Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Atheism: When Ethics Are Grounded in "the Literal Ground"

If atheists do have values, what are they?

"There’s an interesting article in the Guardian by Julian Baggini. Now that nearly half of Britons say that they have no religion, he observes, some believers are saying that atheism is also a sort of faith. Though an atheist, he is not of the Dick Dawkins school, and so does not respond with Dickish bluntness. He is not one of those ‘zealous’ atheists who sees religion ‘as an offence to human rationality.’ People like that do seem to have a sort of crusading faith, he says. Excessive trust in the power of reason can be dangerous, he adds.

He admits that the ‘meaning and value’ that atheists find in life is not strictly evidence-based, and so has a faith-resembling aspect. But it’s misleading to call this ‘faith’, he concludes. ‘The non-religious do not find meaning, purpose and value by taking a leap into the unknown and transcendental. We find it in the beauty and joy of life, and in the empathy that makes us see value in the lives of others too. These things are not facts captured by fundamental physics but nor are they religious mysteries to be taken on faith. What grounds us ethically can be found entirely on the literal ground on which we live.’"
I really have to take the "literal ground" statement as a metaphor, despite the embedded word, "literal". That is perhaps an undeserved charity, since the statement refers, literally, to "literal"... However, I prefer to move on to the beauty and joy - and Empathy - statement.

Beauty is not exclusive to Atheists (Carl Sagan seemed to think otherwise). But it is not an ethic. Are ugly people not valuable? Beauty is a purely subjective judgment, and its application is uneven, even contradictory. An ugly person might have led a beautiful life, had a beautiful mind, or have led a morally beautiful life. A beautiful person might be a pervert of lowest esteem (or the newest Victinhood Class member). Beauty is merely an expression of appreciation which one has for an object, such as a beautiful equation. There is zero ethical content in beauty.

The same goes for joy. Joy is just happy, happy, happy. No ethical content there, either. Stalin was happy when Trotsky was killed with a mountaineering ice pick. So "happy" and "joy" don't provide any ethical direction at all.

Which leaves the standard claim of massive empathy which Atheists claim to have, as this Atheist does. Empathy, however, is not a trait which Atheists should bring up, because studies show that Atheists have a distinct paucity of Empathy. Atheist empathy stalls out at the same level that psychopath empathy does. Not an auspicious source for Atheist moral superiority, or even parity.

So maybe "the literal ground" should be taken more literally as the basis for Atheist ethics. But what ethical principles they find in the dirt are not obvious, and certainly haven't helped them with their empathy problem.

8 comments:

JBsptfn said...

Speaking of atheists, guess who's on the prowl again:

CADRE: Evidence and Incredulity

Here's a discussion that IMS is having with James Hannam (Bede) about his book God's Philosopher's:

The Skeptic Zone: The Lie That Never Dies-Christian Apologetics

And, Stan, he had something negative to say about you here in this entry about the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

The Skeptic Zone: The Old Thermodynamics Canard

In this last link, he called the Science Against Evolution site propaganda. I responded by saying that the sites that he has linked to before on Joe's blog (RationalWiki and CSICOP) are propaganda, not SAE. Then, I posted a link to an NDE entry on Michael Prescott's blog entitled Who Will Watch The Watchers about the Skeptical Enquirer's 1994 investigation into an NDE that happened in Seattle in 1977 (Maria and the shoe).

Midas said...

Preferences are needed for morality, if people didn’t have preferences then you couldn’t have a moral code. When you have preferences that are universal – like not not wanting to be killed, not wanting to be harmed, not wanting to be cheated etc you can build a functioning society on a moral code that is based on these universal preferences/values. If a human being with a functioning nervous system has petrol poured over them and set alight they will be in excruciating pain. We avoid harm, that is the basis for morality.

Actually one of the main purposes of a moral code – to settle disputes and conflicts without violence. Indeed thanks to universal values, violence and wars has rapidly decreased in recent history – compared to our violent past.

If morality is ultimately grounded in the nature of sentient beings – then there is no morality if there is no sentient being (in other words, morality ceases to exist when every sentient being dies). And if that would be how morality is ultimately grounded, then valid logical reasoning based on these premises must lead to objectively true moral propositions, but those would still be mental constructs – just like some claims about a game of chess can be objectively true despite being mental constructs. And this being the nature of morality seems to be infinitely more plausible than an alternative that involves something like platonic form. Thus,a game of chess can be objectively true – despite the rules of chess being a human invention.

Talon said...

If it's also a shared trait of sentient beings to favor those who think, look, act like themselves, and feel apathy or hostility to those who do not, and perhaps decide that to do anything else is "harmful", is that an objectively true moral value humankind should live with? Why not?

Should those who lack the supposedly "universal" values you mention above, such as a desire to avoid "harm", not have a say in society? Shouldn't smokers, xtreme sports enthusiasts, vegans, anti-vaxxers, homosexuals, adrenaline junkies, atheists, free-will skeptics, transgenders, climate change denialists, the morbidly obese, drug addicts, child molesters and masochists all have a say in what constitutes "harm"? Why not? You can't say they are wrong really, they just have a different understanding of "harm" than you, perhaps a different place on a spectrum of "harm" understanding. How then do you enforce laws using your understanding of "harm" without doing "harm" to them? Surely taking them from their homes, jobs and loved ones to re-educate, incarcerate or rehabilitate them by force, at the taxpayer's expense, could be considered humiliating, painful, bigoted and even "harmful"?

Stan said...

”Preferences are needed for morality, if people didn’t have preferences then you couldn’t have a moral code. When you have preferences that are universal – like not not wanting to be killed, not wanting to be harmed, not wanting to be cheated etc you can build a functioning society on a moral code that is based on these universal preferences/values. If a human being with a functioning nervous system has petrol poured over them and set alight they will be in excruciating pain. We avoid harm, that is the basis for morality.”

You don’t even read what I wrote; you merely repeat the same thing, like a mantra. You are not even talking about morality. You are talking about civil codes. And you make the absurd claim below:

”Actually one of the main purposes of a moral code – to settle disputes and conflicts without violence. Indeed thanks to universal values, violence and wars has rapidly decreased in recent history – compared to our violent past.”

This is the massively uninformed claim made by Steven Pinker: “Something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler. On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture. Some of the data has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler”.

Stan said...

David Berlinski replied with scathing… data:
A Shockingly Happy Picture by Excess Deaths
First World War (1917-18)………………………………………………….15 million
Russian Civil War (1917-22)…………………………………………………9 million
Soviet Union, Stalin’s Regime (1924-53)………………………………20 million
Second World War (1937-45)……………………………………………….55 million
People’s Republic of China, Mao (1945-75)………………………….40 million
Tibet (1950 et seq)……………………………………………………………..600,000
Congo Free State (1886-1908)………………………………………………8 million
Mexico (1910-20)…………………………………………………………………1 million
Turkish massacres of Armenians (1915-23)…………………………1.5 million
China (1917-28)……………………………………………………………………800,000
China, Nationaist Era (1928-37)…………………………………………..3.1 million
Korean War (1950-53)………………………………………………………….2.8 million
North Korea (1948 et seq)…………………………………………………….2 million
Rwanda and Burundi (1959-95)……………………………………………1.35 million
Second Indochina War (1960-75)………………………………………….3.5 million
Ethiopia (1962-92) ………………………………………………………………..400,000
Nigeria (1966-70) ………………………………………………………………….1 million
Bangladesh (1971) ………………………………………………………………1.25 million
Cambodia, Khmer Rouge (1975-78)………………………………………1.65 million
Mozambique (1975-92)…………………………………………………………1 million
Afghanistan (1979-2001)……………………………………………………….1.8 million
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)…………………………………………………………1 million
Sudan (1983 et seq)……………………………………………………………….1.9 million
Kinshasa, Congo (1998 et seq)………………………………………………..3.8 million
Phiippines Insurgency (1899-1902)………………………………………….220,000
Brazil (1900 et seq)………………………………………………………………….500,000
Amazonia (1900-1912)…………………………………………………………….250,000
Portuguese Colonies (1900-25)……………………………………………….325,000
French Colonies (1900-40)……………………………………………………….200,000
Japanese War (1904-5)…………………………………………………………….130,000
German East Africa (1905-7)…………………………………………………….175,000
Libya (1911-31)………………………………………………………………………..125,000
Balkan Wars (1912-13)……………………………………………………………..140,000
Greco-Turkish War (1919-22)………………………………….……………….250,000
Spanish Civil War (1936-39)………………………………………………………365,000
Franco regime 1935-75)…………………..……………………………………….100,000
Abyssinian Conquest (1935-41)…………………………………………………400,000
Finnish War ((1939-40)…………………..…………………………………………150,000
Greek Civil War (1943-49)………………………………………………………….158,000
Yugoslavia, Tito (1944-80)…………………………………………………………200,000
First Indochina War (1945-54)…………………………………………………..400,000
Columbia (1946-58)……………………………………………………………………200,000
India (1947)………………………………………………………………………………..500,000
Romania (1948-89)……………………………………………………………………..150,000
Burma/Myanmar (1948 et seq)…………………………………………………..130,000
Algeria (1954-62)………………………………………………………………………..537,000
Sudan (1955-72)………………………………………………………………………….500,000
Guatamala (1960-96)…………………………………………………………………..200,000
Indonesia (1965-66)…………………………………………………………………….400,000
Uganda, Idi Amin (1972-79)…………………………………………………………300,000
Vietnam, post war Communist (1975 et seq)……………………………….430,000
Angola, (1975-2002)…………………………………………………………………….550,000
East Timor, conquest by Indonesia (1975-99)……………………………….200,000
Lebanon (1975-90)……………………………………………………………………….150,000
Cambodian Civil War (1978-91)…………………………………………………….225,000
Iraq, Saddam Hussein (1975-2003)……………………………………………….300,000
Uganda (1979-86)…………………………………………………………………………300,000
Kurdistan (1980s, 1990s)……………………………………………………………….300,000
Liberia (1989-97)…………………………………………………………………………..150,000
Iraq (1990 - )…………………………………………………………………………………350,000
Boznia-Herzegovina (1992-95)……………………………………………………….175,000
Somalia (1991 et seq)……………………………………..……………………………..400,000

Stan said...

Universal values? Settling disputes without violence? A kinder, gentler world? Absolutely not. And I notice that the Cuban revolution, for instance doesn’t even make the list with its secretive abolition of political prisoners, a la’ Che.

Atheist Leftism and its secular morality even started with the bloody massacres of the Reign of Terror by Robespierre’s Committee For Public Safety, 1793-4, in post –revolution France. All dissent was met with the “national razor” (guillotine). The deadly birth of Atheist-Leftist Enlightenment morality foretold of the next two centuries which were plagued by bloody “Enlightenment” principles.

”If morality is ultimately grounded in the nature of sentient beings – then there is no morality if there is no sentient being (in other words, morality ceases to exist when every sentient being dies). And if that would be how morality is ultimately grounded, then valid logical reasoning based on these premises must lead to objectively true moral propositions, but those would still be mental constructs – just like some claims about a game of chess can be objectively true despite being mental constructs. And this being the nature of morality seems to be infinitely more plausible than an alternative that involves something like platonic form. Thus,a game of chess can be objectively true – despite the rules of chess being a human invention.”

Any claim of “infinite plausibility” has to be rejected on its face, because that is not “plausibility”, it is the stealth assertion of certainty (Equivocation of definitions of the two words). “Morality” which consists of cultural engineering rather than personal character development is a fraud. And it is a fraud no matter how it is justified, because it is based in the Fallacy of Equivocation of the term “moral”. Social engineering is not morality, it is herd control based on civil law. Morality is character development of individuals for positive behaviors regardless of any top down controls. Morality requires an external moral authority capable of non-subjective determination of proper positive behaviors which are recommended for personal character traits that are positive. Such authority cannot be the opinion of a man or men, or else it merely remains opinion, without force, and therefore without universality.

Steve 11 said...

"Morality requires an external moral authority capable of non-subjective determination of proper positive behaviors which are recommended for personal character traits that are positive. Such authority cannot be the opinion of a man or men, or else it merely remains opinion, without force, and therefore without universality."

Definitions aside, I agree that this would be the perfect objective moral system, where:
a) God exists, and has created conditions such that all humans, whatever their level of intellect, are capable of easily recognizing his existence;
b) God communicates specific moral issues and their injunctions, and, continually, communicates them equally to all individuals, without prejudice;
c) God is somehow constrained from making objectively incorrect moral determinations.

I don't think we can be confident about any of a), b), or c), without radical, unjustified presupposition. I lack confidence in them, in my thoughts. This, in my view, completely undermines the moral authority of the system.

Stan said...

" This, in my view, completely undermines the moral authority of the system."

Yes. That is exactly right. Atheism destroys morality completely. That was Nietzsche's main thesis. That has been echoed by every Atheist philosopher from Bertrand Russell to Peter Singer, every evolutionist from Darwin to Haekel to Huxley, to Lewontin to Pigliucci. Every Ethicist starts from that base premise, that there is no moral base, so that allows the ethicist to make up his own.

The obvious variability in "ethical opinion" leads to both cultural instability and to New Man dictatorships built on carnage. The "ethical opinions" become the toys of the powerful as they move inexorably toward totalitarian control over the fates of the people.

Even though that fate is inevitable, it doesn't mean that there is a god which created the universe. The Theist conclusion is not based on the rampant amorality of Atheist mankind and its pretensions to knowledge and power. The Theist conclusion is based on the obvious markers in nature which disprove Materialism as a reasonable, rational worldview. It is easy to discount the markers in nature with the incantation of "Science will someday...", which is not the case, because science cannot address, ever, the markers which it cannot physically test.

And the Theist conclusion is based on the obvious observation that if the statement "It is true that there is no truth" is self-evidently false, then exactly what is true, immutably? After all, science cannot disprove that statement. But logic can.

What then is the source of logic when irrationality and non-rational mass/energy is the resting state? What is the source of order, when disorder is the default, the null hypothesis? What is the source of mass/energy when emptiness is the default state?

There are many more issues just as difficult as those, which the practice of science which is voluntarily materialist (the second level of existence) cannot even address much less solve. Science is voluntarily materialist due to its inability to test primary issues using materialist tools and techniques no matter how sophisticated they might become. Science never produces truth, it produces only contingent factoids regarding purely material subjects. The set or class which contains science is very limited, but those dedicated to the adoration of Scientism refuse to recognize that limitation. The Scientismists regard science as the only source for knowledge, which can only refer to material existence and no other.

One might be content to settle for unknowability and be content with knowledge of secondary material existence. But if one moves into what can be deduced regarding the obvious necessary nature of the source (primary existence) then one moves into further, higher knowledge, and of a different type.

For example, it is not reasonable to deduce that the universe came from nothing, in the sense of no prior existence, and without a cause of any type. If you assert Reductio Ad Absurdum to the claim, it fails. There must be truth, then.

The same happens when asserting Reductio to the source of order from nothing, or the source of logic itself being from nothing. The source of a thing must be proportional to the thing - try Reductio on that.

But I've rattled on long enough, just to agree with you that loss of a source for morality equates to NO morality. If there is no morality, why is that a Good thing, when there is no Good even possible?