Thursday, November 03, 2011

Why Atheists Care about Defending Atheism

Bob: A lot of academic atheists, when I was involved with secular philosophy departments, took relatively little interest in their position. They were dismissive of religious belief, but they sometimes complained about having to cover the problem of God in classes. 

But some atheists blame religious belief for 9/11, and they think President Bush's unfortunate response to it (in particular, invading a country in no way responsible for the attacks), was the work of a "praying President" who wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve, and so they see the conflict over terrorism essentially the effect of the damaging effects of religion on the minds of its followers. They also see the rearguard action of religious believers against biological evolution as of a piece with the failure to accept the scientific consensus in the area of global warming, and these are also intellectual tendencies that are damaging to our society. Joe Sheffer once told me that all evolutionary biologists receive a lot of hate mail from Christian fundamentalists. Whether we go forward in civilization, or backwards, according to people like Dawkins, depends on whether we are willing to chuck our antiquated religious beliefs and embrace science as the measure of all things. So I can see why some atheists care about sharing the Four Atheist Laws with believers.

63 comments:

kbrowne said...

What are the Four Atheist Laws? I have never heard of them.

One very good reason for atheists to proselytize is that religion causes an enormous amount of suffering. That has always been true and did not start with 9/11. Even if you do not believe in any ultimate meaning to life you do not stop caring when people suffer.

Religion makes people keep rules that cause them great unhappiness because they believe God wants them to. It makes people inflict injustice on others because God wants that. It makes people, even those who have given up most religious belief, suffer from the fear of Hell, either for themselves or for those they love.

I do not believe in any ultimate meaning of life but I would not hesitate to try to convince a religious person that religion is a lie if it was making them unhappy. Indeed, I have often tried to do so, not with much success.

I know that some people find a great deal of comfort in religion and I would not try to persuade them to give it up. But I suppose that many atheists think that the suffering caused by religion is greater than the comfort it gives and, on balance, we would all be better off if religion disappeared.

B. Prokop said...

Kbrowne:

Given that for untold billions of people throughout history religion has been a great happiness, a motivator for good behavior, and a spur to charity (in addition to being the intellectual source behind the Scientific Method), I would wager you are dead wrong about suffering outweighing the good that religion has given the world. It is quite the other way around.

We have many secular states in the world today (and that is a Very Good Thing), but they must never be confused with atheist societies. Fortunately for the world, such have been few and far between, because to date they have been uniformly awful. Revolutionary France under the Terror (think guillotine), Stalinist Russia, Albania under Hoxha, North Korea, Auschwitz, all are examples of what awaits humanity were atheism to flourish beyond the level of (fortunately) isolated individuals. God save us from the disappearance of religion!

Victor Reppert said...

The Four Atheists Laws is just a takeoff on Campus Crusade for Christ's Four Spiritual Laws.

kbrowne said...

Thanks Victor. I had never heard of the Four Spiritual Laws either.
There are so many things to learn.

kbrowne said...

B.Prokop

I did not say that suffering outweighed the good that religion has given the world.

I said that many atheists think that the suffering caused by religion is greater than the comfort it gives and that that is one of the reasons why they proselytize for atheism.

I don't myself think the question can be answered one way or the other.

I will say that where I live atheism is not restricted to isolated individuals. I suspect that most of the people I know do not believe in God or an afterlife or an ultimate purpose of existence. A lot of the Catholics I know will, if pressed, admit that they do not really believe much of it. Some will admit it even without being pressed. All that unbelief has not turned everyone into a monster though.

B. Prokop said...

Kbrowne,

My turn to correct you on something I didn't write. I didn't say that atheism turned individuals into monsters. I did say that it turned societies into them (and I stand by that statement). In fact, I will quote myself from the thread below this one: "Atheism is no impediment to being a decent, loving person."

Challenge to anyone out there reading this: Name me one atheist (not secular) state in all history that hasn't been an absolute Hell on Earth.

(sound of crickets chirping)

Emanuel Goldstein said...

The Four Atheist Laws;

1. Everything came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing.

2. Atheists believe in one less God than you do.

3. Atheists are Brighter than you.

4. There is no Absolute Morality.

kbrowne said...

B.Prokop

What you said was: "Revolutionary France under the Terror (think guillotine), Stalinist Russia, Albania under Hoxha, North Korea, Auschwitz, all are examples of what awaits humanity were atheism to flourish beyond the level of (fortunately) isolated individuals."

My point is that where I live atheism has flourished beyond the level of isolated individuals and the community I live in is not a community of monsters.

By the way, Russia, Albania, North Korea and perhaps Revolutionary France were officially atheist and ruled by atheists but what evidence do you have that Auschwitz was run by atheists?

B. Prokop said...

I include Auschwitz on the basis of survivor testimonies. I often quote Primo Levi's account, Survival in Auschwitz, mainly because of its literary brilliance. His account of a guard's gratuitous cruelty to him at one point, causing Mr. Levi to ask in despair "Why", only to be answered "Here there is no why" (arguably the most frightening statement in all human history) will forever and ever stand as the damning nail-in-the-coffin for all philosophies that reject Objective Meaning to existence. Atheism (Not individual atheists. Most atheists are better than their beliefs.) loudly trumpets the idea that there is no purpose or meaning to our lives, and is thus the very soul and spirit of Auschwitz.

(But even without Auschwitz, the remainder of the list is not exactly company I would want to keep.)

B. Prokop said...

Kbrowne,

You've twice referred to "where I live" in your postings, but haven't revealed where that is. To do so is pointless, because we have no way of determining whether your observations about your place of residence are in any way accurate or objective. Just where is this hotbed of atheism?

I'll go first. I live in Maryland.

kbrowne said...

One unexplained comment by a single guard is hardly good evidence of anything.

I am disturbed by your challenge; it is not all that easy to explain why. Secular states are not necessarily, or even usually, bad for the religious and I know that many religious people support secularism. I also know that not all those who fought against Christianity and the power of the Catholic Church in particular were atheists. Nevertheless, I see secularism as the triumph of a slow rebellion brought about by people who were able to see that it was possible to live without being ruled by religion. When you ask for an example of a good atheist state but refuse to consider secular states it sounds to me like asking for something good that has come from unbelief while refusing to consider the finest achievement of that unbelief.

In 1766 in France the Chevalier de la Barre, who was nineteen years old, was tortured and killed for refusing to show sufficient respect for the Catholic religion. I don’t think there is any western state where that sort of thing could happen now and it is, in large part, thanks to those who hated the Church that that can be said. ‘Ecrasez l’infame’ as Voltaire said. He was not an atheist but I think all western atheists would see him as part of that movement of unbelief that has to a large extent and to everyone’s benefit crushed the power of Christianity in Europe.

The town I live in is not a hotbed of atheism. Most of the atheists I know take their unbelief for granted and are in no way fanatics. And, of course, there are religious people here. A lot of them seem to believe little more than the atheists though.

I am not sure why it matters where I live. After all, I can only give my own impression; I don't have, and would never claim to have, any figures to back it up. Still, since you ask, I live in Cambridge, England.

I used to know Maryland well. I went to college there.

Ilíon said...

kbrowne: "My point is that where I live atheism has flourished beyond the level of isolated individuals and the community I live in is not a community of monsters."

What? There are no abortions where you live, openly performed; celebrated, even? There is no pornography where you live, unashamedly displayed in front of God and all the angels, and everyone's children? Murderers aren't given slaps on the wrist -- assuming the State even tries to apprehend them -- while, at the same time, the State turns its vast resources to hunting down someone who simply leaves bacon at the front doors of mosques?

Apathy in the face of immorality and injustice is also a form of moral monsterhood.

Ilíon said...

How amusing, my prior post was weighted toward GB, even before seeing kbrowne's statement that he lives in GB.

Dewd! Just because we're Americans doesn't mean we're idiots: we see/read what's going on in the Dead Isle.

B. Prokop said...

Kbrowne,

I love Cambridge. Spent many a fine day there, perusing the bookshops, walking along the canals, and taking in the beautiful colleges. I lived in Cheltenham for three years, and managed to visit every county in England and Scotland and all but two in Wales during that time. You are most certainly right - Cambridge is no hotbed of atheism. Christianity is very much alive and well there.

As to the glories of the secular state, did you not read where I said "We have many secular states in the world today (and that is a Very Good Thing)"? I am a huge fan of secularism in public life, and I absolutely agree with you that it is most healthy for religion to swim in a secularist sea.

But that is a far, far cry from atheism. Secularism is neutrality - an even playing field (or "a fair pitch" in the Old Country). But an atheist state or society is most definitely not neutral - it is hostile to religion.

But as to the "unexplained comment by a single guard" being evidence of anything, well... I was never presenting it as evidence. I was using it as an illustration of a desperately important reality. (This blog is no place to call up in detail the proceedings of the Nuremberg Trials as "evidence".) Once we as a society lose the ability to answer the question "Why?" in a meaningful fashion, then, in Dostoevsky's memorable phrase "everything is permitted". The Death Camp remains the archetype of the end result of such a state of affairs. Elsewhere in Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi makes the almost equally frightening observation, "Here in the camp there are neither criminals nor madmen. There are no criminals, because there is no moral law to contravene, and there are no madmen because we are wholly devoid of free will." I cannot come up with a better description of a Godless universe without Purpose or Meaning, and I can find neither in the absence of a Loving Creator God.

Your history of the growth and development of human liberty is fatally skewed. I think you'll find orthodox Christians right there in the forefront of the effort to expand freedom and human dignity in every age. Why, the very idea of "Human rights" is inextricably entangled with the doctrine of the Incarnation, and probably would not even exist (at least not in our current understanding) without it.

Anonymous said...

LORD, thou hast been a refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world was made, thou art God from everlasting to everlasting.

Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, "Turn back, O children of men!" For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For all our days pass away, our years come to an end like a sigh.

The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Ilíon said...

Prokop: "... But that is a far, far cry from atheism. Secularism is neutrality - an even playing field (or "a fair pitch" in the Old Country). But an atheist state or society is most definitely not neutral - it is hostile to religion. ..."

You're confusing a non-sectarian state for a secular state.

All secular states are hostile to "religion" -- for "religion" supplies a focus for belonging/community that is beyond the state; the mere existence of "religion" frustrates the vanity of the secular state that it has ascebded to sit on God's throne -- they merely don't take it so far as atheist states do, to murderous hostility toward the "religionists".

TruthOverfaith said...

And then Jesus said,"I wish all of my brainwashed plebs would forget the Atheists for a while. It's those goddamned Mormons that really piss me off!!
The very idea that I would waste my time trotting around Missouri or appearing before a convicted fraud like that idiot Joseph Smith is just plain ridiculous and embarrassing!! "

"Praise me, praise me, praise my holy name. The rest is total donkey shit. Amen"

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Atheists say they don't believe in Hell.

That's why they create it right here on earth whenever they get polical control of a society.

Ilíon said...

That's a good point, EG.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why reawe can't agree that figuring out reality is hard work. This atheism/theism debate assumes a sort of certainty that finite morals just don't have

Anonymous said...

TOF the troll has appeared again with his usual infantile nonsense, Dr. Reppert.

kbrowne said...

B.Prokop

I know that you approve of secularism. Let me try again to explain why I think your comments about atheism are wrong.

You offer countries like Stalinist Russia and North Korea as ‘examples of what awaits humanity were atheism to flourish beyond the level of (fortunately) isolated individuals.’ Well, maybe atheism did play a part (I am not sure how large a part) in the atrocities of those regimes. But it is obvious that it also played a very large part in the formation of secular states. Secularism is not in any sense a natural development of Christianity. If it were not for the steady increase in unbelief there would be no secular states.

In the west atheists and other opponents of Christianity have achieved secularism and more secularism is all you have to ‘fear’ from the increase in atheism and the decline in Christianity. The modern atheist movement is not trying to set up regimes like those of Soviet Russia or North Korea. They simply want all states to be secular and the power of the Church to decrease. Since you approve of secularism you have nothing to worry about.

I expect you will not agree with me but I will leave it at that.

B. Prokop said...

You are right that I "won't agree with you", but it's not just a matter of opinion here. you can't get away with making up your own facts, and then using the dodge, "Well, I have my opinion, and you have yours". Not gonna happen!

The rise of the modern secular (or to use Ilion's preferred term, "non-sectarian") state had nothing to do with "unbelief" - nothing whatsoever. It had everything to do with Colonial America and the presence of many form of belief in the infant USA. The American founders wanted nothing to do with a state religion, and made sure it wouldn't happen by putting guarantees against one in our constitution. And the people who accomplished this amazing feat were Anglicans, Puritans, Quakers, Deists, Free Range Protestants, and Catholics, etc.

And the system has worked amazingly well. The flourishing of religious expression in the United States today is directly attributable to the absence of state coercion. Long live the level playing field! Truth will (eventually) win out in the Free Marketplace of Ideas. (Or at the very least, it will survive.) An atheist state would be no different than a theocracy - it would just be another form of coercion.

Is the US system perfect? Hell, no! but it beats every other system out there. (And I've lived in 4 different countries, and spent time in more others than I can count, on 4 different continents.)

kbrowne said...

I have not made up anything. Please do not accuse me of lying.

Nor have I ever said: "Well, I have my opinion, and you have yours".

America is not the only secular state or state that functions as secular and I was not thinking of America in particular. It may be that the contribution by atheists and other nonbelievers is more obvious in the history of other countries. In any case, I have admitted that not all the supporters of secularism were atheists or non-Christians.

However, even in America, I am sure you know of the anti-Christian sentiments of some of the founding fathers. There is also the probability that many of those who called themselves deists in those days were secretly atheist. At any rate, I do not see, even in America, that secularism developed naturally from Christianity. Of course, some Christians may have been in favour of secularism in order to escape persecution from other Christians. Perhaps that is what you are thinking of.

This is my final post on the subject and my final post to you. I have noticed before that however hard one tries to keep the conversation polite religious people always bring on the insults before long.

B. Prokop said...

Who said you were lying? I certainly didn't! I am truly sorry if you felt you were being insulted. That was certainly not my intent, although perhaps my words were not the best choice. "Making up your own facts" is a far, far cry from lying or even dishonesty. It is unfortunately something we all do far too often, usually with the best of intentions. I do it myself. My parents, family, casual acquaintances, even my best friends do it. Don't kid yourself into thinking you are somehow immune to the practice. Everybody does it.

So we have to be on guard against doing so at every moment. Which is one good reason to engage in the give and take such as occurs on "Dangerous Idea". You come across differing perspectives, and might even change your mind about some things you thought you were certain about. But no one (except maybe Ilion) is out to insult anyone else. I know I've had my mind changed by stuff hurled at me on this website.

Hell, Papalinton once called me a "coward". We sparred about it for a bit, and are now the best of (internet) friends. (Even if he is wrong, wrong, wrong about everything!)

Anonymous said...

"But no one (except maybe Ilion) is out to insult anyone else."

Talk about a self-refuting statement.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

Once we as a society lose the ability to answer the question "Why?" in a meaningful fashion, then, in Dostoevsky's memorable phrase "everything is permitted"... I cannot come up with a better description of a Godless universe without Purpose or Meaning, and I can find neither in the absence of a Loving Creator God.

I find that Christian apologists are persistently confused about the nature of moral choice.

There are several aspects to this confusion. The confusions roughly correspond to the following statements:

1) I ought do what is absolutely good, no matter what actions constitute that absolute good.

2) I ought do what is absolutely good, no matter what feelings I may have about committing those acts.

3) When person X convinces person Y to act towards the absolute good, he does so by establishing his moral authority.

These propositions are neither empirically true nor philosophically sound.

Suppose it could be shown that an as-yet-untranslated text contains the commandments of the absolute good. (I can't imagine it actually being possible to show this, but let's imagine it could be.) You and I can hold this scroll in our hands, and admire it before was pass it to the translators to reveal the commandments. As the text is being translated, we talk about how wonderful it will be to finally know with clarity what good and evil are. We know that, if we follow the commandments, we will be good, and if we refuse to follow them, we will be evil.

Two weeks later, the translation is finished. To our horror, commandment #1 says we should take every 5th child and torture it to death.

Now, I put it to you, that we would both rather be absolutely evil than absolutely good. Being absolutely evil is subjectively a better fate than being a torturer.

In other words, absolute morality is irrelevant to persuasion.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

continued...

You could argue that, being created in the image of God, we statistically just happen to love/hate the same people/things as God. But what about the people who do not love/hate the same thing as God?

Assuming they even trust in the same revelation as you, they might well find themselves in the same position we found ourselves in in my thought experiment. In other words, absolute morality is not persuasive to them. No one wants to be absolutely good for the sake of being absolutely good. They only want to be absolutely good for the sake of being subjectively good.

Indeed, look at your argument above. You subjectively don't like the concentration camps. You are using this subjective disgust as an argument for an absolute evil that matches up with your subjective morality.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

Another counterargument you could make is to say that, if the fiction of absolute morality confuses so many people, then it might be a useful fiction.

There must be a few people for whom this would be the case. However, when people do not agree with the interpretations of their church, they find plenty of escape routes. Some people sin in the eyes of their church. Some people leave their church and find a church that aligns with their ideals.

I think the bottom line is that we do what feels subjectively good to us. We can be conditioned or pressured into acting in ways we would normally find distasteful, e.g., the Milgram or Stanford prison experiments. If anything, the Holocaust shows that we can run astray when we prize abstract absolute goods (e.g., the alleged betterment of future generations that would live in a world free of racial contamination). It's also likely that the Auschwitz guards were living the Milgram and prison experiments, i.e., they were operating in unusual conditions. Indeed, the Stanford prison experiment is generally interpreted to say that many otherwise harmless people have the capacity to be cruel guards when placed into a particular context.

Biasing people to be nice would seem far more effective than pretending that there's an absolute morality.

B. Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

Huh? Sorry, I've read your posts three times in a row, and can make neither head nor tail of them. I cannot follow your argument at all.

Don McIntosh said...

How about the Four Naturalist Laws?

1. Nature has created you and has a wonderful plan for you.

2. You have rebelled against nature by believing in God.

3. Metaphysical Naturalism is the only answer for your religious condition.

4. You must receive the truth of Metaphysical Naturalism by inference, trusting in the scientific results achieved through his son, Methodological Naturalism. ;-)

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

No one cares about absolute morality. They only care about subjective morality.

If absolute morality was really important by itself, you would have provided reasons independent of our subjective feelings for why that is the case. Instead, you suggested that we should want absolute morality because it (allegedly) yields subjective moral advantages (to wit, an absence of Holocausts). But if I subjectively dislike Holocausts, why would I want to induce one?

In other words, if absolute morality doesn't exist, I'll still maintain my same prohibitions, albeit subjective ones.

My argument shows that, in the event that absolute morality could be shown to exist, I would only care about it to the extent that it satisfied my subjective moral tastes. No one wants to be absolutely good for the sake of being absolutely good. Absolute goodness is an abstract concept, like living at an absolute place in space. We don't care about our absolute position in space. Rather, we care about the view from our living room window.

Absolute morality is just a rationalization for personal tastes. At a practical level, what matters is the other guy's personal tastes, not his belief that his tastes are coincidentally aligned with some absolute morality.

Anonymous said...

No one wants to be absolutely good for the sake of being absolutely good.

No one? An absolute statement. Hmmm.

Absurdity: an avowed subjectivist making absolute statements. As illogical as an absolutist saying they are not subjective about applying their absolutes :)

We need both absolutes and the subjective use of them to live our lives, despite our blinders.

B. Prokop said...

Sorry, Dr. Logic, but I ain't buyin' it. (Thanks, by the way, for the re-write.)

I am a huge believer in the validity of Truth from Revelation, and one of the turning points in Human History was the prophet Isaiah's vision of YHWH enthroned in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Vidi Dominum sedentem super solium excelsum et elevatum; et ea quae sub eo erant implebant templum. Seraphin stabant super illud. Sex alae uni, et sex alae alteri. Duabus velabant faciem eius, et duabus velabant pedes eius, et duabus volabant. Et clamabant alter ad alterum et dicebant "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus exercituum. Plena est omnis terra gloria eius".

Key point: The Lord is Holy. Absolute, objective good and evil exist; human understanding of then is irrelevant.

Now I know perfectly well I am haven't made an argument here. I'm not trying to. I'm just showing you where I'm coming from. It works for me. I don't expect it to necessarily work for you.

Karl Grant said...

Docotor Logic,

No one cares about absolute morality. They only care about subjective morality.

Considering how a great many books by a great many minds have been written about absolute morality over the centuries, the ongoing debates about absolute morality, etc.... I would say a good many people do care about the subject (a quick trip to the local library or university should tell you that).

But if I subjectively dislike Holocausts, why would I want to induce one?

And if I like the idea of a Holocaust getting rid of people I find repulsive (like annoying atheists), why shouldn't I induce one? If I am the leader of a country, or a warlord with my own private army, why shouldn't I engage in a little genocide for fun and profit? After all, I find nothing wrong with the entire concept. (Note, these a theoretical questions and not indicative of my true beliefs)

I'll still maintain my same prohibitions, albeit subjective ones.

That's nice, good for you! And the Hitlers and Stalins of this world will also maintain their same prohibitions, albeit subjective ones. The only difference is you have lost any effective platform to condemn them for their actions.

No one wants to be absolutely good for the sake of being absolutely good.

No one drives the speed limit for the sake of being a good driver. It's that little blue light that makes them drive the speed limit. Likewise, if there is an enforcer of the standard for absolute good, Like say God....I think you understand where I am going with this.

rationalization for personal tastes. At a practical level, what matters is the other guy's personal tastes, not his belief that his tastes are coincidentally aligned with some absolute morality.

Really, and what is subjective morality? It is a blank check to tell anyone you disagree with that you don't give a damn about their standards of right and wrong, the only thing that matters is your opinion. It is a very egotistical position to hold

Anonymous said...

There is no absolute morality.

I am absolutely sure of that.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

And if I like the idea of a Holocaust getting rid of people I find repulsive (like annoying atheists), why shouldn't I induce one?

The only reason you wouldn't is if the threat of your opponent's retribution was compelling. Otherwise, if you liked the means and the ends, you would be rational to commit the act.

And the Hitlers and Stalins of this world will also maintain their same prohibitions, albeit subjective ones. The only difference is you have lost any effective platform to condemn them for their actions.

We both have equal platform, namely, the threat of our retribution. Christian conviction didn't stop Hitler. Sherman tanks did.

No one drives the speed limit for the sake of being a good driver. It's that little blue light that makes them drive the speed limit.

Why is there a little blue light?

Likewise, if there is an enforcer of the standard for absolute good, Like say God....I think you understand where I am going with this.

Ah. So might *does* make right?

If the mighty Michtlantecuhtli wants you to torture people or burn in hell, then you would prefer to be cruel and good in the eyes of Michtlantecuhtli than kind and evil in the eyes of humanity?

Collaboration with the powerful = the good?

Really, and what is subjective morality? It is a blank check to tell anyone you disagree with that you don't give a damn about their standards of right and wrong, the only thing that matters is your opinion. It is a very egotistical position to hold

But, in fact, no one gives a damn about other people's standards of right or wrong except inasmuch as it 1) makes a material difference or 2) coincides with my own standards. That goes for everybody, including you. You don't care about my standards of right and wrong per se. All you care about are your own standards.

Doctor Logic said...

Sorry, Bob & Karl, that last comment should have been addressed to Karl.

Karl Grant said...

Doctor Logic,

The only reason you wouldn't is if the threat of your opponent's retribution was compelling.

And if I don't fear or don't care about my opponent's retribution I am free to commit mass murder and it would be moral? Thanks for that insight.(No wonder a large number of mass murderers were atheists).

We both have equal platform, namely, the threat of our retribution. Christian conviction didn't stop Hitler. Sherman tanks did.

Threat of retribution is most definitely not an equal platform and is very dependent on levels of power. The Jews didn't have a way to stop the SS or the Whermacht(nor did those Sherman tanks actually prevent the Holocaust or stop the purges in Russia and China but I digress). If I am head of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, do you think I give a shit about the threat of retribution from the Tibetan people or the protesters in Tienanmen Square? Or that I fear condemnation from the US given the disparity in terms of manpower and firepower?

Why is there a little blue light?

Allow me to answer that question by posing another, what's usually mounted atop a police car?

Ah. So might *does* make right?

Why not? Your very first sentence proved that you believe in that concept: The only reason you wouldn't is if the threat of your opponent's retribution was compelling. Is saying that if I am more powerful than my opponents I can do whatever I want not another way of saying might makes right?

Collaboration with the powerful = the good?

Well, that logically flows from everything you said. In fact, your previous statements can be summed up as Everything is subjective and if you are powerful enough to handle or deter the retribution and are okay with the idea go for it.

You don't care about my standards of right and wrong per se.

You are right about this, I don't.

All you care about are your own standards.

Wrong. I care very much about the moral standards of my country and society at large. I also care a great deal about whither or not absolute moral standards do exist.

Doctor Logic said...

Karl,

And if I don't fear or don't care about my opponent's retribution I am free to commit mass murder and it would be moral? Thanks for that insight.(No wonder a large number of mass murderers were atheists).

It would be moral to you.

It would not be moral to me because I don't like that sort of thing.

Your retort at the end there really misses the mark.

1) There was a recent thread on this very blog in which Christians piled on to endorse genocide.

2) There have been plenty of moral realist mass murderers.

3) How we subjectively feel about murder ought to be irrelevant to your argument for moral realism. If what matters is moral reality, feelings are irrelevant.

4) You illustrate the point I made in my original comment. You think it is somehow persuasive to the mass murderer that you think there is a moral reality in which the mass murder is wrong. Empirically, this just isn't true. If a man feels in his heart that what he is doing is right, he's not going to be persuaded by elaborate moral theories or by interpretations of revelation that are inconsistent with what his heart is telling him.

Doctor Logic said...

Karl,

Threat of retribution is most definitely not an equal platform and is very dependent on levels of power. The Jews didn't have a way to stop the SS or the Whermacht(nor did those Sherman tanks actually prevent the Holocaust or stop the purges in Russia and China but I digress).

Correct. But this makes my point.

We can both agree that we wish that the SS hadn't done what they did. We can both say we feel in our hearts that the Holocaust was evil. But we have to acknowledge that strength was what determined the outcome of the conflict. We didn't argue the Nazis out of their policy.

Besides, I think the Nazis were moral realists. They rationalized that they were improving the lives of future generations by creating racial purity. They thought this was self-evident. They were probably rationalizing their national self-image, and their scapegoating of Jews, but critical thinking wasn't something they excelled in.

I'm saying that the world works as if moral realism is false. The world appears exactly the way it would if morality were subjective, and men followed their hearts.

William said...

quoting DLogic;

If what matters is moral reality, feelings are irrelevant.

--end quote

I appreciate your comments since they help us think about what we do. But maybe your feelings are more important that you think? How do you feel about that?

Consider the (absolute?) moral principle "other things being equal, we should do what we feel to be right."

If we consider this to be true, doesn't that mean feelings are potentially relevant to what is good?

Doctor Logic said...

Karl,

Allow me to answer that question by posing another, what's usually mounted atop a police car?

Hee hee! Yes, I know that. I meant why do we have police forces and speeding laws?

It must be because we prefer to have those things rather than not. If we follow our hearts, we make police forces. Also, if we follow our hearts while watching the TV news over dinner, our hearts say we should have speeding laws. While we're driving, we still think there should be speeding laws, whether to hold ourselves in check or to stop all those drivers who are driving faster than ourselves (those reckless people!).

Ah. So might *does* make right?

Why not? Your very first sentence proved that you believe in that concept: The only reason you wouldn't is if the threat of your opponent's retribution was compelling. Is saying that if I am more powerful than my opponents I can do whatever I want not another way of saying might makes right?


This is a weird strategy for you. Agreeing with what I'm saying.

People do what their hearts tell them to do. This isn't always to their material advantage. If my heart tells me to be cruel, and no one can stop me, then I'll be cruel. It really seems pretty simple.

On the other hand, if my heart says be kind, I'll be kind, especially if no one can stop me.

Doctor Logic said...

Karl,

Everything is subjective and if you are powerful enough to handle or deter the retribution and are okay with the idea go for it.

Somehow, you have transmogrified my descriptive statement about how people actually reason and behave into a moral principle.

Do you see what you have done? This is important.

Doctor Logic said...

William,

Consider the (absolute?) moral principle "other things being equal, we should do what we feel to be right."

If we consider this to be true, doesn't that mean feelings are potentially relevant to what is good?


I think feelings are the only thing relevant to the good. (Perhaps "values" would be a better term than "feelings.")

To me, morality is caring. To the extent that different people have different cares, they have different moralities. When two people with different cares come into conflict, there's no single standard by which to judge whose cares are primary.

At the same time, I think it is probably rational for a person to act to satisfy his own values. And if his values differ from mine, then it is rational for me to find a way to live alongside him, compromise with a treaty, or, depending how much I am aggrieved, go to war.

I think the issue at stake here is whether an abstract set of commandments is actually persuasive when those commandments are at variance with a person's values. Obviously, if the author of the commandments will cause harm to people who deviate from the commandments, that will factor into the actor's calculations. But in that case, it's not the moral reality of the commandments which is doing the work, but the threat of the authority. The commandments themselves are arbitrary.

I can give you another thought experiment. Suppose that moral realism is true, but all the traditional values are switched, so cruelty becomes absolutely good. God wants what is absolutely good, i.e., he wants us to be cruel. Since humans statistically like kindness, God appears subjectively evil to us. However, in this hypothetical scenario, let's suppose God treats everyone the same in the afterlife (either rewarding everyone or punishing everyone). In this scenario, won't you just follow your heart in this life and be kind? If there is no penalty in the eyes of God for not being cruel, you'll be kind. That is, you'll be absolutely evil, but subjectively good.

Karl Grant said...

Doctor Logic,

It would be moral to you. It would not be moral to me because I don't like that sort of thing.

Good to see you have just admitted your opinions on the subject of morality are worthless. On to the next order of business.

1) There was a recent thread on this very blog in which Christians piled on to endorse genocide.

2) There have been plenty of moral realist mass murderers.


Yes and according to your worldview both these statements are inconsequential. As long they viewed their own actions as moral and were able to sleep at night. It is not like their actions were wrong beyond any objective standard besides your personal distaste for mass murder but really, what's that worth? By your own admission: nothing.

If what matters is moral reality, feelings are irrelevant.

Correct! See, you can grasp what I was driving at though I am surprised at this admission considering your troubles grasping how belief affects probability in a previous thread.

You think it is somehow persuasive to the mass murderer that you think there is a moral reality in which the mass murder is wrong.

And where did I say that I think there is a moral reality where mass murder is wrong would be persuasive to a genocidal madman? Nowhere. I don't expect him to be persuaded, I expect him to ultimately suffer the consequences for his actions.

If a man feels in his heart that what he is doing is right

Oh I spoke too soon, first you make a statement like If what matters is moral reality, feelings are irrelevant than you follow on with this...sigh.

If we follow our hearts, we make police forces.

Again with the feelings. And by the way who exactly, in their hearts, wishes for restrictions on personal conduct? My experience has been that people usually wish for the exact opposite.

People do what their hearts tell them to do

And, pray tell, how does their hearts know what to tell them? Social conditioning? Well that can be changed. Maybe because there is really an objective moral standard that they know in their hearts to be true....oh wait, that would undermine everything else you have said.

And people never do anything because of, say, their ego? Never do anything they know to be wrong out of personal gratification?

Karl Grant said...

Somehow, you have transmogrified my descriptive statement about how people actually reason and behave into a moral principle.

Do you see what you have done? This is important.


Oh I realize full well what I did. Now pay attention because this is important. Do you realize that:

A) It is a concise summary of your previous statements, not a moral principle that I endorse(second thought, ignore this line. You obviously didn't realize this because you made the above statement)
B) I don't agree with it.
C) I don't accept it.
D) It is a mocking summary of your previous statements

And oh, before I forget:

I'm saying that the world works as if moral realism is false. The world appears exactly the way it would if morality were subjective, and men followed their hearts.

And this means what to someone who believes in the Fall and the concept of Original Sin? The world appears exactly the way it would if men followed their hearts because it is. This is a very simple, very basic concept of Christian Theology, that men deny God's Law and follow their own desires. Like I said before I don't expect men to be persuaded; I expect them to have a final judgement and suffer the consequences for their actions in the next life.

Maybe you ought to read up on a subject before saying something about it.

Ilíon said...

I presume this was from ‘Doctor’ Illogic, but I don’t care enough to find out:No one wants to be absolutely good for the sake of being absolutely good.

Anonymous:No one? An absolute statement. Hmmm.

Absurdity: an avowed subjectivist making absolute statements. As illogical as an absolutist saying they are not subjective about applying their absolutes :)

We need both absolutes and the subjective use of them to live our lives, despite our blinders.


What I have noticed over the years is this two-part wonder:

1) the ‘absolutists’ tend to understand that the proper application of the absolutes is situational – for instance, an ‘absolutist’ will know that it isn’t good enough to freak out because So-and-so killed someone, that one must differentiate between murder and not-murder;

2) the ‘relativists’ tend to be irrationally absolutist about the misbegotten- and/or pseudo-moral claims they assert (and they always have an escape hatch for themselves) – for instance, unless it’s someone they want to let off the hook, like themselves or a hardened criminal, the ‘relativists’ will tend to equate all killing with murder.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous:There is no absolute morality.

I am absolutely sure of that.


Here is another amusing thing I have noticed over the years about ‘relativists’ and their (ahem!) arguments –

Whenever someone argues (*) that there are no moral absolutes – which is to say, that there is actually no morality – his “argument” *always* includes the unstated absolutist premise: “if/since morality is subjective, then it is wrong for you to claim that it is objective”; or to put that in a shorter phrase: “you *ought not* claim that morality is objective”.

The irony is to die for, is it not?


(*) which argumentation is rarely actually presented; it’s generally just an assertion to which everyone is expect to by but virtue of its constant repetitious assertion from the “cultural elites”.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous:There is no absolute morality.

I am absolutely sure of that.


Here is another amusing thing I have noticed over the years about ‘relativists’ and their (ahem!) arguments –

Whenever someone argues (*) that there are no moral absolutes – which is to say, that there is actually no morality – his “argument” *always* includes the unstated absolutist premise: “if/since morality is subjective, then it is wrong for you to claim that it is objective”; or to put that in a shorter phrase: “you *ought not* claim that morality is objective”.

The irony is to die for, is it not?


(*) which argumentation is rarely actually presented; it’s generally just an assertion to which everyone is expect to by but virtue of its constant repetitious assertion from the “cultural elites”.

Ilíon said...

With reference to the unstated assumption-and-assertion of all moral relativists/subjectivists that “you *ought not* claim that morality is objective” –

Try this thought-experiment (or, hell, try it in this very thread!) -- agree with the moral relativist/subjectivist that there is no transcendent and objective morality, that there is no ‘absolute’ standard against which to just any act or state as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – and then say something like, “But, you know what? I don’t care about that … I am going to continue to assert that there *is* transcendent and objective moral standard, and that you are in gross violation of it (and thus you are a menace to society).

What’s he gonna do? Think about it … you *know* he’s going to either:
1) immediately slip up and blurt out something like, “You *can’t do* that!
2) fumble around while trying to say, You *can’t do* that!” without coming right out and saying it.

Doctor Logic said...

Karl,

There's so much that's wrong with your responses that I can't respond to it all at once.

I'll just start with this:

Yes and according to your worldview both these statements are inconsequential. As long they viewed their own actions as moral and were able to sleep at night. It is not like their actions were wrong beyond any objective standard besides your personal distaste for mass murder but really, what's that worth?

What do you mean by worth?

In what specific way is your position worth something relative to mine?

We've already established that what you and I pragmatically do when faced with something we find morally offensive is the same. We persuade with speech, we legislate laws, we accord treaties, or we go to war. So, for the purposes of what action we will take, moral realism makes no difference.

We've also established that moral realism isn't persuasive. What's persuasive is appealing to facts that the other party cares about, i.e., the other party's subjective morality.

So, if it doesn't make a difference to action or persuasion, how is realism worth more?

As far as I can tell, realism makes you irrationally cling to non-persuasive speech and ineffective action, both to the detriment of your interests and the interests of the other party. You're playing a negative-sum game.

Doctor Logic said...

Ilion,

I realize that it doesn't reflect well on me to engage in reasoned arguments with insane, genocidal people such as yourself, but...

Whenever someone argues that there are no moral absolutes – which is to say, that there is actually no morality – his “argument” *always* includes the unstated absolutist premise: “if/since morality is subjective, then it is wrong for you to claim that it is objective”; or to put that in a shorter phrase: “you *ought not* claim that morality is objective”.

Every argument comes with implicit assumptions that the arguer and the receiver value consistency and reason. The subjectivist position is that moral claims are always relative to what the arguer or receiver subjectively values. Thus, IF you value reason and consistency, THEN you ought to accept rational arguments.

The subjectivist can consistently say "I would value it if you were reasonable," and "if you value reason, too, then you would value the rational conclusion that ____."

Back to the argument at hand, the point is that if people do not value an "ought" subjectively, then absolute "oughts" are completely pointless.

Suppose I value reason, and that it could be shown by logical proof that being cruel was absolutely good. In that case, I would value the conclusion that being good entailed being cruel. However, nothing in this analysis causes me to value being absolutely good per se. As a normal person, I don't value being good if being good entails being cruel. I would only value absolute good if absolute good entailed being kind (i.e., aligned with my subjective values). Absolute oughts are useless to moral agents.

Karl Grant said...

Doctor Logic,

What do you mean by worth?

Simple, it is merely your opinion and you have no way to force it on me. Your ability to influence the political process and laws of this country is nil. And why should I listen to the moral musings of one more anonymous internet atheist (a breed that is a dime-a-dozen)? There is no reason why I or anyone else on this blog should.

pragmatically do when faced with something we find morally offensive is the same.

Okay, I grow tired of this so let me spell it out for you since you seem incapable of figuring it out yourself. The minute you start using statements like 'everybody does....' or 'we all do the same thing in the same situation...' you are no longer making subjective statements you are making absolute statements, i.e. applies to everybody in every situation. In essence you are advocating an absolute morality; an absolute subjective morality if you will but still an absolute morality.

Now if you had proved that you and I don't pragmatically do the same thing when faced with something we find morally offensive you would have proven your case for subjective morality. But you have proven my case that there is an absolute standard for morality if everyone pragmatically does the same thing.

This is called irony by the way.

We've also established that moral realism isn't persuasive.

You keep going on about something being persuasive seemingly oblivious to the the fact that persuasive isn't the same thing is true or even valuable. Many people don't find what scientists say about global warming and evolution persuasive. Does that mean these things aren't true or valuable?

For that matter, I have never found anything you have said to be persuasive so by your own standards of worth I have to ask why the hell you are still typing out responses?

Ilíon said...

'Doctor' Anti-logic: "I realize that it doesn't reflect well on me to engage in reasoned arguments with insane, genocidal people such as yourself, but..."

What doesn't reflect well on you is that you're intellectually dishonest, that you're worse than a liar.

Victor Reppert said...

Doctor Logic? Intellectually dishonest? I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing, Ilion!

Ilíon said...

"Doctor Logic? Intellectually dishonest? I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing, Ilion!"

Does it cease to be true just because it has been said before?

There are only two rational ways to deal with intellectualy dishonest persons:
1) identify it and call them on it;
2) ignore them.

You *cannot* reason with someone who will not reason. You *cannot* reason with someone who "argue" both 'A' and 'not-A', as 'Doctor' Anti-Logic does always, and indeed has done within the past 24 hours.

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: "Doctor Logic? Intellectually dishonest? I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing, Ilion!"

One of the amusing, and annoying (and, when you get doen to it, hypocritical and intellectually dishonest), things about the persons, including VR, who object to my bluntness concerning persons who really are intellectually dishonest is that they themselves also make the accusation, frequently inaccurately, and generally their accusation goes no deeper than mere accusation.

But, whereas I openly state it (and provide the evidence, at least the first time), as a man would, they insinuate it, in the passive-aggressive manner of women and academics.

Consider the recent dustup between B.Prokop and (I think) KBrowne, in which B.Prokop accused KBrowne, via passive-aggressive insinuation, of being a liar. Then, after KBrowne objected to being called a liar (and, actually, the accusation was that he is not merely a liar, but that h is intellectually dishonest), B.Prokop, acting the passive-aggressive and intellectually dishonest weasel that he is, tried to weasel out of it with a fake apology and the hilariously false assertion that to say to another that "you can't have your own facts" is not to call him a liar.

Another amusing thing about that particular incident is that I'd not even have noticed it had not one of the Anonymoi made a point of pointing to the absurdity, and dishonesty, of B.Prokop dragging me into his pseudo-apology.

Victor Reppert said...

Wasn't really objecting, Ilion. I just notice that he's the one person you most often accuse of intellectual dishonesty.

Ilíon said...

"I just notice that he's the one person you most often accuse of intellectual dishonesty."

I didn't *merely* accuse him of intellectual hypocrisy. In quoting his smarmy missive directed at me, I gave enough reference that anyone who has even so much as skimmed his posts in the past couple of days can see the dishonesty and hypocrisy.

And, regardless of that, the wider point I was making stands -- nearly everyone who posts here, including you, accuses (and frequently makes no more than mere accusation) others of intellectual dishonesty. You all just avoid saying it directly, preferring to insinuate.

Ivan Phillips said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

"fake apology"

My apology wasn't fake, Ilion. I meant it sincerely. I don't like stepping over the line, and I did there. Kbrowne was correct in calling me out on my comment, and I needed to apologize.

And yes, one can "make up his own facts" and not be a liar, as long as the "making up" is not a conscious act done with malice aforethought. Our brains routinely operate in weird associative ways below the conscious level, and this often ends up with us believing something that ain't so. It is our job to root out such faux facts with due diligence, and acknowledge our error when necessary. Not in a million years would I trust a person who never admitted to being wrong on occasion.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as "the four Atheists law" I think that is a whole invent from the fundamentalism. The funny thing is the fact that Atheists has no "religion" anything to follow. Leave people alone.