Saturday, September 08, 2012

Nonreligious bases for morality: Is this all there is?

In an important sense, there are two moral motivations that seem to me to be independent of religion. One is our desire to function socially. We want others to treat us well, so we do the same to others. The other is our sympathy and empathy for others. Atheists, like everyone else, have social interests, and natural sympathy for others. But the question then arises, is that all there is to morality?

40 comments:

Crude said...

Not to mention, does having natural sympathy or social interests mean we should follow them? Or seek to eliminate those desires?

So I don't think even that can be part of the "all" in the "all there is" - at least not without some messiness.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor -- It seems to me that the word "basis" doesn't belong in the title of your post. Based on the content of your post, I would have expected the title to be, "Nonreligoius motivations for morality: is this all there is?"

From a philosophical perspective, I would expect the word "basis" to refer to the ontological foundation or grounding for morality, not moral motivation.

Crude said...

I don't think ontological foundation and motivation are completely separate concepts in this case.

BeingItself said...

"We want others to treat us well, so we do the same to others. The other is our sympathy and empathy for others. Atheists, like everyone else, have social interests, and natural sympathy for others. But the question then arises, is that all there is to morality?"

Yes. Ain't that enough?

Crude said...

Yes. Ain't that enough?

Judging by every atheist society there's ever been? Clearly not. ;)

im-skeptical said...

http://www.skepticblogs.com/azatheist/2012/09/04/the-cause-of-the-20th-century-atrocities-was-not-atheism/

Crude said...

im-skeptical,

Does it ever bother you at all that you call yourself a skeptic, but - judging by your links - you stick almost exclusively to reading and quoting not only atheist sites, but fairly bottom of the barrel ones, and only read opposing arguments after they've been filtered through said sites?

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

This blogger has gone to the trouble to research the issue and compile a solid answer to the groundless accusations you like to toss around. I would hardly call the site "bottom of the barrel".

As for me, I read things from a variety of sources, including many of the links placed here by believers. They have certainly broadened my knowledge, and I thank the posters.

I thought that you might appreciate the same courtesy, especially in some cases where it would serve you well to broaden your knowledge.

Crude said...

im-skeptical,

This blogger has gone to the trouble to research the issue and compile a solid answer to the groundless accusations you like to toss around.

I pointed out that just about every atheist society has been plagued with problems, so no, apparently BI's adorable morality isn't enough.

YOU ended up providing links to address something I didn't even get into - and sadly, yes, it is bottom of the barrel. Arizona Atheist - for when a no-name from Freethought Blogs still isn't obscure enough.

Speaking of Freethought Blogs, AA's argument runs him smack up against PZ Myers:

Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.


Really, the entire existence of "atheism+" and "New Atheism" should cause you to second-guess your own views on this matter.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Crude --

Speaking of Freethought Blogs, AA's argument runs him smack up against PZ Myers:

[snip quotation]

Really, the entire existence of "atheism+" and "New Atheism" should cause you to second-guess your own views on this matter.


I think everyone agrees that if atheism is true, then theistic approaches to politics, whatever those may be, are false. I'm sensing, however, you want to make a further claim and I am not sure how to summarize that claim. What is it?

Regarding the article by Arizona Atheist, I take it as obvious that atheism does not entail communism, fascism, Marxism, etc. If you disagree, perhaps you can say more about that.

You refer to the existence of atheism+ (A+). I don't understand what claim the existence of A+ is supposed to refute. It clearly does not refute the claim that atheism by itself (A- ?) does not entail specific positions on moral values. The whole point of A+, as I understand it, is to differentiate atheists who hold to the values affirmed by A+ from those atheists who do not.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Crude --

I don't think ontological foundation and motivation are completely separate concepts in this case.

You may well be right about that, but that is not of obvious relevance to what I wrote. I could be wrong, but I believe that when most philosophers read the expression, "Nonreligious bases for morality," they will think about moral ontology, not moral psychology (i.e., moral motivation). The fact, if it is a fact, that the two concepts are somehow linked together does not deny the point that "basis for morality" most often means "grounding or foundation of morality."

BTW, you may find this recent post of mine of interest:

"Theism, Atheism, and Metaethics"

im-skeptical said...

If I misunderstood your statement, please accept my apology. Any reasonable person would have thought you were referring to the atrocities of atheist regimes.

As I said before (several times) I don't belong to any groups or cults. I know little about "atheism+", or "New Atheism". I never even heard of Sam Harris before I read about him in this blog. I have never read Freethought Blogs, and only a little of PZ Myers, and I have no intention of defending his stances. But in any case, I don't see what it has to do with this. That's not what I linked to.

The material I linked to is well worth reading.

Crude said...

Jeff,

Before we go on, let's take a good look at what PZ Myers said again:

Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.


I think it's fair to interpret Myers' statement as claiming that, contra AA, atheism can and does play a causal role in politics and history.

Do you agree or disagree with PZ Myers?

Further, if you agree, then imagine a defense like this: "The atrocities committed by these past governments could not be linked to or caused by atheism, because atheism is politically inert and, in and of itself, results in no political consequences."

That defense, if you agree with the previous, dies on the spot. Another defense is needed.

The whole point of A+, as I understand it, is to differentiate atheists who hold to the values affirmed by A+ from those atheists who do not.

Except atheism+ members see their positions as linked to their atheism - in which case we're right back to the question of whether atheism can be a causal force in politics, and therefore atrocities.

Let's keep this in mind: so far, I haven't even given my own view on this. I haven't needed to, because Myers is making the argument himself.

Crude said...

im-skeptical,

Any reasonable person would have thought you were referring to the atrocities of atheist regimes.

I was telling a troll off with a single line flippant response. "Any reasonable person" would have asked what I meant if they were confused.

Crude said...

Let's throw a little more wood on this fire:

Greta Christina says being an atheist demands social justice. Lest someone think I'm summarizing unfairly, here's a quote from her:

I’m going to go out on a limb here. Being an atheist demands that we work for social justice.

A lot of atheists will argue with this. They’ll say that atheism means one thing, and one thing only: the lack of belief in any god. And in the most literal sense, they’re right. It’s different from secular humanism in that way. Secular humanism is more than just not believing in gods or the supernatural: it’s a positive, multi-faceted philosophy that includes specific principles of ethical conduct. Atheism, technically, means only the conclusion that there are no gods.

But conclusions don’t stand in a vacuum. They have implications. That’s true for the conclusion that there are no gods, as much as any other conclusion. And when you conclude that there are no gods, I would argue that one of the implications is a demand that we work for social justice: an end to extreme poverty, political disempowerment, government corruption, gross inequality in economic opportunity, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on.


Now, even with her specific claims aside, please note what Greta's doing: she's stating there is a causal link between atheism itself, and political action.

So, Jeff: is she wrong? Is she right? Is she... deluded?

im-skeptical said...

Jeffrey,

The link you provided doesn't seem to work, but I can get to the post on your blog.

Crude said...

One last thing for now, to put Myers' position in greater relief.

Here's the comment he was apparently responding to:

Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

im-skeptical:

Thanks for letting me know the link doesn't work. How about this?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Crude,

I asked:

I'm sensing, however, you want to make a further claim and I am not sure how to summarize that claim. What is it?

I still I am not sure exactly what your further claim is? Could you please summarize it in your own words?

You wrote:

I think it's fair to interpret Myers' statement as claiming that, contra AA, atheism can and does play a causal role in politics and history.

Do you agree or disagree with PZ Myers?


I don't know. I find both his statement and yours ambiguous. For example, Myers writes this:

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society.

It's unclear what he means by this or what his justification is. I've already said (the obvious truism) that if God does not exist, then any theistic approaches for "how we should structure our society" are false. Besides the political theory of "the divine right of kings," I'm just not sure what Myers might have in mind when he talks about "structuring our society."

Basically, what is needed is an argument that goes from this:

(1) God does not exist.

to this:

(C) Therefore, [insert alleged societal consequences of God's non-existence].

The argument can be deductive or inductive (or abductive, if you consider abductive arguments to be distinct from inductive arguments). It isn't clear, from either the Myers quotation or your posts, what the alleged consequences are or why we should believe those consequences are, in fact, the actual consequences of atheism.

Further, if you agree, then imagine a defense like this: "The atrocities committed by these past governments could not be linked to or caused by atheism, because atheism is politically inert and, in and of itself, results in no political consequences."

I am not trying to be difficult, but I also find this statement unclear. What, precisely, do you mean by "linked to" or "caused"? This reminds me of the idea of "doing something in the name of atheism," which is another expression I find unclear.

Except atheism+ members see their positions as linked to their atheism - in which case we're right back to the question of whether atheism can be a causal force in politics, and therefore atrocities.

You may be correct that "atheism+ members see their positions as linked to their atheism." Again, I find the use of the word "linked" in this context to be unclear. What is the nature of the linkage? Entailment? Probability? Causality? Something else?

I haven't read enough by A+ ists to have an opinion on their opinion about an alleged link. With that said, here is my opinion on the link between A and A+:

(1) A does not entail A+.
(2) A does not make A+ highly probable.
(3) A is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for A+.

Let's keep this in mind: so far, I haven't even given my own view on this. I haven't needed to, because Myers is making the argument himself.

I know you haven't given your own views. That's why I asked you for your views in my previous comment, LOL! :)

im-skeptical said...

Jeffery,

That one works. Thanks.

Crude said...

Jeff,

I still I am not sure exactly what your further claim is? Could you please summarize it in your own words?

I said: "Really, the entire existence of "atheism+" and "New Atheism" should cause you to second-guess your own views on this matter."

Meaning, the fact that atheists themselves are expressly insisting that atheism is causal with relation to political action should make someone who is otherwise not too well versed in this question whether, in fact, atheism isn't causal with relation to political action.

Besides the political theory of "the divine right of kings," I'm just not sure what Myers might have in mind when he talks about "structuring our society."

Jeff, c'mon. You really think Myers is making a statement about monarchy here? That's the only thread you're finding?

I haven't read enough by A+ ists to have an opinion on their opinion about an alleged link.

We have PZ Myers expressly denying that atheism isn't causal with regards to political belief and action. We have Greta Christina saying the same.

If you think atheism isn't causal with regards to political belief and action, it looks like your argument is with Greta and PZ (among others).

I know you haven't given your own views. That's why I asked you for your views in my previous comment,

I don't see a need yet. Right now I'm pointing out a reply to the stock "atheism isn't related to political action" issue, and the fine folks at FTB are doing a good job of serving as proxies here.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Crude --

Meaning, the fact that atheists themselves are expressly insisting that atheism is causal with relation to political action should make someone who is otherwise not too well versed in this question whether, in fact, atheism isn't causal with relation to political action.

Roger that. And you can clarify what you mean by "causal" in this context? Do you mean, "atheistic belief causes certain types of political action"?

Jeff, c'mon. You really think Myers is making a statement about monarchy here? That's the only thread you're finding?

No, I don't think Myers is making a statement about the monarchy. I should have been more clear: "The falsity of the divine right of kings comes to mind as one consequence of atheism, but I doubt that is what Myers had/has in mind. I'm not sure, however, what he did/does have in mind."

We have PZ Myers expressly denying that atheism isn't causal with regards to political belief and action. We have Greta Christina saying the same.

If you think atheism isn't causal with regards to political belief and action, it looks like your argument is with Greta and PZ (among others).


As I've said before, I haven't read a lot of their material. Assuming your quotations are accurate and in context, I would say the following.

Regarding the PZ Myers quotation, I have no idea what he is talking about.

Greta's statement, however, is much more clear. I have two comments.

(1) Greta concedes that atheism literally does not entail any beliefs about social justice. In her words, "A lot of atheists will argue with this. They’ll say that atheism means one thing, and one thing only: the lack of belief in any god. And in the most literal sense, they’re right. It’s different from secular humanism in that way. Secular humanism is more than just not believing in gods or the supernatural: it’s a positive, multi-faceted philosophy that includes specific principles of ethical conduct. Atheism, technically, means only the conclusion that there are no gods."

(2) I share the values listed by Greta.

(3) I disagree with Greta's apparent contention that atheism has the "implication" of social justice. Here is the crucial sentence:

"And when you conclude that there are no gods, I would argue that one of the implications is a demand that we work for social justice: an end to extreme poverty, political disempowerment, government corruption, gross inequality in economic opportunity, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on."

This has me scratching my head. In what way could social justice be an "implication" of atheism? What does she mean by "implication"? Atheism does not entail social justice; atheism is logically compatible with the belief that social justice is morally wrong and that extreme poverty, political disempowerment, government corruption, gross inequality in economic opportunity, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on are morally good or even morally obligatory.

Nor is there any reason to believe that atheism, by itself, makes it highly probable that social justice is morally good. Since atheism says nothing whatsoever about morality, I think Greta is going to find it difficult to produce an inductively correct argument that starts with this:

(1) God does not exist.

and ends with this:

(C) Atheists should be committed to social justice.

cautiouslycurious said...

There's been some misrepresentation about what Atheism+ is in the comments here. It simply points out that there are atheists that share common values (skepticism, social justice, etc.) and those common values can form a community for action. These values are not necessarily tied to atheism, but they have been added into the definition, hence the plus sign.

From Russell from the Atheist Experience:

"We’ve spoken many times about how atheism doesn’t necessarily extend philosophically to anything other than “not believing in any Gods”; how technically Raelians are atheists; and you can be an atheist and still believe in all sorts of supernatural woo as long as it’s not God. That’s all still true.

Technicalities aside though, we’ve also been bold about taking on issues that are outside the minimal scope of atheism, and worked to present a strong front of core values from our community."

http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2012/08/22/im-pretty-sure-the-aca-has-been-an-atheism-organization-for-years/

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

cautiouslycurious -- Exactly.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

I don't have time to fully reply to Jeff right now, but one thing.

If there's been any misrepresentation going on here, it's going to be at the hands of PZ Myers and Greta Christina. I quoted them, and I quoted in context. If they've backtracked or gotten confused, that's on them. As near as I can tell, Russell isn't an authority on this - and what he's saying appears to conflict with Myers' and Christina's words as presented.

cautiouslycurious said...

It's fairly obvious that you don't follow PZ's blog. He's been pretty critical of 'dictionary atheists' in the past. In other words, when he says the word atheist, he is implying more than simply the dictionary definition of the term. You could even say that he invented the concept of Atheism+ before the label, although he simply used the word atheism.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/01/why-are-you-an-atheist/

"Now I don’t claim that my values are part of the definition of atheism — I just told you I hate those dictionary quoters — nor do I consider them universal to atheism. I’ve met plenty of atheists who are in our camp over issues of social justice — they see god-belief as a source of social evils, and that’s why they reject it. That is valid and reasonable. There are atheists who consider human well-being as the metric to use, and we call them humanists; no problem. There are also atheists who are joining the game because their cool friends (or Daniel Radcliff) are atheists; that’s a stupid reason, but they are atheists.

My point is that nobody becomes an atheist because of an absence of values, and no one becomes an atheist because the dictionary tells them they are. I think we also do a disservice to the movement when we pretend it’s solely a mob of individuals who lack a belief, rather than an organization with positive goals and values."-PZ

It's not obvious that PZ is saying anything at odds with Russell, they sound pretty similar to me. Also, Matt Dillahunty has also expressed the same sentiments as Russell on his youtube channel. If the Atheist Experience is not an authority, then I would wonder what would make someone an authority on this issue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snGuJVTk5q8&feature=plcp

"Some people said that you're trying to re-define atheism? No, not even close. Oh, you can't get from those positions from atheism? That's correct. I've said on the show many many times the philosophical definition of atheism is the rejection of the claim that a god exists...and I've also said many times that from atheism, you cannot derive any other position without adding something to it. Neither of those positions have changed...that's why there is a big ol' plus in the label!"-Dillahunty

You actually didn't quote Greta in context. This section (from the same post) is significant to her argument:

"If we have any morality at all — and the evidence strongly suggests that we do, that human beings have some common moral principles wired into our brains through millions of years of evolution as a social species — then seeing terrible harm done to others through no fault of their own should make us cringe, and should demand our immediate and passionate attention."-Greta

She's saying that atheism + empathy = social justice. In other words, her argument doesn't apply to psychopaths. So, if you happen to be an atheist and a psychopath, you're not in Greta's target audience (not surprisingly). Also, note that this is an example of atheism+(empathy, in this case).

This isn't a hard concept. Sometimes people make assumptions based on their target audience. In this case, Greta is assuming that her audience has an ounce of empathy. In other cases, PZ is assuming that his audience applies skepticism. These are not atheist positions, but they are positions of the atheist community to whom they are writing/speaking to.

Like I said, this is a fairly simple concept. You have people saying that certain positions can't be implied from atheism so they're coming up with a new label (Atheism+) that has a new definition that encompasses atheism (Atheism) and includes a new host of issues (+). If you can't accept this, then I'm sorry, I don't think you're rational enough to justify continuing this conversation.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

He's been pretty critical of 'dictionary atheists' in the past. In other words, when he says the word atheist, he is implying more than simply the dictionary definition of the term.

Sorry, but no. Again, the comment Myers was responding to:

Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.

And Myers' reply:

Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.


If Myers is being inconsistent and sloppy, again - that's Myers' problem, not mine. The man said what he did, and he is right there pretty plainly saying that 'atheism' plays a causal role in politics: the fact that someone is an atheist is going to entail that they take certain political positions.

Now, you can say 'sure but he doesn't think it necessarily entails all the details of Cult+' - but that won't matter for my purposes. The fact that Myers is claiming that atheism itself leads to political action of any kind will suffice.

If the Atheist Experience is not an authority, then I would wonder what would make someone an authority on this issue.

According to the various people who came up with it, there are no authorities on atheism+. Carrier cried and got slapped down quickly. Myers himself is saying atheism+ doesn't even have a set definition right now.

You actually didn't quote Greta in context.

Sorry, but I did. Greta could not have made it clearer that she believes atheism has certain inevitable political ramifications. That you think you can squeak out an exception in the form of "well it doesn't apply to the clinically insane!", more power to you. Pardon me if I don't take you very seriously.

In this case, Greta is assuming that her audience has an ounce of empathy. In other cases, PZ is assuming that his audience applies skepticism.

This is something I call reverse-strawmanning: when someone's intellectual leader says something embarrassing, dumb or that they disagree with, and their response is to argue that, despite direct quotes, if you turn your head and squint while looking at it, they actually didn't make any mistakes.

Greta is saying, for those who are not in need of psychiatric intervention, that political action follows from atheism. Myers is saying the same. He did not stipulate "oh, well, that's technically correct in the dictionary sense but..." - he full on said no, that's stupid, atheism has considerable political repercussions straightaway.

Like I said, this is a fairly simple concept.

Your "fairly simple concept" is a webwork that, in your own view, requires evaluating PZ Myers' words like scripture, trying to justify new readings of his plain words based on his years-old inconsistencies. For Greta, your dodge is "it doesn't apply to psychopaths".

If you can't accept this, then I'm sorry, I don't think you're rational enough to justify continuing this conversation.

Oh, piss off you tiny little wanker. I don't feel the burning urge to discuss things with every cultist of gnu who strays from the FTB ghetto, so stow your huffy little pseudo-insults. ;)

cautiouslycurious said...

And PZ is correct, if you include other values such as rationality. If God does not exist, then we shouldn't pay any attention to those little laws he supposedly laid out. Otherwise, if we are to avoid all those nasty punishments, (e.g. hurricanes due to homosexuality), then we would be wise to consider them when making policy. You still can't get there from atheism, its still Atheism+. When he talks about his atheism, he's talking about how he got there (i.e. his skepticism, scientific values, etc.) However, we don't take the time to caveat every statement with "if you are rational..." its simply understood in normal conversation.

I think its clear as day that Greta was making a moral argument. It doesn't take much thought to realize that it wouldn't appeal to immoral people. If you think this is a cop out, then I have to stick to my pseudo-insult.

Crude said...

And PZ is correct, if you include other values such as rationality.

So, for PZ, your argument is that certain political policies follow - but only if you're rational. Meanwhile for Greta, her argument is that certain things follow given atheism so long as you are not mentally damaged.

On this edifice, you wish to build the defense that neither PZ nor Greta were arguing that some kind of political action necessarily follows given atheism.

Meanwhile, you've now defined atheism+ to mean atheism and absolutely anything at all. So if the claim is that 'given atheism, political action X rationally follows', well that's atheism+ right there by definition.

I'm cautiously curious whether your thinking suffered prior to your atheism, or after prolonged FTB exposure. Actually, nah I ain't that curious. ;)

cautiouslycurious said...

"Meanwhile, you've now defined atheism+ to mean atheism and absolutely anything at all."

I'm not sure how you came to this conclusion, but you are incorrect. It seems to be willfully ignorant since Atheism+ was made to specifically avoid that. Atheism + sexism, no. Atheist + apathy, no. These positions have been excluded from the label, they need not apply. However, other values such as empathy, reason, social justice, etc., can be brought to motivate political action. I continue to to fail to grasp why this is such a hard concept for you.

If you really think that 'given atheism, political action X rationally follows', please fill in the X. It should be easy to think of an example of an atheist where it doesn't rationally follow.

Crude said...

I'm not sure how you came to this conclusion, but you are incorrect. It seems to be willfully ignorant since Atheism+ was made to specifically avoid that.

You've been playing defense on PZ's statement by treating it as 'not following from atheism alone' if any other factor is in play - such as 'not being clinically psychotic' and 'being rational'. Hence statements like: "And PZ is correct, if you include other values such as rationality."

More than that, again - as of August 27 - Myers would disagree with you. Here's his response to asking if someone can explain A+:

"Nope. Lots of people can give you their opinions, but it is only starting to coalesce. There are no leaders, no organization behind it, no money, no coercive power at all. It’s entirely spontaneous. Currently it’s little more than a label."

I continue to to fail to grasp why this is such a hard concept for you.

Well, you're clearly pretty slow, so that's a possible reason for all your continued confusion.

You've said that if something follows rationally given atheism - rather, if a conclusion is led to as a result of atheism plus being rational - that it doesn't mean atheism leads to anything. You're treating the addition of rationality - consistent logical reasoning itself - as some attachment to this conversation that somehow excuses atheism from leading to any political results by way of technicality. I'm pointing out this is a pretty rotten defense, since rationality is included in any 'given atheism, it follows...' claim.

If you really think that 'given atheism, political action X rationally follows', please fill in the X. It should be easy to think of an example of an atheist where it doesn't rationally follow.

I've not been making that argument. I've been pointing out that other atheists - in this case, Myers and Christina, are making that case. So far your best defense of them is that Christina can't be saying that, because clinically insane atheists could in principle disagree. With Myers, it's because Myers clearly means something other than what he said, so long as you go back in the PZ Scriptures and do your damndest to interpret him to be consistent while not saying something you disagree with.

It's not a very impressive defense on your part. I can think that even if thinking Myers and Christina are wrong.

cautiouslycurious said...

“You're treating the addition of rationality - consistent logical reasoning itself - as some attachment to this conversation that somehow excuses atheism from leading to any political results by way of technicality. I'm pointing out this is a pretty rotten defense, since rationality is included in any 'given atheism, it follows...' claim.”

Given atheism, you could believe in alien abductions, the 9/11 conspiracy, etc. After all, those claims don’t require a deity. I thought this should be clear from the earlier quote of Russell’s regarding Raelians (The post I linked to also had a similar quote from PZ). Atheism doesn’t necessitate rationalism. It needs to be added onto it. However, when speaking amongst atheist circles, we tend to be a scientific bunch so that value is fairly common (and hence is understood to be assumed). It is correlated with atheism, but not caused by it. Atheism+ has been proposed to signify a similar, although slightly different subset based on the same principle. I don’t think the conversation can progress until you understand this point.

Crude said...

Atheism doesn’t necessitate rationalism. It needs to be added onto it.

Hard to do, since then you'd end up with an inconsistent atheism. ;)

As I keep saying, when one of your main defenses here is that saying "X follows rationally given atheism" invalidates the claim that 'X follows from atheism' on the grounds that it includes rational thinking in addition to atheism, you're not saying much at all.

Any argument about 'X follows' assumes, from the outset, rational thinking being in play. Keep trying to transmute your dodge into a good argument, but like most alchemists, you're going to keep right on failing.

However, when speaking amongst atheist circles, we tend to be a scientific bunch

Now, you're not. The Cult of Gnu in particular is not - hence your leadership largely being comprised of guys who stopped doing science a while ago. What you tend to be is a bunch that pays a lot of lip service to science, and then proceed to by and large ignore it unless it involves God - and even then, it's more often an abuse of science and passing off metaphysics as science than anything else.

Atheism+ has been proposed to signify a similar, although slightly different subset based on the same principle.

Go argue with Myers - he disagrees with you, as do the others. Hell, Myers doesn't even know what atheism+ means yet - right now, it's a label. A collective mish-mash. The one guy who tried to be a leader was Carrier, which was - by the way - really, really funny.

I don’t think the conversation can progress until you understand this point.

This conversation isn't going anywhere until you admit you're wrong and that your dodge here is weak. But frankly, it's not going to go anywhere even then, because it's clear you're more interested in defending your leadership to the point of absurdity rather than having a conversation.

cautiouslycurious said...

“Any argument about 'X follows' assumes, from the outset, rational thinking being in play. Keep trying to transmute your dodge into a good argument, but like most alchemists, you're going to keep right on failing.”

It assumes rationalism of the observers, the people evaluating the statement, but not of the people the statement applies to. Again, as rational observers, we see that it follows rationally from believing in alien abductions that you believe in aliens. It doesn’t follow from believing in alien abductions that the person is rational. When I say that rationalism needs to be added, I’m specifically talking about the people the statement applies to (atheism+rationalism is specifically talking about a subgroup of atheists, not all atheists). I’m kind of surprised that this needs to be pointed out, contrary to what you said, it’s not that hard.

“Now, you're not. The Cult of Gnu in particular is not - hence your leadership largely being comprised of guys who stopped doing science a while ago. What you tend to be is a bunch that pays a lot of lip service to science, and then proceed to by and large ignore it unless it involves God - and even then, it's more often an abuse of science and passing off metaphysics as science than anything else.”

This is baseless. I would laugh at you trying to defend the accusation that the atheist community is a cult (already laughed just trying to imagine it). I may be rolling on the floor when you try to substantiate that I’m a part of it. I’m also curious to your claim that we ignore science unless it involves God, does that mean science disproves God? I hope you misspoke, but I don’t see the revision to be anymore correct. Try to stick to the facts and leave the flaming rhetoric at the door.

“Go argue with Myers - he disagrees with you, as do the others. Hell, Myers doesn't even know what atheism+ means yet - right now, it's a label. A collective mish-mash. The one guy who tried to be a leader was Carrier, which was - by the way - really, really funny.”

Who cares if PZ disagrees? I don’t care what he says. No leader, remember? Oh, that’s right; you think that there is a grand conspiracy among atheists to keep that under wraps. Seriously though, if you have a problem with PZ’s writing, you should probably take it up with him. Although, I would predict that you would be called an idiot for taking your particular interpretation. As such, it’s not obvious to me that he disagrees.

Your right in that Atheism+ is new, not all of the details have been ironed out, but that doesn’t mean that it is completely vacuous. So Atheism+ is meant for motivating atheists to tackle social issues. OK, which ones? Sexism. OK, are there any others? Uh, I don’t know. Maybe there will be more added to the label, but right now it’s still in its infancy. Think of Atheism+ as a mission statement for an organization, it doesn’t always include everybody, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Crude said...

When I say that rationalism needs to be added, I’m specifically talking about the people the statement applies to (atheism+rationalism is specifically talking about a subgroup of atheists, not all atheists).

You can keep repeating yourself as long as you like, and I can keep on doing the same: your dodge here - the suggestion that atheism does not lead to anything, because 'rational thought' is an additional ingredient - is weak, and frankly, flat out boring. As I've already said, the idea that reason and logic is assumed in the claim is a given. You may as well be correcting me after I say that by current models, I can predict that a bowling ball will fall to the ground after I release it from my grasp - nattering that "No, the model doesn't say this at all. For you see, you have to have the model PLUS certain unspoken metaphysical assumptions". You think you're making a critical point, but really, everyone's just rolling their goddamn eyes.

This is baseless. I would laugh at you trying to defend the accusation that the atheist community is a cult (already laughed just trying to imagine it)

I'm sure you snorted your graham crackers during the process.

The atheist community is a lot broader than the Cult of Gnu. And yes, the Gnus have quite a lot of the hallmarks of a cult. I believe Dennett would call them a religion or pseudo-religion as he did Marxism, if the man was interested in intellectual consistency.

I’m also curious to your claim that we ignore science unless it involves God, does that mean science disproves God?

No, you slow person - though Dawkins does think God's existence is a scientific hypothesis. But plenty of the Cult's favorites do try to use science to disprove God or cast doubt on God's existence. That is the beginning and the end of attention paid to most science topics among the cult.

Which is why they love evolution like crazy, so long as it's kept to talk of how it casts doubt or disproves God's existence/action. Talk about science for science's sake and most tune out, as Jerry Coyne has discovered.

Hell, just look at Dawkins and Myers. They loved science so much they... haven't done any real research in years. Myers' contribution to science is largely making dorky speeches and rants on the internet. Dawkins' is writing books and running away from debates.

Try to stick to the facts and leave the flaming rhetoric at the door.

I am sticking to the facts. That it gets under your skin doesn't bug me none. Hell, it's the only intellectually redeeming part of this conversation so far - on reason and discussion, you're a big letdown thus far.

Who cares if PZ disagrees? I don’t care what he says. No leader, remember? Oh, that’s right; you think that there is a grand conspiracy among atheists to keep that under wraps.

Grand conspiracy? I think any observation of the Cult of Gnu shows their groupthink, emotional investment in their leadership, and more. The whole 'independent thinkers' bit is schtick more than anything. Every Jehovah's Witness on the planet thinks he's a paragon of independent thought.

My point is that PZ (to name one guy) is the one making the argument. Pillar of the atheist community and all that. If he's mistaken, go correct him. I think it'd be funny that one of the most well-known atheist leaders doesn't even know what atheism is or what follows from it.

Think of Atheism+ as a mission statement for an organization, it doesn’t always include everybody, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

For independent thinkers who have no leaders, you guys do a great job of looking like a collective of thinkers taking marching orders. ;)

ozero91 said...

I propose a hypothesis: If PZ Myers commits himself to blogging about nothing but science, without any reference what so ever to religion/atheism, then the traffic to his blog will decrease.

I would be glad if this was shown to be false, because it would restore some faith in humanity.

This hypothesis was based on a proposal made by a blogger who refers to himself as "the thought criminal."

cautiouslycurious said...

I keep on repeating myself because you continue to not understand it. The prediction from a certain model does follow from that model. I wouldn't contest that by saying you need additional assumptions. You're inability to characterize this shows that you have failed to comprehend what I have been saying despite your insistence to the contrary. If you can't comprehend such a simple point, I don't see any merit in trying to respond to anything else, now and in the future. Have a nice day.

Crude said...

You're inability to characterize this shows that you have failed to comprehend what I have been saying despite your insistence to the contrary.

Your.

And your response has been to repeat that if something rationally follows given atheism, then it's wrong to suggest that atheism leads to anything because 'rationality' is involved. All in some sad attempt to try and defend Myers and company. It's a strained move, and it doesn't work.

I don't see any merit in trying to respond to anything else, now and in the future.

He said, while running away. ;)

Look, your defense of Myers and company on this front was bad. Go tell Myers to stop saying things you find inane because it makes it harder to defend him, if you wish. But pouting at me because I'm not letting your heroes get off light is boring stuff.

Crude said...

ozero91,

I propose a hypothesis: If PZ Myers commits himself to blogging about nothing but science, without any reference what so ever to religion/atheism, then the traffic to his blog will decrease.

I can't find the post right now, but I recall Jerry Coyne made a comment bitching about how when he talks about science (particularly evolutionary biology) and it has no reference to God or religious debates, the number of hits/comments drop heavily.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

catiouslycurious--

You quoted PZ Myers as follows:

"Now I don’t claim that my values are part of the definition of atheism — I just told you I hate those dictionary quoters — nor do I consider them universal to atheism. I’ve met plenty of atheists who are in our camp over issues of social justice — they see god-belief as a source of social evils, and that’s why they reject it. That is valid and reasonable. There are atheists who consider human well-being as the metric to use, and we call them humanists; no problem. There are also atheists who are joining the game because their cool friends (or Daniel Radcliff) are atheists; that’s a stupid reason, but they are atheists.

My point is that nobody becomes an atheist because of an absence of values, and no one becomes an atheist because the dictionary tells them they are. I think we also do a disservice to the movement when we pretend it’s solely a mob of individuals who lack a belief, rather than an organization with positive goals and values."-PZ


Thanks for posting this. PZ Myers does not seem to dispute the semantical thesis that atheism means either "The lack of belief in gods" or "The belief that God does not exist." Indeed, I have the impression that Myers finds semantics annoying.

Instead, Myers seems to be making some other kind of claim, but I'm not sure how to characterize it. He writes, "I think we also do a disservice to the movement when we pretend it’s solely a mob of individuals who lack a belief, rather than an organization with positive goals and values." If I'm right that Myers finds semantics annoying, he would probably find what I am about to write annoying also.

What does "it" in that sentence refer to? If "it" means atheism, then Myers would be claiming that atheism is "an organization with positive goals and values." But that can't be right. Atheism cannot be an "organization," just as theism cannot be an organization. And atheism does not have positive goals and values.

If, on the other hand, he is referring to a subset of atheists (who subscribe to atheism+, perhaps?) which have organized a "movement" around shared "goals and values," then of course, that movement has goals and values. But none of that follows intrinsically to atheism. Those goals and values must be "tacked on" to atheism, to use Adolf Grunbaum's expression.