Monday, August 17, 2009

DicksnJanes #211: damnationed

Now the Scarborough Dude is almost certain to suffer eternal damnation!

Give Podcamp A Chance- Those wonderful folks at #pcmtl
Shabop Shalom - Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
In manus tuas - Peter Phillips & The Tallis Scholars - The Essential Tallis Scholars
My Love Was There - Junction - Another Link In The Chain


Karen Burke said...

I am in 100% disagreement with John and his Moral Standards. We can make a case for our ethical standards without god or religion by the fact that basic human values are widely shared by virtue of being rooted in our common evolved nature. Scientists such as Fraz de Waal (Good Natured) and Marc Hauser (Moral Minds) are documenting the evolutionary history of our moral sense and have discovered its precursors among the great apes - chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas.

Each of us has deeply held desires for how we want ourselves and our loved ones to be treted, desires that define the core of everyday morality nearly everywhere we look. There's an innate motivational predisposition for morality stemming from the survival advantage conferred by living in stable groups, which requires cooperation, sharing reciprocity and forming close attachments to others. Since cooperative individuals forming stable groups were more likely to reproduce (the group protected them) they passed on cooperative predispostions to their descendents - us. We can therefore understand the set of moral attitudes directed at the self and others (shame, pride, guilt, resentment, gratitude, trust, affection) as a natural phenomenon, which in turn explains our strong intuitions about how we *should* treat others and how others *should* treat us. We need not appeal to a supernatural standard of ethical conduct to know that in general, it's wrong to lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder, torture or otherwise treat people in ways we'd rather not be treated. Empathetic concern for others and the Golden Rule of reciprocity get us what we most want as social creatures: to flourish as individuals within a community.

I am far more concerned with people who need the good book and the threat of god's wrath to be good and moral and do the right thing. Why not just be good for *goodness* sake, instead of hoping for some kind of reward upon death? As Christopher Hitchens says: "Religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.

All atheist means is A="without" THEIST= "god". That's all it means, no god. It doesn't mean that someone doesn't believe in ANYTHING, or is into passivity or fatalism or no moralism. I believe that there is a single, natural, physical world in which we are completely included. There isn't a separate supernatural or immaterial realm and there's nothing supernatural or immaterial about us. Acknowledging this gives us power and self-acceptance, while keeping us compassionate, unself-righteous and open to profound experiences of meaning and connection.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what she said.

John Meadows said...

I don't see anything in Karen's argument that strengthens an atheistic concept of ethics. If morality is nothing more than an evolved behavioral response to situations in order to derive competitive advantage, then in a changing world, as we evolve, there is nothing preventing future generations of humans (or whatever we evolve into) exhibiting behaviors that we would consider abhorrent, as these behaviors could result in competitive advantage under different environmental circumstances. The natural world is full of behaviors that we call murder, assault, rape, infanticide, incest, cannibalism, slavery, theft etc. when they are engaged in by humans. When they are engaged in by other species, we can excuse them by seeing those species as amoral, with humans set apart as creatures with a conscience.

However, if we refer to human ethics and morality in evolutionary and behavioral terms as Karen does, we can no longer make a distinction between ourselves and other creatures; we act in reaction to external stimuli and try to survive, like any other species; any behavior that results in competitive advantage is justifiable. If a stronger species evolves, and through actions we would call "evil" wipes us out (as we perhaps wiped out the Neanderthals, according to some scientists), our own ethical beliefs will not survive us, since we created them. What we might call "evil" could become the new good.

So it's not about having a god "scaring us straight" with the threat of eternal damnation; my concern is that there is nothing universal in our ethical beliefs; they only matter to us; the greater universe doesn't care at all. To claim otherwise invalidates the argument being made.

I would certainly agree that there has been no shortage of people throughout who have twisted religion to their own selfish ends. but has there been any area of human endeavor that has not been exploited? In everything from Economics to the Arts, there are always some who will game the system for their own personal benefit. And ironically, if their only "crime" is to act contrary to majority opinion as to what constitutes moral behavior, based on what I have laid out above, to judge them would be hypocritical.

One last point, to the anonymous poster whose comment was merely "Yeah, what she said", are you incapable of speaking for yourself? I may disagree with Karen on some things, but it is obvious that she spent some time and thought on her response, and I respect and appreciate her efforts. Thoughtful discussion is always valuable. When I see comments like yours, I am reminded of the sheep in George Orwell's Animal Farm, whose only role was to bleat "Four legs good, two legs bad" on command.

Karen Burke said...

Hi John,

I was going to write a response to your response but realized that we have 2 very different worldviews. I am a naturalist, and you are a christian, and never the two shall meet, haha!

What are your thoughts on "string theory" lol?


John Meadows said...

Actually Karen although I go to church, my natural inclination is towards agnosticism, and at best I am the most unconventional Christian possible. I don't believe that Christianity has a lock on matters spiritual compared to other faiths; in fact I don't see a contradiction at all (which would be enough to get me booted out of a few churches!)

My whole question here was what I saw as the implications of atheism, rather than pushing faith :)

As for string theory, fascinating stuff and it has a certain elegance to it. More than one scientist has said though that until one can do experiments and observational science on it, it isn't science, but philosophy. Of course that's a debate for a different time :)

Karen Burke said...

Hi John,

I think we are having a disagreement about our definition of atheism, and how we view/understand atheism.

Atheism only exists as a response to theism. In an ideal world there would be no atheists because there would be no theists. We are all born atheist and remain so unless our parents start indoctrinating us with the supernatural.

Perhaps atheism just needs a make-over or a good PR firm, haha!

Anonymous said...

I'm a "Right Here and Now-ist". One second an organism can be alive. The next dead. I believe, somehow, that the Life Force or Life Tide of something alive one moment and perish the next may possibly be God. Or perhaps a suggestion of God. Something IS going on with that!.
Well, that's my 4 cents. Don't make me raise the ante and go 5 cents!!! ;) . John from Michigan.

Karen Burke said...

This video of Sam Harris pretty much sums up what I was trying to say! Brevity isn't my strong suit, haha.


Scarborough Dude said...

Thanks to everybody who's taken this conversation seriously enuf to post comments - that really does make it worthwhile!

Hope you don't mind Karen, but I 'tweeted' the following to my few followers:

This link on the nonsense of religion well worth viewing, courtesy of DicksnJanes podcast listener Karen:

John Meadows said...

I watched the clip, and was disappointed to see one of the common themes of the atheist approach being trotted out, namely the framing of the debate as one between atheism and literalist fundamentalism. While the face of Christianity in the U.S. is the right wing fundamentalist who makes such an easy target, to frame the debate in this matter is to invoke the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy.

There are gradations of belief, and indeed gradations of spiritualism throughout the world, some more literalist than others, and some, while being intensely spiritual, are not deity-focussed.

Also, When during the clip I hear talk of there being only one reality, I wonder how much thinking they have actually done on the nature of reality. If we stick strictly to the realm of science, we have a world where solidity is an illusion (we are almost entirely empty space), where there may be as many as 13 dimensions, more than one time dimension, and a virtual infinity of universes, generated by chance. None of this is the work of religious zealots or raving lunatics, but of scientists working in cosmology and quantum physics. Reality may not be the solid, easily grasped concept it is made out to be in the video.

I won't retread what I wrote earlier, but when they talked about the biological basis of morality, the question keeps coming up; do the terms good and evil have any universal meaning?

Karen Burke said...

He doesn't just mention/frame his ideas by fundamentalism, he mentions moderates and all degrees of religion.

What difference does it make if good and evil have universal meanings? These are words the bible and other religious texts use to grade people on their behaviour. These are semantics. By giving people an unbeatable reason to be good: the promise of an infinite reward in heaven and the threat of an infinite punishment in hell if you aren’t good, is divine carrot and stick reasoning that allows that people would loll about aimlessly or indulge their basest desires. It is such a demeaning view of human nature.

If any god is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering and evil in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good god would be opposed to it, an all-powerful god would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing god would know what to do about it. So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either god is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or god does not care enough to eliminate it, or god is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with god’s ability or his goodness or his knowledge. I consider this as close to and empirical refutation of Christianity or any other kind of religion as is possible.

Also, are you suggesting that because I am atheist and that you are Christian, that you are more moral than I am? Are your religious beliefs the one true religion? What about the world’s other religions and moral relativism? If you want a universal belief system, then you have to eradicate the 8,999 other religions that disagree with yours. Let’s just get rid of all religion and be good for goodness sake, as most people are without the threat of “God as Policeman”

John Meadows said...

Hi Karen:

I'm not sure where I either stated or implied that I am claiming to either be more moral than you, or that my beliefs constitute the one true religion; in fact, previous in the thread I said "I don't believe that Christianity has a lock on matters spiritual compared to other faiths; in fact I don't see a contradiction at all (which would be enough to get me booted out of a few churches!)"

I can't view the video from work to get the exact quotes, but the guy in the video only mentions moderates in the context of lumping them in with the fundies.

I have indicated at least once that I am not pushing my beliefs, or a carrot and stick approach; I am merely asking about the meaning of ethics in a non-spiritual world view; could they be nothing more than a creation of Richard Dawkin's "Selfish gene"?

Karen Burke said...

I know John, you did state those things. And no, I know you personally are not pushing your faith/beliefs or a carrot and stick approach, but religion does just that, which is what I have a problem with. Oh and the reputation that atheism has as people without morals also bothers me.

The problem is, in my experience, that a lot of religious people aren't as reasonable, rational or intelligent as you. That cannot be argued, haha.

And obviously, my distate/frustration/abhorrence for organzied religion colours my whole worldview. Religion is just so unnecessary, in my opinion.

Forget having a beer together, we're going to need a whole case!

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

I want to add a point that is being left out in this old thread, in that atheism, as Karen has said, is not a moralistic viewpoint. Instead it is a recognition of a personal belief that there is no reason to believe in the existence of a supernatural entity which created the universe, let alone "universal" moral standards. Ethics are created through an evolutionary process, and codified by societal institutions,

Religion is a societal institution, one that lends an externalized scarce resource to defining the morals of a social group by claiming that the morals it shares are "universal and immutable" and created by the god(s) that the religion follows. The Creator.

And this is not a form of institutionalized morality that is limited to fundamentalism by any means. There are liberal Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups which claim to have a stronger moral authority based on the teachings of the prophets than the fundamentalists, on whom they lay the burden of misinterpretation of scriptural authority.

The scarce resource in this case is "right interpretation" of inscripturation, because groups with opposing moral absolutes claim the source of their understanding is, yes, externalized to direct communication with the Creator. Everyone else is wrong.

The idea of a Universal Code of Morality that is interwoven through the fabric of the Universe, as is implied by you, John, is where the problem lay with religious claim to moral authority. There is no way to access reliably the truth of such Universal Code except through faith. If people don't share your faith, then it can't very well be universal, can it?

The universe is cold, uncaring and unconcerned about our local morals. We will all die in the end, sorry to say, but we are the lucky ones because we were born.

In 75 billion years, the last little bit of matter will turn into a diffused bit of energy and the universe will be gone. And there will be none there to mark its death.

But in the meantime, we here on earth can try to agree on moral codes that aid the survival of our species. We can't very well do that, when we are twisting our necks to catch the volleys of all the different religions which claim to have the true, universal moral authority.

Atheism has an adjunct in secular humanism, and it is within humanism that morals are examined; there is no pure rationality but a recognition that conflict is inevitable when dealing with the struggle over scarce resources. Secular humanism is the area in which ethics and morals are examined.

Atheism is more of the area of thought in which we defend ourselves against the charge that in order to be able to have morals we must acceded to religious authority.