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Re: [OriginsTalk] Re: Atheist morality

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  • Al Young
    Al: Morality, even if only an incipient morality, seems to exist pretty routinely among apes. Jim: When I speak of morality, I have in mind universally
    Message 1 of 55 , Jun 30, 2007
      Al: "Morality, even if only an incipient morality, seems to exist
      pretty routinely among apes."

      Jim: When I speak of morality, I have in mind universally normative
      moral principles. While apes may exhibit behaviors that we regard as moral,
      the likelihood that they understand that they are behaving in accordance
      with universal moral principles is nil.

      Al: Whether or not apes have any insight into their moral behaviors
      (such as they are) is an open question and, unless you are a primatologist,
      I doubt if you're in a position to evaluate related liklihoods.

      Me: "I was arguing that morality is meaningful only with respect to
      meaningful beings, and that the wholly materialistic conception of human
      beings offered by Darwinism makes the lives of human beings no more
      meaningful than the lives of, say, cockroaches (in the Darwinian scheme of
      things, both humans and cockroaches are nothing more than unintended,
      meaningless, and purposeless products of the blind evolution of matter)."

      Al: "Morality meaningful only to meaningful beings?"

      Jim: That's not what I said. I said that morality is meaningful only
      WITH RESPECT TO meaningful beings.

      Al: Ok, is this right?- You are saying that morality can be palpably and
      intrinsically real only to those beings that believe they have a special
      in the universe, beyond what purely material considerations alone would
      suggest. If I haven't got it, elaborate further.

      Jim: Morality establishes right and wrong
      behaviors (that is, the behaviors we ought, or we ought not, to do), but
      it's nonsensical to think that the behaviors of beings living a meaningless
      existence can be either right or wrong.

      Al: To be clear: by "meaningless" in this context, you refer to beings
      in a universe in which he is not special - over and above what materialism
      would suggest.

      First, I disagree that there's any evidence that the universe is meaningful
      with respect to human beings in the way you're suggesting; your assertion
      that it is appears to be isolated and bare, without support, without

      For example, your belief that the universe is meaningful with respect to
      human beings can be explained (an hypothesis) by the idea that human
      beings naturally tend to explain the world in terms of beings (gods, for
      that they have a relationship with, interact with. There's at least some
      for that.

      The point is that your assertion that a genuinely meaningful universe exists
      with respect to humans has no more intellectual standing or status than my

      And upon this uncertain base, you attach the arbitrary req't that your
      of meaning is the *only* path via which human beings can genuinely believe
      right and wrong.

      So, I see your statement: "..that morality is meaningful only WITH RESPECT
      TO meaningful beings" as one bare assertion piled atop another bare

      Second, the incipient moral behaviors in our evolutionary forbears may well
      have developed and differentiated into what we now recognize as normative
      moral principles (in our particular culture that is, because there's a lot
      of variation
      the world over as to what's right and what's wrong).

      Jim: If a being is living a meaningless existence, what could be wrong about
      its existence?

      Al: "Meaningless" in the sense that that being doesn't regard itself as
      having a special
      place in the universe. Beyond that, such a being would simply have to
      believe it's

      Al: "...atheists and materialists of all strips routinely report
      that morality is
      important to them."

      Jim: I don't doubt that they do, but atheism and materialism provide no
      basis for morality.

      Al: Apparently no basis that you would personally approve of in a
      sense. Practically speaking, of course, atheists/materialists routinely
      in a moral fashion and that is really the bottom line.

      We're human beings, we have big brains, we rationalize everything - to the
      point of actually requiring that manifestly good, social behavior in a
      sense can only be *really* valid if there's a detailed theoretical
      Oh, we are the precious ones, Jimmy.

      Jim: Morality is important to atheists and materialists (who
      are essentially the same people) because they don't actually live their
      lives in accordance with the moral logic of a materialistic conception of
      reality, which entails that no living thing has the kind of inherent value
      that can give meaning to morality.

      Al: So, now you're saying that materialists/atheists live morality in the
      same way you do, are by their moral behavior undistinguishable from
      that of Jim Goff. And you assert that they're behaving properly but for
      the wrong reasons. It's important to them, according to you, *because*
      of the mismatch between beliefs and behavior. But it's important to you
      because of the harmony between beliefs and behavior.

      I suggest that a more logical, less convoluted way of accounting for this
      phenomenon you describe is simply that your premise that only a belief
      in the exclusive inherent value of human beings can result in the embrace of
      genuine moral behavior - is wrong.

      Jim: Serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy
      captured the moral implications of a materialistic worldview quite well in
      this taped statement to one of his surviving victims....

      <Bundy's statement>

      Al: I understand that you're using Bundy's statement to illustrate the moral
      implications of materialism (via reductio ad absurdum). But you are also
      inappropriately indulging in the besmirching materialism via
      association with a whacko like Bundy. I'm pretty sure you could have found
      a better example if you weren't so willing to bring emotion into the
      in service of your argument.

      That said, this is a psychopath's rationalization of his murderous behavior.
      contributes no more to the discussion than that of a paranoid schizophrenic
      urged by the "voice of God" to exterminate sinners or than that of the
      jihadist compelled to slaughter the infidel.

      Bundy's analysis (and your inclusion thereof) overlooks the scientifically
      coherent view that (most) human beings carry within them a genuine
      tendency toward moral behavior, an apparently good idea among social

      Tell me, Jim, do you absolutely rule out that human morality has its entire
      origins in matter? Do you assert that that's impossible?

      Jim> Bundy wanted to know why it would be wrong to kill a human, but not
      a hog. Atheism can give no principled answer to his question.

      Al> One doesn't need a "principled" (theoretical) answer to behave in a
      socially acceptable manner. Why does morality need this so-called
      explanation? Isn't it good enough to know that we're wired that way? That
      maybe someday when science has deeper insight into how the brain works,
      we may be in a better position to answer such questions?

      Jim: The materialistic worldview inherent in atheism provides no reason
      for thinking that the life of a human being is morally significant, but the
      of a hog isn't.

      Al: Maybe, maybe not. People seem to think that they are somehow more
      valuable than other animals without invoking religious justification. What's
      sure is that most people behave pretty morally most of the time. It doesn't
      appear that a developed theory about morality is req'd for people to behave
      morally. There is no empirical evidence that a designer is req'd for the
      existence of morality.

      Wouldn't the designer be just as responsible for human behaviors that are
      immoral such as murder, etc. Isn't the designer responsible for immoral
      behavior as well as moral behavior?

      Jim: (Please note: I'm not arguing that atheists are immoral, but I
      am arguing that their worldview gives them no reasons for living moral
      lives. They find those reasons in a moral order to which their worldview
      contributed nothing.)

      Al: I understand. But you also underscore the likely unnecessariness of a
      detailed theoretical underpinning for morality to practically obtain. It
      it's part-and-parcel of us, perhaps an ancesteral heritage.

      Al: "Many people that are persuaded that evolution is a fact and
      that Darwinism is a viable theoretical construct have personal religion and
      don't have a personal interest in 'wedging' their religious views into the

      Jim: I, too, have no interest in wedging my religious views into science.

      Al: Excuse my cynicism, but I'm guessing there's a quibble about whether or
      not evolutionary biology is "real science".

      Jim: The same is true of every ID proponent I've read (I've read some
      two dozen of their books and a large number of their essays). Like ID
      proponents, I think that science should not be shackled by an a priori
      commitment to materialism,

      Al: Science *is* shackled to materialism, forced to work within its
      because human beings themselves are so shackled. Further than that, we don't
      even know *if* there's other dimensions to reality.

      How to you seriously expect that science is going to, in part, anyway,
      the world with considerations of design when there's absolutely no evidence
      of the existence of a designer (aside from the bare existence of the very
      and beings whose nature and existence we seek to explain).

      Jim: and I think that if science is properly construed, it is consonant
      with (but not the same as) a theistic worldview, but I don't think that
      science should be the handmaiden of religion.

      Al: What does "properly construed" consist of?

      Jim: If science is unconstrained by any a priori metaphysical commitments
      (as ID theorists argue it should be), it is free to explore all three
      modes - chance, necessity, and design - in its search for explanations of
      natural phenomena.

      Al: If design is indeed one of the potential and actual explanatory modes, I
      haven't seen the slightest indication that human beings have any idea how to
      about exploiting it toward gaining knowledge. What I have seen, instead,
      been dishonest attempts to debunk perfectly legitimate science because of
      that science's apparent offense to religious sensibilities.

      To my lights, there are no "a priori metaphysical commitments" in science,
      evolutionary biology. I think this assertion, is, at best, a confusion with
      genuine human
      limitations, at worse (and sadly, most likely) a part of a cynical program
      to manipulate
      science and education such that religion - Christian views - eventually
      becomes part
      of both.

      C'mon Jim, we both know that ID is a social and political movement that
      seeks scientific
      views that are more congenial to religious views, especially Christian
      religious views. The
      Wedge strategy isn't motivated by the potential discovery of knowledge; it
      does not share
      science's very reason for existence: the discovery of knowledge.

      ID is the most recent iteration of scientific creationism.

      Jim: That freedom of inquiry is available to science if
      science is consonant with a theistic worldview (theism does not entail that
      every natural phenomena must be attributed to design), but if science is
      committed to materialism (as evolutionary biology currently is), it can
      pursue only chance and necessity as possible explanations for natural
      phenomena (design having potentially theistic implications that a
      commitment to materialism cannot abide).

      Al: As I've been saying, science is necessarily confined by the same
      limitations as
      human beings, namely a sort of practical, working materialism vis-a-vis
      knowledge about the world. This means that if there's no evidence of a
      there can hardly be discussions in science about design. If there's no
      for a designer, a reasonable hypothesis is that it's an imaginary construct
      and it's
      reasonable and practical for science to dismiss it until there is such
      evidence -
      what is unfair or unacceptable about that?

      Jim: If science were an organism with
      three eyes, and if science operated in harmony with a theistic worldview,
      it would be able to look for explanations for natural phenomena with all
      three eyes wide open. But when science is constrained by an a priori
      commitment to materialism, it can look for explanations with only two eyes
      open, the third having been poked out by the commitment to materialism. If
      science is committed to materialism (as evolutionary biology presently is),
      it can promise to deliver "scientific" explanations, but it can't promise
      to deliver the most truthful explanations. To be on the side of truth,
      science must have all three explanatory modes in its explanatory toolkit.

      Al: So far it appears that we only have 2 eyes to begin with.

      Al: "Science in general and Darwinian evolution in particular
      implies no such thing (that we're puropseless bags of chemicals) - such
      considerations are irrelevant to science, outside its purview."

      Jim: I agree that science is incompetent to decide moral questions, but
      Darwinian evolution quite obviously implies that human beings are nothing
      more than purposeless bags of chemicals. What else could products of the
      blind evolution of matter be?

      Al: Evolutionary biology has only attempted to explain the diversity of
      life. The
      implications are left to the consumer of this knowledge; eb isn't in the
      business of specifying existential implications of what it discovers. *You*
      such implications. And then you have the nerve to complain about them. And
      then blame the messenger of the original of the bare, implication-free

      Al: "...can you give some objective evidence that people *are* more
      than meaningless bags of chemicals, or even that they are more 'meaningful'
      than any other animal?"

      Jim: I doubt that I could deliver any evidence that you'd regard as
      persuasive, but it would be illogical to conclude that my failure to do so
      entails that humans must be meaningless bags of chemicals after all.

      Al: I agree, I don't draw that conclusion. By a similar token, I would
      you not to have already concluded that human beings aren't meaningless
      bags of chemicals. Do you agree? Do you, in the spirit of blind, agenda-free
      inquiry that you imply motivates you agree to the *possibility* that the
      is in fact without a designer and that we are in fact meaningless bags of

      Me: "If we live in the wholly material universe offered by atheism,
      and if we are the wholly material beings that Darwinism makes of us, then
      how do you account for nonmaterial things like love, justice, morality and
      reason? Are they properties of matter? Properties of energy? Of space? Of
      Al: "Epiphenomena of brains (that, of course, are themselves

      Jim: To say that (for example) our thoughts are "epiphenomena of brains"
      is to say that our thoughts are derivative from our material brains, which
      entails that our thoughts are mere natural events occurring in our brains.
      If that's the case, then our thoughts must be determined by natural causes,
      all of which are irrational (i.e., lacking reason and understanding). How,
      then, could our thoughts be rational?

      Al: I dunno. It would be illogical to conclude that my failure to answer
      specific question about rational thought entails that brain function must
      involve design forces afterall.

      Al: What it says is that I *believe* our brains are purely material
      that think and do things brains typically do. And, as usual, there's no
      that other than material forces are at work, regardless science's present
      to understand much about how the brain does what it does or, for tht matter,
      full appreciation of all it's capable of, muchless how it accomplishes those

      I say I believe that the above qualities are epiphenomena of brains because
      is neuroscience's present view and, as far as I'm concerned, science, all
      represents the very best human beings can do toward understanding the
      phenomenal world.

      I suppose neuroscience is then on the chopping block for you ID guys
      evolutionary biology, eh?

      Jim: All natural (or material) causes fall into the categories of chance
      and necessity (or natural law). If our thoughts are natural events
      determined by chance, why do we reliably say "4" when asked for the sum of
      2 + 2? And if our thoughts are natural events determined by necessity (or
      natural law), why do our thoughts so often differ when we're exposed to the
      same stimulus (such as the question "Should abortion be legal?"). It seems
      clear to me that if our thoughts are rational, they cannot be produced by
      irrational natural (or material) causes. It follows that they must be
      produced by something that transcends matter.

      Al: What you're telling me is that you can't imagine how the human brain
      does what it does without recourse to something that transcends matter.

      All that tells me is the universe isn't limited by Jim Goff's imagination.

      Al: "These (a soul, God, transcendent aspect of our being) are not
      consensus reality, so you can't expect science (or evolutionary biology) to
      include them in its purview."

      Jim: I don't. Evolutionary biology speaks to such things only by
      implication. The same is true of ID theory.

      Al: Individuals draw implications, eb does not speak to such things, via
      implication or otherwise..any more than cosmologists do when they're trying
      to fathom the extent of the universe or neuro-scientists do when they're
      exercising their brains to understand brains.

      Btw, what theory does ID have? What does ID do aside from trying to debunk
      evolution via popular media and claiming that it can somehow detect design?

      Al: "Why do you rule out that God simply established physical laws,
      stepped back and let it roll and has nothing much to do with us now."

      Jim: That's a possibility, but I don't see it as a probability. Why
      would a Creator want to have nothing to do with his creation?

      Al: Why not? Do you presume to have insight into the motivations of God? Who
      cares if you can imagine such motivation or not - that's altogether
      irrelevant. Is
      God also limited by your imagination?

      Al: "I know, I know; IDers are referring to Darwinism only, not
      science in general. I don't accept that. Evolutionary biology is science,
      so objections to EB also apply to science at large."

      Jim: To say that objections to evolutionary biology also "apply to
      science at large" is to commit the fallacy of composition (which
      illogically holds that what's true for the part must also be true for the

      Al: Be that logical fallacy as it may, it's irrelevant because evolutionary
      is in empirical fact no different than the rest of science in that it
      observes, it
      measures, it generates theories that fit the observations and measurements -
      just like science at large.

      The real reason, we both know, that you *have* to insist that eb is a
      special case
      and that you otherwise manifest respect for science at large is because (1)
      your religious
      views render you unable to abide the legitimate scientific findings of eb
      and (2) it's
      easier to discredit science one part at a time than it is to risk alienating
      the whole
      of science - though most individual scientists, regardless of discipline,
      think ID is pure
      cynical nonsense. And if in some fantastic future, Iders are successful in
      getting their
      way with evolutionary biology, we both know that other disciplines will
      follow, until
      the whole of science is diluted and reduced to a puddle intellectual

      Al: "...it seems that IDers aim to twist science such that it's
      forced to award its imprimatur to their particular flavor of Christianity."

      Jim: This will come as news to ID proponents who are not Christians. In
      fact, it would come as news to all ID proponents.

      Al: Creationism dressed up in new clothes.

      Jim: "The soldier who throws his body on a grenade to save the lives
      of his buddies sacrifices both his happiness and his life, but his
      sacrificial act of bravery is of the highest morality. It's an act that is
      (in Clare's words) 'objectively GOOD,' but it's certainly not good for the
      soldier's own comfort, pleasure and happiness."

      Al: Another hypothesis, if you'll allow, is that this phenomenon has less
      to do with morality than that it's behavior that naturally emerges from the
      relationship of vital dependence of every man on every other in the group
      as it faces common dangers that the group working a whole has to survive
      or defeat.

    • Susan Cogan
      ... I have no problem if you want to believe that. It s a religious belief. It s your privilege. ... atheists don t need an argument against God any more than
      Message 55 of 55 , Sep 5, 2007
        > >>The Wall Street Journal today has an article by >Robert Lee Hotz on
        >the discovery of "mirror" cells in the motor cortex >that reflect the
        >actions and intentions of others as if they were our >own. They cause us
        >to identify with the characters in a novel, or suffer >when we watch
        >others suffer on the evening news. If we are good, it is >because we see
        >ourselves as part of the human race and the happiness of >others makes
        >us happy.
        >___Which is a perfect testimony to how God wired us to need him, and
        >that he made us in his image!

        I have no problem if you want to believe that. It's a religious
        belief. It's your privilege.

        >However, just like the chimps blowing the bonobo argument back to hell,
        >this gives them a fantastic problem to explain away all the things that
        >atheists always used as the argument against God.

        atheists don't need an argument against God any more than you need an
        argument against Poseidon

        >And the best Susan could do for examples of "good" atheists were just
        >famous names that weren't serial killers. Whoopedoo.

        you're going to have to define good and bad for me. I'm pretty sure
        the context of that list was there were no admirable or good
        atheists. Obviously that was silly.

        >History tells us Christianity formed the culture where these guys could
        >perform their tasks without a general fear of getting enslaved,
        >infanticided, gladiatored, fed to lions, or like the founding patron
        >saint of the ancient pagan myth of spontaneous abiogenesis pointed out,
        >getting eaten by your enemies.

        hahahahaha! A lot of them would have been hanged or burned at the
        stake if they had been born a couple hundred years earlier.

        >Now the Bill Gates foundation is a good example of utilitarian morality.
        >Gobs of free software (at a cost of three cents per CD or almost-free
        >server time for downloads), a few million in hardware, to get the next
        >generation of Indians on Microsoft.


        Global Development Program

        University of Kwa Zulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, 2006. Photo by S. Farmer.

        Nearly 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day. For one person
        in eight, hunger is a constant, potentially deadly, companion. The
        vast majority of the poor also lack access to the most basic
        financial services and only a tiny minority have access to the

        The foundation's Global Development Program is working with motivated
        partners to create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of
        poverty and hunger. Our strategy is focused. Because most of the
        world's poorest people rely directly on agriculture, we support
        efforts to help small farmers improve crop production and market
        access. Because loans, insurance, and savings can help people weather
        setbacks and build assets, we facilitate access to financial services
        for the poor. And because information can change lives, we support
        free public access to computers connected to the Internet.

        We also support a range of learning opportunities, including
        potential new areas of long-term giving, and we respond to
        emergencies through our Special Initiatives grantmaking.

        Global Health Program

        Toward a Healthier World
        Millions of people-most of them children-die each year in developing
        countries from diseases that are preventable and treatable. Moreover,
        tragically little research is done to prevent or cure some of the
        world's biggest killers, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

        The foundation is guided by the belief that all lives, no matter
        where they are lived, have equal value. The mission of our Global
        Health Program is to encourage the development of lifesaving medical
        advances and to help ensure they reach the people who are
        disproportionately affected. We focus our funding in two main areas:

        * Access to existing vaccines, drugs, and other tools to fight
        diseases common in developing countries

        * Research to develop health solutions that are effective,
        affordable, and practical

        View printable version

        >Andrew Carnegie repackaging Christian love in a smiley face and selling it.

        He gave $2 million in 1901 to start the Carnegie Institute of
        Technology (CIT) at Pittsburgh, and the same amount in 1902 to found
        the Carnegie Institution at Washington, D.C. He later contributed
        more to these and other schools. CIT is now part of Carnegie Mellon

        He served on the Board of Cornell University.

        In Scotland, he gave $2 million in 1901 to establish a trust for
        providing funds for assisting education at the Scottish universities,
        a benefaction which resulted in his being elected Lord Rector of
        University of St. Andrews. He was a large benefactor of the Tuskegee
        Institute under Booker Washington for African American education. He
        also established large pension funds in 1901 for his former employees
        at Homestead and, in 1905, for American college professors. The later
        fund has evolved into TIAA-CREF. One critical term was that
        church-related schools had to sever their connections to get his
        money. He also funded the construction of 7,000 church organs.

        Also, long before he sold out, in 1879, he erected commodious
        swimming-baths for the use of the people of his hometown of
        Dunfermline, Scotland. In the following year, Carnegie gave $40,000
        for the establishment of a free library in the same city. In 1884, he
        gave $50,000 to Bellevue Hospital Medical College to found a
        histological laboratory, now called the Carnegie Laboratory.

        He owned Carnegie Hall in New York City.

        He founded the Carnegie Hero Fund commissions in America (1904) and
        in the United Kingdom (1908) for the recognition of deeds of heroism,
        contributed $1,500,000 in 1903 for the erection of the Peace Palace
        at The Hague, and donated $150,000 for a Pan-American Palace in
        Washington as a home for the International Bureau of American

        Carnegie was honored for his philanthropy and support of the arts by
        initiation as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity
        on October 14, 1917 at the New England Conservatory of Music in
        Boston, Massachusetts. The fraternity's mission reflects Carnegie's
        values by making the world a better place by developing young men to
        share their talents to create harmony in the world.

        By the standards of 19th century tycoons, Carnegie was not a
        particularly ruthless man, but the contrast between his life and the
        lives of many of his own workers and of the poor, in general, was
        stark. "Maybe with the giving away of his money," commented
        biographer Joseph Wall, "he would justify what he had done to get
        that money." [2]

        By the time he died, Carnegie had given away $350,695,653
        (approximately $4.3 billion, adjusted to 2005 figures). At his death,
        the last $30,000,000 was likewise given away to foundations,
        charities, and to pensioners.

        >Thomas Edison stiffing a man twenty times smarter than himself and then
        >trying to destroy his work too boot, and stunting science progress as a
        >side effect.

        Oh, is this the conflict with Westinghouse and Tesla? That cancels
        out his thousands of inventions?

        >Einstein, whose "atheism" is in question.

        No it's not.

        >And John Dewey, for God's sake, the great destroyer of US education,
        >subordinating academic discipline to the cause of socialist and atheist

        yeah, that's your view. We're supposed to be teaching bronze age
        science in schools.

        >And the fact that tyrannizes are so good at deifying their leaders is

        tyrannizers? So have you come up with a theocracy that wasn't a
        oppressive totalitarian state? Have you come up with the name of a
        free and open society that didn't have a secular humanist government?
        I've been asking for this for weeks.







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