An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris

An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris Sam Harris argues against irrational faith and its adherents Originally posted in Truthdig.

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.

The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe -- at this very moment -- that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever need identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (eighty-seven percent of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence -- and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible, and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

We live in a world where all things, good and bad, are finally destroyed by change. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant, never to meet again. Friends part company in haste, without knowing that it will be for the last time. This life, when surveyed with a broad glance, presents little more than a vast spectacle of loss. Most people in this world, however, imagine that there is a cure for this. If we live rightly—not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors—we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

We live in a world of unimaginable surprises--from the fusion energy that lights the sun to the genetic and evolutionary consequences of this lights dancing for eons upon the Earth--and yet Paradise conforms to our most superficial concerns with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is wondrously strange. If one didn’t know better, one would think that man, in his fear of losing all that he loves, had created heaven, along with its gatekeeper God, in his own image.

Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm of biblical proportions would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. Nevertheless, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran: Their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence; their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is--and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

One wonders just how vast and gratuitous a catastrophe would have to be to shake the world’s faith. The Holocaust did not do it. Neither did the genocide in Rwanda, even with machete-wielding priests among the perpetrators. Five hundred million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century, many of them infants. God’s ways are, indeed, inscrutable. It seems that any fact, no matter how infelicitous, can be rendered compatible with religious faith. In matters of faith, we have kicked ourselves loose of the Earth.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: The biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion--to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources--is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.


The Nature of Belief

According to several recent polls, 22% of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years. Another 22% believe that he will probably do so. This is likely the same 44% who go to church once a week or more, who believe that God literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews and who want to stop teaching our children about the biological fact of evolution. As President Bush is well aware, believers of this sort constitute the most cohesive and motivated segment of the American electorate. Consequently, their views and prejudices now influence almost every decision of national importance. Political liberals seem to have drawn the wrong lesson from these developments and are now thumbing Scripture, wondering how best to ingratiate themselves to the legions of men and women in our country who vote largely on the basis of religious dogma. More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who do not believe in God; 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be “strongly religious.” Unreason is now ascendant in the United States--in our schools, in our courts and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution; 68% believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.

Although it is easy enough for smart people to criticize religious fundamentalism, something called “religious moderation” still enjoys immense prestige in our society, even in the ivory tower. This is ironic, as fundamentalists tend to make a more principled use of their brains than “moderates” do. While fundamentalists justify their religious beliefs with extraordinarily poor evidence and arguments, at least they make an attempt at rational justification. Moderates, on the other hand, generally do nothing more than cite the good consequences of religious belief. Rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, moderates will say that they believe in God because this belief “gives their lives meaning.” When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas, fundamentalists readily interpreted this cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. As it turns out, God was sending humanity another oblique message about the evils of abortion, idolatry and homosexuality. While morally obscene, this interpretation of events is actually reasonable, given certain (ludicrous) assumptions. Moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. God remains a perfect mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil. In the face of disasters like the Asian tsunami, liberal piety is apt to produce the most unctuous and stupefying nonsense imaginable. And yet, men and women of goodwill naturally prefer such vacuities to the odious moralizing and prophesizing of true believers. Between catastrophes, it is surely a virtue of liberal theology that it emphasizes mercy over wrath. It is worth noting, however, that it is human mercy on display--not God’s--when the bloated bodies of the dead are pulled from the sea. On days when thousands of children are simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is--the sheerest of mortal pretenses. Even the theology of wrath has more intellectual merit. If God exists, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing inscrutable in these terrible events is that so many neurologically healthy men and women can believe the unbelievable and think this the height of moral wisdom.

It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.” Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot.

Here we can see why Pascal’s wager, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith and other epistemological Ponzi schemes won’t do. To believe that God exists is to believe that one stands in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for one’s belief. There must be some causal connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and a person’s acceptance of it. In this way, we can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other. For all their sins against reason, religious fundamentalists understand this; moderates--almost by definition--do not.

The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either a person has good reasons for what he strongly believes or he does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they possibly can. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, do its adherents invoke “faith.” Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (e.g. “the New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission"). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. In a world that has been shattered by mutually incompatible religious beliefs, in a nation that is growing increasingly beholden to Iron Age conceptions of God, the end of history and the immortality of the soul, this lazy partitioning of our discourse into matters of reason and matters of faith is now unconscionable.

Faith and the Good Society

People of faith regularly claim that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the 20th century. Although it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion--delusions about race, economics, national identity, the march of history or the moral dangers of intellectualism. In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here. Consider the Holocaust: The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, religious Germans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, the religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. (The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.)

Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; to the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself--of which every religion has more than its fair share. There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

While most Americans believe that getting rid of religion is an impossible goal, much of the developed world has already accomplished it. Any account of a ”god gene“ that causes the majority of Americans to helplessly organize their lives around ancient works of religious fiction must explain why so many inhabitants of other First World societies apparently lack such a gene. The level of atheism throughout the rest of the developed world refutes any argument that religion is somehow a moral necessity. Countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on Earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate and infant mortality. Conversely, the 50 nations now ranked lowest in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. Other analyses paint the same picture: The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious literalism and opposition to evolutionary theory; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, STD infection and infant mortality. The same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious superstition and hostility to evolutionary theory, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms. Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality--belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief. Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, these facts prove that atheism is perfectly compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that religious faith does nothing to ensure a society’s health.

Countries with high levels of atheism also are the most charitable in terms of giving foreign aid to the developing world. The dubious link between Christian literalism and Christian values is also belied by other indices of charity. Consider the ratio in salaries between top-tier CEOs and their average employee: in Britain it is 24 to 1; France 15 to 1; Sweden 13 to 1; in the United States, where 83% of the population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead, it is 475 to 1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to squeeze easily through the eye of a needle.


Religion as a Source of Violence

One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns--about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering--in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.--and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews versus Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians versus Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians versus Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants versus Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims versus Hindus), Sudan (Muslims versus Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims versus Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims versus Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists versus Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims versus Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite versus Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians versus Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis versus Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree. Religion inspires violence in at least two senses: (1) People often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it (the inevitable psychopathic corollary being that the act will ensure them an eternity of happiness after death). Examples of this sort of behavior are practically innumerable, jihadist suicide bombing being the most prominent. (2) Larger numbers of people are inclined toward religious conflict simply because their religion constitutes the core of their moral identities. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religion. Many religious conflicts that seem driven by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are religious in origin. (Just ask the Irish.)

These facts notwithstanding, religious moderates tend to imagine that human conflict is always reducible to a lack of education, to poverty or to political grievances. This is one of the many delusions of liberal piety. To dispel it, we need only reflect on the fact that the Sept. 11 hijackers were college educated and middle class and had no discernable history of political oppression. They did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not a matter of education, poverty or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: A person can be so well educated that he can build a nuclear bomb while still believing that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Such is the ease with which the human mind can be partitioned by faith, and such is the degree to which our intellectual discourse still patiently accommodates religious delusion. Only the atheist has observed what should now be obvious to every thinking human being: If we want to uproot the causes of religious violence we must uproot the false certainties of religion.

Why is religion such a potent source of human violence?

  • Our religions are intrinsically incompatible with one another. Either Jesus rose from the dead and will be returning to Earth like a superhero or not; either the Koran is the infallible word of God or it isn’t. Every religion makes explicit claims about the way the world is, and the sheer profusion of these incompatible claims creates an enduring basis for conflict.

  • There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us-them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If a person really believes that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. It may even be reasonable to kill them. If a person thinks there is something that another person can say to his children that could put their souls in jeopardy for all eternity, then the heretic next door is actually far more dangerous than the child molester. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism or politics.

  • Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and--all too often--what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable--to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments--can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t--indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable--is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.


Atrocity

I am new to this website. You can thank Fox News' coverage of the Blasphemy Challenge for leading me here. I assume that theists are welcome to participate, debate, and challenge positions. If we are not really invited to the party, I respect that, and hope someone will promptly let me know.

I don't know how to start except at the beginning. I have begun reading this atheist manifesto and intend to respond to various points along the way, rather than working on some really long response to the whole essay which I would probably never finish.

Quoting the first paragraph of the essay:

"Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human
beings."

Here at the beginning of the essay, we have the abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl described as an "atrocity." I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment... I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here? And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

Susan's picture

Hi Jason. Welcome to the

Hi Jason. Welcome to the forums and, yes, theists are welcome to come on board to discuss and debate.

Check the forums and you'll see a lot of your questions are already being discussed.

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server.

deludedgod's picture

I wonder, however, what

I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment... I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here? And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

First off: The Social Darwinism fallacy is inherently meaningless. Human society does not comform to nature.

Second, your question is anwered in my essay

http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/sapient/atheist_vs_theist/5431

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote:

Jason Cardwell wrote:
I am new to this website.

 

And it's your first post here and you're asking why do atheists think that something like abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl is an atrocity.

It's too late for first impressions, huh?

Quote:
You can thank Fox News' coverage of the Blasphemy Challenge for leading me here.

Cool.


Quote:
Here at the beginning of the essay, we have the abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl described as an "atrocity." I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment... I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here? And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

The only thing you are missing is your brain.

What does the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin have to do with a little girl getting hurt?

Just because we were not created that doesn't mean that we can't say that the event in which a girl is abducted, raped, tortured and murdered an "atrocity".

What's wrong with you?

Not to mention that there

Not to mention that there are plenty of christians and other theists who accept evolution.

Vastet's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote: I am

Jason Cardwell wrote:
I am new to this website. You can thank Fox News' coverage of the Blasphemy Challenge for leading me here.

I'm afraid I cannot morally thank Fox "News" for anything, though I welcome your presence regardless. Smiling

Jason Cardwell wrote:
I assume that theists are welcome to participate, debate, and challenge positions. If we are not really invited to the party, I respect that, and hope someone will promptly let me know.

You are welcome. Everyone who wishes civil debate is welcome. Even those who don't have a welcome mat that will last for awhile.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
I don't know how to start except at the beginning. I have begun reading this atheist manifesto and intend to respond to various points along the way, rather than working on some really long response to the whole essay which I would probably never finish.

Having not read the book myself I may or may not be able to answer points you might make regarding it. But I'll give it a shot anyway.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
Quoting the first paragraph of the essay:"Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings."

Here at the beginning of the essay, we have the abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl described as an "atrocity." I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment...

Morality is not dependant on theistic interpretations of reality.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here?

Yes you are. I have yet to see an atheist provide an alternative to evolution(any alternative), but I have indeed encountered atheists who do disregard the observed facts of evolution. There aren't many of them from my experience however.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

It would seem so. You discount interaction with society. Morality arises in society for society to function. A society cannot function if it preys on itself. You also discount empathy, which is an observed trait for many species. If we didn't live in societies, then your suggestion that an atrocity would not have a value would be correct. But in order to function with others, there must be a grounding to work from.

Once-Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

Thanks

Susan, thank you for the welcome. Later replies were not so hospitable, but such is the nature of internet debate! Your site (? not sure your relationship to the site) is vast; I believe I could read for weeks without exhausting it. It seemed more manageable to me to focus on one essay than to explore the depths of the forums. I hope that's ok. I assume various themes come up again and again in multiple locations all the time...

 

--Jason

    American Athiest:

    American Athiest: I'm sorry I haven't yet figured out how to use the quote function. 

I'm not sure if you mean that I've made a bad impression. If so, sorry. I was just dealing with an item in the first paragraph in the essay I was writing.

Is insulting people by declaring their brain missing a standard part of the debate process here?

The darwinian model has precisely this to do with a little girl getting hurt: it teaches that there is no "design" in the development of humanity. There is no more "value" in the human species than in any other species, or for that matter in any other chemical process in the universe. If there is no inherent value in the species, then the destruction of a member of the species does not have the significance that the word "atrocity" would seem to indicate.

Certainly you can believe that we were not created and believe that such an event is an atrocity, but it seems like quite an emotion-laden way to begin an essay on a site called RATIONAL Responders.

I don't think anything is wrong with me. I certainly believe that such an event would be an atrocity, but I believe that because I believe any little girl is created by God in His image and has been imbued by Him with value and significance. If I believed that a little girl were a random accumulation of chemicals and chemical processes, I would not believe that anything that happened to her (or myself, for that matter) had any inherent significance (though it would certainly have significance for certain people, the victim included...this is not the same thing as having inherent significance)

--Jason 

evolution

Noor: It is true that plenty of Christians and theists who accept a form of evolution, but the most basic version of evolution--that humanity developed as a result of incremental changes over time with no intelligence guiding it--is fundamentaly irreconcilable with a belief in a creator God.

At any rate, my point about evolution was not about theists, but about athiests. If you believe in a God-free evolution, then there is no objective basis for assigning worth to humanity.

--Jason 

GreyhoundMama's picture

But you're argueing that

But you're argueing that the Darwinian model is the only factor in deciding how to live our lives. Such an assumption is way too simplistic. There is much more to life than one model for evolution.

Athiests have empathy (as someone has already said) and the logical knowledge that society would crumble without cooperative effort, and much more. Where can you possibly get the idea that there is only one factor to life?

Karen and her hounds
creating art ~ creating a new life

Human society

deludedgod: First off, I didn't mention Social Darwinism. I'm not sure why you bring it up.

Second, I'll read your essay and get back to this thread... 

 --Jason

American Atheist's picture

Hi Jason, here is my

Hi Jason, here is my response.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
American Athiest

Learn how to spell Atheist.

Quote:
I'm sorry I haven't yet figured out how to use the quote function.

The quote button is on the bottom right.

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I'm not sure if you mean that I've made a bad impression. If so, sorry. I was just dealing with an item in the first paragraph in the essay I was writing.

 

Don't worry about it.

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Is insulting people by declaring their brain missing a standard part of the debate process here?

I'm not debating, I was just responding to your post.

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Certainly you can believe that we were not created and believe that such an event is an atrocity, but it seems like quite an emotion-laden way to begin an essay on a site called RATIONAL Responders.

Oh please, stop whinning.

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I don't think anything is wrong with me. I certainly believe that such an event would be an atrocity, but I believe that because I believe any little girl is created by God in His image and has been imbued by Him with value and significance. If I believed that a little girl were a random accumulation of chemicals and chemical processes, I would not believe that anything that happened to her (or myself, for that matter) had any inherent significance (though it would certainly have significance for certain people, the victim included...this is not the same thing as having inherent significance)

--Jason

This is why I said that your brain is missing. You really do believe that atheists shouldn't feel bad for an injured girl, huh?

And why do you keep saying random?

Also, I want to bring this up, it's your response to noor...

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At any rate, my point about evolution was not about theists, but about athiests. If you believe in a God-free evolution, then there is no objective basis for assigning worth to humanity.

To you, there is no objective basis for assigning worth to humanity because we don't believe in God.

In your opinion, atheists shouldn't care about the girl because you believe that atheists see the girl as a random accumulation of chemicals and chemical processes.

If so, then I can say that Theists don't honestly care about anybody else, they only do good because they believe that they will be rewarded when they die.

As an atheist, I try my best to help people without expecting any kind of reward.

In your belief, someone like me will go to hell, even if I was a good person.

My point is that even if we don't belief in God, we can still call the event that Sam Harris writes about in his first paragraph an "atrocity".

Whether you like it or not.

Essay

I don't want to respond paragraph by paragraph to the morality essay right now because I'm trying to work my way through this one first, but I have a little to say.

 The essay suffers from confused terms. Sometimes you use morality to refer to the rightness or wrongness of behavior; other times you use it to refer to how someone (or a group of someones)  VIEW the rightness or wrongness of behavior. Still others, you use it to refer to how closely a person's actions conform to a certain perspective of what is right and wrong.

The question should not be phrased how can you BE moral (that is, act in a moral way) without God. Obviously, theists and athiests all act in ways that would be considered moral and immoral at different times (the old "nobody's perfect&quotEye-wink. And if there is no God, we still have a set of societal values which we term morality.

You yourself, however, point out that different societies and different times have different views about what those moral values are. The theistic perspective is not that we can KNOW at any given time all that is right or wrong, good or evil; and it is not that we "GET" our view of right and wrong strictly from a holy book. It is that every action IS right or wrong, independent of what any human or group of humans thinks about it. An atheistic morality is forever shifting as human thoughts change. A theistic morality does not claim to know or possess a perfect moral code, but it believes that absolute right and wrong do exist, and that our codes are truly moral only insofar as they align with this ever-unattainable-yet-worthy-of-aspiration absolute.

So back to the girl. We might all agree that kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder are viewed as wrong by most people on the planet. Only theists can support the statement that these actions ARE wrong.

--Jason 

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell

Jason Cardwell wrote:

 Only theists can support the statement that these actions ARE wrong.

--Jason

What?!

Let me guess, you're Bodhitharta's friend?

Seriously, that was a dumb post, Jason. You don't have to be a theist to support the statement that those actions are wrong. 

GreyhoundMama's picture

American Atheist

American Atheist wrote:
Jason Cardwell wrote:

 Only theists can support the statement that these actions ARE wrong.

--Jason

What?!

Let me guess, you're Bodhitharta's friend?

Seriously, that was a dumb post, Jason. You don't have to be a theist to support the statement that those actions are wrong. 

I don't normally make "ditto" posts, but I have to "ditto" American Atheist.  The idea that only theists know what is wrong is utter nonsense. And offensive in the extreme. Morality that doesn't depend on faith is morality that is felt to the core of one's being. *We have no risk that our morality will disappear if our faith falters. Our morality is a core belief.  

* Note: "we" and "our" means me and many non-theists. I don't pretend to speak for all non-theists.

Karen and her hounds
creating art ~ creating a new life

Vastet

LOL about Fox News!

It is true that you can have a system called morality without theism. That was not my point. My point is that such a system is subjective without theism. I would think that we would attempt to avoid subjectivity at RATIONAL Responders.

I'd be interested in knowing what you mean by disregarding the observed facts of evolution. I'd think using emotionally-charged terms such as "atrocity" would qualify.

Your final paragraph (how did you do the highlighted quote thing?) assumes that functioning with others in society is a thing of value.  But this in itself is a value judgment, the kind you say "arises in society." So society says society is of value. Does that prove it is true? I would suggest that if we are nothing but chemicals and chemical processes, then combining them in larger groups does nothing to increase the inherent value included in the mix.

--Jason 

GreyhoundMama

No, I'm not arguing that the Darwinian model is the only factor in deciding how to live our lives. I happen to believe that Scripture, prayer, wisdom, prudence, law, convenience, and many other things factor in how to live our lives.

I never said anything about one factor to life. I only argued that atrocity is an emotional value judgment and is subjective, and if I believed that people were no more valuable than petunias, then I wouldn't use the word atrocity to describe such actions.

 --Jason

GreyhoundMama's picture

Jason Cardwell

Jason Cardwell wrote:

...(how did you do the highlighted quote thing?) ...

At the bottom of the post you're reading and want to quote, you'll see "quote". Push that button and you're tossed into a reply box with the quoted text from that post in it. You can edit out some of it if you wish, just make sure that you leave the words contained in the square brackets, as that's the code that makes it a highlighted quote.

Karen and her hounds
creating art ~ creating a new life

American A-t-h-e-i-s-t

Spelling-touché!

Quote button... I see a smiley face with a quote bubble, hovering on it shows 

           quote (q)
 

I assume that's the button, saw it earlier, still too stupid to figure out how to use it.

debating vs responding--well, that was obvious!

Oh please, learn how to spell whining. Smiling

I didn't say I think athiests shouldn't feel bad for an injured girl. I only mean to point out that their reasons for doing so are not objective.

I keep saying random because this is the teaching of Darwinian evolution.

Yes, to me there is no objective basis for an athiest assign worth to humanity because of disbelief in God.

No, it is not my opinion that atheists shouldn't care about the girl. I think everyone should do what is right, and I think caring about the girl is right.

 To say that Theists don't honestly care about anybody else, they only do good because they believe that they will be rewarded when they die is (for most theists, I assume) to falsly ascertain the acting motivation, and is not a very good analogy. I'm not saying athiests DON'T care about murdered little girl. I'm suggesting that their reasons for doing so are based on their emotions and on the morals of society, not on any intrinsic value that their belief system can ascribe to a human being.

Of course you can describe those events as an atrocity, and I think it is a fine description. I don't know if that qualifies as "liking" it or not, but I'm certainly in agreement with the term in such a case!

--Jason 

dumb post

I don't know who Bodhitharta is.

Maybe I didn't articulate myself clearly. By support, I mean provide argument to demonstrate the truth of. Let me put it this way. How would you prove that kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder are wrong?

Of course they ARE wrong. Of course we VIEW them as wrong. But how would you argue to PROVE they are wrong?

--Jason 

Oops

Again, the response is evidence that I wasn't careful enough with my language. I didn't mean that only theists know what is wrong. I only meant that atheists don't have a rational basis for that knowledge. You are actually making my point by defining your morality as "felt."

--Jason

p.s., I'm enjoying this series of exchanges, hope you all are as well. 

quote

OHHHHHHHHH!

 

I was looking at the quote button after I had already selected Reply!!! What a numbskull!

Thanks, GreyhoundMama (and someone else who tried to tell me earlier)!

--Jason 

What you should have said

None of you have made the point that should have been made about my initial "atrocity" comment. The author, as an atheist, is not necessarily describing his own perspective of the event. He is describing the perspective OF THE THEISTS.

--Jason 

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell

Jason Cardwell wrote:

debating vs responding--well, that was obvious!

I was responding to your question.

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Oh please, learn how to spell whining. Smiling

I put an extra "n" because you were whinnnninggg!!! Smiling

And be original, stop stealing my material.

Thou shall not steal.

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I didn't say I think athiests shouldn't feel bad for an injured girl. I only mean to point out that their reasons for doing so are not objective.

Is it because we don't believe in God?!

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I keep saying random because this is the teaching of Darwinian evolution.

*Sigh*

You don't know anything about that.

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Yes, to me there is no objective basis for an athiest assign worth to humanity because of disbelief in God.

Why?

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No, it is not my opinion that atheists shouldn't care about the girl.

Really? You make it sound like it...

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I think everyone should do what is right, and I think caring about the girl is right.

Ok.

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To say that Theists don't honestly care about anybody else, they only do good because they believe that they will be rewarded when they die is (for most theists, I assume) to falsly ascertain the acting motivation, and is not a very good analogy.

How is that any different from what you're saying about atheists?

 

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I'm not saying athiests DON'T care about murdered little girl. I'm suggesting that their reasons for doing so are based on their emotions and on the morals of society, not on any intrinsic value that their belief system can ascribe to a human being.

Prove it.

And learn to spell "atheists". 

 

 

deludedgod's picture

The biggest failure on your

The biggest failure on your part on your critique on my essay is

1) failure to justify absolutism

2) Failure to present ANY evidence that theists have any absolute morality

The theistic perspective is not that we can KNOW at any given time all that is right or wrong, good or evil; and it is not that we "GET" our view of right and wrong strictly from a holy book

Dead wrong. I explained so many times that even things that we consider absolute like "do not murder" are always changing and updating. Right and wrong are thus at the dictate of society and neurochemistry, something you fail to understand.

An atheistic morality is forever shifting as human thoughts change. A theistic morality does not claim to know or possess a perfect moral code, but it believes that absolute right and wrong do exist

Thus you admit the theist admits to absolutism. I have shown that

a) History tells us otherwise

b) Absolutism is not good

c) Absolute right and wrong do not exist

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

deludedgod's picture

The biggest failure on your

The biggest failure on your part on your critique on my essay is

1) failure to justify absolutism

2) Failure to present ANY evidence that theists have any absolute morality

The theistic perspective is not that we can KNOW at any given time all that is right or wrong, good or evil; and it is not that we "GET" our view of right and wrong strictly from a holy book

Dead wrong. I explained so many times that even things that we consider absolute like "do not murder" are always changing and updating. Right and wrong are thus at the dictate of society and neurochemistry, something you fail to understand.

An atheistic morality is forever shifting as human thoughts change. A theistic morality does not claim to know or possess a perfect moral code, but it believes that absolute right and wrong do exist

Thus you admit the theist admits to absolutism. I have shown that

a) History tells us otherwise

b) Absolutism is not good

c) Absolute right and wrong do not exist

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell

Jason Cardwell wrote:

Again, the response is evidence that I wasn't careful enough with my language. I didn't mean that only theists know what is wrong. I only meant that atheists don't have a rational basis for that knowledge.

Atheists don't have a RATIONAL basis for that knowledge?

And this coming from a guy that believes in angels, god, demons, talking snakes and donkeys... 

 

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You are actually making my point by defining your morality as "felt."

Me?

I wasn't defining morality at all. 

GreyhoundMama's picture

All atheism means is that

All atheism means is that we don't believe in a deity. You're ascribing all kinds of other philosophies and theories to all atheists, and insisting that we make decisions based on those false assumptions. Where in the world do you get the idea that all atheists believe human beings are no more valuable than a flower?

... it's late, I'm scratching my head over your conclusions, and I think Sam Harris (from what little I've read) is brilliant. Obviously I've been living with my head in the sand because I was nearly in tears reading his tome, hearing my feelings stated in such a clear and reasoned way. Recent American history gives me the willies, and I'm glad I'm not the only one to see it. Sam, bravo! It's a little scary, though, at my age, to realize how much of an outsider, in this society, I really am. Your books will be on my bookcase tomorrow (assuming they're readily available at bookstores).

Karen and her hounds
creating art ~ creating a new life

GreyhoundMama's picture

American Atheist

American Atheist wrote:
Jason Cardwell wrote:

You are actually making my point by defining your morality as "felt."

Me?

I wasn't defining morality at all.

Neither was I, but if I'm the one using words like "felt", don't blame the rest of the guys here. I'm a sometimes-rational, sometimes-not, artistic type. Who also happens to believe that the concept of god is one of the silliest myths I've ever heard. At least I know that my fantasies are just that. Fantasy.

Karen and her hounds
creating art ~ creating a new life

Vastet's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote: LOL

Jason Cardwell wrote:

LOL about Fox News!

Sticking out tongue

Jason Cardwell wrote:

It is true that you can have a system called morality without theism. That was not my point. My point is that such a system is subjective without theism. I would think that we would attempt to avoid subjectivity at RATIONAL Responders.

The only way theism can claim objectivity for morality is if it is unchanging and comprehensive. No religion on the planet can claim an unchanging and comprehensive moral code. Religions change as does everything else. They must in order to survive. Christianity is the perfect example, with the old and new testaments.

Jason Cardwell wrote:

I'd be interested in knowing what you mean by disregarding the observed facts of evolution. I'd think using emotionally-charged terms such as "atrocity" would qualify.

I don't see how an atrocity has anything to do with proving or disproving evolution in any way. If you want to know about the observed facts of evolution, I suggest you go here and do some reading:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

Jason Cardwell wrote:

Your final paragraph (how did you do the highlighted quote thing?)

There's two methods you can use. The first is by using the button at the bottom of every post that says "quote". The second is to edit your post with BBC code. Type: {quote=Vastet}Then the quote that the person said, then {/quote}. The only difference is you change the { and } brackets to [ and ]. That turns it to:

Vastet wrote:
Then the quote that the person said, then

Jason Cardwell wrote:
assumes that functioning with others in society is a thing of value.

Value is always subjective. Humans are social animals. It is therefore of value for humans to interact with other humans. Therefore societal morality is valuable subjectively to humans.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
  But this in itself is a value judgment, the kind you say "arises in society." So society says society is of value.

Not really. We say society has value. We do this by interacting with it cooperatively. Show me someone who doesn't think society has value, or that parts of society don't have value, and I'll show you someone that society considers a criminal.

Jason Cardwell wrote:
Does that prove it is true? I would suggest that if we are nothing but chemicals and chemical processes, then combining them in larger groups does nothing to increase the inherent value included in the mix.

Nothing has inherrent value.

Once-Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

American Atheist

Ok, the first time I made a joke about the whining. This time I'll respond to the point. I wasn't whining. I have four children. I know all about whining. I was pointing out inconsistency.

You asked: 

Quote:
I didn't say I think athiests shouldn't feel bad for an injured girl. I only mean to point out that their reasons for doing so are not objective.

    Is it because we don't believe in God?! 

 I reply: You tell me. Feeling sorry for someone is an emotional response, not an objective one, whether you believe in God or not.

 Why on earth would you say I don't know anything about Darwinian evolution? In college I took many hours of science, including physics, chemistry, biochemistry and biology. I know about genetic mutations, dominant and recessive genes, punctuated equilibrium, convergent evolution, homologous structures, genetic drift, and irreducible complexity.

Why don't I see an objective basis for assigning worth to humanity without a theistic perspective? Because worth, or value, is inherently subjective. Someone is worth something TO SOMEONE. It has value TO SOMEONE. Neither paper money, nor gold, nor diamonds have inherent "worth." We have assigned them value as we have used them as media of exchange. Likewise, a human doesn't have worth just because the human thinks so...that's like saying a diamond has worth TO ITSELF. So a theist can say, "humans have worth in the eyes of God." But an atheist cannot say, "humans have intrinsic worth." Well, ok, an atheist can SAY that, but it's not rational or objective.

Are you going to waste energy pointing out every time you notice that my fingers got tangled in typing atheists? 

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote: Why

Jason Cardwell wrote:

Why on earth would you say I don't know anything about Darwinian evolution? In college I took many hours of science, including physics, chemistry, biochemistry and biology. I know about genetic mutations, dominant and recessive genes, punctuated equilibrium, convergent evolution, homologous structures, genetic drift, and irreducible complexity.

Deludedgod and everyone else did a good job in pointing out how you really don't know much.

Quote:
Why don't I see an objective basis for assigning worth to humanity without a theistic perspective? Because worth, or value, is inherently subjective. Someone is worth something TO SOMEONE. It has value TO SOMEONE. Neither paper money, nor gold, nor diamonds have inherent "worth." We have assigned them value as we have used them as media of exchange. Likewise, a human doesn't have worth just because the human thinks so...that's like saying a diamond has worth TO ITSELF. So a theist can say, "humans have worth in the eyes of God." But an atheist cannot say, "humans have intrinsic worth." Well, ok, an atheist can SAY that, but it's not rational or objective.

How come it's not rational?

Because we don't have a god?

*SIGH*

Please.

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Are you going to waste energy pointing out every time you notice that my fingers got tangled in typing atheists?

Yeah yeah, blame it on your fingers.

Essay

deludedgod wrote:

The biggest failure on your part on your critique on my essay is

1) failure to justify absolutism


 

I wasn't trying to justify absolutism. I was trying to point out that your argument was muddied by shifting definitions of the words moral and morality.

Quote:

2) Failure to present ANY evidence that theists have any absolute morality

The theistic perspective is not that we can KNOW at any given time all that is right or wrong, good or evil; and it is not that we "GET" our view of right and wrong strictly from a holy book

I wasn't trying to present evidence that theists "have" absolute morality. I was trying to show that you were arguing the wrong point. It is fruitless to argue that our code of values has changed over the centuries. Only a fool would argue otherwise. The theist position is that GOD'S code of values has never changed. You can't demonstrate otherwise by looking at the actions of humans.

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Dead wrong. I explained so many times that even things that we consider absolute like "do not murder" are always changing and updating. Right and wrong are thus at the dictate of society and neurochemistry, something you fail to understand.

All you have explained is that our EVALUATION of right and wrong are at the dictate of society and neurochemistry. That is not the same as proving that actual RIGHT AND WRONG ever change.

Quote:

An atheistic morality is forever shifting as human thoughts change. A theistic morality does not claim to know or possess a perfect moral code, but it believes that absolute right and wrong do exist

Thus you admit the theist admits to absolutism. I have shown that

a) History tells us otherwise

b) Absolutism is not good

c) Absolute right and wrong do not exist

You haven't shown any such thing. Saying it doesn't make it so. Take your second point. If by absolutism you mean a belief in absolute right and wrong, then your point is that believing in right and wrong is not good, which cannot be true if right and wrong do not exist--how can something be "not good" (very similar to "wrong&quotEye-wink if right and wrong do not exist? And if right and wrong do exist, then whether or not I believe in them is irrelevant to their existence, but I would suggest it is probably better to have an accurate view of reality than not.

Terms

Ok, to American Athiest: I may have seen your name as the topic of a post and accidentally referred to you as the author. Sorry. The line I was referring to was:

"Morality that doesn't depend on faith is morality that is felt to the core of one's being." And I think it was from GreyhoundMama, not you.

About angels, snakes, and demons... I make no claim that faith is strictly rational. I assumed that atheists do make such a claim. Perhaps I was wrong, or perhaps we do not mean the same thing by the word.

Let's leave God out of it for the moment. My love for my wife is not rational. My appreciation of the beauty of a sunset is not rational. My excitement when about to open a gift is not rational. All these things are emotional, not based on reason.

All I am saying, and I have been quite surprised by the opposition to what seems self-evident to me, is that feelings of any kind are not rational, including feeling that something is an atrocity. Neither theists nor atheists need justify emotions just because they are not rational, but I was suggesting that it is rather an odd way to begin an essay against "irrational" faith.

I waited for someone to poke at the only real hole in my point, but no one did, so finally last night I did it myself. Harris is using emotional language to show the perspective of the theist, not his own.

Still, it has been very interesting to see how these responses have taken shape... 

Humans and flowers

GreyhoundMama wrote:

All atheism means is that we don't believe in a deity. You're ascribing all kinds of other philosophies and theories to all atheists, and insisting that we make decisions based on those false assumptions. Where in the world do you get the idea that all atheists believe human beings are no more valuable than a flower?

Well, true, not all atheists believe that, but it is the logical conclusion from the premise that natural selection and genetic drift have been the driving forces behind the "creation" of humans. I realize that many theists and atheists alike fail to move from their beliefs to the implications of those beliefs.


don't blame the rest

GhM: Fair enough! I have now apologized to A A for confusing the post authors.

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote: All I

Jason Cardwell wrote:
All I am saying, and I have been quite surprised by the opposition to what seems self-evident to me, is that feelings of any kind are not rational, including feeling that something is an atrocity. Neither theists nor atheists need justify emotions just because they are not rational, but I was suggesting that it is rather an odd way to begin an essay against "irrational" faith.

 

Oh really? Because your first post was this...

Here at the beginning of the essay, we have the abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl described as an "atrocity." I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment... I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here? And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

 

And we were responding to that question.

Quote:
I waited for someone to poke at the only real hole in my point, but no one did

We poked holes, a lot of them.


deludedgod's picture

I wasn't trying to justify

I wasn't trying to justify absolutism. I was trying to point out that your argument was muddied by shifting definitions of the words moral and morality.

Considering the vagueness of the word, that is not a huge issue. Morality can refer to a person's sense of morality, which has multiple sources as discussed in the essay. It can also refer to the general morality of society, which is one of the dictates of type one which I listed.

All you have explained is that our EVALUATION of right and wrong are at the dictate of society and neurochemistry. That is not the same as proving that actual RIGHT AND WRONG ever change

Again. Failure to grasp the obvious. Right and wrong do change. There is no such thing as absolutism. Right and wrong are fully subjective. If you can provide an example of just one moral meme that has not experienced change or has remained totally rigid, I will listen. But I have studied sociology and history for a long time, so I doubt you will be able to. Morality must evolve over the progress of civilization. It is the very nature of morality to evolve. Absolute right and wrong only exist at any given point X is time.

You haven't shown any such thing. Saying it doesn't make it so. Take your second point. If by absolutism you mean a belief in absolute right and wrong, then your point is that believing in right and wrong is not good, which cannot be true if right and wrong do not exist

I told you, the entirety it at the dictate of society. By absolutism, I mean a fixed principle. An absolute principle is a sense of right and wrong that has remained embedded over long periods of history. But I see no evidence of such. I never said right and wrong do not exist. YOu are twisting my words. I said right and wrong are subjective. Thus when I say that something is evil, I am evaluating it from the perspective of a Westerner born in the late 20th century in a liberal secular society and raised  on such values. Across the world there are people whose morality is wholly different to mine or yours. Morality is not fixed in any way. As it should be.

Like I said, it is in the very nature of morality to evolve. IN 50 years, I imagine people will consider our society deeply immoral. In the same way that we consider the Aztecs immoral for human sacrifice.

if right and wrong do not exist? And if right and wrong do exist, then whether or not I believe in them is irrelevant to their existence, but I would suggest it is probably better to have an accurate view of reality than not.

Another failure to distinguish between "right and wrong" and "absolute right and wrong".

 

 

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

Hey, I realize we haven't

Hey, I realize we haven't run dry with my first post yet, but I could wait no longer to get to the next bit in Harris' essay.

 Harris says about the hypothetical-yet-true-to-life girl...

Quote:
The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe -- at this very moment -- that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

 Well, this is really surprising. Harris takes a PARTICULAR concept of God, draws HIS OWN conclusions about what that implies, and determines that these conclusions are irreconcilable with the reality he sees around him. Then, instead of admitting any possibility fault having to do with HIS OWN conclusions, he determines that EVERY concept of God is false. This seems the height of hubris.

Let's start with a tautology. Either there is a God or there is not a God. In either case, my ideas about God can be false or true, but the reality exists apart from my ideas. So the mode of argument here (I don't see how a tortured girl and a good God can exist simultaneously, therefore God must not exist.) is extremely weak.

Second, let's admit that many people believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God who watches over people, BUT MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE IN A DIFFERENT KIND OF GOD. Deism proposes an all-powerful but disinterested God. Openness theology suggests that God may be all-loving, but He is not all-powerful. So to discount EVERY concept of God based on ONE concept of God is faulty.

Third, I can propose a number of scenarios in which this tortured girl and this all-powerful all-loving God can coexist. Here are a few:

1. Perhaps God is also able to see the future and knows that if allowed to live, this girl would become the designer of a biochemical weapon that will kill tens of thousands of screaming, writhing, innocents. God allows her to be killed to save the others.

2. Perhaps God is able to see the future and knows that the amount of pain she would experience cumulatively over years to come would far outweigh the pain she suffers in the short time she is at the hand of the killer. God allows her to be killed to protect her from much more suffering in the life before her.

3. Perhaps God views any suffering that any of experience in this life as ultimately insignificant compared to the eternity that lies ahead. God allows her to be killed because in the end she will consider the experience a tiny blip prior to billions of years (and more) of peace and love.

4. Perhaps God cares for the little girl, and He also cares for the people I hurt through unkind words and actions, but He has decided not to take away our freedom to hurt others because for most people it will be through giving and receiving pain that we finally learn how to choose better and to treat each other as we should.

I am not saying that I necessarily defend any one of these proposals as definite truth. I am just saying that if I can come up with a few ways to resolve the seeming contradiction put forth in the first few paragraphs of the essay (after all, American Athiest says I "really don't know much&quotEye-wink, then perhaps Harris' problem was not that he COULDN'T come up with such a resolution, but really just didn't WANT to. It seems evident that Harris doesn't just come AWAY from the tortured-girl/good-God puzzle disbelieving in God...he comes TO it already disbelieving.

--Jason 

deludedgod's picture

The tautology is false and

The tautology is false and based on an contradictory ontology. This is not Harris' concept of God. This is the false ontology which billions of monotheists believe about the "God" concept. Thus the conclusions he draws are based on the ridiculous notion of God as laid down by the creeds of religion. In my essay Absurdum Quod Non Sequiter: The Failed Ontology I argued that religion was not compatible with belief in God.

Furthermore, I would argue that if God was all-loving, he would never have created us to begin with. Certainly not if this is what he intended.

The apologetic theodicies which you set down are based on astounding presuppositonalist logic. If God killed the girl to save millions of others, it would be far more logical simply to ensure that she was never born, instead of allowing her to be tortured and murdered as a child. To suggest such theodicies are nonsensical. This is the same point as above. If God was all-loving, he would not have created men. (If you believe in the doctrine of hell, this problem becomes even more pronounced). 

 

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

American Atheist

American Atheist wrote:
Jason Cardwell wrote:
All I am saying, and I have been quite surprised by the opposition to what seems self-evident to me, is that feelings of any kind are not rational, including feeling that something is an atrocity. Neither theists nor atheists need justify emotions just because they are not rational, but I was suggesting that it is rather an odd way to begin an essay against "irrational" faith.

 

Oh really? Because your first post was this...

Here at the beginning of the essay, we have the abduction, rape, torture and murder of a little girl described as an "atrocity." I wonder, however, what can be the atheistic basis for such a judgment... I assume that modern atheists universally accept the darwinian evolutionary model of human origin. Am I wrong here? And if one does accept the darwin position, then doesn't that render judgments such as atrocity meaningless? If we are here merely by "accident," then the destruction of a human being, however painful, has no more significance than the destruction of an ant hill or the nova of a star. Am I missing something?

 

And we were responding to that question.

I think the above two paragraphs are two sides of the same coin.

Quote:

Quote:
I waited for someone to poke at the only real hole in my point, but no one did

We poked holes, a lot of them.


Well, you tried.

American Atheist's picture

Jason Cardwell wrote:

Jason Cardwell wrote:

I think the above two paragraphs are two sides of the same coin.

*sigh*

Try again.

 

Quote:
Well, you tried.

No, you idiot. We did.

Its lack of significance

Its lack of significance to a non-existant deity does not cause it to be insignificant to a human being.

There may be no meaning of life in the sense that there is no other being to mean life for some purpose, but I have a purpose for life: happiness, both of myself and others.

Because the destruction of a human being upsets people and stops the person from enjoying life, it goes against my main aim and I therefore regard it an atrocity (in the sense that it is a very bad event).

Now whether or not these statements are really true depends on the exact meanings of some of these words, but I think that we understand each other.

Good Article

The points that a religious moderate is nonsensical is perfect. I still think is it more likely there is a giant diamond in my backyard than that God is watching me write this comment and shaking his/her head.



James
Atheist Revolution Community and Forum
http://www.atheistrevolution.com

 

TheHunter's picture

Middle Ground

ok, so both sides of the table here are fighting over this whole idea of why humans feel horible or find it an atrocity when another person is violated or killed. so kids, lets look at the definition of atrocity:

atrocity

adj
1. the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane 

cruel and inhumane... alright, can we agree on the definition of these terms? atrocity in no way by definition asigns a value to the object of which the act occurs. no need to determine if the object does or does not have value to God. even so, lets go to a mutual object which we agree has no so-called "value". dogs, dogs don't go to heaven, therefore they have no favor of the supposed God, and more over, no soul. yet both of us agree that toturing and/or killing a dog for fun would be atrocious. what kind of sick person would do that?

so now we can go to the little girl. normally i'd say it is emotional on both sides but we just had to drag the name of the website into this so i'll work with it. i'm going to provide the rationale behind a atheist being able to call the violation of a little girl an atrocity. one, atrocity doesn't require emotion for classification. two, as a society, the atheist doesn't need a book to tell us that killing a little girl is wrong. we can view it as wrong from the simple stand point that killing children hinders the growth of the society. not to mention the waste of resources that were put into that child up to that point.

finally, ignoring societal frames of mind, we can go with the simple "do un to other as you would have them do un to you." one shouldn't kill another's kid because one wouldn't want someone to kill their kid. but this has an emotional rationale so don't shoot me down for it, this reflects my view, not that of the Rational Responders. and yes, just to clairify, i am an antheist.

oh and, yes and no, this is an attack but, i'd like to agree with whoever it was who made the point about theists deriving their morals from a book. if the book never existed, how many of the people that use it would be far less moral than they are now? also, how many times have people done something they thought conflicted with the bible and then tried to make a loophole for which they could feel beter about having done it? i can say i've never tried to make myself feel beter about something i've done. unless i like, walked over an old lady because i was walking backwards or something. then i'd feel guilty but duely so, and it was an accident. cheating on one's wife wouldn't be, but apparently confession makes it all better so nvm. and srry for stereotyping all theists as catholics but that doesn't invalidate my point. no, actually it's worse outside of catholicism because then you don't even have to admit it to someone else, you could just ask for forgiveness in prayers. oh well, atleast i get amusement out of you guys.

Absolute right and wrong

Your belief in an absolute right and wrong requires that you stone people to death for working on the sabbath. GO TO IT!!!!!

very confused.

You claim atheists have no rational grounds to 'care' about the girl. In turn what 'rational' grounds does an individual that believes in some form of a 'god' have? I mean, the idea of believing in god is based soley off feelings, and thoughts. There is no solid fact or evidence to prove whether this is or is not a god. The grounds for belief in his is based soley out of various texts for various religions written by men. So in a sense religion was created as a way of understanding the natural sentiment a human being can feel towards a fellow human being. Just because everything on earth is of equal importance or equally of no importance doesn't change the fact that humans have the free will and emotion to care about one another. How does the idea of there being a god or of there being no god have any relevance in how individuals choose to see, interact, and accept his environment and his attitude towards it? I personal cannot see any correlation to your argument. People care about people or they dont, regardless of their religious preference.

Yes.

You are missing something. Religion so weakens the faculty of intellect that it is unable to separate reason from not.

What worked for me was to study the most basic of arguments until I understood them as those making them do. Then, I did not allow myself to move on or in anyway to get distracted until I determined for myself if merit was warranted. Then, I assembled these salient points of reason into their simplest pattern. The pattern of evidence led me away from theism.

 

topic drift

Jason said

I didn't mean that only theists know what is wrong. I only meant that atheists don't have a rational basis for that knowledge. You are actually making my point by defining your morality as "felt."

Kind of a shame to have this long rabbit-hole thread as commentary to Sam's essay.

But we are here so let's relate it to the topic.  Since religions are all figments of the imagination, to paraphrase Sam's thesis, Jason how do you imagine (that being the key word of course) that religion grounds morality?  Religions (contrary to what is commonly asserted) manage to disagree on just about every point of morality, and during their more fervent and irrational phases incite their believers to go to war to eradicate the immorality of another religion.  So, there is hardly any basis for complacent belief (again key) that religion defines atrocity.  Religions have observably driven atrocities, right up to modern times.

If you prefer a theist POV separate from organized religion well then you have the sort of vague pervasion of god in everything but nothing prescriptive for specific situations.

And as for rational basis for morality, there have been a few interesting attempts.  Kant got a pretty good start at it.  At least as consistent and humane as any religious text.

The atheist POV is that religious justification for morality is gobbledegook and dogma.  Some religious behaviors may be moral, but that is the rational humanity bleeding through the text, not god.

So, the question here is have you analysed why it is YOU think the scenario is an atrocity?  I think when you do so, you will discover the same reasons an atheist does.  Religion is, as usual, just excess smoke and mirrors trying to claim the credit. 

 

Grant

RE: Atrocity

You are missing something. Understanding science, including natural selection, does not determine an ethical system. If you understand Newton's physics, or Einstein's relativity, does that construct your moral values.

Ethics should be based on reason. For example, I choose not to kill people, because it is wrong. It is wrong because I can empathize with people who have lost loved ones, because I have lost them too. Therefore, I would not want to kill someone because I'd cause someone to suffer. Conversely, religious people are directed to kill or not to kill by ancient and erroniously interpreted texts. Religious people don't kill because they fear the wrath of their god. I don't kill because I am compassionate, empathetic, and reasonable.

 

This is just one example to illustrate the weakness of religious morality. Religious people behave morally, or not, based on fear. The holy books of the world are filled with contradictions, untruths, and yes, atrocities, that are justified by the believers because the horrible actions benefit their group.