Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An interesting question to ponder

Chris (from Oz) asked:

you said that atheism is a violent strain of extremism, and when pressed, want proof that it can't lead logically to a violent lifestyle, that it leads one to being a nice person ? Bit of a stretch don't you think(?)

It's a stretch for YOU, which is good, and for which I'm thankful.
But for many many people in history that hasn't been a stretch at all, but rather they realised that violence was one of many logical conclusions/outcomes of atheism.
Think about it - you just got thru saying that atheism has virtually no content. So an atheist - whether he decides to be nice or to be violent, what does he have to inform him on which is better?



Atheism is the lack of a trigger

No, atheism is the lack of a god.

Yep, there's no fundamental "ought".

Fair enough - so it's impossible to say "you ought not to torture Chris from Oz's child for fun", right?

And, le plat de résistance:

(Atheism) neither prohibits violence, nor promotes it

Precisely. And it neither prohibits altruism, nor promotes it.
If I gave 33.33% of my millions (I'm independently wealthy) (not really) to Greenpeace/Ma Theresa/pick your favorite charity, 33.33% to the Fascist Us-Only Front For Mankind's Violent Destruction with special earmarks "For use in purchasing chemical and bio-weapons only, to be used on children only", and 33.33% to my own personal private gratification, am I a bad guy, a good guy, or a whatever? Which?

13 comments:

Chris (from Oz) said...

they realised that violence was one of many logical conclusions/outcomes of atheism.

Well, they, like you, realised wrong.
Show me some studies which show that atheists are more likely to be violent than theists, or atheist countries have more crime than more religious countries. If you look, you won't find that. In fact it tends to be the opposite.

Think about it - you just got thru saying that atheism has virtually no content. So an atheist - whether he decides to be nice or to be violent, what does he have to inform him on which is better?

Thanks for asking. At a base level, there are advantages to the survival of humans (and other animals) when they cooperate by being nice to each other. Such behaviour therefore is more likely to exist in populations.

This has to do with evolution and game theory, and is shown quite simply by simulations.

From the point of view of a particular person, this manifests itself both as "what feels right", and also can be a conscious calculation of pros versus cons. I don't feel like being violent, because of my morals (given to me by genetics and my upbringing). If I did feel like being violent, I'd be likely to control myself for fear of social ostracism, and jail.

Fair enough - so it's impossible to say "you ought not to torture Chris from Oz's child for fun", right?

Not at all. I can say that, and when I do, it's because that's what I believe, and that's what most people would agree with. I don't have to think I have the backing of the creator of the universe to have strong opinions.

The fact that you seem to think people need absolute standards before opening their mouths, is your problem, not that of most of the people on the planet.

If I ...[snip]... am I a bad guy, a good guy, or a whatever? Which?

There's no fundamental standard for "good guy", "bad guy", as much as you'd like there to be. In the case you gave, I'd say you'd be dangerously eccentric.

Seth said...

Show me some studies...

Consider the overused example: the two most violent and democidal regimes in history are Stalin's and Mao's (50-100+ million murders each). While atheism may not have "caused" their brutality (arguable), 1) it certainly permitted/justified it, and 2) was not contrary to it.

Dr Funkenstein said...

But then you have Hitler's regime, Rwandan genocides, the inquisition, the Crusades, Islamic suicide bombers etc etc not to mention slavery, apartheid etc where all the protagonists were convinced they were acting in the name of, under the command of or under the protection of some kind of god.

After all, a relatively common refrain that we've seen on here is that almost all people through the history of mankind have believed in some sort of supernatural deity - if that's the case then it logically follows that most mass murderers/genocidal regimes through history have been supernaturalists. Furthermore, everything that comes to pass is apparently controlled by God if this blog is to be believed - I would assume that would include the actions of regimes mentioned in the post? So don't blame atheists, simply blame your God if you find it distasteful, as ultimately the buck stops with him under the Christian worldview.

Since Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot also held other beliefs in addition to the lack of belief in a god (such as communist ideals, a predetermined destiny for themselves and so on), so to simply isolate their actions to atheism is somewhat simplistic - especially as Chris has pointed out that largely atheistic countries such as those in Scandinavia are models of a prosperous and harmonious existence for millions of people. The only thing that logically follows from atheism is that one does not believe that a supernatural being created and is controlling the world, nothing else.

Rhology said...

Dr Funk,

if that's the case then it logically follows that most mass murderers/genocidal regimes through history have been supernaturalists

Why? It follows that we might expect they WOULD be, a priori, yes. But as it turns out, that's not the case.
More later.

so to simply isolate their actions to atheism is somewhat simplistic

So can't the same be said for professed theists who have committed atrocities?

Dr Funkenstein said...

So can't the same be said for professed theists who have committed atrocities?

Yes, I completely agree - but that's why I offered the counter examples, since its easy to pick out people through history and say 'he was an atheist, that's why he did bad things' or 'he was a theist and that's why he did bad things', whereas there are probably far more significant reasons underlying why people do these things (some of which your article details) - eg individuals getting drunk on power, an unstable political or economic climate where the populace is dissatisfied and angry enough to pick out groups of people to point the blame at and allow these things to happen unchecked, sociopathic tendencies on the part of the ruling power(s), territorial disputes etc etc

Rhology said...

Chris (from Oz) said:

Show me some studies

This challenge assumes that people always act consistently with their worldviews, and I've never claimed that. Quite the opposite, in fact, and Dr Funk sees below the same problem.
So, why isn't violence one quite logical outcome of atheism?


At a base level, there are advantages to the survival of humans (and other animals) when they cooperate by being nice to each other.

1) Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
2) This is just "IS" talk. I'm looking for OUGHT. In other words, so what if it confers advantages on human survival? Why is that morally preferable?


this manifests itself both as "what feels right",

And of course, it might "feel right" for me to torture your children for fun. Is that OK?


I don't feel like being violent

...today.
I have little reason to think that you might not become violent later on, if one day you decided to act more consistently with your stated beliefs.


people need absolute standards before opening their mouths

Strawman.
And besides, I'm not stating my own position here; I'm throwing rocks at atheism. I know you're not used to defending your own position, but here's a good chance to practice.


There's no fundamental standard for "good guy", "bad guy", as much as you'd like there to be. In the case you gave, I'd say you'd be dangerously eccentric.

Duly noted.
So, any time you make a moral value statement, it's just a categorisation to aid in your own internal examination of the object of the statement? It can't carry over to anyone else's thinking, apparently.



Dr Funk said:
he was an atheist, that's why he did bad things

You disagree here with Chris from Oz. Doesn't necessarily mean anythg, I'm just bringing it up.
I agree with you here, kinda. These guys' stated and overriding philosophy, however, was to bring off an atheist state. To that end, they murdered lots of people. It's not the only reason for which they killed people, but it's a big reason why they killed many of them, Pol Pot in particular. And there's no reason on atheism not to do so.

Seth said...

Regarding "sociopathic tendencies":

Is not the absence of moral remorse a fundamental component of atheism? Would that make a "well-behaved" atheist simply an inactive sociopath?

Rhology said...

BTW, just to reemphasise - Chris from Oz has answered the interesting question to ponder with a "you're neither a good guy nor a bad guy. You're eccentric."

Moral compass is off-line, Captain.

Chris (from Oz) said...

Hmm, I've been waiting for google reader to tell me there's been new comments here, and for some reason it didn't this time. I had to come here to check...

Anyway..

So, why isn't violence one quite logical outcome of atheism?

For the same reason violence isn't the logical outcome of not believing in unicorns. They're not related.

I commented that there are advantages to humans when they cooperate and are nice to each other. You said "Sometimes yes, sometimes no." Well done Rhology, you're correct. And, not-so-coincidentally, what we see in the world is sometimes people being nice to each other and sometimes not!!

I'm looking for OUGHT.

Yes, I certainly know that. And, as you know by what I've said quite a few times now, you're not going to find it! Hopefully you manage to deal with this soon, because you do waste a log of energy in the search.

And of course, it might "feel right" for me to torture your children for fun. Is that OK?

Not with me, any of my friends or family, or 99% of society, including those who will hunt you down and kill you, or simply lock you up in jail. I'd also bet that quite a few of your friends and family would ostracise you for trying. I'm also fairly confident that it wouldn't feel right to you either, due to your genes and upbringing.

I have little reason to think that you might not become violent later on, if one day you decided to act more consistently with your stated beliefs.

You have an extremely warped idea of "consistency". I don't believe I ever stated that I would become violent against someone who hadn't caused deliberate malicious harm against my loved ones.

However, you believe that the God that you worship has in the past ordered and himself committed genocides, and other violent acts. All that would be required for you to grab a gun and start shooting people would be for someone to convince you they were the second coming, and that judgement day was tomorrow. That genocide can be good is part of your existing beliefs.

besides, I'm not stating my own position here; I'm throwing rocks at atheism.

Yes, you're stating your position that objective "oughts" are required.

So, any time you make a moral value statement, it's just a categorisation to aid in your own internal examination of the object of the statement? It can't carry over to anyone else's thinking, apparently.

It can, and I hope it does. That's a good reason for why I say things. To convince others. What I'm not doing is claiming I'm speaking as absolute arbitor of good or bad.

BTW, just to reemphasise - Chris from Oz has answered the interesting question to ponder with a "you're neither a good guy nor a bad guy. You're eccentric."

Please be careful with your "summaries". Actually I did not say "you're neither a good guy nor a bad guy". That I did not use some words does not mean I said their opposite. I've never said that you're American. Do you wish to "reemphasise" that I said "you're not American".
I also said "dangerously eccentric".
I think you've crossed the line where "reemphasising" becomes misquoting.

Rhology said...

Yeah, I've noticed google reader and updates are not infallible.
Still pretty cool, most of the time. :-D


Chris (from Oz) said...
For the same reason violence isn't the logical outcome of not believing in unicorns. They're not related.

Theistic gods unanimously demand certain moral guidelines, not only of their followers, but of all humanity. This is moral guidance from a higher power who presumably knows better. Where did unicorns, in mythology, whatever, give moral guidance to humanity?


And, not-so-coincidentally, what we see in the world is sometimes people being nice to each other and sometimes not!!

Good deal - so you prove your own point wrong. Thus, morality can't be shackled to cooperation and survival advantage. Try again - what is Chris Morality 2.0?


as you know by what I've said quite a few times now, you're not going to find (ought)!

Very well. So it's meaningless to say that I ought not torture your children for fun. Right? It's meaningless to say I ought not shove millions of Jews into ovens.


Not with me, any of my friends or family, or 99% of society, including those who will hunt you down and kill you, or simply lock you up in jail

Now you're telling me more IS statements. This is just their preference, and it's different for everyone.
These two statements are 100% of the same quality for you:
1) We should bring our children up with love and compassion with appropriate training so they can themselves love others and their own children, should they choose to have them.
2) Men should force at least 3 women to marry them after raping them multiple times to ensure their sexual compatibility, then keep them shackled in the kitchen so as to bear lots of children and cook nonstop for the men. Meanwhile the men should take each child at the age of 7 years old and torture them to death in front of their mothers, for the heck of it.

Are you still ready to make these kinds of cavalier statements?


you do waste a lo(t) of energy in the search.

If you can't figure out why, I have a great deal of pity for you, but lose respect for your ability to add 2 and 2 together to make 4.


I don't believe I ever stated that I would become violent against someone who hadn't caused deliberate malicious harm against my loved ones.

But you certainly don't have any reason that you OUGHT not to. I know it's not to your advantage now, but if you should decide one day that it IS in your advantage, why not?


However, you believe that the God that you worship has in the past ordered and himself committed genocides, and other violent acts.

Don't change the subject.
You just finished telling me that there is no OUGHT. And now you want to throw "you ought not to have done that"s at God? Consistency?


All that would be required for you to grab a gun and start shooting people would be for someone to convince you they were the second coming, and that judgement day was tomorrow.

Totally false. You are apparently highly ignorant of biblical theology.


Yes, you're stating your position that objective "oughts" are required.

Required for what, though?
I'm merely showing the idiocy of your position, where it leads.


I also said "dangerously eccentric".

Which is neither good nor bad. Being dangerous to others (or eccentric) is neither morally praiseworthy nor condemnatory in your view, apparently.

Chris (from Oz) said...

Theistic gods unanimously demand certain moral guidelines, not only of their followers, but of all humanity. This is moral guidance from a higher power who presumably knows better. Where did unicorns, in mythology, whatever, give moral guidance to humanity?

Exactly my point. Atheists haven't been given demands for their morals. Therefore, atheism does not lead to violence. By itself it leads nowhere. I'm glad we finally seem to agree.

Good deal - so you prove your own point wrong. Thus, morality can't be shackled to cooperation and survival advantage. Try again - what is Chris Morality 2.0?

Excellent. You're right to point this out. To recap, I have previously said that we don't need a God to explain morals, because getting along and behaving nicely is an outcome of evolution. Now, when I say that people do behave badly, it seems like a contradiction.

You should really read a book on evolution and game theory. I think "The Blind Watchmaker" or "Climbing Mount Improbable" by Dawkins explain this quite well. He uses an analogy of "Hawks" and "Doves", which correspond in our case with non-cooperative and cooperative respectively. The actual way it works out is that there's an equilibrium reached, whereby there will be a particular percentage of "Hawks" versus "Doves" in a population, which depends on the environment, and other characteristics of the species.

What it means for humans is that while most of us are in most situations cooperative, there's a percentage of people, or a percentage of situations in which we will become selfish. I'm not explaining it very well, but there are very good explanations on this complex question out there, such as Dawkins.

Very well. So it's meaningless to say that I ought not torture your children for fun. Right? It's meaningless to say I ought not shove millions of Jews into ovens.

Not meaningless, unless you define "ought" to be an absolute term. I don't use that term or similar terms in an absolute way.

Now you're telling me more IS statements. This is just their preference, and it's different for everyone.

True, it's just preference, but the preferences of humans are quite similar a large amount of the time.

These two statements are 100% of the same quality for you:
1. [something nice]
2. [something nasty]

Are you still ready to make these kinds of cavalier statements?


There's nothing caviler about what I consider to be acceptable behaviour. Quite the contrary. Cavilier would be deciding to follow whatever a book says on the matter. I actually take good care to consider the matter, and base my opinions on careful thought and dialogue with other people.

But you certainly don't have any reason that you OUGHT not to. I know it's not to your advantage now, but if you should decide one day that it IS in your advantage, why not?

It depends on your definition of "ought", as I mentioned. If I decided something was in my advantage, then yes, I'd be more likely to do it, even if it was "bad", but I'd still need to battle with my empathy and sense of decency that I have.

However, you believe that the God that you worship has in the past ordered and himself committed genocides, and other violent acts.

Don't change the subject.
You just finished telling me that there is no OUGHT. And now you want to throw "you ought not to have done that"s at God? Consistency?


I wasn't changing the subject at all. The subject was about whether we should be worried about atheists suddenly going violent. Compares nicely with the required triggers for theists. And, although my claim that you only need to be convinced of judgement day to get you shooting people caused you to reply that I was ignorant of theology, I think you're clutching at straws... I assume you mean that judgement day doesn't require the assistance of humans, because God's going to do all the judging himself, or something similar. Two points on this :
1. The New Testament rewrites a lot of rules as compared to the old. What about the third testament which the second coming will write ? You'd have to obey that too.
2. I'm sure you can think of something that Jesus would say which would get you to obey him and shoot people. You wouldn't want to disobey him.

Which is neither good nor bad. Being dangerous to others (or eccentric) is neither morally praiseworthy nor condemnatory in your view, apparently.

I'm not really sure how much further we can go with this dialoge while you consistently choose to misrepresent me. In my view there are many things praiseworthy or condemnatory. In the view of most people that's the case. You'll even get pretty good consistency about most things when considered across a society or the planet. There are reasons for this. A deity is not one of them.

If you want to know how to not misrepresent me, then please use the terms which you really mean, such as "absolute". Because where we differ is not about whether morals exist, but just whether there are some which are ordered by the creator of the universe.

We both (correct me if I'm wrong) acknowledge that some morals are different for different people on the planet. Game theory and evolution is my explanation. I think yours is that there is an absolute morality, but that some people choose not to obey it. Did they all get their morals from Satan, or is there another reason not everyone thinks like you do ?

Rhology said...

Atheists haven't been given demands for their morals. Therefore, atheism does not lead to violence.

It leads to NOTHING. And therefore leads to everything. Violence is a subset of everything. Therefore, atheism leads to violence.


I have previously said that we don't need a God to explain morals,

Yes, you wrongly said that.


The actual way it works out is that there's an equilibrium reached, whereby there will be a particular percentage of "Hawks" versus "Doves" in a population, which depends on the environment, and other characteristics of the species.

He discusses it in his addendum to later editions of The Selfish Gene, which I read. Yes, he argues that an equil is reached, but there also occur variations from time to time.
Plus, once again, this is just IS talk. You just finished denying any OUGHT at all. So what if an equil is reached? What is to prevent ME from breaking it to my own selfish advantage? Why SHOULDN'T I?


Not meaningless, unless you define "ought" to be an absolute term.

Sigh.
Fine, in what way OUGHT I not shove millions of Jews into ovens?


True, it's just preference, but the preferences of humans are quite similar a large amount of the time.


So what? Why SHOULD I care what their preferences are?
Some people's preferences are to become and remain malevolent mass murdering dictators. So what?


I actually take good care to consider the matter, and base my opinions on careful thought and dialogue with other people.

Taking good care to consider a matter means nothing when violence and niceness are of the same ultimate value. You didn't answer the question, but then again you have demonstrated you can't.


1. The New Testament rewrites a lot of rules as compared to the old. What about the third testament which the second coming will write ? You'd have to obey that too.

Correct.


2. I'm sure you can think of something that Jesus would say which would get you to obey him and shoot people. You wouldn't want to disobey him.

Correct. But hypotheticals are just that - hypotheticals.


Did they all get their morals from Satan, or is there another reason not everyone thinks like you do ?

From Satan, from their own desires, from the pressures of the world system, all of that. And many are ideas that came from God and have been twisted.


It depends on your definition of "ought", as I mentioned.

And you have specifically said that no "ought" exists. I don't even know why I'm having this conversation.
Yeah, tell you what. Given that you said:
I don't believe in "ought-ness"."

There's no further point in this conversation. Either withdraw the statement or you have nothing more to say on this 2nd topic. I'd be interested in continuing on the lines of atheism leading to violence, but you have less than nothing of any use to say on this 2nd topic of critiquing the morality of any action whatsoever.

Chris (from Oz) said...

It leads to NOTHING. And therefore leads to everything.

I think that even you will agree, on rereading this, that it lacks a certain rigour. Let me know if you still stand by this. I hope you don't.

Fine, in what way OUGHT I not shove millions of Jews into ovens?

If history is any guide, the answer is:
Because you'll end up with syphilis and killing yourself.

Why SHOULD I care what their preferences are?

Because if you don't, you'll have no friends or end up in jail.

Taking good care to consider a matter means nothing when violence and niceness are of the same ultimate value.

They're of very different value to me. What's "ultimate" value ?

You didn't answer the question, but then again you have demonstrated you can't.

I answered it very well. That you were offended by the answer is not the same thing.

Either withdraw the statement or you have nothing more to say on this 2nd topic.

I'm the one who keeps trying to stop you repeating the stuff you keep trying to claim, that there is some sort of absolute morality or "ought-ness". I'm running out of ways to put it that I think you might understand. Either way, when you want to stop making that claim, or asking why people do things, I'll stop answering.