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God (or the lack thereof) can’t cure a crappy disposition

What’s up, Gabe.

I had a fairly eye-opening experience today. I came across a blog post that was chiming in on a Christian vs. atheist debate and figured I’d chime in with my two cents via the comment section, as I often do. I left my comment and noticed that it went into moderation mode (e.g. it had to be reviewed by the blog admin before going live) but didn’t really think much about it. I just figured it would go live once someone got a chance to review it to make sure it wasn’t blatant spam.

That’s when the hilarity began to ensue.

Within a few minutes of posting my comment, I get an email from the author of the blog informing me among other things that:

1) his blog was “a serious blog”

2) he doesn’t allow comments from “village atheists”

3) I should stop being an idiot, shut my ignorant mouth, and the short but sweet ending to his email that simply said “Jackass.”

I plan on providing a detailed account of our exchange, both on his blog and via email when I create a video critique on my YouTube channel but sufficed to say, it wasn’t pretty.

I basically replied to his email in what I believe to be a fairly polite manner and requested that he go ahead and publish my comment since, after all, that’s sort of the point of social mediums like blogs; to foster discussion. And to my surprise, he actually went ahead and did so.

Sadly, he then went on to write a fairly condescending response that simultaneously failed to address all but one of the assertions I made in my original commentary and also ignored a literal mountain of examples of web content that provided the alternative definition for atheism that he so flatly rejected.

I proceeded to write a very long response and also addressed a couple of tangent assertions that were either addressed to me or were part of the parent thread of commentary, but something told me that this guy wasn’t going allow me a rebuttal so I went ahead and saved my second comment. And sure enough, the guy didn’t disappoint. He censored all of my subsequent comments (you know, the ones that countered his and his commentor’s assertions) and wasted no time in hurling a few additional insults to boot.

I was fairly disappointed, because at this point it seemed fairly obvious that this guy was displaying some serious intellectual dishonesty, so I decided to do a bit of research and came across this little gem of a blog post that included commentary from several other individuals whose comments suffered the same fate mine did. There were various other examples that were fairly easy to find via some simple Google searches. I also quickly figured out that this guy was a bit of an extremist; so much so that even fellow Christians call him out on some of his more absurd views from time to time.

That made feel a bit more at ease, on the one hand, since it became clear that I was dealing with someone that is likely a bit emotionally unstable and that clearly doesn’t represent mainstream theistic human beings. But at the same time, it was deeply troubling because I realize that this guy has a bit of a following and that my young son will likely have to deal with a slightly more violent and confrontational world because of the superstitious, dogmatic doctrine that this guy is pushing.

Perhaps most importantly, I found this whole situation a bit illuminating for the following reason:

As crappy as this guy’s general attitude was, I know based on experience that there are atheist individuals that are guilty of some of the same emotional/social shortcomings.

Not so much in terms of the intellectual dishonesty this guy exhibits (I don’t know of any atheists that selectively moderate, though I suppose that some might have at one point or another) but definitely in terms of the belligerence and condescending attitude. That makes me sad, because it’s clear that folks on virtually all sides of the god coin struggle to maintain a spirit of compassion and humility.

It also helped me to realize that being a theist or atheist doesn’t automatically make you behave in a truly compassionate and altruistic manner. That’s an important thing to note, because it suggests that improving the way you interact with fellow human beings likely has nothing to do with your stance on the god concept.

I know that you’re centerpiece in this regard is the concept of non-dualism, and so I’d love for you to chime in on your thoughts here.

GB:

Hey, Hugo. Well, first, I see the internet as a reflection of Humanity. It includes all the intellectuals along with the ignoramuses. Just as in the real world. Secondly, these days I try not to engage with people that I know are breathing/living contradictions. It makes any useful discussion pointless. In the case of this individual, he blatantly missed the part Jesus preached about in the Bible of Love and Tolerance for your fellow man. Thus, he is expounding his “flavor” of Christianity, which is one of contradiction and hypocrisy. As for Non-Dualism, he is still part of the Oneness, so it is all OK. He can continue to have his little hateful, bubble of a blog, and that is fine. Without it, you would have never made your comments that lent to uniting more people within the Atheist community, exposing that guy as a intellectually dishonest person, and been driven to make a Youtube video that will only further help shine light on the ignorance of Humanity. So, in that way, it turned out perfectly. Exactly as it should be. It really couldn’t have been any different. Right?

 

Hugo:

Really well put, Gabe, and thanks for providing a bit of perspective. It really is ok that this guy is the way that he is. In fact, it’s almost necessary for where we are right now as a species, because as you mentioned, it will ultimately help further unify the skeptic community (of which atheism is simply a byproduct).

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Thomas Larsen April 25, 2012, 7:05 am

    Hey! So I saw a trackback on my site, and decided to drop over and check out this post. Your blog looks pretty interesting so far—I look forward to seeing how it develops!

    … [B]eing a theist or atheist doesn’t automatically make you behave in a truly compassionate and altruistic manner.

    Agreed. I’m curious, though: do you think altruism, compassion, love, and the like are just as significant on atheism as they are on a Christian theistic view of the world? Why, or why not?

    Cheers,
    —Tom.

    • Logic Speaks April 26, 2012, 3:12 am

      What’s up, Tom! Thanks stopping by our humble little blog.

      That’s a good question. Being a good little skeptic, I don’t want to assert with any real certainty one way or the other, since I don’t have any real evidence to support my stance. But I will give you my subjective opinion.

      I grew up with a mother that is a born-again and extremely devout Christian (her and her sister both minister) and so I grew up in the church (Sunday service, Wednesday youth group, weekend fellowship/devotional camping trips, baptisms, and the occasional faith healer…in other words, the whole nine yards). And based on my experience, I can say with certainty that many of the Christians I met put altruism, compassion, love, etc. at the top of their to-do list (e.g. it’s super significant).

      However, I’ve also met some Christians that will admit (perhaps without consciously realizing it) that they perform these acts to either receive reward or avoid punishment (e.g. god/Jesus/etc. wouldn’t like it if I didn’t behave the “right” way).

      I’ve also met an admittedly small group of Christians (like our mutual friend Wintery Knight and others from my childhood) that essentially use the concept of grace (e.g. you get saved by grace, not by acts, etc.) as their rationalization for being complete jerks that come up pitifully short on the altruism, compassion, love, honesty, etc. stick.

      I’m sure that there are atheists that are also jerks, but I haven’t come across many (I interact with a whole lot of them). Most of them put altruism, compassion, love, honesty, etc. extremely high on their list of life priorities. And since we know that they (and I) do not believe in any sort of reward or punishment after physical death, it would seem fairly clear that they do these things based on an objective sense of morality (typically based on the golden rule).

      Now my partner in crime for this site, Gabe, subscribes to non-dualism, and that provides a fairly interesting dilemma. He believes, essentially, everything goes. God exists and doesn’t exist. Atheists are ok and theists are ok (and deists, pantheists, etc.). And yet despite this rather unusual stance, he is one of the most altruistic, compassionate, honest, etc. people I know.

      And that basically tells me that being a good person has little or nothing to do with whether you believe god exists or not. Heck, if Gabe is right, it has little or nothing to do with whether god actually exists or not.

      Thanks for swinging by and contributing! Definitely swing by again and I’ll make sure to stop by and chime in on your site as well. Peace!

      P.S. I fixed the comment moderation issue. Your comments should go live immediately from now on.

      • Thomas Larsen April 26, 2012, 11:04 am

        Thanks for your response! I’d love to know what led you to conclude that Christianity was false.

        I’m sure that there are atheists that are also jerks, but I haven’t come across many (I interact with a whole lot of them). Most of them put altruism, compassion, love, honesty, etc. extremely high on their list of life priorities. And since we know that they (and I) do not believe in any sort of reward or punishment after physical death, it would seem fairly clear that they do these things based on an objective sense of morality (typically based on the golden rule).

        Out of interest, what do you think makes altruism, compassion, love, honesty, etc. good values, values that all human beings should strive to exemplify? Suppose a person said to you, “Love is weak; altruism is pointless; compassion is petty; honesty is foolish. I’ll do whatever I feel like, thanks.” How would you respond to him?

        Now, I think altruism, compassion, honesty, agape, etc. are good because they reflect the necessary nature and character of God and his purposes for his creatures. But you don’t think that God exists—so, how do you ground value (moral value, aesthetic value, rational value, etc.)?

        Also, how do you think human beings come to be aware of value in the first place?

        • Logic Speaks April 26, 2012, 7:23 pm

          Hi Thomas! Thanks for the follow-up. First off, I wanted to offer your the option to guest post here on logicspeaks.com. If you’re interested, just let us know.

          As for your questions, I’ll try my best to answer succinctly and with lucidity:
          I rejected the Christian god concept well before becoming an atheist (probably a decade or so before rejecting all god concepts). For starters, there is literally no empirical evidence that supports a literal interpretation of the divine/miraculous elements within the Bible (this lack of evidence led to me to reject all Torah-based doctrines including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Rasta, etc). Moreover, there is a large amount of empirical evidence that contradicts the divine/miraculous elements of the Bible. These two evidence-based conclusions are more than enough based on my adherence to skepticism and the scientific method, but there are certainly plenty of other less objective ways to do it (like to simply ponder the fact that if you were to accept Christianity on faith, which is what is required both explicitly and implicitly, you could and should also accept all other unfalsifiable god and afterlife assertions including those that are in direct conflict with Christian doctrine).

          As for the word “good,” like my partner on this site, I think that’s basically just a word that humans made up and part of a dualistic world-view that many humans use as their primary lens for viewing reality. If you’re asking me “how” things like altruism, compassion, honesty (e.g. ethics/morals) came into existence I would point to empirical evidence from studies on animals that suggest these traits evolved natural as animals developed complex social structures. Here are a few places to start if you’d like to learn more about this research:
          http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O101aJ-XGPc

          As far as why a human being should strive to exemplify these traits, there are various reasons, one of which is because of their impact on society at large (this would be an ethical reason) and the other would be to point out the golden rule. Mind you, I don’t think all human being are capable of exemplifying these traits due to biological/neurological issues (e.g. sociopaths, schizophrenics, etc.) and this is why I’m such a strong proponent of the scientific method; because it is the only proven way to develop the medicine and technology needed to help these people have a decent and socially acceptable life (it’s no guarantee by any means but evidence suggests that it’s much more effect than, say, praying for them).

          I’m not really a huge fan of philosophical assertions or proofs unless they can be falsified via direct observation/evidence. Therefore, I can’t even come close to accepting that things like altruism exist because they reflect the nature and character of god. There’s no empirical evidence for god, much less that god is the source of altruism, etc., much much less that said god is the anthropomorphic figure described in the Bible (I find any and all anthropomorphic descriptions incredibly egotistical, self-centered, and frankly, lacking creativity).

          I’m sure you’re also familiar with some of the classical philosophical objections to morals/ethics emanating from god (e.g. is something moral because it’s in god’s nature or is god moral because of the inherent nature of morality, etc.)

          As I mentioned, I have little interest in philosophical arguments because they are abstract and often unfalsifiable, and therefore, as logical as they may seem (or not seem) they cannot be distinguished from pure fantasy.

          I’m much more interested matching what I experience in my day-to-day real life with what we know based on empirical, peer-reviewed, replicatable evidence (e.g. evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc.).

          Your last question is a bit vague (not sure what you mean by “value”) but it’s a good opportunity to introduce another idea that my skeptical atheism affords me; the ability to admit that I don’t know the answer to some questions and that “we” (meaning all of humanity) don’t know and might never know the answers to all questions. That’s ok by the way. In fact, it’s more than ok. It’s what allows us to appreciate the mystery and wonder of the physical universe and allows to learn about it on an ongoing basis via the scientific method of inquiry.

          History shows that this approach is vastly more productive than asserting absolute truth or knowledge (e.g. religious doctrine) about the nature of reality.

          • Thomas Larsen April 28, 2012, 11:40 am

            Thanks for writing such a detailed reply! It deserves a proper response, so I’ll put one together tomorrow.

            By the way, what answers have you heard given by Christian philosophers to the Euthyphro Dilemma, and why don’t you find them compelling? Folks like William Lane Craig, Matthew Flannagan, and Tim Mawson have decisively resolved the Dilemma in such a way that it poses no real defeater for the Christian claim that goodness is grounded in God.

            Thanks for the offer to guest-post! It would be a privilege to do so—let me know what you have in mind.

            Cheers,
            —Tom.

          • Logic Speaks April 28, 2012, 12:45 pm

            You’re very welcome, Tom. Looking forward to the response. I definitely reject the assertion that the folks you mentioned have somehow solidified or proven that goodness is grounded in God, but I’ll wait for your response and we can go from there. Thanks for contributing to the conversation! I mentioned that refreshing open-mindedness in my follow-up post on the sad state of affairs surrounding our friend Wintery Knight.

          • Thomas Larsen April 29, 2012, 12:12 pm

            For starters, there is literally no empirical evidence that supports a literal interpretation of the divine/miraculous elements within the Bible (this lack of evidence led to me to reject all Torah-based doctrines including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Rasta, etc).

            Whoa! What do you mean by “empirical evidence”? If a miracle did occur in the past, do you think you’d be able to acquire empirical evidence for it?

            Moreover, there is a large amount of empirical evidence that contradicts the divine/miraculous elements of the Bible.

            Could you give some examples, please?

            These two evidence-based conclusions are more than enough based on my adherence to skepticism and the scientific method,

            What are you sceptical of, and why? Are you sceptical even of your scepticism? If not, shouldn’t you be? ;-)

            but there are certainly plenty of other less objective ways to do it (like to simply ponder the fact that if you were to accept Christianity on faith, which is what is required both explicitly and implicitly, you could and should also accept all other unfalsifiable god and afterlife assertions including those that are in direct conflict with Christian doctrine).

            Hang on, I’m not sure I follow. I believe in God, I believe that Jesus is king, and I believe in the resurrection of the dead because there’s strong evidence for the existence of God and for Jesus’ resurrection. Other god-assertions and afterlife-assertions simply don’t have that going for them.

            If you’re asking me “how” things like altruism, compassion, honesty (e.g. ethics/morals) came into existence I would point to empirical evidence from studies on animals that suggest these traits evolved natural as animals developed complex social structures.

            While I largely agree with the evolutionary account of human origins, I don’t think empirical studies on animal morality can really tell us whether morality evolved or not. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t; I don’t really care too much one way or the other. But we need to ask a deeper, more significant question, I think. If one accepts both (a) the evolutionary account of human origins and (b) atheism, then the evolutionary process has produced not only altruism, compassion, honesty, love, and the like, but selfishness, cruelty, deceptiveness, and hatred. Let’s take two propositions—

            (1) A person ought to be altruistic, compassionate, honest, and loving.

            (2) A person ought to be selfish, cruel, deceptive, and hateful.

            On atheism, why should a person hold (1) to be true and (2) to be false?

            As far as why a human being should strive to exemplify these traits, there are various reasons, one of which is because of their impact on society at large (this would be an ethical reason) and the other would be to point out the golden rule.

            Should human beings only behave in an altruistic, compassionate, honest, and loving way when doing so will benefit society, then?

            Why should an individual human being care about society except as a means to her own personal happiness? Also, aren’t there things that an individual ought not to do but could do without causing harm to society? What would you say to a society that holds that oppression of a particular group of people (women, Jews, disabled people, etc.) is a perfectly good, natural thing—perhaps even something that is beneficial to the rest of the community?

            The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) isn’t a reason to act in a particular way; it’s just a prescription to act in a particular way.

            Mind you, I don’t think all human being are capable of exemplifying these traits due to biological/neurological issues (e.g. sociopaths, schizophrenics, etc.) and this is why I’m such a strong proponent of the scientific method; because it is the only proven way to develop the medicine and technology needed to help these people have a decent and socially acceptable life (it’s no guarantee by any means but evidence suggests that it’s much more effect than, say, praying for them).

            Who are you to say that sociopaths and schizophrenics are wrong? Perhaps they’re just the next step in human evolution…

            I’m not really a huge fan of philosophical assertions or proofs unless they can be falsified via direct observation/evidence.

            Do you think the best way to know truth is via direct observation and evidence?—If so, what observations and evidence can you give to back up that epistemology?

            Therefore, I can’t even come close to accepting that things like altruism exist because they reflect the nature and character of god. There’s no empirical evidence for god, much less that god is the source of altruism, etc., much much less that said god is the anthropomorphic figure described in the Bible (I find any and all anthropomorphic descriptions incredibly egotistical, self-centered, and frankly, lacking creativity).

            Again, what do you mean by “empirical evidence”? What kind of empirical evidence do you expect from God?

            I’m sure you’re also familiar with some of the classical philosophical objections to morals/ethics emanating from god (e.g. is something moral because it’s in god’s nature or is god moral because of the inherent nature of morality, etc.)

            Typically, the Euthyphro Dilemma is presented as follows: “Is something good because God approves it, or does God approve something because it is good? If the former, then even horrific things might be good, for God might approve them; if the latter, then good is not grounded in God.” But why think that God is even capable of approving horrific things as “good”? Indeed, the Christian claims that God is necessarily loving, wise, sovereign, and the like; and, as a consequence, there are plenty of things that God simply cannot, by his own nature, approve or declare to be good.

            (For some introductory material, check out Glenn Peoples’ paper on the Euthyphro Dilemma and William Lane Craig’s response to the Euthyphro Dilemma and let me know what you think.)

            As I mentioned, I have little interest in philosophical arguments because they are abstract and often unfalsifiable, and therefore, as logical as they may seem (or not seem) they cannot be distinguished from pure fantasy. I’m much more interested matching what I experience in my day-to-day real life with what we know based on empirical, peer-reviewed, replicatable evidence (e.g. evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc.).

            How can you be so confident that empirical observations actually provide a clear window into the nature of reality? What makes you think that your approach to discovering the nature of reality is superior to, say, a Buddhist monk’s?

            Your last question is a bit vague (not sure what you mean by “value”) but it’s a good opportunity to introduce another idea that my skeptical atheism affords me; the ability to admit that I don’t know the answer to some questions and that “we” (meaning all of humanity) don’t know and might never know the answers to all questions. That’s ok by the way. In fact, it’s more than ok. It’s what allows us to appreciate the mystery and wonder of the physical universe and allows to learn about it on an ongoing basis via the scientific method of inquiry.

            Sorry, I should’ve expressed myself more clearly.

            I don’t think that atheism can justify the leap from the valueless fact of existence to the existence of value. Human beings exist; but who’s to say that they’re any more valuable than, say, a rock? After all, on naturalistic atheism, they’re both just configurations of particles, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes a certain configuration of particles worth more than a different configuration of particles. “But human beings are conscious; they’re sentient.” What of it? Most rocks are jagged; some rocks are round. Are round rocks more special than jagged rocks?

            I don’t think you live consistently with your scepticism. You say you don’t know, and might never know, the answers to some questions; fine; but when those questions are questions about morality, about value, about rationality, and so on, you live as if you do know the answers to those questions. You know that some things really are valuable, but that’s because you don’t accept the full implications of your atheistic worldview (and rightly so).

          • Logic Speaks April 29, 2012, 8:15 pm

            Wow Tom! That’s a serious response thread we’ve got going here. I’m starting to think that we should break these out into separate posts/topics. Good stuff all around. I appreciate your contributions greatly even though I don’t agree with you on much of what we’ve discussed, because after all, being a good person has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in god, the afterlife, etc.

            Let me start by stipulating a few things that I believe are relevant to this discussion:
            1) In my own path from born-again Christian to atheist, I had several intermediate steps. And from speaking with and reading about other people who abandoned the Christian doctrine, this is an extremely common phenomenon. In other words, before I could reach a point where I was comfortable asserting a lack of believe in any and all god concepts, I had to first start by moving away from a specific concept like the anthropomorphic one in the bible. If you ever find yourself in that situation, I’d love to re-engage in this discussion. Until then, I feel like it’s virtually impossible for us to really see eye to eye and avoid an “apples & oranges” type of dialogue.
            2) I believe that most adult theists will never deconvert. The psychological hurdles are simply too great. In fact, I actually think that for some humans, a de-conversion event in severe and likely permanent psychological damage. That’s why, for example, I have absolutely no interest in having my mom de-convert.
            3) The only reason that I’ve recently become involved in public advocacy for atheism, skepticism, and the scientific method of inquiry is because I want people to understand that it’s not unfalsifiable belief in and of itself that’s the greatest enemy to society. People have a right to believe in anything they want, from Jesus, to Allah, to UFO abductions, to astrology, to witchcraft, to homeopathy, to psuedo-science like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep Do We Know?” It might not be good for their own psyche, but that’s not a crime against humanity. The real danger is when people use the unfalsifiable belief as the basis for public policy (e.g. laws that govern other people) and/or outright physical and emotional abuse. Sadly, this is why the main target of my efforts are evangelical doctrines like Islam and Christianity. I do not believe that there is any sort of reconciliation possible when the doctrine inherently requires that others be preached to, indoctrinated from youth, or simply eliminated. Some would refer to this as the god virus, and I simply cannot allow this to pass now that I’m responsible for raising a two-year old boy and committed to making his life as positive as it can possibly be.

            Ok, now onto your rebuttals:
            Whoa! What do you mean by “empirical evidence”? If a miracle did occur in the past, do you think you’d be able to acquire empirical evidence for it?
            That’s sort of the point, Tom. There isn’t any empirical evidence (e.g. physical, peer-reviewed, replicatable, and otherwise falsifiable) for any miracle that has ever been asserted. Mind you, we’re not just talking about your Christian miracle myths. We’re also talking about every other miracle story from the approximately 1,000+ religious doctrines that have been accounted for via the historical study of human society (e.g. paleontology). Therefore, you are required to accept these assertions on faith. And that just won’t cut it for me and others with a more skeptical approach to evaluating assertions.

            Could you give some examples, please? [of evidence that contradicts miracle stories from the bible or elsewhere]
            There are literally countless examples, and new ones occur all the time. Here’s a very recent example (ask yourself, if this type of persecution can happen to a skeptic in 2012, how much more likely is it that it would have happened in ancient times, when you’re particular chosen miracles were conjured up?). I’d also encourage you to read up on James Randi and read up the reams of information available on sites like The Skeptic’s Dictionary and Iron Chariots. My personal favorite is this video on the absurdity of the Noah’s Ark fable (Note: Though I treat you and other theists with respect, I don’t feel bad poking fun at the beliefs/stories/assertions being made by religious doctrines. I actually think that’s super important, much like poking fun at homophobia should and is being encouraged).

            What are you sceptical of, and why? Are you sceptical even of your scepticism? If not, shouldn’t you be?
            Your wink suggests that even you realize this word play (e.g. “are you skeptical even of your skepticism”) is a joke and that’s cool. However, even if one where to apply the lens of skepticism to skepticism itself, that would require weighing the empirical evidence, and the evidence is extremely strong in favor of adopting a skeptical approach to reasoning, founded on the scientific method of inquiry (I highly recommend this book, by the way).

            Hang on, I’m not sure I follow. I believe in God, I believe that Jesus is king, and I believe in the resurrection of the dead because there’s strong evidence for the existence of God and for Jesus’ resurrection. Other god-assertions and afterlife-assertions simply don’t have that going for them.
            Please do not take this the wrong way, but not only is there not strong evidence supporting the existence of god, much less Jesus’ resurrection. There’s also a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the story told in Gospels of Jesus. This is one of those topics that we should probably branch out into a separate discussion, because it deserves special attention. Let me know if you’re interested in creating a post on your blog or a guest post either here or on http://www.theunconverted.com that outlines the evidence you believe exists. We can then address those one by one. For now, I’ll just mention that even if Jesus (e.g. an actual human being that existed at the time that Gospels suggest Christ walked the earth) existed (that’s up for debate even among bible scholars) there is no doubt that:
            1) none of the writers of the Gospels were alive at this time, so they undoubtedly got some if not all of their stories second hand
            2) nobody knows who wrote one of the gospels
            3) The Jesus resurrection myth is strikingly similar to older resurrection myths

            Once again, faith is required in order to accept this story as true. Attempts to justify it via empirical evidence fall well short, and as I’m sure you know, most Christian evangelists don’t shy away from this key point. In fact, faith that the unfalsifiable assertion that “Jesus is Lord and Savior” is the only way to be saved. At least that’s what I was taught growing up.

            While I largely agree with the evolutionary account of human origins, I don’t think empirical studies on animal morality can really tell us whether morality evolved or not. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t; I don’t really care too much one way or the other. But we need to ask a deeper, more significant question, I think. If one accepts both (a) the evolutionary account of human origins and (b) atheism, then the evolutionary process has produced not only altruism, compassion, honesty, love, and the like, but selfishness, cruelty, deceptiveness, and hatred. Let’s take two propositions—

            (1) A person ought to be altruistic, compassionate, honest, and loving.

            (2) A person ought to be selfish, cruel, deceptive, and hateful.

            On atheism, why should a person hold (1) to be true and (2) to be false?

            As far as why a human being should strive to exemplify these traits, there are various reasons, one of which is because of their impact on society at large (this would be an ethical reason) and the other would be to point out the golden rule.

            Should human beings only behave in an altruistic, compassionate, honest, and loving way when doing so will benefit society, then?

            Why should an individual human being care about society except as a means to her own personal happiness? Also, aren’t there things that an individual ought not to do but could do without causing harm to society? What would you say to a society that holds that oppression of a particular group of people (women, Jews, disabled people, etc.) is a perfectly good, natural thing—perhaps even something that is beneficial to the rest of the community?

            The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) isn’t a reason to act in a particular way; it’s just a prescription to act in a particular way.

            What I would suggest that both of us do before trying to tackle the evolution-of-morality topic is go to school and get degrees in evolutionary biology. From there, we’d need to likely devote our lives to studying the behavior of animals like primates, dolphins, and elephants, which have the conscious ability to behave in virtually of the ways that homo sapiens sapiens behaves. Then and only then would we have the requisite knowledge to truly speak intelligently on the subject. However, from the stuff that I do read and study, it seems fairly clear even when observing less intelligent species that morality and other supposedly “human” and “divinely inspired” qualities are really just evolutionary traits that are a function of natural selection.

            As for the question you posed, I’d say that:
            a) Yes, human being should behave in a manner that benefits society as a whole. Why? Because we have ample evidence from studying the animal and plant kingdom suggesting that this is by far the best way to sustain home sapiens sapiens and prevent our species from joining the 99% of species that came into existence but eventually became extinct.
            b) This is definitely enough for me, since I’m responsible for providing for my two-year-old son who will inherit this society of ours, and it should be enough for you as well (e.g. benefiting society as a whole) because it’s the literal definition of the word ethics and it’s also at the very heart of the evolutionary process that allowed us to go from being nomads to people that have the luxury of discussing the existence of god on the internet. But if it’s not, that’s ok. We can discuss the morality side of things as well.
            c) You’re right, the golden rule is a prescription. That’s why I used it as a point of reference, not an absolute. However, the reason (apart from the whole benefit society thing I just addressed) for adhering to this prescription is self-evident. I don’t like getting punched in the face, so I shouldn’t punch people in the face (unless they ask me to of course, and even then I should apply a bit of skepticism). I don’t want someone to encroach on my personal rights and liberties, and so I shouldn’t encroach on others personal rights and liberties. And so on, and so forth. It’s really pretty simple. Even animals get it ; )

            Everything we’ve learned from physics tells us that we live in a probabilistic, not deterministic universe. And that fundamental reality actually bears out in the day-to-day application of morals and ethics. That’s why there are many situations where you have to analyse and critically evaluate the circumstances before you can act morally. It’s not black and white (e.g. absolute). This is why it’s morally acceptable to encroach one individual’s rights if it means that the rights and liberties of other individuals are preserved.

            Who are you to say that sociopaths and schizophrenics are wrong? Perhaps they’re just the next step in human evolution…
            Fortunately, this type of question doesn’t have to be dealt with in an abstract sense any longer. It’s not that sociopaths and schizophrenics are wrong (“wrong” is just a word made up by humans to describe a dualistic viewpoint on the nature of reality). It’s that we now know, thanks to the scientific method, that these people suffer from physical brain injuries/abnormalities that are often precursors to the anti-social behavior they end up exhibiting. And the reason we know that they are not the next step in human evolution is that their behavior does not lend itself to passing on genes (e.g. they typically don’t have kids). Natural selection is a beautiful thing.

            Do you think the best way to know truth is via direct observation and evidence?—If so, what observations and evidence can you give to back up that epistemology?
            I don’t think that either direct observation or evidence are enough in and of themselves, particularly when dealing with highly extraordinary assertions like god or the afterlife. Instead, you need to implement the scientific method, which includes things like experimental control, peer-review, and replication/repetition). The evidence for why this method, while admittedly imperfect, is by far the best way to ascertain knowledge about the physical universe. It’s why I can believe in quarks and quantum tunneling and not believe in things like divine miracles, heaven, hell, reincarnation, resurrection, etc. There are a variety of books and movies you can watch that detail the reasons why this approach is by far the best one. I’d suggest that you start with “Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan. I would also watch this very long, intense, and ultimately rewarding video series by yet another former Christian that uses evidentual skepticism as his primary means for evaluating assertions.

            Again, what do you mean by “empirical evidence”? What kind of empirical evidence do you expect from God?
            Being that the existence of god is the most extraordinary assertion I’ve ever heard, it would require a truly extraordinary amount of evidence. Definitely much more than the mountain of evidence in support of the theory of evolution, for example (which many of your fellow adherents somehow reject). And even if we began to amass that scale of evidence, the scientific method dictates that we continue to experiment and attempt to falsify. Science does not allow for absolute truth or certainty, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s really ingenious when you consider the probabilistic nature of the universe. As far as the type of evidence? It would have to be empirical, subject to peer review, and replicatable/repeatable.

            But back to one of my original points; we would first need to define god (e.g. is it the anthrophomorphic god of the bible, some other anthrophomorphic god character from a different mythology, a deistic god that does not intervene with the universe at all, or the god described by pantheistic or even panentheistic doctrine. I would encourage you to spend some time reading up and defining your own personal definition of god. Hopefully, that will help you to move on from what are the more egotistical, incoherent, and dangerous of all god concepts (e.g. the anthropomorphic ones). In other words, I can accept some of the assertions and questions that you ask if you’re referring to god concepts that at least come close to adhering with what we know to be physical reality. The Christian god fits neatly in the file reserved for mythical characters like Zeus (who incidentally, had fervent and faithful followers back in the day, all of which were sure that he was real and really god).

            Typically, the Euthyphro Dilemma is presented as follows: “Is something good because God approves it, or does God approve something because it is good? If the former, then even horrific things might be good, for God might approve them; if the latter, then good is not grounded in God.” But why think that God is even capable of approving horrific things as “good”? Indeed, the Christian claims that God is necessarily loving, wise, sovereign, and the like; and, as a consequence, there are plenty of things that God simply cannot, by his own nature, approve or declare to be good.

            I’m actually quite familiar with the Euthyphro Dilemma. This is where I start to get angry, but not for the reason that you might think.

            See, I actually think that based on our exchanges you’re a genuinely nice and cool dude; somebody I’d want to hang out and grab a beer with. And I’ve met various such theists throughout my life. And yet, somehow, you’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the Euthyphro dilemma supports the assertion that god exists. I’ve never liked the feeling that my friends were being tricked or duped, and that’s why I get angry when I hear stuff like this.

            It’s actually the other way around. Plato presented the question to Euthyphro in order to illustrate why objective morals can and do exist independently of god and why god is not a necessary prerequisite to morality. This is one of the reasons why he was order to kill himself, and it’s also why Christian apologists have been trying to write up tidy ways to address this dilemma for centuries. This isn’t a dilemma at all for an atheist that believes in moral absolutism (not all do by the way) because said atheists don’t even believe in god in the first place, rendering the dilemma null and void.

            As a matter of fact, Euthyphro’s Dilemma is one of the main weapons in an atheist debate arsenal. (Note: I encourage you to call into the Atheist Experience. It’s a great show and they welcome theist callers. In fact, they prefer them.)

            How can you be so confident that empirical observations actually provide a clear window into the nature of reality? What makes you think that your approach to discovering the nature of reality is superior to, say, a Buddhist monk’s?
            That’s easy. The scientific method, which empirical evidence and experimental observation is a part of, is by far the most predictive (e.g. observations in one field predicting certain phenomenon that are then confirmed via direct observation in the same field of study or another field once technology allows for it) of all known methodologies and it’s responsible for literally every single piece of modern technology ever created. The fact that we’re exchanging ideas in the comment section of this blog is a tribute to the incredible effectiveness and predictive capability of the scientific method.

            Sorry, I should’ve expressed myself more clearly.

            I don’t think that atheism can justify the leap from the valueless fact of existence to the existence of value. Human beings exist; but who’s to say that they’re any more valuable than, say, a rock? After all, on naturalistic atheism, they’re both just configurations of particles, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes a certain configuration of particles worth more than a different configuration of particles. “But human beings are conscious; they’re sentient.” What of it? Most rocks are jagged; some rocks are round. Are round rocks more special than jagged rocks?

            That utterly and completely depends on what you deem as valuable. My two-year-old son is the most valuable thing in my life. I don’t need to believe in god to value him. Granted, I realize why you wouldn’t understand that, since I can only assume that you haven’t lived a single day of your life either:
            a) not believing that god exists
            b) literally not even thinking of an idea like god (there are tribes of humans that lived value-filled and moral lives and literally didn’t even have a word for god, because the idea never even occurred to them)

            You’re correct when you say that rocks and humans are equally valuable at the quantum mechanical level of existence. In fact, we now know that humans are literally composed of molecules that are created within stars. And when our particular star (the sun) consumes the earth in a few billion years, any rocks and humans left on Earth will undoubtedly return to that previous state of quantum existence. An atheist has no problem with this. In fact, it’s a source of awe and wonder. It is the theist that is often appalled by this dose of reality, because their doctrine asserts that humans are somehow special and unique; e.g. god’s chosen ones. That viewpoint not only lacks humility; is also in serious need of perspective.

            I don’t think you live consistently with your scepticism. You say you don’t know, and might never know, the answers to some questions; fine; but when those questions are questions about morality, about value, about rationality, and so on, you live as if you do know the answers to those questions. You know that some things really are valuable, but that’s because you don’t accept the full implications of your atheistic worldview (and rightly so).

            Let me just correct a few things:
            1) Just because we don’t have the answers to all the questions doesn’t mean we don’t have answers to some questions. My admission that, for example, we don’t know for sure how life began on this planet, does not mean that we don’t know and understand the evolutionary and neurological basis for morality, both in homo sapiens sapiens (e.g. us) as well as in other animals.
            2) What I don’t accept is your definition of my worldview and what it’s implications are. In other words, just because you think atheism has implications on things like having values, doesn’t mean that it’s true or representative of my point of view on whether or not god exists.

            Thanks again for engaging with me on this stuff, and I encourage you to follow up on any of the topics we’ve touched on. Most importantly, keep treating people the way you’ve treated me. It will serve you well in life.

            P.S. Next up, we should touch on why in the world someone would believe in an afterlife ; )

          • Thomas Larsen April 30, 2012, 11:17 am

            I’m in the process of writing a full reply. Just a brief comment, though, on something you wrote—

            And yet, somehow, you’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the Euthyphro dilemma supports the assertion that god exists.

            I think you may have misunderstood my position; please correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t claim that the Euthyphro Dilemma is evidence for the existence of God; I claim, rather, that the Euthyphro Dilemma doesn’t provide a compelling defeater for the Christian claim that, ultimately, goodness is grounded in God. (That claim, of course, doesn’t say that a human being can’t do good to other human beings unless she believes in God.)

            I think the response given on the Atheist Experience show misses the point. “‘Where did the god get his nature from?’ Because, if the god decided what his own nature was going to be—if he self-created—then his moral rules are arbitrary! It’s whatever he decided at that time, and, if he ever decides to recreate himself or change himself, he could, right? He’s have to have that power. On the other hand, if the god did not create himself, then he’s not really the author of morality; he’s just the mouthpiece of morality and, whatever mysterious forces are the reason why his nature is the way it is, that’s [sic] the source of morality.” But no Christian philosopher of whom I am aware claims that God chose his own nature or that God’s nature was shaped by external forces; God’s nature is said to be necessary, not contingent.

            Thanks for the ongoing dialogue. I’ll get back to you with a more comprehensive response soon!

          • Thomas Larsen May 13, 2012, 3:15 am

            What are your thoughts on this response to the Euthyphro Dilemma?

          • Logic Speaks May 15, 2012, 3:55 am

            Hey Thomas. Apologize for the delay in responding. I just noticed these follow-up comments.

            Let me tackle the “life after death” comment first. While it’s undoubtedly interesting (for a theist or superstitious person) to think about concepts like “life after life after death” (I remember thinking about that as a kid growing up in a religious climate) it literally has zero bearing for me. I don’t believe in an afterlife of any kind whatsoever, so any nuances are irrelevant. It would be like discussing the nuances of the fountain of youth. Interesting, perhaps, but not for someone that thinks the entire idea is a figment of imagination.

            As for the Euthyphro dilemma comment, it just sounds like you’re employing the special pleading fallacy. Somehow, this god you’re trying to define (or rather, that you are defining into existence, which is a logical fallacy in and of itself) doesn’t play by the same rules as everything else. The Euthyphro dilemma is quite simple. Either morality is objective (e.g. morality is inherent in morality itself) or subjective (morality is moral because god says so). If it’s objective, then there’s no need for god in the first place. If it’s subjective, then god can condone rape, murder, and slavery (he does all three in the Bible) but it’s ok because he’s god after all.

            People stuck within the god bubble are incapable of perceiving this paradox. And that’s understandable, because the human mind has evolved to defend its beliefs with incredibly insidious and subconscious techniques. I know this first hand because I lived the delusion, and this is why me and other former believers (like the fine folks on The Atheist Experience) devote so much time to expounding on these subjects.

            God doesn’t get special consideration. We already have a word for god’s necessary nature. It’s called nature. We already have a word for god’s inherent morality. It’s called morality.

            If you spend some time in honest introspection, it will eventually become quite apparent that all of the things you conceive of today will continue to be perfectly inherent, necessary (and most importantly, coherent) even after you remove god from the occasion.

            Thanks for again for sharing your thoughts on our humble site. It’s much appreciated! Keep in touch…

          • Thomas Larsen May 20, 2012, 5:29 am

            As for the Euthyphro dilemma comment, it just sounds like you’re employing the special pleading fallacy. Somehow, this god you’re trying to define (or rather, that you are defining into existence, which is a logical fallacy in and of itself) doesn’t play by the same rules as everything else.

            What special pleading do you think the Christian theist engages in when she claims that morality is ultimately grounded in God?

            The Euthyphro dilemma is quite simple. Either morality is objective (e.g. morality is inherent in morality itself) or subjective (morality is moral because god says so). If it’s objective, then there’s no need for god in the first place. If it’s subjective, then god can condone rape, murder, and slavery (he does all three in the Bible) but it’s ok because he’s god after all.

            What do you mean by “objective”?

            To reiterate what I wrote earlier: the Christian claims that God is necessarily loving, wise, sovereign, and the like; and, as a consequence, there are plenty of things that God simply cannot, by his own nature, approve or declare to be good. That’s not to say that God is morally obligated not to approve or declare those things to be good; it’s rather to say that God’s nature determines that he cannot approve or declare those things to be good. Given your current nature, could you condone rape, murder, or slavery? Surely not. But then you’re conceding that a person’s nature determines what she can approve or declare to be good. No special pleading there.

          • Thomas Larsen May 13, 2012, 3:21 am

            Also, just on the afterlife issue: there have been plenty of religious folks in the past, including believers in God, who haven’t agreed that there is an afterlife—the Sadducees in Jesus’ time, for example. Christians believe there is “life after death,” or rather “life after life after death,” on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection: because God is just, and because God has power over death and evil, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

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