You say AiG is totally stupid when they claim the atheist has no basis to call anything good or evil. Then you quote Dawkins who says that in the universe there is, at bottom, no evil and no good. Am I missing something, or are you contradicting yourself?
Posted by: AFB April 18, 2007 03:20 PM
No, I'm not contradicting myself. The part of the AiG statement that is stupid is the part where they argue that a belief in God provides an objective foundation for morality, whereas lack of belief does not provide such a foundation. The fact is that regardless of the source of your sense of morality, you will ultimately have to base that belief on some foundation that you simply accept without trying to prove it in terms of something simpler. For the theist, that foundation rests in certain assumptions about the existence and attributes of God. For the atheist it typically lies in some sense of what constitute basic human rights.
The point of Dawkins' statement is that morality is something humans create, and not something that is discovered in nature. That is true regardelss of whether you are a theist or an atheist.
Posted by: Jason Rosenhouse April 18, 2007 03:35 PM
Thanks for the clarification. But it leads to another question (which you've probably addressed before, but I'm a new reader): If morality is something humans create, and not discovered in nature or revealed by God, is morality then determined by majority vote, or by something else? And if by something else, why should THAT be determinative?
Posted by: AFB April 18, 2007 04:38 PM
morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution! yes. humans are social animals. basic trends in moral thinking such as no stealing, don't boff your friend's babe unless he invites you, don't kill your elders because they just might know something...these trends came out because they tended to improve the survival chances of the race.
Now of course there are exceptions, but they play to the rule too, I mean the Nazis had it good for a while, and my friends don't generally think that they were moral, but look what happened in the end. they pissed a lot of people off and were eventually defeated.
human interactions set the rules for morality. also in the past it was much more tribal than today. It used to be actively encouraged to steal from people who were not like you and bring the stuff back to people who were like you. sort of helps the cause if you get what I mean.
Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing.
Posted by: Kevin April 18, 2007 04:51 PM
Thanks for the clarification. So if I understand you right, morality is whatever tends to improve the survival chances of the race. But that raises some tricky questions, such as how do we define race? As all humans? Whites? Americans? People who went to my college? My nuclear family? Your answer seems to support tribalism in one sense ("bring the stuff to people like you") and discourage tribalism in another sense (the defeat of the Nazi Aryans).
Also, there seem to be some significant public policy disconnects between the goal of perpetuation and what we actually do. For example, abortion is as anti-perpetuation as you can get, and yet (to oversimplify greatly) it seems it's only the Christians who are vocal in their opposition to it. Isn't this somehow backwards?
I'm also left wondering how we get from "is" to "ought." Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run? Is "ought" therefore determined purely empirically, or are there other considerations that come into play?
Finally (for now), the answer to the whole question of morality seems inevitably reductionistic or tautological. What I mean is, the Christians say something along the lines of, "Because God says so," and the atheists say something like, "because it perpetuates the race." But how do you go about proving or disproving either one? Both sides will find plenty of anecdotes to support whichever side they're committed to. And the agnostics, perhaps, just don't want to think about it at all.
Posted by: AFB April 19, 2007 11:24 AM
AFB :"Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run"does not work like that. we act in our own immediate interest, reproductive and otherwise, and over time, by these choices traits and behaviors evolve and become common, IF they "yield the greatest number." if not maybe humans just die out. no one calcs it.
Posted by: Kevin April 23, 2007 09:26 PM
Your response misses the point of the paragraph in which I asked that question. For that matter, it misses the other questions in my post as well.
But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?
Posted by: AFB April 24, 2007 08:50 PM
"But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? b) If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?"
OK let me try again, and I don't know anything or have any special knowledge to be sure....
a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.
b) its the accretion of MY dna
c) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.
Posted by: Kevin April 25, 2007 12:08 AM
Hi Kevin -
Thanks for clarifying. But I must admit I don't like your answer. It seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog. It also makes it OK to fly airplanes into towers, to gas Jews in concentration camps and then make lamp shades out of their skin, and to torture prisoners at will. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine if I can beat it out of you. The strongest will prevail, and that's just the way it is.
If that's really what you think, then I don't think you're going to win a lot of converts for atheism - or at least your strain of it.
Posted by: AFB April 28, 2007 01:45 AM
"seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog"
I don't know how you got that. Why can't you oppose such action? by yourself or in concert with others, others who also don't want that to happen to them. It's not that the offender "ought" not to do it for a supernatural "moral" reason its because you, and/or society collectively, prevents the offender from acting. and this social construct takes on the flavor of morality and is taught as an "ought". or shalt as in the ten commandments thingy.
"The strongest will prevail, and that's just the way it is." That happens under the color of religion anyway. except where the weak are collectively stronger. Even in situations where the weak appear to win (welfare, free housing, free bread) the strong are only acting in there own interests.
and aetheists are not the only ones bonking people over the head for cash so I don't know why you think that's an aetheist position. seems like most religions are designed to separate the ignorant from their money.
as for me I said ten days ago:
"Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing."
so I'm NOT advocating pillaging your town. and I enjoy the discussion.
Posted by: Kevin April 28, 2007 11:30 AM
Hi Kevin -
Sorry for my slow response. Busy weekend.
I appreciate your answers, but something still doesn't sit right. Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the "race." But now it sounds like you're back to saying it's majority rule. I'm not trying to "catch" you, as there is no doubt inconsistency in my own thinking.
But let's take your latest response. Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong. But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I'd be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else's?
Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?
So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. Option 1: Things are right or wrong because of the ends they yield. Option 2: Things are right or wrong because the majority says they are. Option 3: Things are right or wrong because there is some transcultural, transtemporal standard of what "is because it is." Does this seem like a fair summary of the possible approaches to determining right and wrong? If so, what's your choice?
(I'm tempted to call Option 1 the "teleological" option and Option 3 the "ontological" option, but I'm not sure that's the right use of the terms. I like the sound of it, though!)
Posted by: AFB April 29, 2007 08:29 PM
Consider Jason Ronsehouse's intitial take on it: "If the morality of the atheist is arbitrary and relative, that is no less true for the morality of the religious believer. Moral assertions do not suddenly become objectively true or false when you base them on your perception of God's will. "
and my initital comment: "morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution!"
by morality I meant the attitude that people have toward taking certain actions toward other people. I am not attempting to consider all such actions, or the differing motivations of people in various societies.
your questions and my attempts at an answer (again I have to state that I have no special knowledge or training to actually provide a good or suitable answer)
"Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the "race."" I did say race; I should have said something like "the group" or the "clan" I quess the "race" would fit in there somewhere but I consider that too big a population.
"But now it sounds like you're back to saying it's majority rule." There is no contradiction there. If the majority bands together to enforce certain rules, competition for resources within the group should be lessened and competition for resources outside the group should be more effective.
"Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong." - what does this word "wrong" mean? and you THINK : "would agree that no one should steal my car" but I think rather they are more concerned with THEIR OWN CAR and really do not care about you and your car (unless related to you by clan or blood ties) In people's quest to protect their OWN private property it often is the case that EVERYONE's has to be protected.
But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I'd be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else's? - again what does this word "wrong" mean? You park your car in a neighbor hood that has no jobs, food or money and everyone is starving. A brave young man of the community takes your car, drives it to another town, sells it and buys food, pampers, baby formula and malt liquor and then CARRIES it all on his back for miles to bring it in and SAVES his family and friends.
DO you mean that kind of wrong?
"Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?" well, as a pirate I would have to do so. But I really don't like the killing part because then we can't come back and rob them again.
"So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. . . . right or wrong . . .right or wrong . . . right or wrong "
I think we would need a working definition of right or wrong in order to proceed down those lines of inquiry. That may or may not be productive. I don't think in terms of "ought"
"But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? b) If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?Posted by: AFB April 24, 2007 08:50 PM "
"a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.b) its the accretion of MY dnac) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.Posted by: Kevin April 25, 2007 12:08 AM "
Posted by: Kevin April 29, 2007 09:41 PM
Hi Kevin -
Well, we may be stuck in an endless loop. I don't think "right" and "wrong" need specialized definitions for the discussion we've been having. It might be as simple as, "what you would teach your children about how to live," or "how you think others ought to behave," or "how you think YOU ought to behave."
We all have standards of behavior, and we project those onto other people all the time. When my neighbors let their dog bark for an hour and don't bring it in, I say (and I'd guess you would, too), "That's wrong. It's inconsiderate and not nice. They should bring the dog in." Well, on what basis can I legitimately say such a thing? Or can I? A barking dog doesn't seem to harm my DNA, nor help theirs. If, as you say, "it's whatever does prevail that counts," then if the dog continues to bark, then the dog continues to bark. If I kill the dog, then I kill the dog. The two are equivalent, because (according to you), "there is NO ought, there is only what is." But I don't really believe that the two are equivalent, I'm certain the dog's owners wouldn't believe that, and I'm fairly confident that even you wouldn't believe that.
We do lots of things that don't lead to accretion of our DNA. Sending money to help stop the genocide in Darfur or to rebuild houses destroyed in the Asian tsunami does nothing for my DNA, unless one argues in the tortured logic of the butterfly that causes the hurricane (or whatever it is). Mother Teresa didn't do much for her DNA by founding a hospice for dying street people. And so on.
So I'm left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group). Not that everyone agrees on all the details of what is right and wrong - far from it - and not that everyone lives consistently according to the innate knowledge (I know I don't). But the similarities of right and wrong are strikingly similar across time and culture, and within our own culture, and those similarities hold even when the differences and variations are acknowledged.
Is all this similarity of morality due to biological determinism, or something else? I think it's got to be something else.
Posted by: AFB May 2, 2007 10:15 AM
So I'm left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group).
Well, good luck with that.....
Posted by: Kevin May 2, 2007 10:58 AM
Monday, May 7, 2007
Can You Have an Intelligent Philosophical Discussion With an Atheist?
Well, you can try. Evolutionblog is apparently one of the more popular atheist blogs, and the author isn't reluctant to attack the faults and idiosyncrasies he sees in religions (Christianity in particular, of course). But Jason Rosenhouse and his commenters seem to be at their best when "preaching to the choir." Maybe we're all that way.
Rosenhouse authored a blog about the Virginia Tech shootings and focused on Franklin Graham's comments about the sad event. He's not impressed with what Graham had to say, nor with the comments of a group called Answers in Genesis (AiG). If you'd like to read his entire entry and everyone's comments, click here. For the express version, read my comments to him, below, and the responses I received (very lightly edited for clarity):
Hmmm. Maybe he figured out I believe in God or something.