Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In Defense of Atheists

Well, the good folks from P. Z. Myers blog have shown up here in force, and I wanted to make sure that our regular readers understood why the level of discourse seems to have experienced a noticeable decline. I felt the need, you see, to make special accommodations for the atheist crowd in order for them to be able to give full vent to their emotions by temporarily suspending the normal posting rules having to do with name-calling and questioning of motives.

This is important for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is probably good for them. Repressing your emotions can result in sometimes unhealthy neuroses. We don't want to see them hurt themselves, so I think it would be best to let them get it out of their systems.

Secondly, we want them to be able to adequately make their point and it would be unfair to dogmatists not to allow them to engage in what dogmatists always do when you question their cherished orthodoxies: lash out emotionally at those who disagree with them.

But I also wanted our loyal readers to understand the causes behind this behavior. What we have here, after all, are a group of presumably higher level hominids who--despite their pretensions of occupying the highest branch on the evolutionary tree--seem not to have developed any noticeable system of manners.

Note the litany of epithets and questioning of intentions, along with accusations of moral turpitude. Then there are the accusations of a lack of courage (and hypocrisy)--made, ironically, by people who refuse to identify themselves.

There are other things we have noticed as well. In fact, we have watched them, clipboard, stopwatch, and other scientific instruments in hand (in the scientific attitude) and made some very important empirical observations, the most significant of which seems to be that there are two varieties of atheist species: the consistent ones and the inconsistent ones.

The inconsistent atheists are the ones who still unaccountably cling to rationality, despite the fact that their own materialistic view of the world precludes it (truth and validity both being metaphysical concepts). They still make the attempt to make rational arguments despite the fact that their largely materialist assumptions rule out the very procedure they try to employ.

The consistent ones (which our observations indicate are far more numerous) are the ones who either don't bother to argue at all, but simply use taunts or epithets to make their case--or who attribute their opponents position, not to some mistaken chain of reasoning, but to some underhanded motive. Rationality being impossible in their worldview, they must attribute people's word and actions, not to a rationale, but to a cause--usually some form of intellectual dishonesty.

Among these latter individuals, the correct position on any scientific matter is intrinsically bound up with morality to the extent that truth and good are completely indistinguishable. Since the two cannot be separated, this means that if you believe someone to be incorrect on an issue, they must also therefore be evil. No one can be honestly wrong, This accounts for the penchant (typical of dogmatists of all varieties) to impart some sort of intellectual dishonesty to their opponents.

Furthermore, these characteristics make them indistinguishable in many ways from the religious fundamentalists they profess to scorn, living in a similar black and white world where there exists only the one morally correct position, and all others are to be scorned.

So, while we spend a few days disentangling the arguments from the epithets in order to answer them, please take these things into account and be patient with them.

30 comments:

Singring said...

Oh...I see.

So intead of adressing and rebutting arguments you whine about 'epithets' and 'uncivil behaviour'?

Why does that not surprise me?

To be quite honest, I've yet to see a more civil response to the one you received.

I called you dishonest and I stand by that accusation - its up to you to refute it. You didn't. Instead you choose to whine and appeal to emotion while (ironically) claiming that its 'dogmatists' who do so.

Rarely have I seen a more exquisite display of self-humiliation.

Lee said...

> Furthermore, these characteristics make them indistinguishable in many ways from the religious fundamentalists they profess to scorn, living in a similar black and white world where there exists only the one morally correct position, and all others are to be scorned.

Martin, I will be organizing the religious-fundamentalist protest at being lumped in with these folks. Look outside your front window at noon today.

Free Lunch said...

Fascinating.

Please support this assertion: "... the fact that their largely materialist assumptions rule out the very procedure they try to employ."

Please explain how truth and validity are metaphysical concepts.

Since atheism is no more than the lack of belief in any gods, how do you determine these other attributes of atheism?

Are you confident that you are abiding by the rules you have set for your commenters?

Lee said...

Free Lunch, ask yourself the following question: is there anything higher that man, something capable of being the final arbitrator of right and wrong, truth or falsehood, good or evil? And should someone feel shame at not having met such a standard?

If you believe man is just a collection of self-organized molecules put together at random by the universe, there's nothing special about his particular molecules, and what he perceives to be his own thoughts are just notions put there by his brain chemistry -- then, clearly, truth and validity are simply conceits, without an objective existence.

But if you believe that truth and validity, along with goodness, are somehow the judge of such discussions, and that man is somehow morally obligated to pay heed to them, then you are forced to admit there are non-material things that are greater than man. You can't observe them with a microscope or capture their electromagnetic footprint. They're not being emitted from a dwarf star, nor hiding under the sand at the beach. But you know the standards are there and they are real.

So which is it? You can't have both.

Free Lunch said...

Is there anything higher that man, something capable of being the final arbitrator of right and wrong, truth or falsehood, good or evil?

No evidence supports that speculation, so I see no reason to assume such an anything exists.

And should someone feel shame at not having met such a standard?

What standard? None exists other than the standards that humans create for themselves or others.

... truth and validity are simply conceits, without an objective existence.

...

But you know the standards are there and they are real.


I agree that I cannot accept your conclusion that truth and validity are there if there is no evidence for them. I don't understand why you assume that there is no such evidence. It appears that you may be using a special definition of those words. I have no problems finding claims that contain truth or statements that are valid.

Joe_Agnost said...

I agree with Singring... the comments have been exceedingly polite and civil.

Why is questioning another man's ideas considered an 'epithet' or 'uncivil'??

Doug said...

"If you believe man is just a collection of self-organized molecules put together at random by the universe,"

Self-organized and random are mutually exclusive. Your statement seems to be founded on the fallacious assumption that evolution is a random process. But setting that aside, why do truth, validity etc. need to be objective? This is something that religious fundamentalists repeatedly assert, but when challenged to explain, their responses typically boil down to "because it has to!"

Lee said...

> Self-organized and random are mutually exclusive.

Self-organized in that, well, the body gives all the appearances of being organized. Or do you dispute that?

Random, in that it happened all by itself. No guiding intelligence.

> Your statement seems to be founded on the fallacious assumption that evolution is a random process.

Presuming evolution is an accurate enough narrative of natural history, if it is not designed, then what is the alternative to random?

> But setting that aside, why do truth, validity etc. need to be objective?

Well, if they are not, then you can't say that I'm wrong in any meaningful sense, can you? But that didn't stop you, did it?

Nobody lives their life as if he believes truth is not objective. If I slap your kid, you'll be offended. If I make your wife, you'll be upset. If I steal your car, you'll call the cops. All of which makes perfect sense in my world view -- I believe there is such a thing as right and wrong because God made it so. But given the materialist world view, it doesn't make sense to get offended. There is no higher truth to be served by calling the cops and locking me up. Your preferences, in the materialist scheme of things, are no better than mine. Your sense of justice, and I'm sure you have one -- it follows from the fact that God created it -- makes sense in my world view, but not yours.

> This is something that religious fundamentalists repeatedly assert, but when challenged to explain, their responses typically boil down to "because it has to!"

Does something stand over both of our arguments by which we can judge one to be better than the other? Apparently you think so, or you wouldn't bother to argue. Is that thing reason? Then I have to ask, what is the nature of reason? In the materialist world of brain chemicals and bursts of electricity, reason is just some configuration of the above. We identify it as something abstract, but the reality of it resides in brain chemistry. If your set of brain chemicals line up against religion and mine line up for it, and (as you suggested) there is no objective truth, what basis is there to prefer your set of chemicals to mine? Why should we prefer the brain chemistry of reason to the brain chemistry of nihilism? You seem to prefer it; I'm asking, why bother? We've cracked the code, right? We no longer have to worry about a higher truth. It's an illusion caused by a faceless force of the universe that reinforces survival mechanisms.

But by asking your questions, you behave as if it matters. So why ask them?

Evan Oliver said...

I have to admit I find it funny that Martin is being asked to provide a logical reply to name calling.
Can we disect 'truth', have we ever placed logic in a test tube? If humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals without any kind of god, then on what basis do we legislate against rape, murder, or anything else? If the world is here by accident, then what place does truth or logic have in an illogical world?

Joe_Agnost said...

Lee wrote: "if it is not designed, then what is the alternative to random?"

It's not that simple. It's not one or the other. The mutations are random and the selection for positive reproductive traits is not random but selective. That doesn't automatically make it "designed", in fact it isn't "designed" at all.

Lee cont'd: "I believe there is such a thing as right and wrong because God made it so."

This is what is SO SCARY about religious fundamentalism... your statement, when taken to it's logical conclution, is that without a god in the sky you (Lee) would rape, steal and murder. That really makes you an amoral A-hole.

You're not alone either... the very next comment says the same thing.

Evan Oliver wrote: "If humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals without any kind of god, then on what basis do we legislate against rape, murder, or anything else?"

Seriously!? What is the matter with you amoral theists?! You're saying that without a god's threats you'd be raping, murdering etc.?

This is truly a perfect example of why religious people scare the hell out of me...

I care about my fellow human beings. I want the best for my family and friends. I understand the pain and suffering rape causes and wouldn't want to inflict that kind of anguish on anyone.

I don't need the threat of hell to stop me - unlike Lee and Evan.

Lee said...

> It's not that simple. It's not one or the other. The mutations are random and the selection for positive reproductive traits is not random but selective. That doesn't automatically make it "designed", in fact it isn't "designed" at all.

I can think of three reasons why something happens: by random happenstance, or accident; by necessity; or by design. The process of evolution as you describe it fits into the random happenstance category. An intelligence does not perform the selecting; physical law does not mandate that the selecting follow a particular path; that leaves random happenstance. Labeling it a "process" does not change the fact that nobody designs the outcomes; it just happens.

Look at it this way: there was a time before the evolution process existed, correct? What created this process? By your world view, the first time evolution appeared is after life already existed. Right? Then, when a mutation accidentally happened, and the environment was accidentally configured to reinforce that mutation -- it didn't need to do so, after all, perhaps things would have been different if the mutation had happened in a different climate zone -- then voila! Evolution came about. Unless you can think of a better term, I would say this was an accident -- the dictionary says, "any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause."

Lee said...

> This is what is SO SCARY about religious fundamentalism... your statement, when taken to it's logical conclution, is that without a god in the sky you (Lee) would rape, steal and murder. That really makes you an amoral A-hole.

Charming. What was it that Martin was saying about Darwinists with no manners?

How can someone be an amoral A-hole if there is no objective standard of morality? Sure, someone can be one today, within the context of what you, I, or a society finds acceptable. But what society finds acceptable can change, can't it? Slavery existed for thousands of years, and those who endorsed at least some forms of it also tacitly endorsed raping, stealing, and murdering.

So was slavery right 200 years ago, but wrong now? If that's what you believe, I have more reason to fear evolutionists than they have to fear me.

But isn't it interesting that, when talking with me, you adopt the rhetoric of objective morality, even if you say you don't formally believe in it? There wasn't much doubt evinced in your moral pronouncement that such a person as you imagine I am would be an amoral A-hole. A Southern Baptist preacher couldn't have sounded more sure of himself than you did.

This fits my world view just fine, though I'm going to enjoy watching you struggle with it in yours. Of course there is an absolute set of moral standards, because it reflects God's eternal character. You and I both see that. But you're in denial. You are like someone who argues that there is no such thing as air, while you are busy filling your lungs with it and using it to voice your argument, and relying on it to transmit the sound to my ears.

Free Lunch said...

I can think of three reasons why something happens: by random happenstance, or accident; by necessity; or by design. The process of evolution as you describe it fits into the random happenstance category.

Why only those possibilities?

An intelligence does not perform the selecting;

Although the idea of natural selection was invented to contrast and complement the well-known and understood artificial selection of animal husbandry and agronomy.

physical law does not mandate that the selecting follow a particular path;

It does constrain the available options.

that leaves random happenstance.

Not really.

Labeling it a "process" does not change the fact that nobody designs the outcomes; it just happens.

Yes, it happens in concert with the way nature works.

Look at it this way: there was a time before the evolution process existed, correct?

Yes.

What created this process?

Evolution arose because replication was imperfect, but only slightly imperfect.

By your world view, the first time evolution appeared is after life already existed. Right?

Of course, biological evolution can only occur in a biological population.

Then, when a mutation accidentally happened, and the environment was accidentally configured to reinforce that mutation -- it didn't need to do so, after all, perhaps things would have been different if the mutation had happened in a different climate zone -- then voila! Evolution came about.

Again, not really. Variations are an inherent part of the biology that we have. As long as life on earth has DNA which has imperfect replication and inadequate correction mechanisms, new variations have to arise. Environments will always be different from one location to another, so some locations will be more hospitable than others to variations. Once speciation occurred, competition for niches arose.

The change in life over time may appear to be random, and there is no way that we know of today to say precisely where there will be imperfect replication or which one will be part of reproduction, but that does not make it any more random than the fall of a pachinko ball. One follows the mechanisms of chemistry, the other the mechanisms of physics.

Unless you can think of a better term, I would say this was an accident -- the dictionary says, "any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause."

Transportation departments work very hard to get people to stop calling automobile crashes accidents. I guess I like Ambrose Bierce's definition of accident: "An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws."

Free Lunch said...

Of course there is an absolute set of moral standards, because it reflects God's eternal character.

What absolute set of moral standards is that? The one that caused Southern Christians to split from their Northern counterparts and start a war against them to save slavery or the one that said that slavery was a evil that should never have been allowed to exist? Was St. Paul wrong in telling slaves to put up with slavery or are we wrong in saying that slavery is immoral.

I accept that morality is a human invention that evolves over time because I see no evidence that it is anything else.

Lee said...

> Why only those possibilities?

Think of these as categories: random happenstance, necessity, design.

If it wasn't designed, then it is left to the elements: necessity or randomness.

If it isn't necessary, it is random.

If there is another category, you haven't suggested what it is.

Let's make it even simpler: either an event was designed or it wasn't. That lumps necessity in with randomness, but I can see we're going to have great difficulty as you duck and weave in your semantics like a snake trying to loop a coil around a mouse.

Therefore...

> It does constrain the available options.

> One follows the mechanisms of chemistry, the other the mechanisms of physics.

Did chemistry and physics arrive by design or by non-design?

Lee said...

> What absolute set of moral standards is that? The one that caused Southern Christians to split from their Northern counterparts and start a war against them to save slavery or the one that said that slavery was a evil that should never have been allowed to exist?

Does the failure to live up to an absolute standard mean that the standard does not exist? Or that we even clearly perceive it?

> I accept that morality is a human invention that evolves over time because I see no evidence that it is anything else.

Then I would submit that morality does not exist at all. If there is no absolute standard, then morality is nothing more than conceit. You have no more right to expect Paul to speak out against slavery than I have to expect Congress to quit spending us into the poorhouse. There is only what you like, vs. what I like, in concert with what millions in our society like.

If today society likes equal rights, then equal rights are good today.

And if tomorrow they start rounding up certain minorities and killing them, and the rest of society is okay with it, then equal rights are wrong tomorrow.

Do you live your life as if this is so? Are you arguing with me thinking that you may be right today but wrong tomorrow and maybe right again the day after that? Or do you think you're somehow Right with a capital "R"? If you correct your kids, do you apologize the next day and say, what you did was right yesterday but today, in retrospect, it was wrong? Or do you take the long term and prepare them for the day when what's right will be in alignment with what you teach them today?

Free Lunch said...

Lee,

There is no evidence for design or a designer of nature, so we must tentatively conclude that there was no design of the universe. If evidence is ever found, the conclusion will be changed. Until then, there is no need for the hypothesis that there is a designer.

...

Asserting that there is an absolute standard of morality does not give us one. If you claim there is an absolute standard of morality, shouldn't you be able to point to it? Shouldn't it be absolutely clear and unambiguous? Where is it?

Asserting that there is no morality at all if there is no absolute morality seems like nihilistic pouting. Societies have always had moral (ethical) standards for their members. Some have been strongly enforced. Some have been aspirational.

Most standards overlap to some degree from one society to another and one time to another, but they also change. The Bible shows us examples of such a change in ethics over time. The history of law and behavior, either throughout the world or just in this country shows more examples of these changes in consensus about what is moral.

Joe_Agnost said...

Evan Oliver: "If humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals without any kind of god, then on what basis do we legislate against rape, murder, or anything else?"

Lee: "I believe there is such a thing as right and wrong because God made it so."

Lee's comment isn't quite as bad as Evan's... but they both make it clear that without a belief in god these two people (Lee and Evan) would not be able to control the evil deeds they did. If there isn't a god (hint: there isn't!) then they don't see what would stop them from raping, murdering and stealing.

I don't think it takes a high IQ to see why such thinking is very dangerous.

I don't believe in god but see no reason why that would allow me to rape and murder and steal. I don't need the threat of hell to make me behave and obey laws - too bad Lee and Evan can't say the same thing...

Lee said...

I will address some of the points made by Free Lunch and Joe later on, but did you catch this?

> I don't need the threat of hell to make me behave and obey laws - too bad Lee and Evan can't say the same thing...

My goodness! Is that... moral preening!?

I thought only religious folks did that sort of thing.

I wasn't aware moral preening was a good substitute for an actual, you know, argument.

So now, Joe, all you have to do is explain where your sense of morality comes from, and what how you would admonish someone who doesn't share it.

To what standard would you point? Where does it come from? Who made it? More importantly, what makes it authoritative?

Note, please, that I have never asserted atheists cannot be moral people. Of course atheists perceive morality; God made it, after all, and it's there to perceive. They just can't give an accounting for it. They can't explain why we ought to adhere to it.

Art said...

Lee's comment isn't quite as bad as Evan's... but they both make it clear that without a belief in god these two people (Lee and Evan) would not be able to control the evil deeds they did. If there isn't a god (hint: there isn't!) then they don't see what would stop them from raping, murdering and stealing.

Of course, matters are much worse. Lee's god, and Evan's, and the gods of a horde of religionists in the world, not only do not keep their followers from committing evil deeds, they actually demand of their followers all manner of atrocity. Heck, religious "morality" is every bit as relativistic and pliable as that which Lee imagines he sees in the non-religious. And many-fold more evil.

Lee and most (if not all) religionists seem to think that the voices in their heads are some sort of universal moral code. But they are the furthest thing from this.

Joe_Agnost said...

As a social animal I enjoy (as the product of evolution) the good-for-the-community-is-good-for-me trait.

We evolved a highly complex social structure that includes wanting to help our fellow species-mates, this helps (or certainly helped) us survive as a species.

The nice feeling we get when we help others is an evolutionary result - not a godly one.

It makes me feel bad when I harm another - again, this is an evolutionary trait, not a godly one.

As social animals we have evolved lots of traits that helped us survive. This is why I don't kill, rape and steal - not the threat of hell.

Lee said...

> There is no evidence for design or a designer of nature, so we must tentatively conclude that there was no design of the universe.

And then, of course, an atheist can turn around and say, "But you can't have scientific evidence for the supernatural because science only explains the natural."

So the way atheists frame the issue, it's heads you win, tails I lose. There can be no scientific evidence for God, and where is the scientific evidence for God?

If there is no scientific evidence for something's existence, what is so scientific about assuming it doesn't exist? How about assuming we don't know? Scientifically, that is.

But science is one thing, philosophy another. Just arriving at the idea that anything can be known takes an awful lot of presupposition. For science to exist, you need faith in the principles of logic and in the existence of an ordered, predictable universe. How that comes from a big bang and chaos has never quite been explained.

After all, logic cannot be scientifically proven, either. You can't see it, smell it, taste it, or see it in a telescope. Its existence must be presupposed -- or do we have to come back to it when you can prove it, and until then insist we have no need for this "logic" hypothesis?

> If you claim there is an absolute standard of morality, shouldn't you be able to point to it? Shouldn't it be absolutely clear and unambiguous?

I don't know. Where is it written that everything must be clear and unambiguous to everyone now? What if it is being revealed to us gradually? Paul said we see now through a glass darkly, but then (in God's presence) we shall know face to face.

> Asserting that there is no morality at all if there is no absolute morality seems like nihilistic pouting.

By what standard is nihilistic pouting wrong? Where do you get such ideas? And -- since you say there is no absolute moral standard -- if it is wrong to nihilistically pout today, how much longer will it be wrong? If I just stand here and keep nihilistically pouting, don't I stand a reasonable chance that things will come around and it will be right to do so some day?

And if it will be alright to do so tomorrow, why isn't it alright today?

But I've noticed that believing in no absolute moral standard doesn't stop atheists from talking as if one exists. Doug Wilson commented that Christopher Hitchens can fulminate with the greatest Old Testament prophets. On this board, there are a few vying for one of their acolytes.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

> ... but they both make it clear that without a belief in god these two people (Lee and Evan) would not be able to control the evil deeds they did. If there isn't a god (hint: there isn't!) then they don't see what would stop them from raping, murdering and stealing.

There goes that moral preening thing again.

It's not hard for me to imagine how much more rotten I would be if the Lord were not working in me. So let's assume that the worst things you think about me are true, and more.

So then, what's wrong with having a religion that inhibits me from acting out on these wicked impulses? And how exactly is that scarier than not having such a religion?

> I don't think it takes a high IQ to see why such thinking is very dangerous.

Perhaps you shouldn't bring up dangerous thinking. Those who did the most dangerous thinking in the last century or so were more in line with what you believe about God. It is a strange world indeed when someone is comfortable proclaiming his atheism alongside such as Stalin and Pol Pot, but a lone Reformed Presbyterian makes a few comments on a blog and he quakes in his boots.

Lee said...

> they actually demand of their followers all manner of atrocity.

If you are referring to 1 Samuel 15, I think there are a number of different interpretations. Mine is pretty simple: God, the Creator of life, has the authority to decide when life ends. If He doesn't, who does? He does so every day, though He has not often (since the days of the Hebrew kings) sent prophets to His people to admonish them to be the executors of His decisions.

And where is the talk of evolving standards when you label such admonitions "atrocities"? Is committing atrocities a bad thing? Absolutely?

> Heck, religious "morality" is every bit as relativistic and pliable as that which Lee imagines he sees in the non-religious. And many-fold more evil.

We agree that much evil has been done in the name of religion. I wouldn't presume that God will leave injustices unanswered or that the perpetrators will be safe from His wrath.

I don't, however, see how such evil is any worse, or even anywhere close, as the evil done by self-professed atheists in the name of communism, fascism, Nazism, or some other -isms.

But still, you speak of "evil". Explain the nature of evil, since you toss the word around. Where did it come from? If it is absolute, how so in an atheistic universe? If it is not, why do you apply it with such contempt?

Atheists do a lot of talking about how there is no absolute standard of good and evil, but their own rhetoric betrays them. Sorry, but I don't see anything in your comment to suggest a tentative, relative standard for evil. You speak authoritatively, as if you know exactly what evil is.

All I'm doing is asking you to be consistent. If your world view doesn't permit an absolute standard, then perhaps you should consider not speaking as if there is one. If you continue to speak as if there is one, then perhaps you should consider adopting a world view that can explain its existence and its authority.

Lee said...

> As a social animal I enjoy (as the product of evolution) the good-for-the-community-is-good-for-me trait.

That strikes me as a fickle standard. So long as the community is good for you, then you adhere to its rules. But when the community is no longer good for you, what then?

And they say what *I* believe is scary.

Communities can change. One minute they're singing sad songs in cabarets and drinking beer; the next minute they're rounding people up and gassing them. That particular change took about ten years.

So when the community adopts a new standard, does that become the new good? It's wrong to herd people up and gas them when it's Weimar, but it's right to do it when it's the Third Reich? In with the new good, out with the old?

An interesting standard, that. If true, then the only thing Hitler did wrong was losing the war to people who rejected his community's standard.

Or perhaps you buck the community and adhere to the old standard in spite of what's going on around you... well, then scratch the community; what new standard will it be, then?

The problem with evolution as the father of moral standards is that Father Evolution (may I call him that?) has given us different, often conflicting instincts. Some of our instincts involve empathy, reciprocating pleasantries, loving our family, and being loyal to friends. And other instincts involve fighting, taking, raping, and killing. For some tribes, it even involves eating your defeated enemies. (Read about the Morioris, sometime, and bring a strong stomach.)

So the question is, what standard do we use to decide which are the "good" instincts and which are the "bad"?

Or all they all the same so long as they contribute to man's survival?

> It makes me feel bad when I harm another - again, this is an evolutionary trait, not a godly one.

Well, so what if it makes you feel bad when you harm someone? Lots of other people feel good when they harm someone. What makes you right and John Wayne Gacy wrong? Or your bullying boss? Or the neighborhood bully?

> As social animals we have evolved lots of traits that helped us survive. This is why I don't kill, rape and steal - not the threat of hell.

I think you probably refrain from those activities because not doing them makes you feel better. Congratulations, I'm not worried about you, but someday I might need to be afraid of your kids.

But by your logic -- someone should do what makes him feel better -- someone else with a different psychological makeup than you could become a criminal.

The true test of morality is when someone is torn between doing that which makes him feel good vs. that he believes is right. What advice would you give someone in that boat? "Don't do that -- it's wrong?" Or "Don't get caught?"

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Free Lunch said...

There can be no scientific evidence for God, and where is the scientific evidence for God?

No, all I said was that there is no need of the hypothesis that any gods exist. I do not claim that there can be no scientific evidence for any gods. If gods interact with the universe, I would expect evidence of that interaction.

If there is no scientific evidence for something's existence, what is so scientific about assuming it doesn't exist? How about assuming we don't know? Scientifically, that is.

That's a very good question. The answer, as with so many answers about what happens in the scientific process, is that it works. Science is a very pragmatic field. Scientists will use whatever tools work and discard those that do not.

Parsimony is one such tool. I can add all sorts of needless entities to any process and say that you cannot prove the added entity isn't part of the process. You, if engaged in science, would say that you don't really care that you cannot prove it is not part of the process as long as you see no evidence that it is.

The supernatural that is said not to be engaging with the natural can be of no concern to scientists until they can find a way to study it.

Does Thor exist? The question is meaningless for a scientist, though no evidence supports the supposition that he exists within nature. Does Thor throw lightning bolts? No evidence supports that claim. Is Thor the cause of lightning? No. The cause of lightning is understood. Gods are not part of it.

Another reason for parsimony is that attempts at disproof are a critical part of scientific inquiry. How do you disprove or fail to disprove a hypothesis when there is no evidence about it? If I told you that gravity is a result of fairies pushing people and things to the ground because they want to be above them, I expect that you would rightly laugh, yet there is no way to disprove that claim because there is nothing testable about it. We cannot develop a scientific test about whether fairies are the cause of gravity. Since no evidence says anything about fairies, we can safely ignore the proposition.

Logic is a mathematical tool. Like all mathematics, it is an abstract invention of humans. Like most mathematics, it can be applied to problems that humans have.

We could say that scientists assume that methodological naturalism works. Much like parsimony, it is a handy pragmatic approach that is not formally shown to be true, but seems to work reliably and is tested each time science is done.

Of course I have a moral (ethical) code. I just don't claim that it came from a god. I don't claim that mine is perfect or that I cannot improve it. Morality helps societies survive.

I don't argue against nihilism.

Lee said...

> If gods interact with the universe, I would expect evidence of that interaction.

Intelligent Design theorists are trying to find it. You can see the sort of reception they get for their efforts.

> Science is a very pragmatic field.

What's so pragmatic about speculating about the origins of species? Name a practical benefit from the science of biology that could not have been discovered if the assumption of common descent was never made.

> Parsimony is one such tool...

But that just assumes that the "not God" hypothesis is the simpler explanation. Wouldn't that have to be demonstrated? To do so, it seems to me, would require making a sort of gene map of mutations since the original cell, and then calculating the odds over the finite amount of time since conditions on Earth were sufficient for life. Not to mention how the first living cell came about in the first place.

And after all, parsimony may be a principle, but it's not the law. Lots of things require complex explanations. Why not Creation itself?

> Does Thor exist?

I've seen pictures...

> Of course I have a moral (ethical) code. I just don't claim that it came from a god. I don't claim that mine is perfect or that I cannot improve it. Morality helps societies survive.

Well, we don't have to worry about "perfect" if an absolute moral standard doesn't exist. If all we're concerned with is the survival of society, I think that encompasses plenty of behaviors would be hard to put a moral spin on. The Roman Republic/Empire survived (not counting the Byzantines) for close to a thousand years; in human terms, it proved to be a very resilient society, able to solve all sorts of problems of governing peoples of disparate languages, cultures, and religions. Nonetheless, when the Jews revolted in 70 A.D., the Romans dutifully slaughtered them. They literally lined the road to Damascus with crucified Jews; some estimates of crucified Jews exceed 100,000.

Arguably, the Roman's cruelty helped their society to survive. But it's hard for us to call it moral. Which is what I've been getting at through these posts. Morality seems to be an instinct, but so does cruelty. The standard we're looking for is the one that can look at two opposing instincts and choose one as the preferable moral path.

But if your view is correct, there is no such choice to be made. Mass crucifixion is good if it helps society to survive, and sits right alongside kindness and loyalty. Are you comfortable with that?

Free Lunch said...

Intelligent Design theorists are trying to find it. You can see the sort of reception they get for their efforts.

Where are they looking for this interaction? What research have they done? Who did the research? It is clear that no such research has been attempted by people associated with the Discovery Institute, so where are the people you are referring to?

What's so pragmatic about speculating about the origins of species? Name a practical benefit from the science of biology that could not have been discovered if the assumption of common descent was never made.

Science is pragmatic in how it works, in the tools it uses. Science itself is a search for more knowledge. Common descent is a discovery, not an assumption. It has been very useful in treating illness, particularly for developing drugs.

But that just assumes that the "not God" hypothesis is the simpler explanation.


Well, if it is not, then tell me what the testable hypothesis for God being involved is. What testable claim about God being involved in developing life would be necessary? Or, to say it another way, what test do you or any other theist propose that will persuade you that God had nothing to do with the way life arose on earth if the test fails?

And after all, parsimony may be a principle, but it's not the law. Lots of things require complex explanations.

They all fit with parsimony. Parsimony does not require simplistic explanations, it requires the simplest accurate explanation.

Why not Creation itself?

Because there is no need of any gods. Do you have a testable explanation that requires it?

I think that encompasses plenty of behaviors would be hard to put a moral spin on.

Yet only a few words later you did put a moral spin on it.

But if your view is correct, there is no such choice to be made. Mass crucifixion is good if it helps society to survive, and sits right alongside kindness and loyalty. Are you comfortable with that?

Your conclusion is not consistent with my statement or with logic.