goren #18:

    Hmm…

    Does not delineate the “group”. And seems more like how to avoid immorality. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll think about it.

  28. #28 inflection
    May 9, 2010

    I think what science is able to tell us about morality is not

    “This action is moral/immoral,”

    but rather,

    “This action would be considered moral/immoral by a human being viewing it at the precultural level of cognition.”

    We are starting to understand that people have basic social instincts and cognitive processes that form the skeleton on which much more intricate moral philosophies are built. While there might be some use to the latter, the former are the ones that will be species-wide norms against which acts can be judged.

    For example, I suggest as a testable hypothesis that persons watching video of a scared young girl being bloodily murdered by a crowd of people led by her father will, for the most part, be repulsed and angered, and evince moral distress, as these emotions might be measured in fMRI or reaction tests. (This would probably hold even among Islamists who, asked verbally for their moral judgment of the scene, would respond positively.)

    Of course, we don’t subject courses of action to fMRI scan tests, nor think of millisecond differences in reaction times when judging the morality of an action, much as we don’t test every $20 bill we pick up for possible counterfeits. It’s enough to know that the standard exists for the bills to be passable as currency. Likewise, we can generally say scientifically that hurting people, especially kin and people who are not a physical threat such as children, is immoral. (Skip insertion of long-winded background assumptions about neurogenetic ethical assumptions and clinical testing.)

  29. #29 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    Just to make this a bit less abstract and a bit less emotional, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow could — nay, should — have grown up to have been a productive member of the Somali society. Maybe she would have been a doctor, or a farmer, or an engineer, or a factory worker, or who-knows-what.

    The point is, the Somalis have deprived themselves of a very valuable resource (the future lifetime contributions of Ms. Duhulow) and gained absolutely nothing of value in return. And it’s not like the’re exactly swimming in such wealth that they can afford such conspicuous consumerism, either.

    And isn’t it interesting that societies that are wealthy enough to afford it are even more jealously protective of such resources? Curious, that.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  30. #30 Owlmirror
    May 9, 2010

    This is the same horror that set off this thread, prior to certain trolls being banned.

    and died knowing that her own father dimed her to these scumbags, without blinking an eye.

    As I recall — and I may be misremembering — her father was outraged that the scumbags raped her. But the scumbags had the machine guns, and reacted to being accused of rape by taking her by force again so as to punish her for “seducing” her attackers.

    I am not sure if her father survived the events himself.

  31. #31 Harry Varty
    May 9, 2010

    Alarmingly sharia courts are already operating in Europe. At present they appear to be only acting as an arbitration service but there are calls for more extensive use of sharia law. It is worrying that these courts are being administered by people who treat woman as second class citizens. I.e. by forbidding them to speak to males outside the family, forcing them into marriage and requiring the wearing of burqas when outside the home. Religion is the tool that has been pressed into service to justify controlling women in this way.

  32. #32 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    May 9, 2010

    @ Ben Goren:

    Just to make this a bit less abstract and a bit less emotional, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow could ? nay, should ? have grown up to have been a productive member of the Somali society.

    I understand what you’re trying to do, but I think it’s just the wrong thing to make this less emotional, and to cast it in terms of economic benefit to a group. That recapitulates the fundamental problem of treating people as if they were resources of a personified “group” or “community.” We can’t protect individuals from suffering under those terms; whoever happens to be in power at any moment gets to decide what benefits “the group,” and if that includes murdering rape victims, then so be it.

    No, we have to reduce this all the way to the fundamental proposition that human beings have universal properties in common. They do not wish to suffer, they do not wish to be raped, they do not wish to be murdered. They have the same capacity for suffering that you or I do, and that must be the basis for our moral outlook.

    We should view this emotionally – it’s only when we engage our capacity for empathy that we can see why such things must not be permitted, without recourse to a sinister economic or “group fitness” argument.

  33. #33 Numad
    May 9, 2010

    “Wait a minute. This is one and the same thing. If there are objective moral criteria, then science is the right tool to discover them. Just like any other objective facts about this universe.”

    History isn’t a science and isn’t ultimately subject to quantification. Does it mean that it can’t be a rational exercice?

  34. #34 cogent46
    May 9, 2010

    OK, I think that morality may be relative, but let me propose another rule in the model to deal with that and perhaps make it absolute.

    3. When actions may be considered both good and bad, the determination of the larger group takes precedence.

  35. #35 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    Typical Moslems.

  36. #36 Horse-Pheathers
    May 9, 2010

    ….

    They’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
    They’ll stone you just like they said they would
    They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
    They’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
    But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned

    They’ll stone you when you’re walking on the street
    They’ll stone you when you’re trying to keep your seat
    They’ll stone you when your walking on the floor
    They’ll stone you when your walking to the door
    But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned

    They’ll stone you when you’re at the breakfast table
    They’ll stone you when you are young and able
    They’ll stone you when you’re trying to make a buck
    They’ll stone you and then they’ll say good luck
    But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned

    Well They’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
    They’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
    They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
    They’ll stone you when you’re playing you guitar
    Yes But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned
    Alright

    Well They’ll stone you when you are all alone
    They’ll stone you when you are walking home
    They’ll stone you and then say they’re all brave
    They’ll stone you when you’re sent down in your grave
    But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned….
    :(

  37. #37 Knockgoats
    May 9, 2010

    Josh, OSG is quite right: “the welfare of the group” can be and has been used to justify every kind of horror imaginable. It is certainly legitimate to take that welfare into account, but morality cannot be reduced to this or any other criterion (let alone to self-interest, as Ben Goren wants). To think so is to make the same fundamental mistake as those theists who think that it can be reduced to doing the “will of God”. Moral dilemmas, in which we must choose between incompatible goods or, worse, whatever we do has evil effects and we can only choose between evils, are an ineradicable part of human life.

  38. #38 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    It seems Amnesty has no idea about Islamic law:

    “This was not justice, nor was it an execution,” said Amnesty’s Somalia campaigner, David Copeman. “This killing is yet another human rights abuse committed by the combatants to the conflict in Somalia

    ..unless that be willful cluelessness to avoid mentioning ‘Islam’, ‘Moslem’, ‘Jihad’ or ‘Sharia’.

  39. #39 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    History isn’t a science and isn’t ultimately subject to quantification

    FAIL. Anything that happens leaves detectable and measurable evidence of past actions and processes. So history is a science like any other.

  40. #40 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    Josh, I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. Quite the contrary.

    When you go to catch or throw a ball, you don’t perform all sorts of math to calculate the trajectory of the ball and what-not. You simply, unthinkingly, reach for or throw the ball.

    But, if you want to be a world-class ball catcher or thrower, you will have to subject your technique to careful and critical mathematically-modeled computer analysis to ferret out all the inefficiencies in your technique.

    Yet, when you get onto the field, you still won’t be performing any of that math; you’ll still just reach for or throw the ball. It’s just that your unconscious ball catching and throwing processes have been refined by the conscious application of the math.

    Morality is no different. We are equipped with intuitive game theory software that’s every bit equal to our intuitive ballistics software. And it’s our emotional response to horror that ultimately causes us to act, just as it’s our intuition that tells us what to do with a ball.

    But it’s also crucial to consciously analyze the source of our emotions, and to apply the results of that analysis in an intelligent way to enhance the effectiveness of our emotions.

    Feeling horror at atrocities will cause some people to act against them. Knowing and understanding the fallacies that drive the atrocities will cause others to act. Those who both feel and understand the reason for those feelings will be most compelled to act.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  41. #41 Sastra
    May 9, 2010

    Aaron Baker #7 wrote:

    In the absence of a bunch of improbable or manifestly false beliefs, people will still argue about morality–and still fail to be decent to one another; but they’ll have fewer occasions for viciousness. And science (or, more broadly, empirical investigation) has the best track record of giving us a more (rather than less) accurate view of the phenomena we encounter. That, I think, is its relevance to morality.

    Exactly. The relevant question to ask here (or in similar cases) is, “if I agreed with all the factual assumptions which were used to justify this action, would I then agree that this action was justifiable?” The answer is usually “yes.” And so we’re left with the “if.”

    Teasing out the underlying fact claims and reducing them down to source can be hard work. Many moral disagreements — at least, the extreme ones– are not about competing basic values, but competing interpretations. In this particular case, the perpetrators seem to be working on the assumption that there is such a thing as metaphysical purity, and that it is very important to keep themselves, or their society, pure, for the sake of honor. By having her purity besmirched, this child put her entire community at risk. The individual is less important, than the society. What may seem to outsiders as innocence, can be known as part of an underlying thread of danger, for there are unseen powers at work.

    I try to ask myself what I would have to believe, for some outrageous moral act like this to “make sense” — to be a matter of self-defense, or justifiable punishment. I then enter into a magical world view where events have a symbolic power to unleash supernatural forces due to contamination, or dishonor, upsetting a balance in a heirarchy.

    If this world view doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, the values, and justification, go away. Bring on the science.

  42. #42 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Ooh, Quirky’s also a islamic bigot. Surprise, surprise. Bigoted idjits like to show their idjitcy. Lights on, nobody home…

  43. #43 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    Knockgoats wrote:

    It is certainly legitimate to take that welfare into account, but morality cannot be reduced to this or any other criterion (let alone to self-interest, as Ben Goren wants).

    What you’re perpetually missing is that it is in one’s self interest to promote the welfare of the group.

    Or do you really think it’s in your self interest to go around on a crime spree, or to live in a lawless society? Are you or are you not better off for paying taxes that build roads and put out fires? Could you really have spent that money better by yourself?

    Enlightened self-interest. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  44. #44 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    @Nerd
    ..of course, there’s no anti-Christian bigots on here..and they just hate to show their bigoted idjitcy..

  45. #45 dpfurey
    May 9, 2010

    Speaking of a scientific basis for morality. It seems to me that perhaps morality did/does have an evolutionary advantage even if scientists have not found a “God gene” yet.

  46. #46 joed
    May 9, 2010

    when science begains making the judgement that something is good or bad that is when science is no longer science.
    there is nothing “out there” that is good or bad, right or wrong. the universe just is. it takes human judgement to make it “good” or “bad”.
    i think this discussion is a plt to reconcile science with religion, or some such nonsense.

  47. #47 Carlie
    May 9, 2010

    3. When actions may be considered both good and bad, the determination of the larger group takes precedence.

    Nononononononono. The larger group rules is a terrible way to do things. That’s why we constantly struggle with protecting the views of minority groups, because going with the will of the majority is so commonsensical. Yet it leads to mob rule, which is very, very bad.

  48. #48 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    of course, there’s no anti-Christian bigots on here..and they just hate to show their bigoted idjitcy..

    No, no bigotry. Just laughter at the inane excuses Xians make up to be bigoted, like yourself, against atheists. It’s hard to demonstrate bigotry unless you are either an idjit like you, or in the majority. Want to keep playing, or time to retreat to your lair?

  49. #49 Numad
    May 9, 2010

    “FAIL. Anything that happens leaves detectable and measurable evidence of past actions and processes. So history is a science like any other.”

    Both “History is a science” and “History isn’t a science” are controversial (and unsettled) propositions in the field itself as I recall. I probably should have put “I think” in there, but really there’s no call for being categorical enough for that “FAIL” comment.

    And I don’t think there’s a call to suggest that History only concerns evidence that could be caracterized as “detectable and measurable,” which really occults that it’s actually lot of indirect observations and the end product depends a lot on hypotheticals.

    History is done using the scientific method, but I always found that the name “discipline” fits it better than “science.”

  50. #50 va.terrero
    May 9, 2010

    @Numand #49 how about a social science?

  51. #51 sasqwatch
    May 9, 2010

    Sam Harris responds in the Huffington Woo-compost.

  52. #52 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    joed wrote:

    when science begains making the judgement that something is good or bad that is when science is no longer science.
    there is nothing “out there” that is good or bad, right or wrong. the universe just is. it takes human judgement to make it “good” or “bad”.
    i think this discussion is a plt to reconcile science with religion, or some such nonsense.

    If you approach morality from a top-down “skyhook” model, it certainly is. Just as it’s insane to insist that complexity (life / evolution) depends on even more complexity (various creator gods) to exist, it’s insane to insist that morality can only come from an external imposition of something even more moral. It matters not whether that “something even more moral” is a deity or a Platonic ideal of morality; neither exist, and neither can possibly exist.

    If, instead, you take a simple, evolutionary approach, it all makes a great deal of sense. Morality is no more and no less than an effective strategy to survive and flourish that emerges from group dynamics and game theory.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  53. #53 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    Both “History is a science” and “History isn’t a science” are controversial (and unsettled) propositions in the field itself as I recall.

    there ought to be no controversy because of the reasons I stated.

    that it’s actually lot of indirect observations and the end product depends a lot on hypotheticals.

    The same is also true for physics. Especially the cutting edge kind of physics. Dark matter anyone ?

  54. #54 MadScientist
    May 9, 2010

    “She was raped, kill her! Kill her!” Now why can’t islam be civil like christianity, in which she’ll simply be denied an abortion, ostracized for having a bastard child, and told it’s all her fault for tempting the priests.

  55. #55 Khantron
    May 9, 2010

    What I’m always annoyed about is the gall the religious have that they have absolute objective moral truth when in reality divine command theory is a subjective moral theory. It has all the problems of postmodernism without the tolerance.

    But on subject, PZ is right that science can inform morality with facts and that is very useful in a consequentialist view of morality. I think Sam Harris was hinting at a sort of rule utilitarianism where there are certain rules which the society follows and those with the best societal health have the best rules. In that example science would have the job of measuring societal health, and possibly modeling societal health based on different rules in different situations.

    But the problem is that science cannot explain what moral theory should be subscribed to. Kant’s theory for example would completely cut science out since consequences are, in theory, completely irrelevant to his ethics.

  56. #56 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    Morality will never be objective, because, ultimately, there is no such thing as a truly objective judgment of value. It can’t be objectively said that even the most basic ideas of most moral frameworks are true. There is no natural law that says “Suffering is bad” or “Happiness is good.” Good and bad are not hardwired into the universe, and thus can never truly be considered “Objective”.

    Honestly, though, I don’t really give a shit. These kinds of things are disgusting and horrific to me, by my own subjective moral framework. I’m sure they were horrifying to the little girl, as well.

    I honestly believe that the best thing to which I can dedicate my life is the expansion of happiness and the decline of suffering. I then extrapolate from this that religion causes a great deal of suffering with no gains that cannot come from other sources, and thus I should fight against religion. I can find that those who are dead cannot experience happiness, and thus murder is wrong. I can find that rape is immoral, because it sacrifices the happiness of one individual for that of another.

    I’m perfectly fine with doing all of that. I think it’s a pretty nice setup. I’m not going to pretend it has any sort of inherent value or objective “Goodness”, because those things don’t exist.

  57. #57 Numad
    May 9, 2010

    “@Numand #49 how about a social science?”

    I always thought that was pretty good. It conveys that it’s scientific!

    I guess my point was that I didn’t think that considering “science” and “rational approach” equivalent was a specially useful step to make.

  58. #58 eigenperson
    May 9, 2010

    I don’t buy the idea that morality is nothing more than doing what’s best for the group.

    In particular, take the case at hand. These Somalis committed murder. That murder is a highly immoral act, but it has no impact on the survival and well-being of humanity as a whole, and very little impact on the survival of that particular Somali group. You would be hard-pressed to convince the rebels that killing this girl causes harm to anyone other than the girl, because there is very little evidence for it.

    Even if it does make the group slightly less fit to survive, that effect is very small relative to how immoral this act is.

    No, the immorality of this act is mostly based on its local, short-term consequences, not its global, long-term ones.

  59. #59 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    Honestly, though, I don’t really give a shit. These kinds of things are disgusting and horrific to me, by my own subjective moral framework. I’m sure they were horrifying to the little girl, as well.

    I wonder how someone can be so callous to claim, in face of such abomination, that it is merely our subjective dislike and nothing more.

  60. #60 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    it has no impact on the survival and well-being of humanity as a whole, and very little impact on the survival of that particular Somali group.

    It adds up. 1x very little is very little. 100000x very little is no longer very little. And a fraction of percent fitness difference between competing groups may be during the course of evolution the very difference between thriving and extinction

  61. #61 Kel, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Good and bad are not hardwired into the universe, and thus can never truly be considered “Objective”.

    By that sense, law is not objective because law is purely a social construct. No hardwiring into the universe that you should go a particular speed on a particular road, or that stealing is wrong…

    You don’t need good and bad to be hardwired into our universe. What does it matter in a black hole that morality is an evolved construct for us? Morality can’t be subjective by pure definition, think of it in the same way that language is not subjective. If language was subjective then there would be no communication at all, yet there’s no absolute standard for language and what we mean by words isn’t quite the same as what others do.

    To me, looking at morality is similar to looking at language. It’s not subjective because it’s something that needs to be shared otherwise it ain’t there. Just as we’ve evolved a language instinct we’ve evolved a moral one. Not subjective, it’s just not absolute.

  62. #62 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #60

    Because it’s true. It doesn’t really make anyone feel any better, but that has no relevance when we’re discussing what is and is not true.

    I want this shit to stop as much as the next guy. I would do and give nearly anything to live in a world where things like this don’t happen. But, again, I won’t pretend that it’s any kind of fundamental truth that makes these things as horrible as they are.

  63. #63 Numad
    May 9, 2010

    “there ought to be no controversy because of the reasons I stated.”

    You may be overestimating them. It. There really was just one reason.

    “The same is also true for physics. Especially the cutting edge kind of physics. Dark matter anyone?”

    I think there’s a significant difference of degree.

    But regardless, that’s not what my point was about.

  64. #64 Conor S.
    May 9, 2010

    Ugh. This why I reject fundamental multiculturalism which suggests we “advocate extending equitable status to distinct ethnic and religious groups without promoting any specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural community values as central.[1] (the quote is from the wikipedia entry on multiculturalism)

    This is basically saying that we should respect all religious differences by being indifferent even when others are wrong. But in being indifferent, we are offending other groups who (rightly so) uphold that stoning a daughter to death for being raped is horribly wrong.

    Sometimes, especially in religion, wrong is just plain wrong.

  65. #65 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    @Nerd
    You can call me bigot all the long day; unlike wishy-washy “Atheist” hypocrites, I openly admit I’m opposed to Muhammad, his teachings and his followers…and his laws.

  66. #66 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #61

    Except language is subjective. Entirely so. Words mean different things to different people. Spend ten minutes on /b/ and you’ll understand that “Fag” is a completely separate term there from what it is everywhere else.

    The meanings applied to words are completely and utterly arbitrary. Language is arbitrary, and subject to interpretation by the listener. Language is one of the most subjective things there is.

    And yes, law is also subjective: There is nothing to really say that any one law is any more right than any other. Stealing is bad because we think it’s bad. Speeding is bad because we think that crashing and dying is bad. The universe doesn’t care if we die or if we steal.

  67. #67 eigenperson
    May 9, 2010

    #60 I agree that these things add up, but there things that are way worse for a civilization than committing murder, such as practicing unsustainable agriculture or refusing to educate yourself or your children properly. Normally we don’t see those things as worse than murder.

    To put it another way, the US can survive a nuclear attack pretty well. We might not survive the creeping advent of a culture of ignorance so well. That doesn’t make even a million Glenn Becks as immoral as one nuclear terrorist.

  68. #68 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    But, again, I won’t pretend that it’s any kind of fundamental truth that makes these things as horrible as they are.

    If there is no such truth then they are not horrible at all in any other sense than a small elevator is horrible to someone with claustrophobia but not something evil or horrible per se.

  69. #69 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    I agree that these things add up, but there things that are way worse for a civilization than committing murder, such as practicing unsustainable agriculture or refusing to educate yourself or your children properly. Normally we don’t see those things as worse than murder.

    Maybe that is one of our biggest mistakes.

  70. #70 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #69

    Exactly. But honestly? I don’t really care. It’s evil and horrible because people think it’s evil and horrible. It is not innately so. Nothing cares but us.

  71. #71 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Ah, a bit of actual truth from Quirky, acknowledging his bigotry. It doesn’t make us respect you though. For that, you need to end your bigotry and renounce it.

  72. #72 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    Make that last one target #68.

    Note that I am not in any way saying that we shouldn’t fight against these kinds of things, or excusing them at all. I’m just saying that pretending that anything besides people cares what happens to people is utterly ludicrous.

  73. #73 joed
    May 9, 2010

    Mr. Ben Goren;
    I am not sure what you said in reply to me but it may be a compliment? thank you!
    I think prof. myers said something like, science answers the question What is the universe.
    But, morality asks the question, how should the universe be in order for humans to live in peace.
    Now, science and morality must both use the same method of discovery. that method is “critical thought”. because, both, science and morality demand the best reason and critical thought in order to find the answer.
    science has no reason to judge anything to be “good” or “bad” or “right” or Wrong” or “evil” etc. thats the occhams razor stuff(I think). Any way probably best to let morality answer the “shoulds” and “oughts”.

  74. #74 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    eigenperson wrote:

    That murder is a highly immoral act, but it has no impact on the survival and well-being of humanity as a whole, and very little impact on the survival of that particular Somali group.

    While it’s likely you’re right as far as all of humanity is concerned, you couldn’t be more worng as to the latter. These people robbed themselves of a lifetime’s worth of contributions from Ms. Duhulow. Think of all the lives she won’t save (if she became a doctor) of or all the time others now have to spend laboring in the fields (if she became a farmer) because she’s now dead.

    Even if it does make the group slightly less fit to survive, that effect is very small relative to how immoral this act is.

    But don’t you see? That’s all it takes for evolution to do its bit. And it’s exactly for such reasons that we have the instinctive sense of morality we do.

    But we’re also most fortunate. Just as we are finally in a position to intelligently design life to suit our needs (rather than letting it evolve), we are also in a position to intelligently design our societies to suit our needs. And we have done so, with great success. Just as modern food crops would be the stuff of myth in the Bronze age when the major religions settled down, our modern morality is leaps and bounds superior to what they suffered with then.

    Sure, there have been terrible setbacks along the way, and we’re far from perfect. But the progress in the past few thousand years is truly astonishing. Indeed, even Somalia, which is about as bad as it gets these days, is significantly more advanced than the culture described in the Bible.

    And there are dangers still ahead of us. Intelligent design of foodstuffs isn’t without hidden perils, and neither have been attempts to explicate morality. But we can’t let that prevent us from trying. And, so long as we ensure suitable feedback mechanisms are in place (such as peer review and FDA regulations provide for our food), we can be reasonably confident that our successes will outweigh our failures.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  75. #75 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    But honestly? I don’t really care.

    Then you are a callous horrible and immoral person yourself. As simple as that.

  76. #76 eigenperson
    May 9, 2010

    #69 I’d be willing to entertain the possibility that we are making exactly that mistake.

    However, I also think that many people value the future survival of our groups too much. This is related to the issue of whether it’s better to have 1,000,000 people with a pretty good standard of living or 100,000 people with a great standard of living (with the other 900,000 never being born). Personally, I come down on the side of the latter.

    I think morality is defined by the effects on individuals, and not on groups. Murder causes someone to suffer. It ends someone’s life. That’s why it’s wrong, in my view, not because it contributes to the downfall of civilization.

  77. #77 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #75

    Why? Because I don’t make shit up to support my point?

    How is saying “That is immoral due to *Insert arbitrary value judgment here*” any different from saying “That is immoral because people think it’s immoral?”

    It’s exactly the same thing. I just skip an utterly useless step that often muddies the waters.

  78. #78 Kel, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Except language is subjective. Entirely so. Words mean different things to different people. Spend ten minutes on /b/ and you’ll understand that “Fag” is a completely separate term there from what it is everywhere else.

    Wrong, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to communicate at all. “Except language is subjective” when you say something like that you’re expecting to convey a meaning to me. What do you mean by “except”? what do you mean by “language”? what do you mean by “subjective”? What do you mean by “is”? Now I’d be fairly confident that you wouldn’t have the exact same definitions of those words (or the sentence as a whole) as I do. It would be pretty close, but not quite right. Now try explaining that to someone who has never heard English in their life. When talking to me, you’re able to convey fairly close to what you intended. If it was an eskimo who had never heard English, you wouldn’t be able to pass any meaning across at all.

    Just because something is not absolute, it doesn’t mean that it becomes subjective. Language cannot be subjective because it’s the transmission of meaning from individual to individual. It doesn’t have to be absolute or universal to avoid it being subjective. The fact that you’re even bothering to use English to communicate on this blog suggests you agree.

  79. #79 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    Note that I am not in any way saying that we shouldn’t fight against these kinds of things, or excusing them at all.

    There are a lot of things I subjectively can’t stand. Yet I would never think I have the right to fight them. Because that are my personal idiosyncratic dislikes not immoral things. Are you seriously suggesting I should consider those two to be one same ?
    Another example. How it is that I personally find homosexual behavior utterly disgusting, yet I consider it absolutely legitimate and the right thing to do if one is a homosexual ?

  80. #80 Kel, OM
    May 9, 2010

    And yes, law is also subjective: There is nothing to really say that any one law is any more right than any other.

    But the fact of the matter is that when you’re driving on a road, you’re driving the same way as everyone else. Why drive on the right rather than left? It doesn’t really matter for the illustration purposes. It’s not about whether law is arbitrary but whether law transcends the individual. That you drive on the same side of the road as others suggests that it does.

  81. #81 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    *Insert arbitrary value judgment here*

    moral value judgements are not arbitrary

  82. #82 Caine, Fleur du mal
    May 9, 2010

    PZ:

    The culture that would tolerate and encourage such behavior is not one I want to be a member of, and not even one that I want to share the planet with.

    You and me both. This grieves me and outrages me beyond words.

  83. #83 eigenperson
    May 9, 2010

    #74

    While it?s likely you?re right as far as all of humanity is concerned, you couldn?t be more worng as to the latter. These people robbed themselves of a lifetime?s worth of contributions from Ms. Duhulow. Think of all the lives she won?t save (if she became a doctor) of or all the time others now have to spend laboring in the fields (if she became a farmer) because she?s now dead.

    At the same time, though, she does not use up resources (such as a doctor’s time, or food from a field). Unless you live in a society with significant imports or exports, the average person uses up the same amount of goods and services as he or she provides. A death doesn’t mean that much. Sure, there’s a benefit in having lots of people, because then you can get comparative advantage by assigning them to the tasks that most suit them, but there’s also a benefit in having few people, because then there are more natural resources for each one.

    What if Somalia is an overpopulated society, in which the death of a person (even a young person) is actually a net positive? Even if that’s so, it doesn’t make it right to kill Ms. Buhulow.

  84. #84 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #78

    You’re confusing “Commonly accepted” with “Objective”. Words only mean what they mean because people generally accept that they mean those things. That does not impart any inherent or objective meaning on them. Most english speaking people agree that “Cat” means a small fuzzy animal that meows. That doesn’t mean that “Cat” inherently means that, or that it couldn’t equally mean similarly sized animal that barks a lot.

    If language was objective, words would always mean the same thing to everyone. The fact that gravity pulls things towards each other is an objective truth. The idea that the string of sounds that make up the term “Gravity” mean “A force that pulls physical objects towards one another” is not.

  85. #85 lightiris
    May 9, 2010

    As a more liberal arts person vs. a science person, I think people are overthinking Harris’s position to the disservice of humanity. What I sense is a lot of posturing, territoriality, and purity. What I don’t see is a willingness to openly consider an application of science’s methods in considering contemporary human issues. It seems to me that Harris makes sense, really. I get it. I see where he’s going, and I can see that the road he is on is ultimately designed to improve our human lot. What I’ve yet to see is Harris’s ideas put to a test of a human “behavior” conventionally accepted as positive and having that not end up the case.

    Full disclosure: I’m a supporter of Sam Harris and the discourse he tries to foster, I own a library comprised primarily of “new” atheist texts by Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Hitchens, I love “nonstampercollector” videos, and Mr. Deity’s theme song is the ringtone on my phone.

    I read this site regularly, and I drool on my desk only when PZ is doing his biologist thing with peer-reviewed articles. I have to say, though, that I don’t understand the antipathy and my gut tells me, truthiness aside, that the antipathy is counterproductive.

    Two cents from a non-scientist.

  86. #86 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    joed wrote:

    But, morality asks the question, how should the universe be in order for humans to live in peace.

    That’s exactly bass-ackwards.

    The only part of the universe we have any (illusion of) control over is ourselves. Morality can only possibly be the science of what we need to do to ourselves to accomplish whatever goals we might have.

    And, since those goals of necessity include the survival of a healthy and productive society, creating a long-lived healthy and productive society must be at the heart of any goals.

    And, as it “just happens” to turn out, our gut instincts provide a pretty good metric for what is and isn’t an effective strategy for accomplishing those goals.

    And, finally, we can improve upon and enhance our gut instincts.

    science has no reason to judge anything to be “good” or “bad” or “right” or Wrong” or “evil” etc.

    Why on Earth not? We can certainly judge whether or not raping and murdering girls is helpful or harmful to the long-term health and success of a society. Surprise, surprise, it turns out it’s not, just as your gut instinct tells you.

    If that’s not science telling us that raping and murdering girls is bad, worng, and evil, I don’t know what is.

    Cheers,

    b&

  87. #87 chaseacross
    May 9, 2010

    But why is there a need for an objective set of morals? Why is it inadequate to simply say “stoning teenage girls to death for being raped is abhorrent, and I will act/vote/live accordingly,”? If we acknowledge that our lot in life is largely the result of contingency, then we ought also to accept that whatever moral formulations we arrive at are also contingent. That doesn’t in any way make them less meaningful, or the impetus to try and enforce them less pressing. Where too many folks fall apart is when they try to turn their own moral formulations into universals. Again, why is it necessary to make that leap? What is wrong with expecting other cultures to bend to our concepts of justice and decency in this case, rather than having to reach into the firmament or into metaphysics?

  88. #88 chgo_liz
    May 9, 2010

    Ben Goren @ #29:

    Just to make this a bit less abstract and a bit less emotional, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow could ? nay, should ? have grown up to have been a productive member of the Somali society. Maybe she would have been a doctor, or a farmer, or an engineer, or a factory worker, or who-knows-what.

    Except for the fact that she’s female in Somalia, so….nope. She’d grow up to die in childbirth, probably.

    In some ways, it was a mercy killing. Imagine what the rest of her miserable life would have been like.

  89. #89 Kel, OM
    May 9, 2010

    You’re confusing “Commonly accepted” with “Objective”.

    Show me where I used the word objective. I said it is not subjective, it can’t be subjective by definition.

    If language was objective, words would always mean the same thing to everyone.

    And if it were subjective, then any similarity to what others think words mean would be coincidental. I’m not arguing for objectivity, but that it’s not subjective.

  90. #90 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    May 9, 2010

    Ben, #40:

    I don’t think I disagree with anything you said, but it seems orthogonal to my point: we can’t sufficiently protect people from grievous harm by relying only on a group/economic benefit analysis. I think we probably agree on that.

    Of course, it is sometimes in one’s best interests to deprive one’s self of the maximum amount of whatever – food, pleasure, money – so that others in the group will be reasonably taken care of. And humans do things that we’d find baffling if we only recognized preservation of self as a motivator. Laying one’s life down so one’s children can live is clearly not in one’s personal best interest, but it’s handily explained by the “selfish gene.”

    But when faced with situations like the Somali murder of a rape victim, all this breaks down. We can’t even cogently argue that her stoning benefits “the group,” because “the group” turns out to be a much smaller set than it appears. It’s the set of murderous males in positions of power; the set does not include all Somalians or even all residents of that particular town. To the extent that the murderers get a “benefit” from their actions – increased prestige within their circle, fear/respect from would-be usurpers – they get a benefit as individuals at the expense of other individuals.

    This is why intellectually flaccid rhetoric (I’m not referring to you, mind) about “community rights” is so wrong-headed. Communities don’t exist the way this formulation personifies them. Communities can’t be wronged. Individuals can be wronged, and collections of individuals who share the same interests can feel wronged by the same things. But it’s perverse to speak of “respecting community autonomy” with regard to, say, allowing sharia arbitration. We’re not “respecting” some putative “community.” We’re privileging the interests of a small group of powerful men at the expense of the interests of the powerless among them (almost always women).

  91. #91 cogent46
    May 9, 2010

    Carlie #47:

    (sigh) Yeah, yeah. Protect minorities. Except, maybe, immoral minorities. No mob rule.

    How about:

    4. Any action that does not significantly affect the group should be tolerated.

  92. #92 Alverant
    May 9, 2010

    I don’t blame islam as much as I blame the Abrahamic religions as a whole. In Leviticus God commands that any child who dishonors their parents to be stoned. By being raped, she dishonored her father. Therefor by the absolute moral law of God, killing her was moral.

    That pretty much disproves the whole “religion causes morality” claim. Religion convinces people that immoral actions can indeed be moral if their invisible sky-fairy father figure says so.

  93. #93 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    Why is it inadequate to simply say “stoning teenage girls to death for being raped is abhorrent, and I will act/vote/live accordingly,”

    Because the other guy says “it is our supreme duty.and I will act/vote/live accordingly” And you have to have better arguments than him.

  94. #94 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #79

    I don’t know why you believe that. Your moral framework is as subjective and arbitrary as my own. Personally, I believe that, while penises touching isn’t something I want to be involved in, it doesn’t hurt anyone and is thus not bad. I can’t claim that this is objectively true because there is nothing to say that harming someone makes something bad and wrong. That’s just something that I and a lot of other people happen to have subjectively decided upon.

    #81

    Based on what? What about them is anything beyond circular reasoning? How is Survival good? How is Harming the Group bad? How is Happiness good? How is Suffering bad?

    You can make up as many justification as you want, but ultimately you get down to “Because I say so, that’s why”.

  95. #95 alysonmiers
    May 9, 2010

    Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow could ? nay, should ? have grown up to have been a productive member of the Somali society. Maybe she would have been a doctor, or a farmer, or an engineer, or a factory worker, or who-knows-what.

    That’s not how her killers see it.

    From their view, a female is not a member of society. A female is a resource for her community to use, and everything she has to offer is in her vagina and uterus. That resource must be kept clean by keeping it virginal until marriage, at which point her husband may do what he wants to her. If she does not stay clean until marriage, it doesn’t matter whether it was her fault. First off, female sexuality is untrustworthy, so how do we know the penetration was not within her control? Second, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether the violation of her virtue was her fault. The point is, the resource was sullied by non-marital penetration and therefore became worthless. The community no longer had any use for her.

    Furthermore, killing her sends a message to other females in the area who might have started getting ideas of independence and self-determination in their heads. It reminds them that they are responsible for what men do to them. It reminds them that they do not own their lives, that their choices are either stay locked in the house and/or under the protection of male relatives at all times, or risk getting attacked and then put to death. Just in case the threat of rape doesn’t keep women in their place, the victim-blaming and death penalty get the job done.

  96. #96 Conor S.
    May 9, 2010

    #87 said “What is wrong with expecting other cultures to bend to our concepts of justice and decency in this case, rather than having to reach into the firmament or into metaphysics?”

    The father who stoned his daughter to death could ask the same thing of you. In his (twisted) mind he likely thought he was behaving in a moral way….

    I don’t see how these problems will be solved until the world becomes so global that there is only an amalgam of the best parts of every culture merged into a global culture (if we last that long as a species). Over time as we (hopefully) become more rational and global, there should be tougher selection forces on cultural/religious values, leaving only the best (that we as humans choose) to survive. Of course this is just my opinion and I don’t have any hopes of it actually coming into fruition.

  97. #97 karmakin
    May 9, 2010

    For what it’s worth we should be accurate. The guide that Harris proposes is this.

    Morality can be objectively judged on the criteria of actual suffering it causes to conscious beings.

    This isn’t designed to end the conversation about morality, it’s designed to start it. It puts us on the same page…we actually might not agree on the effects of a particular action. You might think that there are much broader repercussions than I do (say drug use as an example). But there’s a common criteria. There’s a common point on which we can discuss the issue at.

    Now personally, I think Harris’ upcoming book is going to be a gamechanger in terms of modern moral philosophy. In that as of right now, with religion dominating moral discussion, we simply don’t have much of it. It all comes down to “God said so”. Now this isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes “God” says some pretty useful things. But it’s a case that the well can get poisoned very quickly.

    But hopefully it’ll lead us out of the authoritarian type morality, and into a more objective type morality. (Hint: The big lie of the religious right is claiming that they were the sole arbiter of a solid morality. There’s nothing more abstract and flimsy than authoritarian morality)

  98. #98 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #89

    Ok, so you have a point. You never out and out said that they were “Objective”.

    You also have a point in that words are rarely INDIVIDUALLY subjective. Words mean the same thing to large groups of people, yes.

    However, just because a group have all gotten together and decided to make the same subjective decision concerning the meaning of words or the value of happiness doesn’t mean that those things aren’t subjective. It just means that a large number of people have made the same subjective decision.

  99. #99 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    May 9, 2010

    Shplane, #94:

    How is Survival good? . . . ? How is Happiness good? How is Suffering bad?

    It’s not really as complicated as all that. These are just names we give to emotions that all of us – every single human – agrees are desirable and positive. There are states we find pleasurable, and we label them “happy.” There are states of discomfort we find unpleasant, and we label them as “suffering.”

    I’m not sure what else to say to someone who asks “how is happiness good?”

  100. #100 lightiris
    May 9, 2010

    #97

    Morality can be objectively judged on the criteria of actual suffering it causes to conscious beings.

    Perfect. Thank you.

  101. #101 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    Your moral framework is as subjective and arbitrary as my own.

    So there is really nothing wrong with raping and stoning small girls to death. Pure subjective preferences after all. Someone likes chocolate cake, someone raping and torturing children to death. Pure subjective preferences. You see.

  102. #102 idiotiddidit#5116d
    May 9, 2010

    PZ said:

    Can I, as a godless humanist, say that this is wrong? … Yes, I’m sure I can.

    However, this line of argumentation will mean nothing to a believer. They will simply say that while you don’t recognize God’s influence on your life, He has nevertheless given you moral direction which you do recognize. All of your sciency justifications are just intellectual masturbation because you are too prideful to admit God has domain over everything.

    As to the part that people use God’s commandments to justify stoning to death a 13 year old rape victim, that is easily dispatched: those people aren’t true believers.

  103. #103 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #99

    And what I’m saying is that, even though we all agree on it, that doesn’t make it objective. A widely held subjective stance isn’t inherent truth, otherwise God would exist.

    Happiness is good because we think it’s good. I’m fine with that. I accept that. I’ll live my life based around the idea that my happiness and the happiness of others is paramount.

    I won’t make up some bullshit so as to claim that it’s anymore than “Because I feel like it”. Good and bad, right and wrong, they only exist because people say they exist.

  104. #104 'Tis Himself, OM
    May 9, 2010

    T_U_T #81

    *Insert arbitrary value judgment here*

    moral value judgements are not arbitrary

    Of course they are. Most people consider cannibalism to be immoral. Carol Eron’s book The Virus That Ate Cannibals discusses a Papua-New Guinea tribe who honored their dead by having Grandpa for dinner. For these folk cannibalism was quite moral.

  105. #105 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    How is Survival good? . . . ? How is Happiness good? How is Suffering bad?

    Here we go. Thank you for the absolute demonstration of utter insanity of your position.

    How is Survival good? . . . ? How is Happiness good? How is Suffering bad?

    Maybe if someone tortured you to death, you would get a clue just before you black out.

  106. #106 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    @#71
    How do I do that, Nerd? Submit to Islam like a typical “Atheist” dhimmi hypocrite?

  107. #107 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    you are too prideful to admit God has domain

    What dog? No evidence for one…

  108. #108 T_U_T
    May 9, 2010

    For these folk cannibalism was quite moral.

    Yes and that’s how they ended. Let’s face it, morality is a survival strategy for members of social species. Thus no matter what you think is moral, the reality will get it its way any way.

  109. #109 Sven DiMilo
    May 9, 2010

    Happiness…GOOD!

    I’ll try to remember that.

  110. #110 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #101

    *Shrugs*

    I never said that it wasn’t bad and wrong. I just said that the only reason it’s bad and wrong is because we think it’s bad and wrong. You’re acting like a Religitard “O noez, bcuz there is no objective framework for morality, THERE CAN’T BE MORALITY!!!111!!”

    This is of course untrue. People make up plenty of ideas to hold themselves and others to. The point is, though, that they are utterly arbitrary concepts based on a subjective human view of the universe.

  111. #111 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #105

    I would know that, subjectively, from my point of view, that getting tortured and killed was a horrible thing.

    The universe as a whole would go on not caring.

  112. #112 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Submit to Islam like a typical “Atheist” dhimmi hypocrite?

    Ah, you don’t get it idjit. We reject all deities and holy books. No submission to any religion, whereas you submit to Yahweh and the mythical babble like the delusional fool you are. What a loser.

  113. #113 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #108

    And how is surviving objectively any better than not surviving? How was the destruction of their culture objectively any worse than their culture being maintained?

  114. #114 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    T_U_T wrote:

    Let’s face it, morality is a survival strategy for members of social species. Thus no matter what you think is moral, the reality will get it its way any way.

    <ding> <ding> <ding> <ding>

    Ladies unt chentlemen, ve haff a wiener!

    This isn’t about “ought from is” at all, because there isn’t any “ought.” It’s all “is.”

    Gotta run…might reply to some other posts later this evening….

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  115. #115 Janet Holmes
    May 9, 2010

    From a simple evolutionary perspective this father has diminished his viability by killing one of his offspring (or arranging to have her killed), this is obviously a bad thing to do. But in his society the fact that she had been raped means that she could never be married and thus would be unable to have children, so she would simply live out her life as a spinster and he would have to keep her because she cannot get a job. From the perspective of the society he lives in killing her is a rational descision, especially considering their likly poverty.

    So that leaves us with a society which considers a raped girl to be forever unmarriagable and that she has no other value than reproduction. This is clearly where the blame lies rather than the father. The whole society is totally fucked in the head. They are pretending they live in the 7th century instead of the 21st and have no intention of changing anything.

    In the long run this is unlikely to be a viable strategy and they will lose,(jebus I hope they lose!) but they may take rather a lot of us with them before it’s all over. I really wonder what it all means for Europe which has so many of them living there.

  116. #116 Ben Goren
    May 9, 2010

    Shplane wrote:

    And how is surviving objectively any better than not surviving?

    Excellent question. One that deserves to be tested with an experiment.

    You can participate.

    Kill yourself to be the case study in “not surviving,” and I’ll not kill myself to be the case study in “surviving.” This time next year, we’ll ask you your opinion about how you like not surviving, and mine about surviving, and compare the results.

    We could, of course, expand it to a larger survey, but I think that would be unnecessary.

    And now I really must leave….

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  117. #117 Weed Monkey
    May 9, 2010

    @Shplane #66 said:

    And yes, law is also subjective: There is nothing to really say that any one law is any more right than any other.

    There is, sometimes in the law itself. For example, driving drunk is obviously extremely dangerous and illegal. But sometimes it will be excused, if that’s the only way to get help for an accident victim somewhere in the backwoods without a working phone. Similarly, violence is not accepted – except for self defence.

  118. #118 toffeecime
    May 9, 2010

    I’ve not read Harris’ upcoming book, obviously, but based on his TED Talk and the column he wrote afterwards, I think he is saying that for any scientific endeavor we must make certain assumptions. This is true even for mathematics, in which real proofs are possible, unlike in science. Those axioms which are most useful, and make the most “sense” are the ones we employ.

    Viz. there’s no point crying about the fact that we are forced to make certain assumptions about what makes something moral. If someone comes along who think it’s moral to toss puppy dogs off cliffs, we can be sure that whatever they mean by morality, it’s not what any rational person means by morality.

    I’m sure he has more to say, but this is an important point, I think.

  119. #119 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    @#112
    Bullshit. Prime hypocrite #1 is Richard Dawkins, who has stated he would not criticize Islam out of abject fear of getting his head chopped off. He is submitting to the will of Allah, so no-one’s fooling anyone here; we all know what they’re like, so its the yellow-livered hypocrites who do Allah swill by attacking those who dare oppose him (and his messenger and his slaves).

  120. #120 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #116

    And that would only prove that humans subjectively value living. It would say nothing about which one is objectively “better”, just which one you think is so.

    There’s nothing wrong with our subjective desire to survive and be happy, but there’s nothing beyond “I want to” that supports it, either.

  121. #121 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Yawn, our bigoted idjit is showing his idjit bigotry. RD also says there’s a difference between fearing and submitting, which he won’t do. And we won’t do. You fail to understand that difference, which makes you nothing but an abject idiot. But then, what else is new loser? Why don’t you show us you aren’t a total loser, by actually presenting the evidence that there was world wide warming during the “medieval warm period”. We are still waiting….

  122. #122 Shplane
    May 9, 2010

    #117

    Yes, but, what is inherently superior about defending yourself or helping an accident victim? They’re both great, if you presuppose (As I, and many others, have) that human life and happiness are the most valuable things there are and something to be supported.

    However, those things do not have any inherent value. They’re not good on their own. The universe doesn’t care. Nothing has locked in “Life” as “Good”.

    They’re only worth protecting because we say they are, and thus the laws that protect them are only good because we say they are.

  123. #123 Tim Harris
    May 9, 2010

    Reading between the lines – since the story is rather vague – this seems less an example of religious ‘justice’ than an example of a set of armed thugs intimidating a civilian population, and drawing on the nearest excuse, which happens to be religious, and brutally religious, to do so. It looks as though the girl was raped by some of these thugs, the father complained, and so the ‘rebel commander’ decided to show what happens if you try to stand up to him and his boys. I think that the article said that a boy was shot and killed when people tried to save the girl, so I wonder if we want to be blaming Somalian society in general for this atrocity. Westerners are no strangers to the terrorising of civilian populations: think of the British in Kenya in living memory, of the free-fire zones in Vietnam and the My Lai massacre (and the way it was covered up and justice was never done), and of what went on in Gaza recently and what is going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan, where whole families, all innocent, are shot to death by foreign soldiers or Blackwater goons, or wiped out by Predator drones, and nothing is really done: there’s a cover-up, it comes out, excuses and lies are offered for the ‘mistake’… It would be nice if people would get a little more exercised about these things as well, instead of papering over a poor girl’s murder with academic chat about evolution.

  124. #124 eigenperson
    May 9, 2010

    #97 You say that Harris proposes this as a basis for morality:

    Morality can be objectively judged on the criteria of actual suffering it causes to conscious beings.

    But that doesn’t encapsulate everything about common-sense morality, because we value different conscious beings differently based on their actions. If an intruder breaks into my chemistry lab and is going to shoot me with a gun, and the only thing I have to defend myself with is a beaker of sulfuric acid, it’s still moral for me to use it even though it’s going to cause him to suffer a lot more than I’m going to suffer if he shoots me.

    At least, most people would say so.

  125. #125 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    Trying to change the subject, Nerd? If one yields to the will of another out of fear, it is absolute submission. RD is submitting to the will of those who would cut his head off, as are you and every other so-called ‘Atheist’ who attacks those who oppose Islam. Have you got a comprehension problem, you sniveling Sharia-compliant cringing dhimmi?

  126. #126 joed
    May 9, 2010

    Ben Goren wrote,
    “Why on Earth not? We can certainly judge whether or not raping and murdering girls is helpful or harmful to the long-term health and success of a society.”

    joed reply’
    Well, we don’t need science to ask this, do we?
    morality tells us how the world “should” and “ought” to be–science tells us how the world “is”
    Nothing “out there” is “good” or ‘bad” intrinsicly. No, it takes a human to judge something to be good or bad. science stops being science when it makes those judgements. science does not have to make those judgements science tells us how the universe “is” not how it “ought” to be. this is not rocket science for crying out loud.

  127. #127 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    If one yields to the will of another

    What yielding you illiterate piece of shit? You are a fool. Nobody here is yielding. And you are an abject idiot and prove it by not seeing the truth, and only seeing what your inane mind wants to see. That makes you the unevidenced idjit who never can prove that what he says is anything other than bullshit. Which we, the intelligent ones, already know. Your silence would be the most intelligent statement you ever made…

  128. #128 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnb-E55g7vrnvH-3L1M6d7QuDYWoM_IDEM
    May 9, 2010

    That is clear proof that Islamidiots derive their “morality” from a fictional source.

  129. #129 Peter H
    May 9, 2010

    There are several countries vying to become Cesspit of the Universe. The most obvious trait they have in common is Muslim majority/authority. Just now, Somalia seems to be leading the Parade of Evil.

  130. #130 Weed Monkey
    May 9, 2010

    #122
    I’ll have to agree with that. I find this line of reasoning correct but somewhat lacking – and yet I’ve not been able to think of anything better.

  131. #131 Al B. Quirky
    May 9, 2010

    Nerd: oh dear, you really do have a comprehension problem. Seek help; get someone to explain my posts (though I doubt I could express it any simpler).
    “we, the intelligent ones” oh, er? an appeal to intellectual supremacy, ie a logical fallacy. Gotta go, see ya.

  132. #132 Derdesh
    May 9, 2010

    Cleansing fire.

    I try to be a rational, cross-cultural understanding, non-judgemental, human being, but when incidents like these occur I am convinced that the best solution is to nip it in the bud. Kill all the people involved with determining, condoning, and executing a 13 year-old girl for events she had no control over.

    I might be wrong. Comments?

  133. #133 abb3w
    May 9, 2010

    PZ: I’m still wrestling with Sam Harris’s and Richard Carrier’s ideas that there can be a scientific foundation for morality.

    I’m not.

    Yes, science can be used to try and identify the commonalities and variations between the assorted human concepts associated with “ought”.

    No, they haven’t found it yet; and even if they do find it, it doesn’t answer whether that definition OUGHT to be used as a basis to infer how choices OUGHT to be made.

  134. #134 Peter H
    May 9, 2010

    There are several countries vying to become Cesspit of the Universe. The most obvious trait they have in common is Muslim majority/authority. Just now, Somalia seems to be leading the Parade of Evil.

  135. #135 'Tis Himself, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Hey Al, why aren’t you in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting the ebil mooslins? Why aren’t you flying a 767 into the Al-Masjid al-?ar?m mosque in Mecca? Or are you caving into the mooslins by just whining about them on the internet?

  136. #136 Walton
    May 9, 2010

    Hey Al, why aren’t you in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting the ebil mooslins? Why aren’t you flying a 767 into the Al-Masjid al-?ar?m mosque in Mecca? Or are you caving into the mooslins by just whining about them on the internet?

    You forget… Al is a veteran of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders.

    But don’t call him a chickenhawk…

  137. #137 Azkyroth
    May 9, 2010

    If you want a simple, non-emotional, objective reason to condemn such barbarism, it?s that societies in which such insanity is acceptable are not stable.

    Technically, there’s nothing about science that tells us that we shouldn’t want our society to collapse. Once we’ve made the decision, consciously or otherwise, that we don’t, science has a wealth of data to offer us about how to prevent it…

    There is a genuine impasse in the is-ought problem; other than that, the notion that science cannot inform moral judgments or, taken literally/solely, is actively anti-moral, is idiotic.

  138. #138 BrianX
    May 9, 2010

    Can we please have Al B. Pigfucker banned for doing a weak Michelle Malkin impression and generally verbally abusing people to no real end?

  139. #139 Nebula99
    May 9, 2010

    I think there’s two definitions of “objective” floating around here causing this mess. The people who say morality is objective mean the same moral rights and wrongs are true for all humans. Those who say it’s not say the same rights and wrongs are not true beyond/outside the existence of humans. They’re both right. Sure the universe doesn’t care if a girl is murdered; that doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong.

    All moral systems are in a sense subjective; they aren’t inherent in the universe the way the laws of thermodynamics are. However, any coherent moral system is essentially utilitarianism with a different final goal. Is an absolute value put on increased numbers of living beings? Preservation of natural or artistic beauty? Deepened personal relationships? How much weight does each get? Only the goal is subjective, what actions advance it can be objectively determined and are true for every person. I may not agree with you on the relative importance of societal vs. individual health, and science can’t arbitrate that. But agreement can in theory be reached on what actions one should take if one holds one position or the other.

    Here’s another example/restatement. Some say the final goal that all actions should be trying to achieve is pleasing god. Any action that does please god is right, any that doesn’t is wrong. Some say the it’s the survival of the species. Some say it’s the production of happiness and reduction of suffering. Science can shoot down #1 because there is no god to please, but it can’t discriminate between two and three. It can, however, say which actions advance the long-term survival of humanity and/or happiness.

    (On a completely different subject, care to enlighten me on what exactly is Quirky’s history on here? I’ve not run into him before, and I’d be able to appreciate Nerd’s ripping into him more if I knew what was up with him. He’s been accused of stuff I haven’t seen demonstrated in this thread.)

  140. #140 Sastra
    May 9, 2010

    Maybe the simplest way to demonstrate how science can impact morality is to constantly ask deeper and deeper questions regarding the reason for a moral action, and ring the bell whenever an answer conflicts with reality.

    “We must kill this girl.”
    “Why?”

    I think it unlikely that there can be a chain of reasons running back from this decision which will not, eventually, run into an objective error. The killers will be deriving their moral facts (if you want X, then do Y) from false facts about the world, rather than true facts about the world.

  141. #141 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    May 9, 2010

    Nebula99, Al B Asshole has enough of a track record that it is easy enough to enter his name in the search engine and view the verbal vomit.

    Also, when Walton starts taking potshots, it can be taken as a sign that his welcome is worn out. But I will say this, Palin is his ‘honey’.

    As for this story, I have to wonder if something like this would happen if Somalia were not a war torn mess. It seems that is takes a society being in shambles take allows for the advent of sharia at the point of a gun.

  142. #142 idiotiddidit#5116d
    May 9, 2010

    @#112, Al B. Quirky is riding high on his noble steed of self-righteousness, criticizing Dawkin’s fear of coming to harm. Al, presumably, is not at all like this, standing up an showing those Muslim loonies who the real boss is.

    The difference is this. Richard Dawkins is a well known person who makes many public appearances which are publicized well ahead of time.

    Al, you are a nobody, masquerading behind a pseudonym while swaggering like Rambo. Well, aren’t you are so much braver than Richard Dawkins? I’m very impressed by you willingness to put yourself in harm’s way to stand up for what is right.

  143. #143 Woof
    May 9, 2010

    Derdesh:

    Kill all the people involved with determining, condoning, and executing a 13 year-old girl for events she had no control over. I might be wrong. Comments?

    As I said (way) above: NUKE and PAVE.

  144. #144 Weed Monkey
    May 9, 2010

    Al Bigot Quirky said it himself (#65), he’s not only against Islam but all the muslim people as well.

    See, there’s a difference. You hate the people (for some racist reason, I’m sure) and we’re only opposed to their – and yours – flawed thinking.

  145. #145 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2010

    what exactly is Quirky’s history on here?

    He started here as an AGW denier, long on attitude, extremely short on peer reviewed evidence. He prefers to pretend he is funny to real evidential discussion, and runs away when he has to put up real evidence. We are still waiting for him to show real intelligence, and either put up the right information to back his inane arguments, or shut the fuck up. In his case, the latter is the only option.

  146. #146 wnydek
    May 9, 2010

    PZ scribes:

    I’m still wrestling with Sam Harris’s and Richard Carrier’s ideas that there can be a scientific foundation for morality.

    Well… Unless you’re a dualist, our sense of outrage and moral “wrongness” is the result of a set of real, physical, neurological processes. If one accepts that premise, then it seems science would be the best tool we know of at this time to understand those processes and what underlies our moral sense (and, therefore, morality itself).

    Maybe it’s best to put it in other words: Rather than wrestling with the idea of “a scientific foundation for morality”, perhaps consider if there is “a natural(istic) foundation for morality”. If so, science is an approach to discovering/understanding that foundation – just as for any other naturalistic process.

    If one rejects the idea of a “naturalistic foundation for morality”, that leaves only a “supernatural foundation for morality.”

    There really isn’t much struggle at all.

    -Wes

  147. #147 deriamis
    May 9, 2010

    It is very hard to think about it purely rationally, though, when all you can feel is grief for a lost life and so many minds destroyed by hatred.

    I try to do so anyway, though. I want to be right not just righteously angry when I tell people like this they deserve the punishments they give themselves.

    The reason I think this is wrong is that the punishment has not been delivered to the perpetrator of the violence, and the person who was victimized by the violence was victimized even further. Getting past the issues of misogyny here (and those issues are very prominent), on a societal level, this behavior would be necessarily unacceptable. It is maladaptive.

    The fact that it is also misogynistic is simply repulsive to my Western sensibilities because I can think of no valid reason why women should be treated as inferior.

  148. #148 raven
    May 9, 2010

    There are several countries vying to become Cesspit of the Universe. The most obvious trait they have in common is Muslim majority/authority. Just now, Somalia seems to be leading the Parade of Evil.

    Not quite. They all seem to be theocracies.

    Theocracies don’t work. The American theocracy, the Puritans was chiefly noted for pointless murder and a large number of uncomplementary stories written about them. The later Mormon attempt was also noted for sporadic violence and massacres until the US army moved in and build a fort above SLC to keep an eye on them. Fort Douglas is still there and the guns still point down at the city.

    We in the West no longer let our religious kooks run around loose. This is a hallmark of civilized societies. Doesn’t stop the fundie xians from trying to create the next theocracies in Texas, Utah, and Oklahoma. Remember, without eternal vigilance, it can happen here.

  149. #149 Kel, OM
    May 9, 2010

    However, just because a group have all gotten together and decided to make the same subjective decision concerning the meaning of words or the value of happiness doesn’t mean that those things aren’t subjective. It just means that a large number of people have made the same subjective decision.

    You’re mixing up subjective and arbitrary. In front of me is a computer, in English everyone would recognise it as computer. Yet in Finnish the word for computer is tietokone (which translates to knowledge machine). Why should it be called computer instead of tietokone? To be understood among english-speaking people. But it cannot be subjective, just limited in its use.

  150. #150 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 9, 2010

    I share PZ’s skepticism. I am reminded of the fact that Dawkins has said that while he supports “Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.?

    Indeed. The collective process of science can study nature, and to the extent that ethical systems are the product of natural causes, much can and should be learned.

    But that’s it. Ethics ceases to be ethical in any meaningful way if it is deterministic and collective in nature. Science can only ‘explain’ morality by eliminating what is qualitatively distinctive. To my mind, Harris and Carrier’s misplaced confidence runs the risk of converting some aspects of science into ideology.

  151. #151 A. Nuran
    May 9, 2010

    In all fairness to Islam this has not been the custom in all times and places. A good friend of mine wrote a fatwa – which is nothing more than a legal opinion – quoting several important cases in early Muslim jurisprudence.

    In one of them a girl was raped after being terrified by a large, powerful man. It was ruled that she was not at fault because a Muslim can do anything, even renounce her faith, under threat of death.

    In another Ali was presented with a case where a woman was on trial for sexual immorality. She was weak with thirst, and a neighbor had only given her water if she had sex with him. Ali ruled that the guilt was the nieghbor’s. He had coerced her into committing a sin, so the guilt was entirely his.

    The point is that we make gods and religions in our own image. If our hearts are basically good we will create good gods and good faiths. If our hearts are selfish, cruel and corrupt that is the sort of deity and religion we will get.

  152. #152 vinniehew
    May 10, 2010

    Comment 87:

    But why is there a need for an objective set of morals? Why is it inadequate to simply say “stoning teenage girls to death for being raped is abhorrent, and I will act/vote/live accordingly,”?

    Because if that were adequate, then the stoning of innocent girls would be no more abhorrent than the taste of an unsavory food.

    Say I hate the taste of chocolate. I might say “eating chocolate is abhorrent, and I will act/vote/live accordingly.”

    But in the case of the Somali girl, my disgust at her treatment motivates me to prevent such mistreatment from occurring to other girls. But my disgust at the taste of chocolate does not motivate me to prevent others from eating chocolate. That’s why morality must be objective. If morality weren’t objective, then the murder of innocent girls would be just like eating chocolate: some people don’t find it appealing, some people even find it abhorrent, but to each his own, right?

  153. #153 Kobra
    May 10, 2010

    @5: I too feel more disgust than sympathy.

  154. #154 Peter H
    May 10, 2010

    @ #148

    Your expansion upon my comment is well-taken. I was speaking of the present moment & more specifically the idiocy – barbarity – savagery – stupidity – (I really have not the words) which currently holds sway in Somalia. Agreed, theocracies are a plague, a desecration and a vomit upon the Earth and upon the Family of Man. You mention the Puritans and their little fling at maintaining “God’s order” in the affairs of men. Oliver Cromwell’s was bloodier, costlier and ghastlier by any accounting.(Not that the Catholics or Protestants of the period were one whit better.) It need be neither xian nor moslem to wear the cowl of hideousness. One cliche runs, “I’m from the government & I’m here to help you.” A far more terrifying banner reads, “I’m from God & I here to save you.”

  155. #155 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    But why is there a need for an objective set of morals? Why is it inadequate to simply say “stoning teenage girls to death for being raped is abhorrent, and I will act/vote/live accordingly,”?

    I would say that the morals need not be objective, but the basis for them should be. What you are asking for is the same thing as saying “I think Scott Brown is a hot man and I will vote/act/live accordingly” despite all evidence that the man hasn’t a spine to speak of and is a terrible politician. I would rather that people have a reason for the way they vote beyond a simple preference; that way, even if I disagree with their choice and their reasoning, we have something to discuss. With the knee-jerk kind of response you seem to advocate, such a thing would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

  156. #156 T_U_T
    May 10, 2010

    Ethics ceases to be ethical in any meaningful way if it is deterministic and collective in nature.

    care to support such astute assertion ?

  157. #157 Rorschach
    May 10, 2010

    To those arguing that evolution will take care of things in Somalia and acts that harm the group will weed itself out to the benefit of the society, I say, we are already witnessing what a failed society looks like.There is no government, no order, no law, no social cohesion and therefore no incentive for moral behaviour, in Somalia, as I see it.
    Keep in mind, this girl was stoned in front of a crowd of 1000 cheering people.

    Or then again, maybe the society there is now predominantly murderous sociopaths and rapists and their supporters, in that case, our model of morality still holds !

  158. #158 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Ethics ceases to be ethical in any meaningful way if it is deterministic and collective in nature.

    I can’t believe I missed this.

    A thing cannot be deterministic if it is also collective. If it is collective, at best it can be emergent, which is distinctly non-deterministic. For example, the stock market is a form of collective behavior, and it is also chaotic (not random!) and non-deterministic. We can, however, predict its behavior to some degree of certainty – but that does not at all suggest determinism.

    Besides which, tautology is tautology. Ethics is what it is, and it isn’t what it isn’t; those facts do not suggest any meaning.

  159. #159 wmdkitty#83021
    May 10, 2010

    FFFUUUUUUU-

    This kind of shit is why I hate humanity.

  160. #160 T_U_T
    May 10, 2010

    To those arguing that evolution will take care of things in Somalia and acts that harm the group will weed itself out to the benefit of the society, I say, we are already witnessing what a failed society looks like.

    And we will also witness how they obliterate themselves. Just after those thugs will conquer 100 % of somalia, they will start to attack other countries. They can’t just help themselves that is their nature. They will attack someone much more powerful than they could ever become because of their barbarism preventing them from having anything like science or a organized, productive society. Just like the taliban. And sooner or later, the revenge will come. And nobody will have mercy with creatures like that. Just like we have no mercy with the taliban.

  161. #161 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    To those arguing that evolution will take care of things in Somalia and acts that harm the group will weed itself out to the benefit of the society, I say, we are already witnessing what a failed society looks like.

    Actually, an evolutionary psychologist would say that maladaptive behaviors can destroy societies if they are not disposed of. There is evidence (such as it is) that the Mayans destroyed themselves with maladaptive beliefs and practices. One could say, if he were sufficiently dispassionate, that Somalia is weeding itself out of world society. It is rather horrific to watch, though. I would rather just git rid of the sickening religious beliefs and practices that are causing the problem rather than see people suffer like this.

  162. #162 Rorschach
    May 10, 2010

    I would rather just git rid of the sickening religious beliefs and practices that are causing the problem rather than see people suffer like this.

    These people cheering the stoning of a 13year-old are not doing this out of religious fervor, they are psychopaths, and religion serves as the handy justification.

  163. #163 kellyposey
    May 10, 2010

    The solution is within how this ‘situation’ is created. What is ‘behind’ the acts that is done in the physical. What is ‘going on’ within the being which manifests in such an act. Obviously who we are is a result of the ‘placement’ we are born into, the culture, the family, financial situation, etc. So, to look at what are the points within a person’s life that manifest this sort of behavior which is abusive toward life, and see how do we accept and allow this to exist, and to from there see possible solutions. For example, the current money system does not support all life equally and thus many are born into situations of poverty and do not have access to education and it is difficult just to survive one has to compromise themself and the outflows of this situation are obvious. And since we all are here supporting this system we are all equally response-able for the outflows of who and what we live as. So, the solution is to see how do I support what exist in this world, does it support all life equally or does it abuse life in self interest, so that we can stop manifesting the abuse that currently exists in this reality. No one can take responsibility for ourself, and we can’t take responsibility for someone else, so we all have to stand up to see how and what we are creating in this world thru who we each live as and what we accept and allow to exist within ourself, and thus in the world

  164. #164 Blind Squirrel FCD
    May 10, 2010

    Rorschach@157

    Keep in mind, this girl was stoned in front of a crowd of 1000 cheering people.

    We might be selling these people short. Some of the crowd tried to save her, and one person was killed by gunfire.

    BS

  165. #165 evogene
    May 10, 2010

    I am not surprised that science is capable of explaining morality, I mean it seems a bit possible if we consider two things we know that science can do – and try to do -:

    1- Understand altruism in other animals, in evolution ethology, we try to understand why does it exist and how is it conducted.
    2- Morality in a human sense is a human thing, therefore the human mind came up with it. Furthermore , since evolutionary psychology tells us that there is a moral sense in us – inherited -, so therefore Science – the study of reality – can tell us why do we think sth is moral, and even if it is moral, because it understands our brains – or tries to -.

  166. #166 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    These people cheering the stoning of a 13year-old are not doing this out of religious fervor, they are psychopaths, and religion serves as the handy justification.

    Granted. I’ve never liked blaming a behavior or a group for the actions of individuals. To me, being a member of a particular group does not excuse you for your actions. Even if I were to allow for the diffused sense of responsibility that group membership tends to create, the fact is there was a conscious choice to join the group at some point.

    I instead point to the ways that people will glom onto any justification for their actions that seem closest to hand. Some people claim that “others do it, so why shouldn’t I” and others think “nobody will notice just this once.” In no case does intent justify the act.

  167. #167 Marshall
    May 10, 2010

    What it said in the Guardian article:

    her father … told Amnesty that when they tried to report her rape to the militia, the child was accused of adultery and detained. None of the men accused was arrested.

    some comments:

    # 22, Molly:
    her own father dimed her to these scumbags, without blinking an eye.

    # 28, inflection:
    a scared young girl being bloodily murdered by a crowd of people led by her father

    # 64, Conor S.:
    stoning a daughter to death

    # 96, Conor S. redux:
    The father who stoned his daughter to death

    # 115, Janet Holmes:
    this father has diminished his viability by killing one of his offspring (or arranging to have her killed)

    What shall we say about people who are so ready with their condemnation — “take away their air”, “put them in a cage and burn them”, etc etc — without even bothering to read the executive summary? Not fact-based morality, for sure….

  168. #168 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    What shall we say about people who are so ready with their condemnation — “take away their air”, “put them in a cage and burn them”, etc etc — without even bothering to read the executive summary? Not fact-based morality, for sure….

    Maybe something I have said here over and over and over again is finally gaining some traction; I hope this is so. Or perhaps you are new here, and I should apologize for not keeping track of new faces.

    Either way, thank you for pointing this out. Every time I try to say that the Emperor has no clothes, people keep trying to tell me they all agree on the color of his robe. It’s maddening, I tell you!

    Unfortunately, I have the strong intuition that you will not be paid any mind. Please don’t feel bad. I’ve been at this for something like five years.

  169. #169 Conor S.
    May 10, 2010

    #167 crap. I should have read the article more closely you are completely right.

  170. #170 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @T_U_T

    But you can?t argue with such people anyway. They believe that Allah is commanding them to kill the girl. It?s the same thing with any moral or ethical system that condemns people to die for arbitrary reasons. You?re never going to be able to have an argument in the first place. If you can accept the limitations of your own agency when it comes to shaping your ideas and perspective of the world, you also recognize that your opposing number is bound by the same limitations. And in understanding that, you recognize that at a certain point argument becomes pointless: he/she/they are bound within a cultural construct that makes them resistant to the kinds of processes that the West privileges for solving such disputes.

    @vinniehew

    But for some people, clearly stoning innocent girls is just like eating chocolate (at least insofar as it stimulates the pleasure parts of the brain). Indeed to each their own! But in this case, I say ?If my ?own,? and the ?own,? of the vast majority of people, is to condemn such terrible things, why isn?t that enough?? Your suggestion seems to be that we either must keep looking for some objective standard of morality, or we should just give in to profound moral relativism. I say we recognize the ever-shifting sands on which our judgments our built, but build them anyway. The late Richard Rorty made the same point in his body of work, although it?s most succinctly expressed in his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.

  171. #171 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @deriamis

    Your response seems to be “If we admit fully that ideas and perspectives are contingent, doesn’t that mean we have to accept or at least tolerate people whose ideas and perspectives are flippant, glib, or absolutely bonkers?” The answer is no: we expect more of our fellow men, and our fellow citizens! We excercise social pressures and create institututions which encourage more sophisticated perspectives. We do this in part because societies that have more sophisticated perspectives tend to thrive and propagate, ones that don’t tend to be subdued and extinguished. But as another poster has quieried “What makes survival a good thing?” And once again, we have another contingent fact. So in the end, what we have is an interconnected web of contingent facts that form our individual and our collective “vocabulary” (or perspective, or ideology, or Weltanschauung- whatever terminology you’re comfortable with). To use an old story that happens to be a favorite:

    A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

  172. #172 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Your response seems to be “If we admit fully that ideas and perspectives are contingent, doesn’t that mean we have to accept or at least tolerate people whose ideas and perspectives are flippant, glib, or absolutely bonkers?”

    Actually, no, that isn’t what I am saying. In reality, I am an anti-accomodationist. The facts I state are to illustrate the point, not to be a reasoning for them. It’s a simple fact that people are “flippant, glib, or absolutely bonkers” and no amount of philosophizing is going to change that. People do what they do because of the beliefs they choose to accept, not the other way around. It’s not the beliefs that control them.

    I am all for the methodical removal of certain beliefs, attitudes, and practices from society that have been shown to be maladaptive. That isn’t to say that there should be some authority on the matter – a simple demonstration of the utter stupidity of a concept in most humiliating fashion will do. Or, when you’re dealing with a crowd to whom reason appeals (rather rare these days), just the demonstration of stupidity will do and they’ll feel humiliated automatically.

    What I don’t agree with is bending the facts to suit the humiliation or attempting to use exactly as much unreason in the humiliation as the practitioners of a particular ritual already engage. It won’t work and it just makes you look like a malevolent loser. Well, that and being hypocritically unable to take as much criticism and offensiveness as you’re willing to dish out; that just makes you look like another dumb asshole out in the world.

  173. #173 vinniehew
    May 10, 2010

    Comment 170:

    But for some people, clearly stoning innocent girls is just like eating chocolate (at least insofar as it stimulates the pleasure parts of the brain). Indeed to each their own! But in this case, I say ?If my ?own,? and the ?own,? of the vast majority of people, is to condemn such terrible things, why isn?t that enough??

    Because sometimes the majority is wrong. Honestly, I can’t believe you needed to be told that.

  174. #174 dannystevens.myopenid.com
    May 10, 2010

    Any attempt to show a scientific basis for morality would have to explain why these dickheads think what they are doing is moral and just but we think the opposite.

  175. #175 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @#174
    Agreed, but when the obvious is explained (it’s Islam) the explainers are crucified as ‘bigots’…on this very thread, in fact.

  176. #176 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Any attempt to show a scientific basis for morality would have to explain why these dickheads think what they are doing is moral and just but we think the opposite.

    Ah, no. Just the former will do. The latter follows necessarily from that if they have a brain in their skulls. Which, considering that they somehow find a man who raped a nine year old girl to be the paragon of morality, isn’t a foremost consideration of mine. Going from that, stoning a young woman in the street for having the temerity to allow herself to be the victim of rape isn’t much of a stretch.

    It’s rather like a particularly disgusting and frightening form of “if you’ll believe that, then you’ll also believe…” People are generally disgustingly self-serving creatures who look for a way to satisfy the preconditions of their already-held beliefs. So, saying “it’s not the people, it’s the beliefs” is identifying only the least important half of the problem. We have to fix the people and the beliefs will generally take care of themselves.

  177. #177 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @deriamis

    But it is beliefs that control you! You can’t think a thought that you don’t have the background for, nor can you spontaneously generate a worldview completely contradictory to all the cultural/linguistic programming you’ve hitherto been immersed in! To suggest that you could somehow humiliate illiterate Somali dirt-farmers using reason or logic is absurd. The only response to such a situation is coercion: incentives if you may, force if you must. I am of course assuming a position of determinism here (in the philosophical, not theological sense), based on the compatibilist position of Daniel Dennett.

    As to the rest of your response, I’m still unclear as to what you are suggesting in regards to developing a system for finding an objective good and evil. Is your position that there is such a thing, best defined in terms of adaptive traits? Also, do you really think showing how “stupid” a band of violent, ignorant, illiterate, and pious peasants are would be an effective tactic? Would an appeal to reason and logic be appropriate in that and similar situations?

    @vinniehew

    No one needs teaching that the majority in a given locality is often wrong (as it was in this case). I was perhaps being ambiguous when I used the word “majority.” What I was specifically referring to is the human community as a whole, in this particular age. Precious few countries still condone this kind of thing. It happens mostly in remote, isolated corners of the world like the tribal areas of Pakistan, rural villages in Islamic theocracies, and failed states like Somalia. Majorities in a particular village/province/country/empire can carry out unspeakable acts of brutality, but in the modern age such majorities are fleeting, and usually destroyed by their more enlightened neighbors. Think about Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union, or the Confederate States of America. Brutal regimes founded on dogma instead of reason and justice make for bad neighbors. Where are they now, compared to the liberal democracies? I think history shows that the largest availible majority in a given age is comprised of alright chaps. Widsom of crowds and such.

  178. #178 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ:

    but when the obvious is explained (it’s Islam)

    World’s largest Muslim population is in Indonesia, with over 200 million.

    Care to link to a stoning having happened there?

    How many Muslim-majority countries in the world use stoning as a legally-sanctioned form of punishment?

  179. #179 https://me.yahoo.com/a/SgxGvJQ2jolodhXvwPz_wgGCr3Tp0g--#8b6f2
    May 10, 2010

    ATHEIST ETHICS IN 500 WORDS. John B. Hodges, Dec. 21, 2007.

    How can you have any ethics if you don’t believe in God?

    The question must BE questioned. How can you have any ethics if you DO believe in a god?

    Religious folk misunderstand morality at its roots. Religion teaches a child’s view of ethics, that “being good” means “obeying your parent”. Just as religious faith is believing what you are told, so religious morality is doing what you are told. Religious morality consists of obeying the alleged will of God, an invisible “Cosmic Parent”, as reported by your chosen authority. But obedience is not morality, and morality is not obedience. We can all think of famous people who did good things while rebelling against authority, and others who did evil things while obeying authority.

    Religious folk may be Good Samaritans or suicide bombers, it depends entirely on what their chosen authority orders them to do. If a believer, or a community of same, wishes to make war or keep slaves or oppress women, all they have to do is persuade themselves that their god approves. This seems not to be hard, and no god has ever popped up to tell believers that they were wrong. They do not have a code of morality except by the convenience of the priesthood. What they have is a code of obedience, which is not the same thing.

    Atheism means looking at ethical questions as an adult among other adults. Civic morality is a means of maintaining peace and cooperation among equals, so that all may pursue happiness within the limits that ethics defines. This civic morality is objective. If you want to maintain peaceful relations, don’t kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. As Shakespeare wrote: “It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this.”

    Because we are biological beings evolved by natural selection, most of us value the health of our families, where “health” is the ABILITY to survive, and “family” is “all who share your genes, to the extent that they share your genes.” This is also called “inclusive fitness” by biologists. Essentially all living beings are going to seek this, because their desires are shaped by natural selection, and inclusive fitness is what natural selection selects for.

    Because humans are social animals, who survive by cooperating in groups, we have a “natural” standard of ethics: The Good is that which leads to health, The Right is that which leads to peace. A “good person” is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of people who seek to live in peace and raise families. Most people understand this intuitively. Understanding the logic of it is better. “If you want peace, work for justice.”

    There is a long history of philosophical thinking about ethics. Morality is not based on authority, but on reason and compassion. If I had to recommend just one book on ethics, it would be GOOD AND EVIL: A NEW DIRECTION by Richard Taylor.

    I have a longer essay at http://civic.bev.net/atheistsnrv/articles/definition.html

  180. #180 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @John Morales
    Stoning for adultery is a legally sanctioned punishment in Aceh, Indonesia.

  181. #181 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, I repeat: Care to link to a stoning having happened there?

  182. #182 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    From my link @180:
    “Stoning has been part of the Islamic shariah that dates back to the times of Prophet Muhammad “… said Asmawi MA, who heads the Islamic Criminal Law and State Administration of Islamic Studies of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University.

  183. #183 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    But it is beliefs that control you! You can’t think a thought that you don’t have the background for, nor can you spontaneously generate a worldview completely contradictory to all the cultural/linguistic programming you’ve hitherto been immersed in!

    Then you are a very weak person. I generate completely contradictory worldviews in my head all the time – it’s called compartmentalization. Or, as Lewis Carroll would have put it, I believe in at least six impossible things before breakfast. It’s great practice for weeding out bad beliefs. I constantly challenge myself to believe something different and scary every day of my waking existence just so I am not ruled by my beliefs. I’m not always a complete success at this practice, but I do at least try.

    To suggest that you could somehow humiliate illiterate Somali dirt-farmers using reason or logic is absurd.

    I truly tire of telling people to pay more attention to what I say before responding to it. If you had actually paid attention, you would have seen where the humiliation by logic and reason alone is something I reserve for the decidedly literate.
    Even so, the fact that a person is illiterate, of poor socioeconomic status, and immersed in unreasonable beliefs is not congruent with that person being stupid. I have met plenty of people who meet the above description who turned out to be wonderful with logic and I was able to convince them with nothing more than a simple maxim or a demonstration of the principle of double effect.

    The only response to such a situation is coercion: incentives if you may, force if you must. I am of course assuming a position of determinism here (in the philosophical, not theological sense), based on the compatibilist position of Daniel Dennett.

    What makes you so much better than someone else that you would use a tool you would not have used on you to bend them to your beliefs? And yes, they are just that: beliefs. The fact that we have reason on our side is of no ethical consequence.
    If we cannot abide by our own ethical compass, then our beliefs aren’t worth giving to others. We would be just as bad as the proselytizer down the street who tells people they will go to Hell if they don’t convert to a particular religion immediately. Seriously, tell me, what makes you or anyone else so much better that you get to do the very same things you abhor in others? The ends alone never justify the means, and the principle of double effect is not on your side in this case.
    This right here is what I am talking about when I constantly annoy everyone with my preaching against hypocrisy in these comments. Nobody gets to behave as his enemy does simply because he thinks his beliefs are more correct.

  184. #184 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, I repeat: Care to link to a stoning having happened there?

    Not to butt in (total lie), but what would it matter? It would only demonstrate a lack of desire to enforce a law. Such a thing happens all the time in every country around the world.

    The point is that the law is there. We have seen many times over in history where an unenforced law suddenly becomes enforced when a particular faction comes into power. That’s actually what happened with the Taliban in Afghanistan way back when, you know. And it’s not hard to convince people, especially those with a predisposition towards particular religious beliefs, that the law should be enforced for the good of society.

  185. #185 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    deriamis, butt away.

    Maybe you can answer the questions I posed to ABQ @178. :)

    The issue is culture/religion; ABQ fails to distinguish between them, and buys into the claim that they are the same thing in Islam.

    Do you?

  186. #186 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @184
    Thanks for your post(s), deriamis.
    @JM, you clutch at straws. Stoning’s on the books in Aceh (and northern Nigeria). Plus, also: Sudan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE & Pakistan. And (effectively, it would seem) Somalia. All Muslim-majority countries, pal.

  187. #187 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, two questions you have yet to answer — because the answers kill your claim that Islam → stoning.

    You coward.

  188. #188 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Maybe you can answer the questions I posed to ABQ @178. :)

    It wouldn’t matter if I did, for the reasons I have already given. Whether a law is enforced isn’t nearly as important as the fact that the law exists. Trying to justify behavior by the fact that someone doesn’t do something is silly. It’s like thanking a bully every day for not punching you in the mouth.

    The issue is culture/religion; ABQ fails to distinguish between them, and buys into the claim that they are the same thing in Islam.

    Muslims seem to think they are. That’s rather much the point: it doesn’t really matter how we see it as much as how they do. Even so, religion is largely a cultural construct, and the religious attitudes of a culture generally affect the government of a society. This effect is especially evident when a religion is so tied to a culture that the very laws of governments reiterate it. I don’t think ABQ is failing to distinguish between culture and religion as much as Muslims evidently do.

  189. #189 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, two questions you have yet to answer ? because the answers kill your claim that Islam ? stoning.

    When the laws of a society demand such a punishment, it doesn’t matter if the law remains unenforced. In the cases where the law exists in a primarily Muslim country, then Islam -> stoning, whether it currently happens or not.

    Of course, you have the “moderate” kind of Muslim who believes no such thing and lives in countries where the practice is disallowed by law. They are also not very vocal. And they are in direct violation of a literal interpretation of the laws they supposedly follow. So, again, Islam -> stoning, whether it currently happens or not. I don’t mean to condemn people who find stoning to be repulsive, but they are also not Muslims by the strict definition that produces Sharia law.

  190. #190 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    deriamis,

    I don’t think ABQ is failing to distinguish between culture and religion as much as Muslims evidently do.

    Uh-huh. Because all Muslims think exactly the same, right?

    PS: List of Muslim majority countries

    All the same culture, inasmuch as they fail to distinguish between it and religion? :)

  191. #191 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, two questions you have yet to answer ? because the answers kill your claim that Islam ? stoning.

    Come on ABQ, for once in your life show real conclusive evidence when asked. That will show you are not just a idjit ideological blowhard. Evidence, what separates the men from the boys, and loudmouthed blowhards from scientists.

  192. #192 Sioux Laris
    May 10, 2010

    Who let the idiot and safely-strident from a distance bigot asshole Al in here?

    Al, you suffer from the most horrid of complaints – you are always, desperately right, About everything. When failure can’t be counted against you. You absolute moral coward.

    Your petty teabagger opinion of Islam isn’t the issue. That just shows that you are an ignorant bigot too cowardly to admit that bigotry is the beginning and end of your opinion, or, rather, mental farting.
    When can we expect you to laud the Iraq war as a “liberation” – incomplete from your POV since Muslims are still breathing within the borders?

    Probably you’re another banned p.o.s. here under a new name. May you drop as dead as your posts lack intelligence, wit, or the slightest sense of self-reflection*.

    *Understandable, given what you would see, you would-be self-polishing turd of a failure.

  193. #193 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Uh-huh. Because all Muslims think exactly the same, right?
    PS: List of Muslim majority countries
    All the same culture, inasmuch as they fail to distinguish between it and religion?

    Please do not mistake my failure to take your bait for an evasion of your question. I have carefully defined the term “Muslim” for the purposes of this discussion very clearly to prevent equivocation. “Muslim”, in this context, is one who follows Sharia law to some relatively strict degree. The ones who do not are “moderate Muslims” who are inapplicable to this conversation.

    However, how many Muslims of the moderate variety would you find willingly living in a country that practiced a strict form of Sharia law? I would bet not many. My point is that the countries that currently have Sharia law on the books but do not enforce those laws have just as much capacity to commit acts of violence such as stoning as the ones who enforce it. The only difference is a matter of currency, perhaps provided by a national disaster and a charismatic leader. That’s why I included those countries within the strict definition.

    You don’t get to win the argument by redefining my terms for me. Or by trying to color perceptions of my argument as bigoted when I am in reality attempting to avoid unreasonable overtones. If you can show how Sharia law does not lead to stoning if it is actually applied, or how having laws to that effect on the books can conceivably be prevented from enforcement without their repeal, then you have a point. Muslims of the moderate variety obviously do not fit within the constraints of Sharia law and are not part of this discussion.

  194. #194 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @187 & Nerd
    Read answers @#s 180, 182 & 186. Cowards.

  195. #195 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    deriamis,

    I have carefully defined the term “Muslim” for the purposes of this discussion very clearly to prevent equivocation. “Muslim”, in this context, is one who follows Sharia law to some relatively strict degree. The ones who do not are “moderate Muslims” who are inapplicable to this conversation.

    Tsk. Why not just define “Muslim” as those who both advocate and practice stoning? It would make your case even stronger!

    Most English speakers define Muslim as “A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith.”

    Or, what does Google say? Muslim.

  196. #196 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @the pro-Islamic prick @ #192:
    Stick a minaret up yer ass, sideways.

  197. #197 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    ABQ, your answers are (1) none and (2) 7/47 countries¹.

    You’ve established a (weak) correlation, not causation. The correlation is, in fact, far far stronger with culture than it is with religion.

    If Islam necessarily led to stoning, you’d expect the more populous Islamic states would have more stonings. This is not what is empirically found.

    ¹ Granting your figures.

  198. #198 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 10, 2010

    Hey Quirky, how about the death penalty your fellow theists forced on the US? Still showing the lack of ethics for religion and religion based cultures, just like your islam beefs. Still no evidence, which you fail to understand. Having a law on the books is not the same as enforcing it. We are asking about enforcement, not what is on the books you illiterate.

  199. #199 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Tsk. Why not just define “Muslim” as those who both advocate and practice stoning? It would make your case even stronger!

    Because that would not have been a reasonable definition. Sharia law is defined in and by the Quran, so those who practice the Muslim faith as specified in the Quran would also follow Sharia. Reformers would fall under this definition, in case you weren’t paying attention. Secularists would not.

    Most English speakers define Muslim as “A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith.”

    Yes, and that definition allows for considerable overlap in ways that make an argument for either case impossible to carry out. It would just devolve into a shouting match. I made a reasonable modification to that definition for the express purpose of preventing such an event.

    Or, what does Google say? Muslim.

    Again, you don’t get to win by redefining yourself there. I haven’t won and neither have you. In fact, the only reason I had to define these terms is because you did not. What “most people” say is nonspecific and what “Google” says is arbitrary. You can choose to reject my definitions, but you don’t get to do it by being nonspecific, arbitrary, or in the case of the definition you gave, tautological.

    ::sigh:: Oh, never mind. You’re obviously not up to this, so I’ll just give you the slice of cake. The best way to refute my argument is to point out that not all of the primarily Muslim countries you listed have some form of Sharia on the books, which also means that some of them have a majority of Secularists or at least a silent majority of Reformists. That would mean that those countries presumably don’t stone people and therefore Islam -/> stoning since culture is not congruent with religion, regardless of my definition for what a Muslim is. If such is the case, then my argument fails, QED.

    Really, did this have to be about name-calling and presumptions of stupidity on each others’ part? I set up a simple construct that was easily refuted and you failed to do so.

  200. #200 Al B. Quirky
    May 10, 2010

    @197
    JM, the quantity of stonings is not proportional to the number of (nominal) Muslims. It is proportional to the strictness of the Islamic Shariah imposed, which does vary from place to place (as we have both demonstrated). Until such time as you accept the fact that stoning is part of Islamic law, sanctioned by Muhammad himself, you are pissing into the wind, and (pathetically for an Atheist) defending RELIGION.

  201. #201 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Until such time as you accept the fact that stoning is part of Islamic law, sanctioned by Muhammad himself, you are pissing into the wind, and (pathetically for an Atheist) defending RELIGION.

    This is true right up until you meet a Reformist or a Secularist. You’re thinking of primarily Literalist countries where Sharia is more practiced as a means to an end than anything else. It’s still disgusting to watch a Reformist try to defend the concept of religiously-based laws, but that doesn’t mean that everywhere there is Islam there is also stoning.

    Besides, you are forgetting the Christian countries that also practice stoning as part of their religious laws. Islam not a sufficient condition for stoning because there are other religious laws that also produce it, sometimes for nearly the same reasons.

  202. #202 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Besides, you are forgetting the Christian countries that also practice stoning as part of their religious laws.

    Bet you were looking that up, weren’t you. Silly people, of course there’s no such thing. We just get wackaloons who threaten it all the time. Still, it proves the point that it’s not just Muslims who believe in stoning people, so the two aren’t intimately tied.

  203. #203 John Morales
    May 10, 2010

    deriamis:

    Sharia law is defined in and by the Quran, so those who practice the Muslim faith as specified in the Quran would also follow Sharia.

    Sharia (Arabic: ‘?????? ?ar??a; [???ri??], “way” or “path”) refers to the sacred law of Islam. All Muslims believe Sharia is God’s law, but they have differences between themselves as to exactly what it entails. Modernists, traditionalists and fundamentalists all hold different views of Sharia, as do adherents to different schools of Islamic thought and scholarship. Different countries and cultures have varying interpretations of Sharia, as well.

    That you contest that Muslim is “A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith” says a lot about your claims.
    It is the one definition that applies to all Muslims; you might as well say a moderate or secular Christian is not a Christian.

    Really, did this have to be about name-calling and presumptions of stupidity on each others’ part?

    To what name-calling or presumption of stupidity do you refer? :)

    ABQ:

    JM, the quantity of stonings is not proportional to the number of (nominal) Muslims. It is proportional to the strictness of the Islamic Shariah imposed, which does vary from place to place (as we have both demonstrated).

    Therefore, it’s clear that it’s not about Islam, but about where that instantiation of Islam occurs — as I’ve said all along.

    Until such time as you accept the fact that stoning is part of Islamic law, sanctioned by Muhammad himself, you are pissing into the wind, and (pathetically for an Atheist) defending RELIGION.

    Right. And until you accept the fact that stoning is part of Biblical law, sanctioned by the Bible itself, you are pissing into the wind.

    Nor am I defending religion; I’m calling you on your misrepresentation of Islam as a whole, based on an invidious hasty generalisation.

  204. #204 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    That you contest that Muslim is “A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith” says a lot about your claims.

    That you contest the difference between my definition and yours says a lot about your claims as well. There is no functional difference between the two: God’s Law, aka Sharia, is contained within the Quran; it’s the source text for the religion. Where did you think Sharia comes from? I was simply making an operational definition from which we could create a construct precisely because of the differences in how Sharia is interpreted – I was excluding those who did not follow it at all from discussion because they were not relevant.

    Of course, I also pointed out that my definition was also irrelevant due to existing facts. It pays to read the post against which you argue.

    To what name-calling or presumption of stupidity do you refer? :)

    I was referring to this interchange you have with ABQ. Yes, he’s known to be annoying in his way, but he has been here for quite a long time now. He’s good at providing a counterpoint to what sometimes becomes masturbatory dialog around here. That’s not to say I often agree with him (ha!) – but he didn’t become nasty until you did. You started that.

  205. #205 Knockgoats
    May 10, 2010

    When the laws of a society demand such a punishment, it doesn’t matter if the law remains unenforced. In the cases where the law exists in a primarily Muslim country, then Islam -> stoning, whether it currently happens or not. – deriamis

    What a bixarre piece of nonsense! (I meant to write “bizarre” there, but in this case, I think a new word meaning “bizarre beyond bizarre” is needed.) It doesn’t matter whether people are actually stoned? I think those who are stoned (and those who would be if the law were enforced), might possibly disagree with you. And “Islam -> stoning” whether, er, “Islam -> stoning” or not??? One has to ask – are you stoned?

  206. #206 Knockgoats
    May 10, 2010

    he didn’t become nasty until you did. – deriamis

    Quirky is always nasty – he’s nasty to the core.

  207. #207 Kieranfoy
    May 10, 2010

    @Knockgoats: I think his point would be ‘having stoning laws on the books is bad, even if international pressure forces them to not stone people.’

  208. #208 Tim Harris
    May 10, 2010

    Good for you, John Morales. What has appalled me about this ‘debate’ or ‘thread’ is that so many people – Janet Holmes & Rohrsach, for example – simply didn’t bother to read the original article, in which it is explicitly stated that the father entered a complaint about the rape and that this led to his daughter being seized and murdered, and that as some people were trying to save the girl the militia fired and one boy (at least) was killed. Instead, we get stuff from Janet Holmes (who at least has the courage to use her own name, unlike most of the contributors), Rorschach and others about 1000 people cheering the stoning on, about how the father set out to get his daughter stoned, about how Somalia is a hell-hole (and whose fault is that?) that should be cleaned up by somebody (Superman America perhaps), and about how all Muslims are morally beyond the pale. Or we get people like chaseacross and deriamis worrying in their preening, self-obsessed way about their definitions and whether they have won or lost the argument: what pathetic little academic shits you are. Or we get people who get a thrill from expressing their moral outrage, an outrage that that they are only too happy to express when the target is the activities of some thugs in a desperately torn and unfortunate country like Somalia, but not when it is their own country dealing out deaths that only seem not to be so dreadful because those murders, being done from helicopters or Predator drones, don’t have that religious, tribal or mediaeval ring to them that can allow our purveyors of outrage to feel so superior. Have the courage to look at the war-crimes perpetrated in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, at the torture (and murder) which has been inflicted on people known to be innocents at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, at the destruction of the personality of an admittedly unsavoury person like Jose Padilla, and try to do something about such things, instead of indulging in this cheap and easy outrage. I have small time for any religion, and less for the monotheistic ones, but the words of Jesus are, here, apposite: ‘Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thine own eye, and then shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’

  209. #209 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 10, 2010

    John Morales:

    This is a fascinating exchange, but it’s also kind of sad.

    It’s not that much different from the straw-man versions of atheism that Christians routinely mischaracterize as representative of non-belief, or the trope (so popular with some commenters here) of “Biblical literalist = Christian.”

    To my way of thinking, they are all at best just one step away from being religious bigotry, pure and simple.

    deriamis:

    My earlier brief regarding ethics being ‘deterministic’ and ‘collective’ was poorly-worded. Indeed, a lot of human behavior in groups is emergent. It would’ve made more sense if I had characterized the attempt to ‘explain’ ethics as a failure of reductionism.

  210. #210 Rorschach
    May 10, 2010

    dimwit @ 208,

    but the words of Jesus are, here, apposite: ‘Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thine own eye, and then shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’

    How King James of you.

    And excuse me mate, but I did in fact not state that the father was one of those cheering the stoning on, or that Somalia is “a hell-hole that should be cleaned up by Superman America”. So shove your false accusations up yours, thanks.

  211. #211 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 10, 2010

    Instead, we get stuff from Janet Holmes (who at least has the courage to use her own name, unlike most of the contributors),

    Oh please. Those of us who use pseudonyms continue to use the same ‘nyms here consistently and are accountable here to anything we say. You can track back my comments, or Rorschach’s or most any regular’s ‘nym for that matter, as long as we have been commenting on this blog. All of the times I’ve been wrong or said something stupid are all there to be found under the same ‘nym for the 4 or 5 years (or however long) I’ve been commenting here. Same with virtually any of the ‘nym using commenter. Not only that but many of us have blogs outside of this place we comment where we are again accountable for the things we say here.

    How many Tim Harrisses are there in the world?

  212. #212 Tim Harris
    May 10, 2010

    All right, my apologies to Rorschach (I’m not going to go back and check; I’ll take your word for it that I got it wrong) & to the Rev, whose point I take. But I do think that PZ and others might institute enquiries about how many little girls and other innocents have been slaughtered unnoticed outside Somalia by people who very much want to keep it unnoticed (though General McChrystal (spelling?) rather let the cat out of the bag recently) – they could begin by reading Tom Englehardt’s (spelling?) excellent blog. And then they might try to do something about it. I am sorry, I dislike religion as much as the next atheist, but I get rather fed up with all this splendid exercising of outrage over horrors perpetrated in unfortunate countries like Somalia, where nothing can readily be done (though I notice that there isn’t as much outrage available over, say, the boy soldiers in the equally unfortunate country of Liberia probably because some major religion is not obviously involved, and perhaps because it is boys who are being most savagely victimised), and the seeming lack of interest amongst those most keen on exercising this outrage in trying to address the horrors and injustices at present being perpetrated by their own government and their own armed forces.I am reminded of Mrs Jellyby.

  213. #213 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmVT1LBhwmO9ej9LNg7a5e9d-AVJ8ezfmE
    May 10, 2010

    But it is beliefs that control you!

    No instincts? Do humans have no “mating drives” at all?

    Ever watch cats mate? It looks a lot like “rape” to me but it’s an instinctive behavior, presumably programmed into them by hundreds of thousands of years of successful evolution. There are reproductive strategies in many animals that involve force and/or trickery. If those strategies exist in humans, then we have the interesting problem of saying that there’s a scientific basis for morality that’s different from a similar scientific basis for ‘immorality’

  214. #214 Fred The Hun
    May 10, 2010

    The culture that would tolerate and encourage such behavior is not one I want to be a member of, and not even one that I want to share the planet with.

    Yet it seems most people who pretend to be enlightened superior rationalists are perfectly fine with being part of a culture that rapes and pillages entire ecosystems for their own benefit at the expense of the commons, witness the current tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.

    These same, highly cultured people hardly bat an eye at the atrocities perpetrated in their name in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fought for the purpose of securing their own supposed interests and access to petroleum resources.

    It is not often that one hears them complain about the consumer goods such as IPads brought to them at the expense of exporting the pollution of their manufacture to places like China not to mention the benefits of slave labor in their sweat shops.

    These people, of such high and mighty culture, care not a whit about the consequences of jetting around the planet and driving around in steel boxes weighing thousands of pounds that spew noxious chemicals and CO2 into the atmosphere.

    They don’t seem to care about the risks of tipping the climate balance towards runaway global warming which might cause droughts and famine for millions if not billions of people.

    True, the primitive barbaric customs of the Somalis should be abhorred! However as unpalatable as their customs appear to us, the privileged, they, at least have the excuse of ignorance and superstition.

    We, on the other hand, especially those of us who purport to be enlightened should be deeply ashamed of our own culture for the simple reason that we actually know the truth.

    To me it is even harder to have to share the planet with members of a culture who are deeply hypocritical about the consequences of their life style choices.

    But at the end of the day it seems too easy to point to the stoning to death of an innocent little girl at the hands of ignorant religious men and say, we are so much better than they are, and ignore who we really are.

    So who is going to throw the first stone now?

  215. #215 Shplane
    May 10, 2010

    So, uh, when are you guys going to realize that the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them?

    If you don’t respond to anything he says, Al will spend a short time making (even more) idiotic posts in a “LOOK AT MEEEEEE” fashion. Then he’ll realize that he’s not really bothering us anymore, and he’ll leave.

  216. #216 frog, Inc.
    May 10, 2010

    PZ: I am more comfortable with the idea that we can develop an objective criterion for judging an act as not moral, or not just, or not contributing to the wellbeing of individuals or cultures. Can I, as a godless humanist, say that this is wrong?

    See, this is where I don’t get you folks (by which I mean most pharyngulites) — this fetishizing of the objective.

    Some questions are properly the domain of objective analysis — questions about the external world.

    But some questions are about how we experience the world — not about the world per se. Those questions are inherently subjective. There’s nothing wrong with taking a subjective approach, it’s actually the correct stance.

    Somethings are repugnant not because the universe rejects them as nonsense — but because they are so fucking ugly.

    Stoning a girl for being raped is ugly. It’s cruel and sadistic. I reject it not for some bullshit objective reasons, but because I hate a world built on sadism, cruelty and domination.

    Why? Because I hate sadism, cruelty and domination. I was raised decent.

    That’s not objective. I refuse to justify it objectively — I refuse to reject my own aesthetic response to the world, or pretend that I have some special insight that transforms my aesthetic response into an objective one.

    Fuck it, those bastards offend everything about me. There’s no standard of communication between me and them — there’s no “objective” place for us to have a coffee and discuss the proprieties of raping and stoning children. There can be nothing between us, nothing but the application of power by them or me.

  217. #217 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    @Knockgoats #205, Kieranfoy #207: I was making the argument that the laws being on the books was bad, but my heart wasn’t entirely in it. I generally support the opinion, but I was using it mainly as a construct to contextualize what John Morales was trying (and generally failing, no offense) to refute in ABQ’s argument.

    I gave the “big reveal” a bit later on when I pointed out that even one majority-Muslim country that does not have Sharia on its lawbooks would disprove the notion that Islam implies stoning, and thus that religion and cultural identity are congruent. Stoning may be more prevalent in Islamic countries with the laws, but that is indicative of the culture within that country, not necessarily of the religion itself.

    I also noted that even one non-Islamic country that also sanctions stonings would break the notion that any one particular religion currently “owns” the concept of the barbarous punishment. We get close here in the US with some of the fundies and the anti-Choice crowd who picket abortion clinics – close enough that I call it “close enough” indeed.

    That’s the run-down. And now that I am run-down from being up for 36 hours straight (pardon the loopiness, please) I will be rectifying my sleep deprivation forthwith. Good night/morning/noon, everyone, and have fun.

    Oh, and @Tim Harris: Especially in my case, all you have to do is search Google and I’m rather easily identified. I don’t hide behind anything here. What people don’t know about me results from failure to look or to ask.

  218. #218 Shplane
    May 10, 2010

    #149

    Everyone would recognize that it is a computer because everyone collectively decided that it is a computer. It is not a computer because it is a computer. It’s a computer because we say it’s a computer.

    A large group of people subjectively deciding the same thing does not make it any less subjective. The meaning of “Computer” is still open to the interpretation of the listener. The listener is just accepting the interpretation that others have presented to him. He could decide that a computer is a wheeled vehicle that runs on burning dinosaurs. Society could say that he’s wrong, but that wouldn’t actually mean that he’s wrong, it would just mean that a lot of people think that he is.

  219. #219 serpdesu
    May 10, 2010

    I’d hate to see you give any stock to nonsense about basing morality on science after what I thought was a very well stated denial of the same in an earlier blog. There is an established set of logical rules for deducing propositions from other propositions and none of them involve turning “is” into “ought”.

  220. #220 Robert H
    May 10, 2010

    So who is going to throw the first stone now?

    You are, at yourself.

    There is an inherent complicity in the degradation of the planet every time we interact with technology, in any of its multitudinous guises. I trust most of us here get that. Likewise, I trust a sizable percentage of us are, and have been, against America’s various wars. That you so blithely opine that

    …it is even harder to have to share the planet with members of a culture who are deeply hypocritical about the consequences of their life style choices.

    than with men who first insist on mutilating their girls’ genitalia and then stoning them if they get raped is your right. Fuck you.

  221. #221 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @deriamis

    Clearly you?re ignorant of contemporary philosophy of mind. Since I can?t very well give you an undergraduate education on these subjects in the space of these forums, I can only suggest you read Daniel Dennett?s book Freedom Evolves, as well as Richard Rorty?s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Attend to these, and you?ll find that both science and philosophy currently reject your notion that you can cultivate any notion save the ones that you have the existing vocabulary for (which is to say, you can?t entertain ideas ex nihilo; it?s literally impossible).

    And it?s hardly hypocrisy to use coercion against those who would engage in violence under the guise of religion or any other belief. In situations of mortal danger, there is no alternative. I?m not in any way suggesting that all people of faith be herded into camps or what have you. What I am saying is that in the cases of violent extremists endangering others, there is no alternative. David Kilcullen, the world?s foremost expert on counter-insurgency, did some serious work into this problem in writing his book Countering Global Insurgency. One his points was that while it?s possible to convert some jihadists to moderation, there are those who are simply beyond the pale- no amount of discussion will convince them to abandon either radical Islam or violence. It?s hardly hypocritical to suggest that in cases of dangerous ideology, force might be necessary to extinguish it. If I ascribed to an ideology of violence against Eskimos, for example, I?d expect a violent response!

  222. #222 Fred The Hun
    May 10, 2010

    Robert H @ 220,

    No buddy, fuck yourself and the horse you rode in on! You stupid arrogant little cock sucking prick!

    than with men who first insist on mutilating their girls’ genitalia and then stoning them if they get raped is your right. Fuck you.

    Because, that is very obviously not at all what I said nor the point of my comment. It is clear that there is not the slightest possibility of defending that kind of barbaric behavior!

    And yes, I very much accept my part of the blame in partaking in this culture of waste. However at least I have the courage to admit it and am trying to do something about it, how about you?

    My point is that we all live in glass houses and we should recognize that first and foremost.

  223. #223 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @RobertH

    Given the choice between a culture making technological leaps and bounds towards sustainability, versus one that uses fewer resources but stones little girls to death in the street, you’d have to be a person of almost druidic perspective that the latter is even on equal footing with the former.

    Since I ascribe to the Bright Green environmental perspective, I would say that someone who lives in Western techno-indsturial civilization is hardly complicit with environmental degredation, so long as they’re making concrete efforts to improve sustainability. If you count everyone as part of the problem, then you end up with the hateful and repugnant kind of ideology advocated by jibbering morons like Zerzan, Quinn, Churchill and Jensen.

  224. #224 pnrjulius
    May 10, 2010

    I’m working on a book (It’s almost done! Now comes this ridiculous hoop-jumping we call publishing…) with a similar bent to Sam Harris’s book; I’m sure it won’t sell as well as Harris’s, but my hope is that it will in fact be a good book and will sell well in part because Harris and brought the issue into the open.

    I will be saying precisely that we can understand morality rationally—indeed, that we must understand it rationally, or else we won’t really be understanding it at all.

    But part of my point is that this does not mean abandoning emotion. Reason and emotion are not enemies! Each is necessary for the other. A perfectly logical being with no emotions can never be rational (he’d sit there and do nothing and then die); moreover, an emotion can itself be rational, if it is warranted by the facts.

    Your grief and outrage at these acts are entirely rational emotions. Indeed, it would be irrational not to feel them; anyone who feels something else, like pride, is in fact mentally defective.

  225. #225 Robert H
    May 10, 2010

    Hun@222

    My issue with your post was that you provide the people involved in the stoning of the girl with an excuse

    …they, at least have the excuse of ignorance and superstition.

    with which I take a certain degree of umbrage. I am prepared to accept no excuse for any atrocity, which for me includes the destruction of the planet. Nor am I ready to accept the murder of an innocent girl in Somalia as an entree into a condemnation of our culture’s abysmal treatment of the Earth: they’re two different issues, and issues that we possibly/probably agree upon case-by-case. I am frustrated with their conflation.

    And as for me… I’m a tree-hugging conscientious objector from northern California who grows a sizable part of his food organically using manual labor, and who drives a Prius, none of which gives me the cachet to deflect the thread to trumpet my own agenda.

  226. #226 Fred The Hun
    May 10, 2010

    Robert H @ 225,

    My issue with your post was that you provide the people involved in the stoning of the girl with an excuse

    …they, at least have the excuse of ignorance and superstition.

    with which I take a certain degree of umbrage.

    OK! I’ll grant you your right to umbrage at my statement that they have an excuse. You are 100% correct in that they do not. That was a poor choice of words on my part.

    As for my agenda, yes, I do have one, it is that we as a society are far too complacent in excusing our own malfeasance and I would like us to own up to the consequences of our actions.

    We are not some innocent benevolent creatures living in harmony with our environment nor with the vast majority of under privileged humans that inhabit our planet. We are exploiters of the commons in ways that have very far reaching consequences on the lives of vast numbers of people.

    Sure, there are some among us that do good and are trying, to be clear, I have no intention of patting myself on the back here, though perhaps my own foot print is smaller than that of most. Anyways that isn’t the point.

    I just wanted to point out that our holier than thou attitude is blatant transparent hypocrisy!

    We as a society desperately need to get our own house in order. Because if we do not, the rest of the world will not be willing to give us the benefit of the doubt nor we be able to pretend to hold the moral high ground when we are pointing to the barbaric behavior of others.

    So if I sound angry and I vented, it is because I am. I won’t apologize for that!

  227. #227 deriamis
    May 10, 2010

    Clearly you?re ignorant of contemporary philosophy of mind. Since I can?t very well give you an undergraduate education on these subjects in the space of these forums, I can only suggest you read Daniel Dennett?s book Freedom Evolves, as well as Richard Rorty?s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Attend to these, and you?ll find that both science and philosophy currently reject your notion that you can cultivate any notion save the ones that you have the existing vocabulary for (which is to say, you can?t entertain ideas ex nihilo; it?s literally impossible).

    How eloquent. I wish I could be equally as eloquent when I tell you where to shove your Courtier’s Reply. Alas.

    And it?s hardly hypocrisy to use coercion against those who would engage in violence under the guise of religion or any other belief. In situations of mortal danger, there is no alternative.

    Yes, because all ethics and morals are relative and subjective, and therefore, malleable. Which is true. So, while we’re trying to define some kind of difference between us and them and that our ways are so much better, why don’t we just act exactly as they do? I mean, it’s justified!

    Except that the ends do not of themselves justify the means. This isn’t philosophy of mind – this is morals and ethics. Don’t try to distract the issue. Kantian maxims and the principle of double effect is entirely appropriate here.

    I?m not in any way suggesting that all people of faith be herded into camps or what have you. What I am saying is that in the cases of violent extremists endangering others, there is no alternative.

    No alternative? What are you suggesting, then? You are justifying this for yourself. There is nothing inherent in either your morals or mine that justifies them. We have to do that ourselves. You are only defining your own justifications.

    The point is that anyone who tries to force you to his own conclusions has serious flaws in his reasoning. There is no actual difference between “I’m saving your soul” and “I’m saving your life” if the practices are exactly the same.

  228. #228 Robert H
    May 10, 2010

    Hun@226

    I’m frustrated by the West’s hypocrisy as well. In the end I believe that hypocrisy does more to endanger our culture’s own survival than any threats brought forth by the blind and ignorant bigots of the hell holes of Somalia and Afghanistan. Attending to their contempt for life, as we rightly ought, increases the responsibility that we militate against our own. Umbrage pales with the intensity of the light brought to bear; for whatever it is worth please consider mine dissipated.

  229. #229 Fred The Hun
    May 10, 2010

    Umbrage pales with the intensity of the light brought to bear; for whatever it is worth please consider mine dissipated.

    Done!

  230. #230 Fred The Hun
    May 10, 2010

    Apologies, that was supposed to have been blockquoted…

    Umbrage pales with the intensity of the light brought to bear; for whatever it is worth please consider mine dissipated.

    Done!

  231. #231 chaseacross
    May 10, 2010

    @dariamis

    Philosophy of mind is essential to the point I’m trying to make, which is built on determinist and historicist ethics. It isn’t a “Courtier’s Reply” to suggest further relevant reading that might challenge your own assumptions, especially since you don’t seem able to address philosophy of mind arguments in that particular language. Given that you claimed to be invested in challenge your own assumptions, I guess I was just being naive in taking the statement at face value.

    Further, your schema is too narrow to properly address my point, which is that there is simply no need to rely on metaphysics when making a case against outrages like the one under discussion.

    My suggestion is already spelled out earlier in the thread: that when combating the abuses of cultures which carry on repugnant practices, there is no need to find any justification in a power outside ourselves. The desire by Harris to find such a fixed star, some kind of objective standard, will lead exactly nowhere. The world is here to make what we will of it. Instead of looking for justification by referring to any kind of objective system, a power greater than ourselves (God, Reason, etc.), we should instead seek to become comfortable with acting in a state of uncertainty. I suggest that we ought always to be seeking more sophisticated vocabularies and a more just society- a society less likely to engage in cruelty. I acknowledge the contingency of the latter suggestion, but I fight for it nonetheless. It is consistent with the “data” availible to me: my life experience, acquired knowledge, etc. What more impetus to action can one find?

  232. #232 Imback
    May 10, 2010

    Harris posted here today, taking on both Carroll and Myers.

  233. #233 vinniehew
    May 10, 2010

    Comment 177:

    No one needs teaching that the majority in a given locality is often wrong (as it was in this case). I was perhaps being ambiguous when I used the word “majority.” What I was specifically referring to is the human community as a whole, in this particular age.

    Oh, I knew full well that you were referring to the human community as a whole. My point still stands: sometimes the majority is wrong. For most of human history, the overwhelming majority of humankind believed that homosexuality was a moral abomination. They were wrong. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of humankind STILL believes this. If this be the case, then humankind is still wrong. On the day when the majority of humans believe that homosexuality is permissible, homosexuality will not suddenly ‘stop’ being immoral. It has never been immoral. I can say this because I recognize that morality is a matter of objective facts.

  234. #234 https://me.yahoo.com/a/tL1MkU0ghY0gNMrxrvSjJFsEYJYQ0ZIPjQ--#5f870
    May 10, 2010

    PZ…you’re thinking with a mind which still hasn’t freed itself from the lies of xian cultural conditioned reflexes. Absolutist morals are immoral through and through. We few atheists will rid the West of all vestiges of the disgusting framework of thought called xianity.

    Go around the near-eastern monster theisms, back to Greek skepticism.

    Science is not a collection of facts or theories — it is a methodological engine for gaining, organizing, and inferring true insights into nature.

    Science as a set of institutions recognizes and practices as virtues forms of behavior totally alien to near-eastern religions. (The big-3 monster theisms: judaism, xianity, and islam.) Fraud in science eventually gets caught — and its practitioners ostracized. Science is a self-adjusting mechanism driven by truth — it contains an ethic totally alien to the religious mind.

    Even if the lie lasts as long as Piltdown, liars, cheats, fakers cannot hide. Yet a scientific culture collapses when fraud, and lies and ideology are forced upon it. German speaking science died of Nazism. Russian biological science died of Stalinism. American biological science is sickened, weakened by Fundamentalism.

    Reciprocity is at the heart of scientific practice. Scientific knowledge is shared knowledge. Shared knowledge implies reciprocal regard among those who create it. In this science follows Master Kung (Confucius):

    15:23 Tsze-kung asked, saying, ?Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one?s life?? The Master said, ?Is not ?reciprocity? such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.? [The Analects. trans. S.R. McIntyre 2003]

    A God which would permit one child to die at the hands of its priests is an immoral monster which sanctions immoral monsters.

    Science is a cultural artifact ? one which arose in history out of non-science. Herodotus and Thucydides created between them an early form of empirical history ? by not being credulous, but skeptical of all sacred stories, aiming at creating a true history without bias, for all to read and to evaluate for themselves. Never hiding explanatory difficulties with pious assertions from holy texts ? ?such was the will of the gods.? They accepted uncertainty as one price paid for finding and verifying truths about the world. The first secular self-reflexive thoughts are Greek ? in history and skeptical philosophy.*

    Is it any wonder that a liar and charlatan, like Paul of Tarsus ? who invented ?Christ? and the xian cult and who was the very first xian ? hated Greek and Roman intellectuals? And for more than 1,000 years xianity triumphed over every form of honesty in thought and in morals. Today that hatred lies at the core of every fundie ? the millions of ignorati in the US. Or, that part which I call ?Ameristan.?

    And, whom do they hate above all? Why people just like you. Because, their ?God? is dead. And they must blame someone for their failed faith which can never be admitted to have failed. And their introjected dishonesty finds you the perfect target for projection. You are a proxy for Mr. Charles Darwin.

    Darwin?s master conceptual engine, natural selection, forever abolished from biological explanation the ?teleological cause? of Aristotle and the “ideal forms” of Plato. Purpose and Design are dead.

    As a youthful Darwin tartly remarked in a post-Beagle Notebook: ?Plato says . . . that our ‘necessary ideas’ arise from the preexistence of the soul, [and] are not derivable from experience ? read monkeys for preexistence.? [M Notebook (entry 128)]

    the anti_supernaturalist

    * Not to know these authors is not to understand the foundations of empirical thought.

    Herodotus demonstrated of how impersonal forces and imperial ideologies and human arrogance, folly and madness came over a period of many decades to a sharp focus in Greece between 490-480 BCE. When ideals which would become Western got defended against the massive Empire of the East, Persia. And Thucydides brought Herodotus up to date. How Athens showed cultural greatness, but became in turn an oppressive empire, and destroyed itself in 20 years of war, Greek against Greek.

  235. #235 vinniehew
    May 10, 2010

    Comment 234:

    Absolutist morals are immoral through and through.

    Define ‘absolutist’. If absolutist means “If an action is wrong in one context, then it is wrong is all contexts”, then absolutist morality is clearly wrong. Sam Harris himself has said this, using lying as an example. Clearly, there are contexts where it is wrong to lie, and there are other contexts where it is good to lie.

    But if absolutist means “There are objective facts about right and wrong actions”, then I don’t see the problem. Surely there should be no question, for example, that cruelty is objectively wrong.