Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Dawkins-Lennox debate

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the 2007 debate, not the 2008.

legodesi said...

Is the new one up?

Anonymous said...

This was new to me. I thought Lenox kind of dropped the ball on Dawkins challenge that atheism provides no motivation to do evil. I would think that the lack of consequences could provide a motivation to do evil. Also I believe that humanism provides a natural temptation to hubris, particularly Dawkins' version. There's more than one way, after all, to rebel against one's genes. You can rebel against them the way Alyosha did in the Brother's Karamazov or you can rebel against them in the way Raskalnikov did in Crime and Punishment. You can try to be better than your genetic programming or you can try to be considerably worse. You can think yourself so great that you can do better than the morally obligatory, or you can think yourself so great you can ignore the morally obligatory. And our natural inclination towards selfishness, combined with the knowledge that there are no eternal consequences for our actions, provides one with considerable motivation to live below our genes, and no motivation whatsoever to live above them.

That's arguably another mark against Dawkins' construal of atheistic morality: it may not give you a motivation to do evil, but it also doesn't give you any motivation to do good, particularly the supererogatory goods that religiously motivated people often do.

Gordon Knight said...

I don't think Dawkin's case for atheism is persuasive, but the argument from morality for theism is also quite weak.

It is realy a false dillema. There are good objective theories of morality that have nothing to do with God-Platonic theories are my favorite, but there is also the Kantian line, and various (to me miguided) naturalistic yet objective theories.

The British Intuitionists (Moore, Ross, Prichard) do not get nearly as much attention as they deserve.

As for consequences, how is it good for a person to do the right thing out of fear of punishment-necessary yes, but not admirable.

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with the argument from morality. It has to do with Dawkins' claim that the great evils that religious people have committed have been caused by their religion, while the great evils that atheists have committed were not caused by their atheism.

Dawkins claims that evil follows logically from some of the claims of theism, but doesn't follow from atheism, because atheism provides no motivation to do evil.

Contrary to Dawkins, I am saying that the lack of eternal consequences is both a positive motivation to fulfill one's selfish desires and a negative motivation against performing supererogatory goods.

Eric said...

"I thought Lenox kind of dropped the ball on Dawkins challenge that atheism provides no motivation to do evil. I would think that the lack of consequences could provide a motivation to do evil. Also I believe that humanism provides a natural temptation to hubris..."

Also, I think Dawkins errs in seeing atheism in a vacuum, as it were. Most atheists are atheists for reasons, and these reasons can indeed motivate one to do violence.

For example, is it unreasonable to argue along these lines: John is an atheist because he believes that religious belief is irrational, and that irrational beliefs are dangerous. Not only that, irrational beliefs are increasingly dangerous as our technological capabilities increase. Therefore, we should try to eradicate religious beliefs.

Once you're at this point -- a point many atheists have already reached -- it's not the case that there's no obvious road from atheism to violence. Granted, it's not a logically necessary road, but it's also not a logically inconsistent road. Also, while most atheists undoubtedly would deplore the use of violence in such a case, that's not because of their atheism, but because of other values they hold.

Note, I'm *not* arguing that atheism leads to violence; rather, I'm arguing that it's not the case, as Dawkins avers, that there's no logical road from atheism to violence because atheism isn't a free floating conclusion, but is generally supported by any number of ideas about the world and about human beings.

Anonymous said...

Word.

Anonymous said...

Gordon wrote: "There are good objective theories of morality that have nothing to do with God-Platonic theories..."

Gordon, I've heard this before but have yet to hear a convincing formulation of an argument. DO you have one?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Eric: the same argument could be made about the road from Christianity to violence. The Crusades come to mind as an actual case. I don't know many atheists that want to eradicate religion using anything but argument. Perhaps Stalinism? Though that wasn't specifically about atheism as much as the general (corrupted) Marxist ideology.

Gordon Knight said...

Anonymous 1, sorry to have misread your post.

Anonymous 2 (or are you the same person)?
--
I think the most plausible variety of objectivism is the sort advocated by Moore in the early 20th century. Its not exactly an argument, more a phenomenological appeal (the "open question" argument is best understood as a phenomenological appeal). some states of affairs are presented to us as good or bad--the world is much more rich than imagined in Humean schemas. When I see a vicious act such as murder, the viciousness (badness) of the act is present to me. Its not that I just feel approbation and then judget it bad, i feel the approbation because it is bad.. the cognition is what grounds the emotive response

All of this is controversial of course, and some people following Mackie might suppose the existence of objective moral properties is too "queer" the best response to this is that mathematical properties,for example, are no less strange.

Recent defenses of these views can be found in Butchvarov's _Skepticims in Ethics_ and a recent book by Audi whoose title now escapes me.

Gordon Knight said...

one more point: it seems traditional theism is committed the objectivism in ehtics. God is good. and if goodness is not to understood as arbitrary, it must be the case that God instantiates an actual, objective, moral property (indeed, instantiate it to the highest degree)

Anonymous said...

"Though that wasn't specifically about atheism as much as the general (corrupted) Marxist ideology."

If you're going to play that game, then we can say that the Crusades weren't caused by Christianity, but by the greed of medieval Popes. If Stalin wasn't guided by atheism, though atheism was a key part of his stated ideology and motivation, then the Crusaders were not guided by Christianity. You can't have it both ways.

Eric said...

"Eric: the same argument could be made about the road from Christianity to violence."

Blue Devil Knight, indeed. I think, however, that there is an important difference: the road from Christianity to violence directly contradicts key Christian principles, while the same is not the case with atheism for the reason that there are no de jure 'atheist principles' (though today, among most atheists, there are, arguably, de facto principles). In other words, Christianity has resources that contradict violence in its name, while atheism, as minimally a lack of belief, does not and cannot.

"I don't know many atheists that want to eradicate religion using anything but argument."

Nor do I. But that in no way contradicts my point, viz. that it's not the case, as Dawkins has frequently claimed, that there is no logical route from atheism to violence.

Jj Tirado said...

I have read some of the comments here and I am amazed at so much ignorance about the so called "new atheism". I am an atheist and harbor nor hate nor hate to anyone, nor disdain for morals. I teach ethics. How on earth can somebody believe that atheism provides any motivation to do evil? Lack of consequences? That is just absurd. The only way in which this statement could be understood is by a retrograde move to the Middle Ages mentality that made God = everything that is good. Atheism is just the lack of belief in any god. It has nothing to do with nihilism or lack of morality. Actually religion and ethics have been different things for millenia before Jesus of Nazareth. My jaw drops with disbelief when I read arguments about God been the origin of all ethics or moral laws. Just in case you read Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, bear in mind that he had absolutely no clue whatsoever about atheism or morality besides what the russian nihilist movement or the Ortodox Church said at the time, which was pathetic in both instances. So please, stop equating atheism and nihilism or any other ism that does not have an átheos derivative at the begining of the word.

Jj Tirado said...

Actually Crusaders had different motivations to go to war. Some of them were religious, others absolutely not. In the case of Stalin it is quite clear that his atheism had nothing to do with anything in his life except making him accept more readily the marxist credo (actually more like a useful catechism). Every historian knows about Stalin's absolute lust for power and total disregard for the wellbeing of others. So he was not even a true marxist (I mean, he did not even belief in Humanity) but more like a sociopath. Some crusaders were killing people because they thought it was God's will. Stalin killed people simply because he had absolutely no empathy for anyone, i.e., he was a psycho in the real sense of the word. As far as I know, believing in God does not cure psychosis. Ergo, his atheism was of no consequence in his actions. While at least for some crusaders, their belief in god was.