It’s getting tougher and tougher to find the time to blog, and I really wanted to get this one out. A while ago I was part of a discussion course entitled “God, Atheism and Morality” that used Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape as a back-drop, as well as Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality. Though Holloway still has some religious baggage to unload that keeps his goal of a morality that encompasses humanity out of reach, he’s a Christian (an Anglican bishop) who largely gets it. There are problems with Harris’ book as well, but as Matt Dillahunty notes he provides us with a language for discussing these issues.
I wish I had kept up with the class in my blog. Throughout the coarse my view of Harris’ book changed significantly. For instance, I agree with Massimo Pigliucci’s view that Science can not determine the values we should hold, but I think Massimo undervalues Science in evaluating the effects of values we do hold. Harris bizarrely never mentions the application of the social sciences to this evaluation, and I have a hard time seeing how a reduction of morality to the neurosciences can have anywhere near as much value as some of the work that Gregory Paul has done. But while I have mixed feelings about the contents of The Moral Landscape, Harris opened up a dialog that needed opening.
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Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on anything of substance. Busy, busy, busy. Last month, my wife pointed out to me a new class being offered through the Continuing Education program at the local university called God, Atheism and Morality. It’s a discussion class using Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape as the backdrop and led by an ex-Lutheran pastor. A nice fellow, but maybe too nice for the things likely to come…
There are nine of us, from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. There’s a non-believing Teacher who wants to return to university, perhaps to get a PhD in the philosophy of science; a Lawyer who deals with immigrants and who made an excellent point on refugee claimants that I have suspected for some time that I will get to later on; another who grew up in a Secular household and does not understand faith (I do – I just don’t understand why anyone in their right mind discards reason and evidence in favor of wishful thinking); the Spiritual woman that made the claim that most atheists are really agnostics (which underscores a problem of definitions that might produce some trouble); another that wants to see if there are reasons to discard her Faith (burden of proof shift, anyone?) and “dragged” her husband along (well, according to him, anyway…); a retiree with a Physics background who didn’t really say much about himself; a believing Moral Relativist (!) who knows too much about philosophy, an intellectual pursuit that I have little patience for (and who actually told me that string theory is not testable, that I should Google it! Ah, the University of Google, where you can get a degree in 9/11 truthing! Michio Kaku, where are you when I need you?); and yours truly, who described himself as “the most unspiritual person that you will ever meet”. Quite a wide spectrum of beliefs which is a good start.
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It’s been a while, my children. As a prominent member of the Center for Inquiry Alberta (a meaningless thing to say, since I have had little to do yet in my capacity aside from contributing ideas at meetings), I will be attending (and perhaps becoming part of) a presentation about atheism/secular humanism in a local mosque. I don’t know how much I can say about it at this time, so I will leave it there. It should be interesting and I will be putting my thoughts about that here when I can. This invitation by the Islamic community is a sight better than Bishop (insert favorite expletive here) Henry and his brand of intolerance towards atheism. Well, coming from a guy who places the moral health (read: imposes what he believes is moral) of young women above their real health by making access to Gardasil (a vaccine against some strains of HPV, a major cause of cervical cancer), I’m flattered!
But I digress. At our last CFI meeting, we discussed what we are potentially going to be asked at this presentation during the QnA part. We think the first question asked of us will be (bets, anyone?):
Isn’t God necessary for the existence of morality?
If we atheists ever talk about our atheism with the religious – and it is an inevitability when we do- this response is devastating: the Euryphro Dilemma. In a previous post on morality and why neither god nor religion are my moral compass I dealt mainly with the evolutionary development of moral behavior and the significant body of evidence behind it. If there is a single response to the claim that God is necessary for religion, it is Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma
Is something moral because it is commanded by God, or is it commanded by God because it is moral ?
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Poe’s Law: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.
I knew about it before it appeared on Pharyngula, but someone has been posing as an atheist muttering some decidedly unatheist remarks. You know the ones, where we atheists supposedly have no morals and do whatever we want because we aren’t held to account. As Penn Jillett would say, “What a motherfucker.”
No atheist would say such nonsense as the following –
What’s wrong with killing babies? I see no problem with it. I have enough mouths to feed. I don’t get the argument and I am an atheist. Since I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in anything characterized as good, bad / right, wrong. So, what’s the big deal?
Or this –
If a man wants to make a women his b****, so be it? So what if you don’t like it, what if I do?
If I want to do something, and my conscience is cool with it, then I can do it. If it’s feed a homeless person, so be it. If it’s kill my neighbor, so be it. I am not bound to any morals.
These comments have all the hallmarks of coming from someone who thought that’s what an atheist thinks. Indeed, it was such cartoonish remarks which initiated an excellent bit of detective work by Unreasonable Faith in finding out who the culprit was: Chris Fox, pastor of Kendall’s Baptist Church in North Carolina. Shame on him!
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‘Tis the season when yet again decent television programming is disrupted by antiquated and badly-written Christmas programming and the stories of those that remain demolished by attempts to work the holiday into their scripts, cynically cashing in on the holiday and not even trying to hide the fact by trying to be original about it. But, you might say, it’s tradition! Well, tradition is a non-reason to do anything. It is neither good nor bad. We do away with bad traditions (human sacrifice would probably count as one of those) and keep the good traditions (like giving gifts on December 25). I just happen to think that most of the time holiday episodes of shows lean towards human sacrifice. Or at the very least to my personal torment. (Bah! Humbug!)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of atheist that thinks saying “Merry Christmas” is a slight by the religious. I say it to people myself in greeting during the season. But it’s just something to say and I don’t associate saying it with the birth of baby Jesus any more than I (or anyone else living today, for that matter) associate saying it with the birthday of Horus which, not at all coincidentally, also falls on December 25. I celebrate Christmas as the winter solstice, where I know its passage marks the beginning of the lengthening of days towards barbecue season. That alone is worth being thankful for and celebrating (even though I know the weather will actually get worse for a while before getting warmer), and what December 25 was originally about anyway.
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