Archive for May, 2013

Morality

Posted on 29. May, 2013 by .

2

A short response I made in a forum on Amazon on the book “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris. It sums up my feelings about most moral philosophers pretty well, and since a full length post on morality is eluding me, I am going to cheat and post this instead..

[A reader wrote]

“All this demonstrates is that science can teach us that pouring cholera in water can harm/kill people, but it does not explain why it is immoral to do so”

[Another reader responded]

Does this actually require philosophical deliberation to figure out that harming and killing are not right to do? I simply do not understand how anyone can honestly take these kind of arguments seriously. Why do people try to make morality so mystical?

[I responded]

“Does this actually require philosophical deliberation to figure out that harming and killing are not right to do?”

Exactly John. We seem to have it exactly backwards. Rather than requiring convincing and exhaustive evidence that can justify a moral position opposed to the harming of another human being, we should require this same kind of evidence from anyone who commits such acts, and most human cultures in the world have done so, and always have.

It’s only moral philosophers who demand proof that there is something inherently wrong with throwing acid in a little girls face before we dare to condemn it, and it’s only religion, or other dogmas, that can make such an act seem like a good idea in the first place. For a reasonable person it is enough that you are doing something to someone else, that you would not want done to yourself. What some moral philosophers don’t seem to understand is that it doesn’t go any deeper than this. This is in fact why it is immoral. Morality does not exist at the level of sub atomic particles, it exists only at the level of human culture, and it seems reasonable to me, that assuming harming others is immoral, until proven otherwise, will lead to more human flourishing, than assuming that killing each other is morally ambiguous, until proven otherwise, and of course, there is plenty of evidence for this in history and the world,  and there is also little doubt, that this is why humans and other social animals evolved empathy in the first place .

Not much, but it sums up my feelings pretty well. Let me know what you think.

(You can follow the rest of the discussion here if you want.)

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What is an atheist?

Posted on 26. May, 2013 by .

2

Welcome to the new category of “Atheism FAQ”. Posted here will be responses to the nearly countless misconceptions people have about atheism, and what better place to start than the term itself.

Well, here’s how it breaks down.

1) All one has to do to be a theist is answer “yes” to the question “Do you believe in a supernatural god?”

2) If you answer anything other than yes to this question, then you are NOT a theist, or as all such people are called, an (A)theist. You are not part of the group of theists, and this is all the word atheist represents.

3) Agnostic is a term that many people seem to think represents a third category to the two we atheist agnosticalready mentioned, but this is incorrect. Saying “I don’t know” to the the question “Do you believe in a supernatural god?”, certainly doesn’t make you a theist, and as we’ve already seen, this is all that is required to make you an atheist. In fact the vast majority of people who describe themselves as atheists, don’t claim to know that god does not exist, they just don’t think the evidence available, supports the presumption that he does. Demanding that the word “agnostic” represent a third distinct category, is essentially the same thing as trying to redefine the word atheist, (and theist for that matter), to mean someone who is certain of their belief (or lack thereof), and although this is true about most theists, it is a complete misrepresentation of the vast majority of atheists.

Rather than a distinct category, “agnostic” is more like a sliding window on the binary category of theists and atheists, which represents those who will admit doubt in their position. Most atheists, are “agnostic atheists” and would not claim to have absolute certainty that god does not exist, because this would be almost as silly, as claiming absolute certainty that he does. On the other hand you will find very few “agnostic theists”, who will admit uncertainty as to their position, because of course, this would indicate a lack of faith, which is usually, and usefully, frowned on in most religions.

Well, that about sums it up. But if for some reason you want to read the old version of this post, read on. Maybe you will let me know which is better, and I will keep that one.

Either you believe in a supernatural god, thereby making you a theist, or you don’t, thereby making you an (a)theist , but there is no required level of conviction for either position. The vast majority of people who call themselves atheist would not say they are 100% sure that god does not exist, they simply believe the evidence available does not support the presumption that he does.

Most people who call themselves agnostics would not say that they believe there is a supernatural god, since doing so would make them a theist, and the simple refusal to proclaim this belief is enough to make them an atheist.

The terms gnostic and agnostic refer to knowledge, not belief, and can be used as qualifiers for atheist or theist, but not as replacements. For example an “agnostic atheist” would be someone who does not believe in a supernatural god, but either thinks that the actual knowledge of gods existence is unknowable, or claims not to be certain of his non-existence. This is the category that most self identified atheists fit into. On the other hand most theists are “gnostic theists” claiming absolute knowledge, not only of gods existence, but his thoughts and desires as well.

The fact is you will find very few “gnostic atheists”, those who claim to have absolute knowledge that god does not exist, because this would be as silly as claiming to have absolute knowledge that he does. Similarly, you will find very few “agnostic theists”, who will admit uncertainty as to their claims, because of course, this would indicate a lack of faith, which is usually, and usefully, frowned on in most religions.

I hope you find this information useful, and I’m not trying to tell you what to call yourself, but when you create a false dichotomy between atheism and agnosticism please understand you have become an ally  of the church in marginalizing all atheists as extreme and immovable in their disbelief, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Cheers!

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