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Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!

After attending the Global Atheist Convention, John Wilkins vaguely disagrees with me on community building. I say vaguely because he doesn’t really disagree with the goal, but because he thinks I’m missing something essential in defining community.

First of all if you want to build a community you have to have a set of shared values, rituals and practices. These are, if you like, the nature of the community. Since atheism is defined in various ways, that is difficult, and PZ tried to define the atheist community in terms of truth, autonomy and community. The problem is, these are values also held by many other communities, and they are not the very same communities. I know many liberal religious folk who also value science, truth and personal autonomy, and many atheists who do not.

I disagree here in two ways: First, sharing values with other communities is not a problem. John and I would both agree that there are good values in Christian and Islamic and whatever communities — if we go around saying atheists can’t do that because Lutherans do it, too, we’ll end up refusing to urinate in private and adopting the habit of kicking small children. We should borrow the best from other communities (which does not include building extravagantly silly cathedrals.)

Secondly, I’d disagree that everything I listed is shared, and I specifically include truth. I also know many religious people who say they value truth…and who then insist that triune gods who manifest themselves as ritual sacrifices in the body of a man are also true. It is also the case that religions by their nature lack the tools for evaluating truth by an external measure outside their practices and holy books, which is why they are led into such silly beliefs…false ideas that Wilkins then goes on to acknowledge are valuable because of their falsity.

So while I applaud his picking these values, he hasn’t quite picked out the identifier and community builders of an atheist community.

What does achieve this? Well, we can look to other successful community building traditions. One of the most obvious is, of course, religion. What is it that makes religion so socially persistent and able to withstand thousands of years of change? My answer, the one I gave to PZ, was the Costly Signalling hypothesis: what makes a religion stable and causes social cohesion is not the ideas they share, but the absurd and contingent flags they carry. The reason why, for example, a Baptist can go anywhere in the world and find a community among any ethnicity, language, or class, is that what unites Baptists everywhere are a set of practices and beliefs so silly that one can only share them with other Baptists. That is, by the way, why creationism is so socially adaptive: the only folk you can share it with in practice are those who are in your community. Everybody else just laughs at you (yes, Xenu. I’m looking at you).

The costly signalling hypothesis is an interesting one and I wouldn’t reject it out of hand. But implementing it is a different matter, and I think atheists already do. I also think it has some problems.

What is the cost creationists pay for their beliefs? There isn’t really any. They aren’t discriminated against, they don’t get beat up by roving gangs of militant atheists, historically and currently they are in the majority. Their beliefs don’t have consequences on their work (as long as they aren’t trying to be biologists) or their family life; they don’t have to make any personal sacrifices to revel in their ignorance. It is a cheap signal. It’s also an easily hidden signal — I couldn’t walk out onto the street and point to any of the creationists walking by unless I knew them personally.

Now there definitely are costly religious signals. I think the first tribe that decided to mark themselves off by chopping off their foreskins was most decidedly doing something radical, and really was making it expensive to join their group. Of course, now it’s all over the place and in some cultures is done so casually that it marks nothing at all (see also the point above about values not having to be unique). I think also cheap signals can be made costly by the environment — the trivial differences between Catholic and Protestant rituals could cost you your life in Ireland, once upon a time, for instance. But you could say the same thing about atheism: professing disbelief could, once upon a time, get you a toasty spot tied to a stake, as could not being aware of the theological significance of Jesus’ human or divine nature. Costliness is contingent.

Sure, we could declare that all True Atheists™ would wear a purple hat with antlers. It would be impractical, ugly, and obvious, and it would represent a truly costly badge that no one else would don, but it would also lack any organic connection to our beliefs or community. Also, the idea of wearing an absurd flag of our identity is a violation of fundamental rational values and shouldn’t be promoted. I do not think any such unnatural proposition would ever fly in this community.

On the other hand, there are rational beliefs that have just as much of a social cost as the creationists absurdities. They mark us just as thoroughly as a belief in the trinity.

We reject the notion of an afterlife. Dead is dead. No consolation in a happy hunting ground after the misery of cancer ripping your body apart, or a heart attack flooring you in an abrupt flash of pain. Many people outside our group find that shocking to the point they deny that we could possibly believe it.

We consider humans to be inconsequential and accidental on a cosmic scale. The universe does not love us or care about us, we aren’t special, we do not have an all-important destiny. That chills others, too.

We deny the existence of an objective morality. Morality is emergent and contingent; it’s the product of interactions between humans, it can change, and it really does have to be worked out mutually and iteratively, without binding arbitration from a superpowerful authority. This difference is a huge source of othering by Christians and Muslims — it’s the number one accusation I see levied by those tribes against our tribe. How can you deny that it is a costly signal while suggesting that believing in a 6000 year old earth is?

John also mentions his recent knee injury that has laid him up, and that there is no congregation of like-minded agnostics who gathered together to send him flowers, send a baffled and muddled agnostic chaplain to visit, or organize a circle of dinner deliveries. He’s reliant on a couple of personal friends. But, I would add, he also benefits from a secular state that provides an essential minimal level of support. Why should that be dismissed as an aspect of community? It’s a bit impersonal, admittedly, but it’s there. I think it’s also much more reliable than depending on a loose association of fellow believers — I notice that the Baptists aren’t lining up to help Wilkins out now, despite his past association, probably because his ideas led him to depart from their herd. Do we want the kind of community that demands conformity in order to get the essentials of life?

But otherwise, yes, it would be good to have the kind of godless community that fosters friends and fellowship, so when your gimpy knee turns you into a crippled wreck they occasionally stop by with a life-sustaining bottle of beer or hour of conversation or movie for the evening. We don’t have that yet. We need the numbers to have an adequate density of non-believers, and some regular cause to focus community and make us aware of and care for each other. I would agree with that.

But an arbitrary costly signal won’t do that at all. What we need are more positive reasons to routinely associate. How about suggestions for that? Purple hats with antlers are not the answer.

Comments

  1. keinsignal says

    I’ve thought about this at some length (and by “some”, I mean “not all that long, very”), and found that I rather like the idea of atheist ministers. Not in the role of a preacher who expounds at length on the virtues of nonbelief from a pulpit, nor as a leader of prayer to the nonexistent, but in the community role that a good minister fulfills – specifically, knowing what’s up with the flock, and making sure the flock know what’s up with each other. Possibly also in the sense of leading or organizing ceremonies such as weddings or memorial services, but most importantly in this sense of being someone whose job it is to smooth the functioning of the community itself, and direct its efforts, assets, and abilities where they can do some common good. This is a role even many practicing ministers are not particularly good at, but those that do are a considerable asset to have around!

    PZ and other highly visible, public atheist figures already fit this role to some degree, but of course such people are most useful when they’re working with a local group – much as I’d like to fax Wilkins a gallon of soup, the technology hasn’t really caught up with my vision yet. Heck, I don’t even know if he’s vegetarian, allergic to potatoes…

  2. nathanieltagg says

    I dunno. I kind of dig the idea of purple hats with antlers.

    I know! Purple hats with TENTACLES. Now you’re talking fashion.

  3. RFW says

    The very concept of a freethinker/atheist community reminds me of the equally dubious concept of a gay community. Freethinkers, atheists, gays, and people who adore pistachio ice cream are far too diverse to ever be considered a “community”. Aside from a minor, nearly trivial, detail of belief or opinion or (in the case of pistachio ice cream) inherent orientation, there’s just not enough in common to consider these categories as true communities.

    Cue reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of the granfalloon.

  4. says

    Religious folk are totally down with Truth. They just hate it when you kindly request that their pronounced truths have some major correspondence with fact.

  5. says

    There are some evident problems with the conditions here. Or perhaps instead: if these suggestions are the common values for an atheist community, then I may be out:

    We deny the existence of an objective morality. Morality is emergent and contingent; it’s the product of interactions between humans, it can change, and it really does have to be worked out mutually and iteratively, without binding arbitration from a superpowerful authority

    But a lot of atheists believe in objective morality, including me. That is, we are not moral *absolutists* – how to judge an action depends on the context of the action; one cannot say flat out that a certain practice is wrong without taking the context and motivation into consideration – but we believe that the moral rules are objective. There are several ways of defending objective morality on completely secular grounds. Kant, for instance, tried to ground universal moral rules in rationality (immoral actions are strictly speaking irrational), and his way of doing it is pretty ingenious – it may in the end be wrong, but it isn’t *trivially* wrong. Those who have a background in moral theory (which doesn’t seem to include PZ – yes, this is a criticism) know that there are plenty of ways to ground objective morality without invoking anything supernatural.

    So if moral relativism for membership in the atheist community I am, as mentioned, not likely to sign up. Moral relativism is, as anyone who has taken even an Intro to ethics class knows, a ghastly theory.

  6. picool says

    While Mr. Wilkins definitely benefits from the secular state, his hospital stay seems to reflect that he could also benefit from some secular friendships. Or any. A community benefits its members only if they join the community. This mysterious cabal of Baptists didn’t show up with dinners etc. because he is not in that community. So join a book club or professional organization or an orchid growing club, and you make friends with some of these people, and then they come and visit you in the hospital.
    One of the functions of religious communities is that they can act as a shorthand for shared interests and concerns, but that is nothing that cannot be performed by a secular organization. But don’t complain that a community is not supporting you if you are not a member of that community.

  7. says

    The very concept of a freethinker/atheist community reminds me of the equally dubious concept of a gay community.

    Get outta town! We have LGBT community centers everywhere in the USA. Community centers. Because we have a community whether you admit it or not.

  8. Randomfactor says

    What is the cost creationists pay for their beliefs? There isn’t really any.

    The REST of us pay the cost.

  9. says

    PZ–I like the idea that you are proposing. I also think it important to take a long hard look at, if atheists want to take on such groups as the Christian Right as a political force. We are a rag tag band that fights local church/state issues but really lack the cohesion to take things on at a national level.

    Some questions that come to mind: How is what you are proposing different from some communities that exist or “sort of” already exist like secular humanists (The council for Secular Humanism)? Would it be a bad idea to strengthen those types of existing organizations that many of us would probably identify with rather than starting from scratch? Would that be more, equal, or less effective?

    Good post PZ, it gives us something to really think about.

  10. ogremeister says

    The biggest problem in building godless communities seems to me to be that you’re trying to build a community based on shared values of what is not, rather than what is. People who do not skydive typically do not congregate and talk about how life on the ground is so great; same with people who do not swim, or who do not attend the opera; and so on.

    So rather than try to gel around a concept of life without gods, the godless would likewise do better to build communities around the positives: science, rational thought, etc. And there are already many of those communities to join.

  11. platyhelminthe says

    I disagree that there isn’t really a cost to being a creationist – I suspect creationists pay a steep price in terms of the lack of critical reasoning such a delusion implies, and can think of many cases in which it must clearly be a handicap. Is there any research which directly compares the relative level of academic success/affluence between creationists and non-creationists?

  12. says

    RFW:

    the equally dubious concept of a gay community.

    As a member of the GLBT community, I offer you this decaying porcupine. Please fuck yourself silly with it.

    The gay community is not a myth, Cupcake. We have worked damn hard to build communities and we can offer support like nobody’s business, Sugarbrain.

  13. kevinalexander says

    Their beliefs don’t have consequences on their work (as long as they aren’t trying to be biologists) or their family life; they don’t have to make any personal sacrifices to revel in their ignorance.

    I’m with platy here. If nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution and if your brain is evolved then you can’t know yourself without understanding where you came from. Conservatives in general keep making the same stupid costly mistakes and it’s not just us others that pay for them.

  14. says

    The christian community seems to agree on say, The Ten Commandments.

    What if the Atheists promoted another set of commandments – eight of them. (our advantage, easier to learn and memorize)

    A proposed starting sample:

    1. Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies.

    2. Science trumps Faith, always.

    3. It takes a community to raise a child.

    4. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.

    5.

    Please help me complete this list.

    The Eight Commandments could display along with the Ten or, better still, replace them.

  15. abb3w says

    I’d slightly disagree with PZ on “shared values”; that the sets have differences does not mean they do not intersect. Not sure that’s important, but it seems neglecting the intersection may be as wasteful as neglecting the difference is foolish.

    I’d agree with PZ (or what seems to be his position) that the need is not so much for “rituals and practices”. I’d suggest what would be more useful is developing social institutions — practices with practical consequences on society, with any signalling developed more as spandrels rather than structures. In particular (due to a recent Atlantic Piece), on developing institutions worthy of trust. Which seems to relate to the respect/deference and prestige/dominance of Joe Heinrich’s work.

    Meh. Sorry, don’t have time to render the notions linear, coherent, and fully developed.

  16. Woo_Monster says

    Please help me complete this list.

    Commandment 1: Thall shalt not makes lists of commandments

  17. says

    Does that include those tacky little ‘Scarlet A’ badges? ;-)

    As for atheist community – I have it, even if it’s web-based, and more dispersed than it used to be. 

    I have made real friends and real lovers – with whom I’ve stayed over, borrowed and lent money, shared some of my innermost thoughts and feelings, and listened to some of theirs. I’ve already witnessed two weddings between people within my community – one of which I flew to the US to attend. I’ve also attended the funeral of one close friend and lover of that community – where I was among a small group of us – us forum people – and there were real tears, real grief and real fond reflection on the times we’d shared with our friend, there.

    And while I can’t say that I’d have a couple of them pop over to visit if I buggered my knee up – I know I’d get texts, emails, messages and phonecalls – and someone would likely send flowers, and that does for me.

    So yeah… Atheist community: I has it. And I feel incredibly smug to have formed that on RD.net, before the powers that be there went ahead and excised and sterilised most traces of genuine fellowship – and to their own peril. What can I say? So long and thanks for all the fish, RDFRS…

  18. says

    First of all if you want to build a community you have to have a set of shared values, rituals and practices.

    I think even that overstates the matter. Values yes; rituals and practices, not really.

  19. eddyline says

    @ #6—

    Yeah, that struck me, too; religious organizations tend to be a “get friends quick” scheme, and automatically qualify a member as a good guy…or, at least, “gosh, xe must be worth giving a meal to. After all, xe believes in Jeebus/Xenu/Yahweh/Mohammed/Zeus/whatever…”

    We have more evidence-based criteria for this, it seems. I think it’s better that way. When I had an illness last year, some friends brought over some food—not because I and they are atheistic, but because we’re friends.

  20. Woo_Monster says

    Purple hats with antlers are not the answer.

    Certainly not. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a PUA attempting to “pea-cock”. Fuck those PUAs for tainting the wearing of bizarre hats.

  21. Blondin says

    …there are plenty of ways to ground objective morality without invoking anything supernatural.

    For example?

  22. says

    G.D., I think PZ means there’s no moral standard that sits outside or above us (sapient, sentient, social animals) by which we measure whether something is good or bad. We ourselves determine what the rational moral standard should be. This is not the same as the kind of moral relativism that says slavery is wrong here and now, but wasn’t wrong in the past or isn’t wrong in a different culture.

  23. madbull says

    Rational thought definitely has the traits to build community. We dare to blaspheme, we dare to question authority, we love to argue and are willing (hopefully) to change our minds in the light of new evidence. We do not consider changing our viewpoints as a sign of defeat.
    The problem is despite all this, we do not share some very key values, I usually find myself relating more with a mildly religious liberal than a hardcore libertarian atheist.

  24. flaq says

    I think the idea of an atheist community is a really important one. I had some churchy friends over for dinner last night and we were talking about exactly this point They can sit through a sermon, and listen to the Apostle’s Creed without actually BELIEVING the words in a literal sense, and they can talk about some things being interpreted metaphorically and others literally, as suits their personal taste, but in the end the one thing they were really emphatic about was the community aspect of it.

    So how do atheists build a tangible, evident community without things like commandments and ritualistic gatherings? Or maybe we do need those things…

  25. miller says

    “Well, we can look to other successful community building traditions. One of the most obvious is, of course, religion.”

    I really don’t understand why religious communities are always used as the basis of comparison for atheist communities. Why not… fanfic communities? Sports communities? Japanese-American communities? Makes about as much sense. And then maybe we’ll get a broader idea of what really makes a community.

  26. KG says

    Those who have a background in moral theory (which doesn’t seem to include PZ – yes, this is a criticism) know that there are plenty of ways to ground objective morality without invoking anything supernatural. – G.D.

    Funny thing: I have frequently seen this asserted, but have never seen any proponent of objective morality actually come up with the goods. Care to surprise me?

  27. says

    I really don’t understand why religious communities are always used as the basis of comparison for atheist communities. Why not… fanfic communities? Sports communities? Japanese-American communities? Makes about as much sense. And then maybe we’ll get a broader idea of what really makes a community

    This.

  28. says

    Two things:

    We should keep in mind that religions use “community” as a tool to get people on board and prevent them from leaving. It’s not an end in itself. You banged up your knee? Good. You’re in a vulnerable situation and we can surround you and make sure you’re indebted to us and our imaginary god and our not-so-imaginary hierarchy. Do we really want to imitate such manipulation?

    This stuck out for me:

    One of the most obvious is, of course, religion. What is it that makes religion so socially persistent and able to withstand thousands of years of change?

    Is this guy kidding? Religion has never withstood change, it’s adapted along with the rest of human culture. It tries to sell itself as eternal and unchanging, but it’s a pernicious chameleon that retains some of the trappings of past ages to bolster its camouflage.

  29. joey says

    We deny the existence of an objective morality

    What does a disbelief in gods have to do with a belief/disblief in objective morality? I agree with GD on this.

  30. rickschauer says

    I feel the folks over at http://criticalthinking.org have, in essence, the beginnings of this community. It is based on intellectual standards, critical thinking, analysis and using the socratic method for discerning the truth.

    Just my two pence.

  31. Dick the Damned says

    I think the reason that the religionists have it over us in terms of community-building is because, when they meet up, they’re all putting themselves in the same position, (or pretending to do so, anyway). It’s a position that we can’t adopt, because we are all (presumed to be) morally equal.

    They’re all making themselves very unequal, offering obeisance to their imaginary companion, (in the case of the Abrahamic religions, it’s the Bible Bogey, the Torah Tosser, and the Koran Kacker). That gives them common cause, (& shared identity – humble supplicants), that we can’t even begin to match.

  32. says

    There’s a very real community right here at Pharyngula. The support is phenomenal* and people meet up on a regular basis and at every opportunity, too.

    *This includes financial support, emotional support, offering a place to stay support, etc.

  33. Teh Merkin says

    Funny thing: I have frequently seen this asserted, but have never seen any proponent of objective morality actually come up with the goods. Care to surprise me?

    It was alluded to above in a reference to Kant, but here is a specific link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative

    There you go, one theory of objective morality, based in reason, not in the supernatural. It’s probably not the only one out there, but this is the one I think of when I hear “objective morality.” Maybe Rawls’ Theory of Justice would fit what you are asking for as well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Theory_of_Justice

  34. kevinalexander says

    …there are plenty of ways to ground objective morality without invoking anything supernatural.

    For example?

    Those who have a background in moral theory (which doesn’t seem to include PZ – yes, this is a criticism) know that there are plenty of ways to ground objective morality without invoking anything supernatural. – G.D.

    Funny thing: I have frequently seen this asserted, but have never seen any proponent of objective morality actually come up with the goods. Care to surprise me?

    You’ve already heard them all, you just refuse to accept. It’s as simple as reciprocal altruism, if I’m a shit to others then I’m inviting that pain back on myself. Morality doesn’t need more justification than that though there are others.

  35. says

    I really don’t understand why religious communities are always used as the basis of comparison for atheist communities. Why not… fanfic communities? Sports communities? Japanese-American communities?

    Yeah, and Wilkins knows this very well. We are both members of the far-flung talk.origins community — it’s how I know the guy, and why we look each other up when we’re in the same neighborhood.

    And especially for younger people, internet communities are often more real than the face-to-face ones.

  36. joey says

    Ibis:

    Who or what sets or established this objective morality?

    Who cares?

    Are you suggesting that my belief in human dignity must imply belief in gods?

  37. Pteryxx says

    Honestly (IMHO) religious communities should NOT be a model for any sort of community. They’re usually more like emotional pyramid schemes; people HAVE to come to the aid of / patronize others with the same community referents, because they’ll be shunned if they don’t. Bunches of people showing up to check on you when you’re hurt don’t necessarily have your best interests in mind – some are there to gain piety points or gossip fodder, or to police other members of the community to make sure they’re giving charity to the ‘right sorts’, or to home in on the chance to evangelize to someone vulnerable.

    Also, they’re extremely public, what with their conspicuously identifiable, dedicated buildings. Outside of for-profit advertising, only sports stadiums are so garish. (Though, if I saw a library with a giant book on a tower, or a community center topped with a spotlighted golden trans symbol, that WOULD be awesome…)

  38. jand says

    I personally don’t see the point of “community” at all, if it is defined as “ingroup” vs “outgroup”, “us and them” and such.

  39. Doubting Thomas says

    I like the idea of badges. They could be secret ones that only we could see. We could all wear special glasses that could reveal them. And wouldn’t the believers go nuts when they found out about them?

  40. melody says

    I think PZ should hang out at the Center for Inquiry–DC for a month. We are a tight-knit group of non-believers and skeptics. We share many values without the rituals. We provide intellectual as well as social programming. We have as many as ten events per month. It takes money and dedication to have such centers. We need more like them across the United States.

  41. says

    You’ve already heard them all, you just refuse to accept. It’s as simple as reciprocal altruism, if I’m a shit to others then I’m inviting that pain back on myself.

    This is a misunderstanding of terms. It is we, human beings*, who subjectively decide** that we don’t want to suffer and conclude that reciprocal altruism is the best means to achieve this for the most people most of the time.

    When people usually talk of objective morality, they mean that it exists outside of human society, that somehow, even if no humans existed, the values of right and wrong would still exist. All we, as humans, can do is learn what the objective rules are and follow them.

    *For the sake of argument, I’m ignoring the morality of other social animals and hypothetical aliens.
    **With the caveat that most people don’t rationally decide this, but are born with an altruistic, compassionate instinct coupled with a sense of fairness or justice which are then shaped by socialisation.

  42. says

    Who cares?

    Are you suggesting that my belief in human dignity must imply belief in gods?

    No, I’m trying to suggest that your belief in (and evaluation of) human dignity is subjective. It comes from within your own brain, not from some outside, objective source. That doesn’t make it any the less universally applicable, however.

  43. KG says

    You’ve already heard them all, you just refuse to accept. It’s as simple as reciprocal altruism, if I’m a shit to others then I’m inviting that pain back on myself. Morality doesn’t need more justification than that though there are others. – kevinalexander

    That’s not morality at all, just enlightened self-interest. Really, if you can’t tell the difference, I’ll watch my back if I ever have anything to do with you IRL, because there are many cases where it clearly is in one’s interest to be a shit to others.

  44. FilthyHuman says

    @Pteryxx
    #39

    (Though, if I saw a library with a giant book on a tower, or a community center topped with a spotlighted golden trans symbol, that WOULD be awesome…)

    About the books…
    Kansas City Library
    … I think this come close to what you want.

    @jand
    #40

    I personally don’t see the point of “community” at all, if it is defined as “ingroup” vs “outgroup”, “us and them” and such.

    I would guess the general problem is that without a “community”, everyone else is an outgroup.

    @Ibis
    #44

    With the caveat that most people don’t rationally decide this, but are born with an altruistic, compassionate instinct coupled with a sense of fairness or justice which are then shaped by socialisation.

    Ah, the age old debate.
    Are humans naturally inclined to be altruistic or selfish?

  45. FilthyHuman says

    @Ibis3
    #45

    No, I’m trying to suggest that your belief in (and evaluation of) human dignity is subjective. It comes from within your own brain, not from some outside, objective source. That doesn’t make it any the less universally applicable, however.

    Quick question on definition. Would a successful theory that there’s a genetic inclination for human to be altruistic/value human dignity be considered as an objective source (in that we’re “programmed” to develop such concepts).

  46. chigau (Twoic) says

    Why does morality have to be “objective”?
    —–
    Doesn’t “community” involve in-group and out-group by definition?

  47. flaq says

    And especially for younger people, internet communities are often more real than the face-to-face ones.

    Maybe I’m just old, but I think there’s something to be said for meeting as actual human beings in the real world.

    Setting aside the shopping list of proscribed beliefs and the ritualistic mumbo jumbo, if I had to pick one artifact of religious practice to build on, I would choose this: gather regularly.

  48. 'Tis Himself says

    Where are James Croft, Jonathan Figdor or Grand Exalted Archchaplain Greg Epstein? Aren’t they going to tell us how the Harvard Humanist Leadership Cabal will lead all us atheist peasants into the promised land of religious communities without god?

  49. joed says

    “We deny the existence of an objective morality. Morality is emergent and contingent…”

    This may be true but there still exist “universal morals” that arise IF a group of people want their “culture” to continue and survive.
    1. They have to care for their children.
    2. They can’t kill another human just because they want to/for fun.
    Also, slavery was/is/will be morally wrong.
    Gratuitous torture of human babies was/is/will be morally wrong.
    Granted, this is contingent on wanting to live with other humans. But there is in this sense Universal Morality–isn’t there!?

  50. says

    He’s reliant on a couple of personal friends.

    I’d call that community.
    None of them has to do it, probably none of them does it because they’re looking for a cookie from big sky daddy.
    Sounds good to me.
    Whom would you rather have visiting, a good friend with a good book or a chaplain with the babble?
    Also it seems like in places where religion doesn’t drain off all the community sense, and where people aren’t harsh individualists, people still do that kind of thing. Because they care.

  51. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    RFW @ #3

    The very concept of a freethinker/atheist community reminds me of the equally dubious concept of a gay community.

    Aratina Cage @ #7

    Get outta town! We have LGBT community centers everywhere in the USA. Community centers. Because we have a community whether you admit it or not.

    Caine, Fluer du man @ #12

    As a member of the GLBT community, I offer you this decaying porcupine. Please fuck yourself silly with it.

    I was going to write something else entirely, but it’s turned in to a long essay that I should probably publish some other way. I can distil it now that it’s done and I hope I do my ideas justice, even if I’m still lengthy.

    I’ll say straight away that of course the LGBT community exists and that RFW is an idiot. I might argue that a world-wide meta-community exists, but I don’t think that’d be controversial here. I do hate the term LGBT both for its lack of inclusion as well as for not being concise enough –a matter that is non-trivial –but there doesn’t exist an acceptable alternative or I suspect we’d all be using it.

    I am neither a part of nor am I not a part of the LGBT community. This is especially difficult to articulate, and the reason I ended up requiring an essay to fully explain the meaning of that statement. I am necessarily part of the LGBT community because I am gay and because the legacy of that community has largely allowed me to live my life as I do, making both my personal struggles for acceptance in the myriad ways a person rightfully expects acceptance easier and for winning battles for my acceptance that I never had to fight. The legacy of that community is me and it’ll be the children who grow up with a life (optimistically speaking) even better than mine has been, is or could be.

    I am not a part of that community in an explicit, involved or substantive way. Sure, I carry the values of that community with me and I’ll encourage the community’s goals when they intersect with mine as they often do, but I’m just not a ‘community’ type of person. I contribute intellectually and, perhaps, monetarily, to the community, and I’ll forward intersecting causes, as I said, but the human side is something in which I don’t participate. I don’t require the services of a community centre, and I don’t give to it. I don’t participate in social events and I don’t volunteer my time to the AIDS committee or to other humanitarian oganisations.

    That probably paints a bad picture of me, but it illustrates rather well the passivity with which I accept inclusion in the LGBT community. I am very happy that there are ‘community builders’ out there and I support and applaud them. I support, passively, everyone who chooses to be an active participant in the LGBT community. That’s just not me. I don’t know whether that makes me not a part of it or whether I am, as I think, necessarily a part despite my passivity. Not everyone can be an active member, of course, but then, not everyone can be a member of the community either.

    The central issue, I think, to bring this back to relevance with atheism, is one of membership. What is required of membership in the atheist community and are people necessarily members because of their status as atheists? Am I necessarily a member of the LGBT community because I’m gay? Do individuals get to make the choice of membership or is it automatic if they meet the base criteria? And finally, what is required of members?

    I think a lot of atheists have a problem with the idea of an atheist community because they don’t realise how communities exist or how membership works. Communities are at the same time human, built upon the relationships of individuals in the community, and intangible, the aggregate of the ideals of individuals that intersect and the criteria for membership that merely is self-identifying with those ideals.

    I’m part of the LGBT community, not because I’m gay, but because I believe, largely, in the goals of the LGBT community. I’m a part of it despite the fact that I’m not an active member and I support it in my own ways and those are not inconsequential nor are they less than the contributions of others.
    Atheists don’t need a unique identifier; we already have that and the atheist community already exists because the ideals of the community already exist in individuals and individuals have already been coming together. The community was born a long time ago, now it’s just getting big. Membership is not optional, but the manner of participation is. It’s only possible to disavow yourself of the community by abandoning the ideals, by failing to meet the basic criteria. The only way to do that is to actively work against the community, against your own self-interest, unless you so deny your atheism and join ‘the other side’.

    I’m not a passive member of the atheist community as much as I am of the LGBT community. I give my time to it, as well as my money and I spend time participating in it and having discussions within it. I see it as a pressing, personal issue more so than that of my sexuality. I’m secure in my small part of the world in that aspect of my life so that I can be free to more fully pursue acceptance in another part for me and for others.
    I don’t know that atheists need community centres but if the community, as it grows and coalesces into something as solid, humanly, as is the LGBT community, for instance, deems them necessary, then the people who support them and the people who need them will be there to create them and I’ll continue to be a member of the community.

  52. KG says

    joed,

    You are, empirically, quite wrong, except in the case of a community caring for its own children at least to the extent of not killing them. There have been many societies in which torturing and killing other humans has been regarded as both enjoyable and meritorious, so long as they belong to an outgroup or to a lower stratum of the society itself.

  53. says

    Ah, the age old debate.
    Are humans naturally inclined to be altruistic or selfish?

    Obviously both.

    Quick question on definition. Would a successful theory that there’s a genetic inclination for human to be altruistic/value human dignity be considered as an objective source (in that we’re “programmed” to develop such concepts).

    I would probably say that there is an objective, external set of forces that generally cause us to develop a subjective morality. Nature itself is amoral.

  54. 'Tis Himself says

    When I was in the hospital a couple of years ago, I had about half a dozen members of the yacht club visit me. Maybe Wilkins should learn how to sail.

  55. Ichthyic says

    Obviously both.

    winner.

    and it IS obvious.

    just like the supposed “age old debate” about nature vs nuture.

    nobody who knew anything ever really thought the two were mutually exclusive.

  56. Larry says

    Please help me complete this list.
    The Eight Commandments could display along with the Ten or, better still, replace them.

    1. Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.

    2. Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man from the one you pray to.

    3. Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

    (courtesy of George Carlin)

  57. Ichthyic says

    They have to care for their children.

    I think we need to define what a “moral” is then.

    To me, that’s no more an issue of morality than it is to remember to breathe.

  58. Ichthyic says

    They can’t kill another human just because they want to/for fun.
    Also, slavery was/is/will be morally wrong.
    Gratuitous torture of human babies was/is/will be morally wrong.

    why?

    Again, more clarification needed: What is the primary purpose of “morals” as you see it?

  59. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    They’re usually more like emotional pyramid schemes; people HAVE to come to the aid of / patronize others with the same community referents, because they’ll be shunned if they don’t.

    QFT.

    The “help” religious communities dole to members in need comes at a steep price in personal freedom, dignity and privacy.

    I’m quite happy to have my impersonal government-issue hospital care, thank you very much, especially when I can get it without having to grovel and withstand visits from people which I don’t feel like seeing at the moment. If I’m lying weak and messed up in a hospital bed, I’d prefer to limit visits to people who like me, and whom I like, and felt like visiting me.

    I don’t understand the point of having silly-ritual-conditional “friends”. I would not appreciate hanging out with them when healthy, and I expect I would not want them around me when sick and vulnerable.

  60. Ichthyic says

    What we need are more positive reasons to routinely associate. How about suggestions for that?

    ’round these parts atheists typically meet under the banner of promoting skeptical thought.

    hence, “sceptics society”

    The major draw pulling people together seeming to be exposing and analyzing some of the crazy shit the woomeisters toss out there constantly, how best to counter some of it, and refining our thought processes and knowledge at the same time.

    IOW, it’s a place where we get together to better the rational side of ourselves.

    Not so strangely, this is a BIG draw, as there really aren’t a lot of places to do this outside of say, a university.

  61. Ichthyic says

    Is wearing the A pin in societies where atheism is looked down upon itself a costly signal?

    well, your implication is that there is a detrimental effect to being labeled an atheist in that society, so haven’t you already answered your own question?

    The question really is: Is the cost worth the effect?

  62. says

    Kel:

    Is wearing the A pin in societies where atheism is looked down upon itself a costly signal?

    I would say yes. I’ve gotten noisy about that, always wearing an atheist T-shirt of some sort, my little A pin or one of the assorted Pharyngula buttons when I go into town. ND is known for friendly peoples, but I get a lot of surly, mean looks from normally friendly types because of being obviously out. (I have friends who have had vehicles keyed because of bumper stickers or evolve fish and other assorted nastiness and they all live in ‘typical’ towns in the States.)

    On the up side, I also get the occasional person wander up and introduce themselves as a fellow atheist and thanking me for being obviously out.

  63. says

    Re: Various comments on objective morality

    Kant famously attempted to ground morality in rationality; G.E. Moore postulated the existence of moral facts; others have attempted to locate an objective foundation for morality in other ways, including references to universal moral grammars, or some kind of universal relational properties between an act and a rational agent. Some of these accounts are actually pretty ingenious when worked out in detail.

    My point isn’t that any of these are correct. I don’t think they are. The point is that they are not *obviously* wrong. And they are not based on anything supernatural. So why on earth would an atheist community wish to exclude one who subscribed to a Kantian system, that is, be committed to rejecting such entirely secular foundations for a universal morality, as PZ suggests?

    As ibis3 mentions, what PZ has in mind is not moral relativism, but the point that morality cannot be reduced to the will of some external, intelligent being. But in that case “no objective morality” is clearly a misnomer. What PZ should have said is that “what is morally right is not determined by the will of some non-human tyrant” (it’s worth noticing that religious appeals to God for morality usually ends up trying to explain that “murder is wrong” by arguing that you’ll be punished for it, just substituting the police with surveillance cameras that see everything, including your innermost thoughts).

    (… whereupon, for some reason, ibis3 goes on to ask “who or what sets or establishes this objective morality”, which strikes me as equivalent to asking “who or what sets or establishes the incompleteness of arithmetics,” to which the proper response is “duh”. If morality is reducible to rationality, as Kant thought, then the laws of morality would be as objective as the laws of good reasoning, or the laws of logic for that matter).

  64. carlie says

    I think I’m kind of tired of the statement that “atheists don’t share any beliefs, because non-belief isn’t a thing like not collecting stamps isn’t a hobby”. Because actually, atheists do believe something in common – that the world is a natural thing brought on by natural events. Right? The only people that leaves out are the ones who think that we’re an alien terrarium set up for alien experiments, and those people aren’t exactly atheists by the normal definition. Is this wrong?

  65. 'Tis Himself says

    Carlie #69

    Because actually, atheists do believe something in common – that the world is a natural thing brought on by natural events. Right?

    Right.

  66. Ichthyic says

    Kant famously attempted to ground morality in rationality

    …and basically defined egalitarian pragmatics as a philosophy.

    is that morals?

    be committed to rejecting such entirely secular foundations for a universal morality

    strawman.

  67. Ichthyic says

    which strikes me as equivalent to asking “who or what sets or establishes the incompleteness of arithmetics

    huh?

    no.

  68. Ichthyic says

    no objective morality” is clearly a misnomer

    Kant failed because he couldn’t define a objective source of morality that didn’t not vary between groups.

    Which group is “right” and which “wrong”?

    is there really an objective way to determine that, or only relative ones, and only relative to what standard? pragmatics? total population happiness? what?

  69. says

    Are you suggesting that my belief in human dignity must imply belief in gods?

    I’ve seen Jersey Shore. Such a belief is erroneous and based on faith.

    Please help me complete this list.
    The Eight Commandments could display along with the Ten or, better still, replace them.

    BEHOLD THE ONE COMMANDMENT!
    Don’t be a douchestick

    As ibis3 mentions, what PZ has in mind is not moral relativism, but the point that morality cannot be reduced to the will of some external, intelligent being. But in that case “no objective morality” is clearly a misnomer. What PZ should have said is that “what is morally right is not determined by the will of some non-human tyrant” (it’s worth noticing that religious appeals to God for morality usually ends up trying to explain that “murder is wrong” by arguing that you’ll be punished for it, just substituting the police with surveillance cameras that see everything, including your innermost thoughts).

    (… whereupon, for some reason, ibis3 goes on to ask “who or what sets or establishes this objective morality”, which strikes me as equivalent to asking “who or what sets or establishes the incompleteness of arithmetics,” to which the proper response is “duh”. If morality is reducible to rationality, as Kant thought, then the laws of morality would be as objective as the laws of good reasoning, or the laws of logic for that matter).

    unless Philosophy is defining moral objectivity in a way vastly different from how I was teached even those laws depend on the subjective view that “suffering bad, happiness good” which while most of us agree with (possibly due to our biology) is still a subjective stance. In fact the justification I see for holding that stance as the basis of secular morality is that it maximizes happiness for people/reduces suffering. Self interest is still subjective. Furthermore, I don’t think establishing moral absolutes or this idea of ‘objectivity” is even useful.

  70. joed says

    @55 KG
    @60 Ichthyic

    This is a huge contingency. It’s the “IF”.
    As in, IF we want to live with other humans we will have rules(morals) that allow us to keep the society/culture alive and functioning.
    IF we don’t care then we can pretend that we care etc.
    “Moral” is what is most kind/loving(when applicable). And most important, what is the most reasonable action.
    I don’t have any way to prove these ideas. I just think that to deny “morality” is to deny the human ability to make the judgement that an action by a human is good/bad, right/wrong.

  71. says

    which strikes me as equivalent to asking “who or what sets or establishes the incompleteness of arithmetics

    A bad example because if I understand your metaphor correctly it’s wrong. We actually have had previous systems of arithmetic that have gone extinct or been rejected. Our mathematics typically use base ten, which is a subjective arbitrary standard. Babylonians used a base 60 I believe. Now you can translate one to the other, but it’s still a clear example of ‘objective’ systems becoming different based on their foundations.

  72. says

    I don’t have any way to prove these ideas. I just think that to deny “morality” is to deny the human ability to make the judgement that an action by a human is good/bad, right/wrong.,

    No one is denying morality or ethics. They’re just pointing out that as you said the “IF” question by default removes it from the realm of objectivity.

    Now once you establish the goals of your ethical system, you can make objective statements about it, but the goals themselves are subjective.

  73. Ichthyic says

    As in, IF we want to live with other humans we will have rules(morals) that allow us to keep the society/culture alive and functioning.

    there is a grand difference between maintain a society, and making a society thrive.

    It does not really require a set of morals for mere survival, and one has to define what it means to “thrive” when looking at anything else.

    what is your end goal? maximized happiness per individual? maximized population? the ability to engender change in other societies? Maximum value to a few like in a feudal society? what?

    whatever the goal is, you will inevitably build what you will call “morals” from there.

  74. joed says

    oh yeah, the judgement good/bad, right/wrong.
    In order to moral judgement must have a penalty of some sort. I think this is what make the good/bad judgement a moral judgement.
    But, obviously I’m no expert here.
    Another big idea i have is that the only time I want to make a moral judgement is when unkindness or violence is part of the act.
    Even then violence is sometime necessary, in self-defence for example.

  75. Ichthyic says

    …as an example, I’m a pragmatist. I would define the important issues no to be ones of conscience, but of social reform.

    that evolves over time, but the main goal being the maximum happiness for the most people in a given group, in egalitarian fashion.

    issues like euthanasia, abortion, even murder, are only relevant in the larger scope of maximizing happiness for all.

    there are no moral absolutes in this scheme; it evolves dependent on circumstances at the time.

    Is this the “best” way? How would I be able to determine that? Can I say that egalitarian happiness is “better” than a feudal dictatorship? No, I can’t. different people will decide to agree, and others not.

    Thus, there is NO objective morality, as people tend to choose what works for them in their own minds, no matter what.

  76. says

    @Joed

    Except there are some ethical systems that say that it is better to let yourself be a victim of violence than to act with violence in self defense, because defending yourself in that way causes more violence and promotes the idea of using violence.

    Another big idea i have is that the only time I want to make a moral judgement is when unkindness or violence is part of the act.

    Horrible idea if your goal is to reduce suffering or abuse of people. Some of the worst things humans due is by virtue of just not giving a shit.

  77. Ichthyic says

    Another big idea i have is that the only time I want to make a moral judgement is when unkindness or violence is part of the act.

    so how do you go about proposing to engender social reform?

    history suggests both the carrot AND the stick are needed.

    Is it unkind to toss someone into prison for a crime they committed?

    Is violence in your society justifiable in terms of self-defense?

  78. echidna says

    equivalent to asking “who or what sets or establishes the incompleteness of arithmetics,” to which the proper response is “duh”.

    Are you referring to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem? Why?

  79. sc_42032cef73176c9867e45905c22e998c says

    When I was in the hospital a couple of years ago, I had about half a dozen members of the yacht club visit me. Maybe Wilkins should learn how to sail.

    Sporting clubs are an excellent example of what I was arguing for (you didn’t think I meant that religions were the sole exemplar, did you?), but I grew up in walking distance from three yacht clubs. The nearest I got to sailing was playing poker on Saturday nights in the clubs. Sailing then and now is a rich person’s hobby.

  80. Doubting Thomas says

    Time was, you could tell a ‘free thinker’ by the length of his hair. That only lasted a few years though, then all the rednecks just stopped getting haircuts.

  81. joed says

    @80 Ichthyic
    Indeed, “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
    Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251
    I am not sure Shakespeare meant it the same way you and I do but I like the quote.

  82. says

    Doubting Thomas:

    Time was, you could tell a ‘free thinker’ by the length of his hair. That only lasted a few years though, then all the rednecks just stopped getting haircuts.

    You might want to refrain from torturing pixels just to spew such obvious bullshit. Ta.

  83. Ichthyic says

    I’ve been pushing the idea of goal based morality versus fiat/legal morality, because I think it’s more descriptive of subjective/objective. Your thoughts?

    I just described myself as a pragmatic/utilitarian.

    I can’t help but agree this is the way to go.

    :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatic_ethics

    simplistic, but as a single descriptor, this encompasses my thinking on ethics and morality. I’m not a philosopher, but after taking courses in medical ethics as an undergrad, I figured at least I should analyze where I stand on the overarching ethical approach I would foster.

    of course, this even redefines what we mean by “objective”. I think Joed is looking for an objective morality that can be applied to individuals, and I simply don’t think this is possible, or even a fruitful endeavor to try.

    Pragmatism is focused on goal-oriented ethics for entire societies, and thus this can change as new information appears.

  84. Ichthyic says

    That’s what I hate about libertarianism; it always comes down to the demand that the weakest in society need to suffer for the ideal of freedom.

    Yes, the “great society” argument.

    but really, it’s just a transparent rationalization of greed.

    always has been.

  85. Ichthyic says

    now HERE’S a real ethics question, and a toughie:

    What’s better:

    -Diet Coke
    -Coke Zero

  86. joed says

    @Ichthyic
    I don’t see how an objective morality is possible. However, IF we want to live with others then we will obey or pretend to obey the rules. Also I think some penalty must be available in order for an action to be immoral.

  87. Ichthyic says

    However, IF we want to live with others then we will obey or pretend to obey the rules.

    are rules and morals synonymous in your thinking?

    try this:

    If my goal is to say, minimize the amount of negative impact any given action would have on the population as a whole, what rules should I set for the following situation:

    You are the driver of a runaway tram which you can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track you enters is bound to be killed.

    What rule should I suggest you follow? why?

  88. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Morality is a process not a set of edicts

    Morality is caught between tribal cohesion and individual freedom. Most religious based morality is focused on tribal cohesion, and those who are at odds with the tribe suffer, as does individual freedom. Gnu atheists or gays are at odds with societal cohesion, as they “upset the apple cart”. But, without a degree of individual freedom, the society stagnates and dies due to fossilization and hardening of the arteries. Those countries with the greatest individual freedom, short of liberturdism, thrive. But they do change slowly. My 20 mils.

  89. says

    @#1

    I see no reason for a atheist “priest”. You used that term “flock”. I’m not part of an atheist “flock”. I don’t need anyone telling what the “goings on” are. I can communicate just fie with like minded people.

    I’m kind of on board wit RFW (not on the LBGT thing), but that I find my atheism isn’t what defines me, at all. I’m part of other communities; the local surfrider chapter, the local brewing community, work etc.

    No need for the lack of something to be a community.

  90. says

    I have friends I’ve made through motorcycling, musical tastes, reading tastes, some through work, people I’ve just kinda met in various places, and yes a few I’ve met through talking about atheism/religion. Hell, I even still have a couple I met at school, erm ‘several’ years ago. Is that not the normal method of building a community? Why do I need a specifically designated ‘atheist community’?

    Smells a bit Alain de Boton-esque to me, or am I missing something?

  91. joed says

    @102 Ing,
    While in Rome do as the Romanians!
    I have traveled some and know that basically the rules(morals) are pretty much the same everywhere.
    We can always come up with a Just-So story about why I am wrong. But in my experience people everywhere are willing to help and be friendly.
    I am not willing to morally judge someone unless they are violent or unkind.
    It doesn’t take morality to help oppressed/abused people. Although, helping would probably be a moral act.
    I am not an expert on this but I do know when I am being unkind or violent.

  92. hypatiasdaughter says

    #103 Ichthyic
    I’d aim toward the 5 men.
    The one man might not look up and see me coming towards him.

    But one of the five is more likely to be leaning on his shovel, look up and see my train coming, yell a warning and push the others out of the way.

    But I suck at philosophy.

  93. Ichthyic says

    rules(morals)

    are all laws equivalent to morals then?

    I have traveled some and know that basically the rules(morals) are pretty much the same everywhere.

    then you really haven’t traveled much at all, or are overemphasizing the similarities instead of the differences in your mind.

    What’s more, like anyone who claims there must be a value to religion, since so many people around the world ARE religious, this smacks of little more than an argumentum ad populum.

  94. Ichthyic says

    But one of the five is more likely to be leaning on his shovel, look up and see my train coming, yell a warning and push the others out of the way.

    Kobayashi Maru.

    you have broken the rules of the game.

    …”anyone on the track you enter is bound to be killed.”

  95. Ichthyic says

    …aside from the fact that you now have to apply this as a general set of rules.

    how would you describe it outside of the specific situation?

  96. joed says

    @103 Ichthyic,
    yes, rules equal morals in many aspects.
    the run away tram is way over my head.
    Certainly you agree that when visiting another culture you would do your best to abide by the rules(morals) of that culture. Or in your own neighborhood you will try to get along with most others.
    that’s all I mean when I state; However, IF we want to live with others then we will obey or pretend to obey the rules.
    The “IF” is the determinant–isn’t it!?

  97. eddyline says

    now HERE’S a real ethics question, and a toughie:
    What’s better:
    -Diet Coke
    -Coke Zero

    False alternative.

  98. Ichthyic says

    Smells a bit Alain de Boton-esque to me, or am I missing something?

    de Botton’s solution arises out of the “dilemma” raised by Wilkins.

    If, OTOH, you think the dilemma itself isn’t real…

    I think the problem with this “dilemma” is that it isn’t a real one to begin with.

    How many people showed up at Melbourne this year?

    are skeptic/atheist groups growing in number or shrinking?

    it’s a “problem” that doesn’t really even need addressing.

  99. Ichthyic says

    False alternative.

    that would be true if I asked you to pick only one or the other.

    I instead asked which you thought was better.

    :)

  100. joed says

    @109 Ichthyic
    “are all laws equivalent to morals then?”
    I don’t know. but seems that any law that has a punishment/penalty attached to it maybe in the real of morality. Again, I don’t know.
    You are correct, I haven’t traveled alot but most the people of different cultures that I have met all seemed friendly, caring and helpful.
    Seems they just want to get through the day.
    I think I am lost now. but I will be back.

  101. joed says

    Correction
    “I don’t know. but seems that any law that has a punishment/penalty attached to it maybe in the realm of morality. Again, I don’t know.

  102. Ichthyic says

    Certainly you agree that when visiting another culture you would do your best to abide by the rules(morals) of that culture.

    but you believe there are absolute morals.

    if you believe that, why on earth would you capitulate to a group with entirely different morals than your own?

    say you believe abortion is equivalent to murder. Since you equate morals with laws, justice should be equivalent regardless of the position or age of the “victim”.

    would you respect and adhere to the “morals” of another society where abortion was completely legal? Wouldn’t you feel entirely obligated to impose your own moral standard, since it’s based on an absolute, on that society which must be “obviously” mistaken in its interpretation of its own morals and laws?

  103. says

    Ichthyic 114

    Yeah, that’s what I was fumbling towards: communities either build themselves of their own accord or they don’t build.

  104. joed says

    @118 Ichthyic
    “but you believe there are absolute morals.”
    No sir, I believe there are universal morals that are contingent of the “IF”
    If I were in a foreign country and did not like a law they had I would not try to change the law if it would cause me to be penalized by that country. In my country I have tried to make changes.
    Slavery was/is/will be morally wrong always.
    gratuitous torture of human children was/is/will be morally wrong always.
    abortion is a bit more complicated but basically I think women need to have the right to control their own life.

  105. Ichthyic says

    Slavery was/is/will be morally wrong always.

    if you believe that, then how can you also say you wouldn’t try to change the laws of a country that allowed it?

  106. joed says

    @118 Ichthyic,
    also, when I talk of other cultures etc and you say, “would you respect and adhere to the “morals” of another society where abortion was completely legal? Wouldn’t you feel entirely obligated to impose your own moral standard,”
    Actually, while in another culture My acceptance of the culture while there is not agreement with the culture.
    Acceptance does not equal agreement.
    Haven’t you ever head the old saying, While in Rome do as the Romanians!
    Hasta lavista

  107. Ichthyic says

    here’s something:

    within your own personal relationships…

    do you tend to “lead by example”, or do you actively try to convince your peers your position is the correct one?

    How would you describe the way you have argued your position even here, in this very thread?

    does it honestly represent how you would describe your general approach to morals?

    say I don’t believe slavery is a problem whatsoever. Would you try to convince me otherwise? how?

  108. joed says

    @122 Ichthyic
    “if you believe that, then how can you also say you wouldn’t try to change the laws of a country that allowed it?”
    Because I don’t want to go to gaol?!
    I am sure you are messing around now.
    adios

  109. Ichthyic says

    Acceptance does not equal agreement.

    but if you disagree with the moral stance of the place your in, your morals must, by definition, not be universal.

    moreover, if you disagree with the moral stance of a place your in, but say nothing, how do you expect to engender the change you wish to see happen?

    How do you decide IF that change SHOULD happen in the society you find yourself in?

  110. Ichthyic says

    Because I don’t want to go to gaol?!

    heh.

    so, one of your morals is personal freedom trumps ideology.

    very pragmatic.

  111. chigau (Twoic) says

    Ichthyic
    (I’m lurking this discussion but I need some information)
    Does a moral system need to be completely internally consistant to be useful or acceptable or … good?

  112. Just_A_Lurker says

    Honestly (IMHO) religious communities should NOT be a model for any sort of community. They’re usually more like emotional pyramid schemes; people HAVE to come to the aid of / patronize others with the same community referents, because they’ll be shunned if they don’t. Bunches of people showing up to check on you when you’re hurt don’t necessarily have your best interests in mind – some are there to gain piety points or gossip fodder, or to police other members of the community to make sure they’re giving charity to the ‘right sorts’, or to home in on the chance to evangelize to someone vulnerable.

    I’m sorry I only got to this comment and had to QFFT.

    I saw this all the time in a rural very religious know everything about everyone town in in Michigan and I see it in shelters in Arizona. Their community is bullshit. It’s manipulation and black mail at its finest. They use this scheme to guilt people into coming into their cult with false promises of support and understanding. Mess up one step or voice one opinion that doesn’t toe the line and they show their true faces. It’s down right fucking scary to be threatened with losing your child because you don’t want them to psychological torture them with the idea of Hell.

    The very idea of modeling a community after religions is scary. Do not want! Like Caine said, the community here is far better than any “religious community” I’ve dealt with.

    *Obviously all anecdotal and this topic brought out a lot of emotions, just wanted to throw in my support here*

  113. joed says

    @131 Ing,
    actually that is a quote directly from Algonquin J. Calhoun
    It got nuthin’ to do wit pissed of Romans.

  114. I'm_not says

    Interesting OP but I think the thread of answers pretty much sums up why there will never be an atheist community.

  115. Weed Monkey says

    I’m_not

    Interesting OP but I think the thread of answers pretty much sums up why there will never be an atheist community.

    That’s not a very snappy one-liner. Please, substantiate?

    Also, it might be interesting to know what you’re_not.

  116. says

    5. You are in charge of your own body. Everyone is equal before the law.

    6. Healthcare and minimum standards of food, clean drinking water, and shelter should be provided to every member of the community if possible.

    7. Educating yourself and supporting yourself are duties.

    8. Leave it the way you’d like to find it.

  117. Weed Monkey says

    Markita Lynda

    7. Educating yourself and supporting yourself are duties.

    No! That would automatically count out anyone who might be mentally or physically handicapped in birth, or cut their hand off by accident.

  118. 'Tis Himself says

    The very idea of modeling a community after religions is scary. Do not want!

    QFT!

    I went to a Catholic high school. I was punished for disagreeing with a monk on a theological question (I still have scars on my buttocks) and that wasn’t a rare example.

    That’s one of my objections to the Havard Humanist Chaplaincy’s attempts to establish godless religious communities. It’s too tempting to set up dogmatic tests. “You’re a gnu atheist and we’re all accommodationists here, so renounce your heretical beliefs or…well, we know how to deal with noncomformists like you.”

  119. consciousness razor says

    I’m a moral realist, and I’ve got no gods. If you want to call my ideas about ethics an “objective moral system” go for it, but I readily admit it’s not as systematic as it could be and that there probably are other systems which are better. When I say something is an “objective” system that doesn’t mean anything in it is “absolute,” if absolutism is taken to mean its ethical value is independent of an action’s context or situation, such as the consequences in a particular case or what a person’s goals or intentions are in a particular situation.

    An absolutist might claim something like “Murder is wrong — always and everywhere, no matter what, end of story.” On the other hand, a realist does not need to go that far but only make a claim like “Murder is wrong — in this particular case, because of X, Y, Z, and doesn’t necessarily apply in cases like P or Q.” That’s not relativism or nihilism or emotivism or anything of the sort. As far as I can tell, the only thing they have in common is the claim that ethical statements are “true” or “false” and that it’s possible to “know” at least some of them. So please stop conflating objective ethics with absolutist ethics, because they are not at all the same.

    At the end of the day, assuming we ever we hash out which ethical systems are rational and which aren’t (or whether they ought to be rational) the point remains that the non-existence of gods (or non-belief in gods) does not in any obvious way entail that ethical statements are not true or false. If you think otherwise, show your work.

  120. says

    @Thomathy #54
    I meant my comment to RFW to come out much more playfully than it did, I think. But what you wrote (which I feel I did understand and didn’t think it was too terribly long) made me think of how someone is making pride parades possible and community centers possible for the LGBT community (who then show up at those events or places–or not). It’s great to be able to be part of something without having to wear a membership badge (which is PZ’s point, I take it), and in that sense I see atheists succeeding as well in building our own communities.

  121. I'm_not says

    Weed Monkey. Hi. My login comes from my favourite line in Life of Brian. Brian passionately addressing a huge crowd shouts, “YOU’RE ALL INDIVIDUALS!” and a lone man sheepishly puts his hand up and says, adanoidally, “I’m not…”.

    As to your main question,imagine FtB (representing the “atheist community”) is a party with lots of rooms and each blogger is a room. Imagine you are walking through the rooms with a glass of cheap, warm chardonnay in your hand and the guests are the various commentators on the various blogs. Some are gathered in one room, some wandering like you are, some are in the halls between the rooms looking lost and confused.

    Now read the comments on the latest threads on all the blogs here and tell me you think that would be a great place to be, that this was really coming together.

    Shit, just this one thread about an atheist community would have ended in at least a fist fight.

  122. consciousness razor says

    Comment by I’m_not blocked. [unkill]​[show comment]

    Ironically enough, you are blocked. I don’t remember why.

  123. ikesolem says

    The only community it really makes sense to consider yourself a member of is the community of life on Earth.

    Of course, you ARE subject to the laws of your nation-state, as enforced by the paid employees of said nation-state, with such employees hired and fired by the duly elected representatives of the plutocracy the people said nation-state. In addition, the nation-state demands taxes, and in exchange, provides certain basic services (fire, police, health care, an adequate education, etc.) However, the sense of ‘community’ as in ‘in-group of like-minded sheep’ does not really exist here – it’s just a practical arrangement that keeps old people from starving to death in the street, keeps the bands of roving Road Warrior types from overrunning civilization, etc.

    This is basic civilizational stuff, but the religious crowd seems to be stuck back in the Dark Ages in terms of their ignorance here.

    The legal system in any given nation-state is a matter of human choice – once, we considered slavery fine, now it’s called kidnapping. There is no ‘divine law’ from the mountaintop (that’s a fictional story). Nor is there ‘natural law’ – just because some species of ants raid other species of ants and capture their workers as slaves, doesn’t mean it’s morally okay for us to do that to humans (which is why Social Darwinism is as much bullshit as Divine Scripture in the area of laws and morality).

    Science, we don’t get to choose. However, if we don’t allow science to inform the legal system, be it with respect to forensic evidence in murder cases, biochemical evidence in lawsuits related to industrial carcinogens, etc. etc. etc. – then we are only fooling ourselves. This is why creationism and other religious attacks on science are a serious threat (as is the global warming denialist effort).

    Now, it used to be that organized religion – with the king as divine entity – served both roles – the Church decided what was legal and what was not, and also decreed that the Sun must not be at the center of the solar system, that vaccines were the work of the devil. That flawed religious system was replaced with legal systems and scientific study, and those areas were separated. I think it was called the Enlightenment? Do we really have to explain this? Oh, yes we do. It’s that bad.

    Doing away with the archaic old practice of divine rule by god-kings is as fundamental to modern civilization as the elimination of slavery was. Replacing the word “theology” with “mythology” would help go in that direction, too.

    However, if you really want to believe in the existence of Divine Entities (like Cthulhu, who waits dreaming in his house at R’lyeh) and mystical afterlives, you can, without contradicting current scientific knowledge. Just place them all before the Big Bang or in one of these postulated alternative universes (there are supposed to be 10^500 of them, must be yours somewhere). Science has nothing (at present) to say about that, so you should be safe there, for a while at least.

  124. rickschauer says

    I’m blown away by the comments so far.

    And I offer this: if you are so inclined, just come on over and I’ll throw some decapod crustaceans on the barbie or grill-up some veggies for you vegans, crack a brew or get a bottle of wine for ya and maybe we can strum and sing some blues, recite a few Cuttlefish poems, watch NOVA or we can talk meta-tribalism…you know, something like that?

  125. Ichthyic says

    Does a moral system need to be completely internally consistant to be useful or acceptable or … good?

    I have insufficient information to answer that, really.

    But, being a pragmatist, I’m gonna say no.

  126. says

    I’ve actually thought about doing various community service stuff. I would totally hang out with an injured non-theist ish person. It would make the experience so much better to know beforehand that I’d be dealing with a secular person.

  127. Ichthyic says

    if you are so inclined, just come on over

    over… where?

    I’m guessing somewhere in OZ given the reference to BBQ as barbie.

    likely Melbourne given the topic?

    I can hop over the pond sometime soon. I already have a ticket from NZ to OZ I’m not using atm.

  128. echidna says

    Did I hear there’s a barbie on in Melbourne that we are all invited to? I wanna warn youse though, it’s cats and dogs at the moment.

  129. chigau (Twoic) says

    Ichthyic

    But, being a pragmatist, I’m gonna say no.

    OK.
    —–
    ikesolem
    kumbayah

  130. echidna says

    chigau:

    Does a moral system need to be completely internally consistant to be useful or acceptable or … good?
    Ichthyic:

    I have insufficient information to answer that, really.

    But, being a pragmatist, I’m gonna say no.

    Hmm, I think the thing that atheists have over religion is the ability to be internally consistent, and so I would dearly love the answer to be yes. Having said that, this is the main theme (as I understand it) of Peter Singer’s work, and he makes it quite clear that internal consistency in ethics is nothing like our working ethical model at the moment.

  131. snebo154 says

    (1)
    filthyhuman @47
    Kansas City Library now moved onto “top ten places I want to have my picture taken in front of.”
    (2)
    I don’t think it is that difficult to establish a moral baseline outside the paradigm of religion. Non-believer is not an accurate description of our community in any other respect than the idea of the supernatural. We (most of us at least) believe in equality of rights irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, even religious beliefs. Many of us believe in kindness and tolerance, even charity. After my deconversion I decided that my non-scriptural definition of morality would be “That which harms innocent person(s) is immoral.” I found that outside of sexual behavior, dress codes, alcohol consumption (I was Mormon), and where I spent Sunday morning, very little changed. I treat people much the same as when I thought God was on my shoulder, waiting for me to fuck up so that he could banish me to eternal torture. Now I do it for the right reasons but my actions are pretty much the same, I’m very proud of that.
    (3)
    This is somewhere between serious and seriously sarcastic. I think it might be fun to rent a building and on Sunday morning (not too awfully early) get a bunch of us together to sing a few songs (written by Tim Minchin), take turns talking about reason or teaching each other science and then we could all indulge in some wine and crackers (with cheese). Then everyone could donate ten percent of their income to a tax free fund that I control (that last one is optional, but don’t write it off, you could end up owning part of a huge shopping mall), and if someone didn’t show up because of a bunged-up knee we could all go see him. Maybe even take jello.
    (4)
    I like the idea of our own set of rules a la “the ten commandment” that we could post alongside public displays to let people see the obvious differences between superstition based commandments and reason based rules. It might get a few of them thinking.

  132. Ichthyic says

    Hmm, I think the thing that atheists have over religion is the ability to be internally consistent, and so I would dearly love the answer to be yes.

    why?

    isn’t the point to find something that works? one can have an inconsistent (at least at the level of one precept contradicting another) so long as those contradictions themselves are consistently resolved.

    I can cite a great example from right here in Hobbitton, if ya like.

    oh, and I catch flak for this, but I’m actually NOT a big fan of Singer.

    Part of it is exactly that: he’s too much idealist, not enough pragmatist.

  133. Ichthyic says

    he’s too much idealist, not enough pragmatist.

    I should add, I do give him credit for at least correctly defining the issues he then proceeds to idealize about; something that is all too rare in a lot of ethics analysis I’ve read over the years.

    Just to say, not to be too overly critical of the man; he’s no slacker, that’s for sure.

  134. Ichthyic says

    not me. I’ll take the bugs.

    especially the larger ones.

    BBQ lobster tails with garlic butter sauce?

    I will indeed fly to Melbourne just for that.

  135. consciousness razor says

    isn’t the point to find something that works? one can have an inconsistent [set of morals] (at least at the level of one precept contradicting another) so long as those contradictions themselves are consistently resolved.

    I can cite a great example from right here in Hobbitton, if ya like.

    Yes, please give an example from Hobbitton, because I don’t understand. How can you have a consistent resolution (whatever that means) if it’s about contradictory things? I would’ve figured a pragmatic approach would be redefining the contents of the theory to be internally consistent, so that their resolution can be consistent in practice.

  136. chigau (Twoic) says

    The last time I had lobster we put them in a slightly too small pot of boiling water and they tried to get out.
    It was a bit of a struggle but we killed them.
    and then we ate them, even though we really didn’t want to.
    Dinner conversation was along the lines of,
    “This is delicious but fucked if I’m ever doing that again!”

  137. Ichthyic says

    Yes, please give an example from Hobbitton

    Ok.

    Abortion is actually illegal here.

    but women can be treated for all health related issues, including the effects of pregnancy.

    these two contradict each other often.

    resolution?

    All medical practitioners ACT as if there was an unwritten law where the rights of the woman override any putative rights given to a fetus that made abortion illegal.

    They do this consistently, regardless of the conflict inherent in the different sections of the law.

    it works fine. Women have better access to abortion here (MUCH better) than they do in the States.

    Strangely, the US law IS oonsisent (abortion is NOT illegal in the states), but it is applied INCONSISTENTLY by medical practitioners within each state.

  138. Ichthyic says

    The last time I had lobster we put them in a slightly too small pot of boiling water and they tried to get out.

    LOL

    LOBSTER REBELLION!!!

  139. Ichthyic says

    I just made cajun fish for dinner.

    ooo-wee, that’s some spicy fish.

    *fans tongue*

  140. Kristof says

    Wilkins is talking about building community that separates – PZ Myers is talking about building community that includes.

    @ #14 Ramaus.
    I have an idea about first two rules, but I can’t talk about it. ;)

  141. Ichthyic says

    it works fine. Women have better access to abortion here (MUCH better) than they do in the States.

    oh, and you asked about “should”.

    no, obviously one would want to eventually reconcile the inconsistencies in the law.

    now what stops NZ from doing that I wonder…

    can you guess which group screams the loudest when any attempt is made to make the law consistent and abortion technically legal as well as practically?

    I’m sure ya can.

    ;)

  142. quoderatdemonstrandum says

    Joed:

    This may be true but there still exist “universal morals” that arise IF a group of people want their “culture” to continue and survive.
    1. They have to care for their children.

    female foetuses are routinely aborted and infant girls are regularly abandoned in, for example, China and India.

    Spartans abandoned weak or sick children.

    2. They can’t kill another human just because they want to/for fun.

    European and Japanese aristocrats were legally entitled to kill their social inferiors for a wide variety of trivial offences.

    Also, slavery was/is/will be morally wrong.

    If you have a Greek or Roman source for anyone having said this I would be very interested to hear it.

    Gratuitous torture of human babies was/is/will be morally wrong.

    Female Genital Mutilation. According to a documentary I watched recently girl’s own mothers and grandmothers inflicted this on to children who looked forward to this right of passage.

  143. quoderatdemonstrandum says

    Chigau @ 167 re My family’s Swan’s Island, Maine Lobster recipe

    “This is delicious but fucked if I’m ever doing that again!”

    To avoid the trauma of Lobsters making a break for it or thrashing around disconcertingly in the pot:

    1) Large steamer pot
    2) Put lobsters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes (this will slow them down and make them lethargic)
    2) Fill bottom of the steamer pot with sea water (fresh water with salt if you must), bring to roiling boil.
    3) Drop lobsters in, head first, in the top compartment of the steamer pot, cover pot. If squeamish about lobster pain you can put a large knife through the lobster’s shell behind the eyes first.
    4) cook until shells are dark red
    5) serve with clarified butter

    If I have to be stranded on a desert Island, I insist it have lobsters in its waters.

  144. rickschauer says

    Ichthyic
    Sorry Bro, you’ll need to buy a different plane ticket and bring your passport as I’m on the way to see PZ in Minnesota but very near the airport.

    And in case you’re wondering, we do get those nice big prawns here, too…Fedx drops them off, fresh as a daisy, once a day.

    And you, specifically, I’d build community with by taking to my cabin in St. Louis cty where we’d jump on the pontoon, crack a beer or two and proceed to catch some fresh Stizostedion vitreum, P. nigromaculatus and other various centrarchidae and maybe a stray Micropterus salmoides AND the real deal – steamed Esox lucius dipped in garlic butter with a lite sprinkle of Old Bays plus, some bbq potatoes and veggies.

    And maybe that’s enough, we build community by just being ourselves and hanging here at Pharyngula or other FTB, at conventions and the occasional dinner.

  145. 'Tis Himself says

    So this guy goes down to the Stonington fishing docks and wanders around, looking at all the lobstermen’s catches but not buying anything. Finally one of the lobstermen asks, “What are you looking for?”

    “I want a red lobster, like I get in the restaurants.”

  146. 'Tis Himself says

    I just made cajun fish for dinner.

    You had them imported from Louisiana? What’s wrong with Middle Earth fish that you have to get some sent halfway around the world?

  147. KG says

    joed@75,

    I don’t deny morality. I deny that moral judgements can be true or false, except within a specfic ethical system. That is, they are not statements of fact in the same way as “The moon is smaller than the earth” is a statement of fact. They can, however, be rationally criticised and defended: “objective morality” vs “complete moral relativism” vis a false dichotomy. Moral judgements most closely remble esthetic judgements.

    the point remains that the non-existence of gods (or non-belief in gods) does not in any obvious way entail that ethical statements are not true or false. If you think otherwise, show your work. – consciousness razor

    You’re right – but neither you nor anyone else has shown how ethical statements can be true or false outwith a specific ethical system. If you think you can do so, show your work.

  148. KG says

    If morality is reducible to rationality, as Kant thought, then the laws of morality would be as objective as the laws of good reasoning, or the laws of logic for that matter – G.D.

    Yes, but it isn’t.

  149. DLC says

    Why do we need rituals ? I mean, sure, the baby roasts are fun and all, but do we really have to make a ritual out of it ?
    If so, does Richard Dawkins automatically become Anti-Pope ?
    Or do we take it in turns acting as executive for the week, but with all routine decisions ratified by a simple majority, and with all extraordinary decisions by a 2/3rds majority . . .

  150. says

    “There is no objective ethics.” – J.L. Mackie

    “Ethical progress is a matter of problem-solving. It is not progress to something (a final complete ethical system), but progress from, and the evolution of ethics is always unfinished.
    [...]
    The ethical project is a venture in problem-solving that responds to deep features of the human condition – specifically, we are altruists enough to manage a particular sort of social life, but, without the technology of ethics, that sort of life would be fragile and difficult.
    [...]
    Ethics is our invention. Human beings do not discover ethical truths, except in the special sense that we work out together better ways of living together.” –
    Philip Kitcher On The Ethical Project

  151. consciousness razor says

    You’re right – but neither you nor anyone else has shown how ethical statements can be true or false outwith a specific ethical system.

    That is the basic perspective most people have, though they may not realize it and though they may adhere to an authoritarian variant like divine command theory. That of course doesn’t imply it’s right; but as a description of most of normative ethics, it is accurate, damning though that may be. There’s also very little motivation for me to get people to support it if most already do, so I only need to deal with those arguing for other meta-ethics who aren’t in every practical sense behaving as if their ethical statements have no truth value. I think there are very few such people, if any; but besides that, their arguments haven’t been convincing to me because I’ve found them useless in practice. (And I can argue against divine command theory while maintaining moral realism, but that’s another issue for another time.)

    So I think the burden is rather on relativists, nihilists and the like to say what ethical statements are, because to me it looks like the basics of the common, intuitive view aligns with the facts fairly well (here I refer to facts in the uncontroversial sense, not “moral facts” if there are any). If subjects behave according to physical laws, aren’t there true or false things we can say about the experiences driving their normative claims? What true things can one say about them and/or about normative claims, if any? Well I’m not sure what they are, and I probably couldn’t even begin to list them all. Obviously their experiences vary a great deal: nothing “true” about one person needs to be “true” about any other. We can deal with people in different historical or social contexts, masochists, sociopaths, transdimensional aliens, or whomever as separate cases, if there’s any reason to think their views on ethics are relevant and ought to be taken seriously. But when you ask how any can be true, I don’t know what question you’re asking. As opposed to what?

    Many (if not most) people do not want to be hurt and think we should not hurt others because of how it affects their experiences. But what they mean is that statements like “P should not X, because Y” are either true or false, not just a gut feeling, meaningless verbiage, a learned convention, or a matter of taste equivalent to “I think this is tasty”. They think they can reason about it, and they certainly do, profusely. Some of their reasoning makes sense, and I see no problem with it in general.

  152. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    So I think the burden is rather on relativists, nihilists and the like to say what ethical statements are, because to me it looks like the basics of the common, intuitive view aligns with the facts fairly well (here I refer to facts in the uncontroversial sense, not “moral facts” if there are any).

    It looks to me like the Earth is flat, and the sun and moon are small objects, not far away.

    Although you have not justified why the burden of proof should be on those who deny that ethical statements are statements of fact, I can and will meet your challenge. Ethical statements (sucha s “Killing innocent people is worng”) are specifications of the standards by which we intend to judge the behaviour of ourselves and others; just as esthetic statements such as (“Characters in a realist novel should show psychological consistency”) are specifications of the standards by which we intend to judge works of art.

    If subjects behave according to physical laws, aren’t there true or false things we can say about the experiences driving their normative claims?

    Yes, and so what? This in no way implies that ethical statements are statements of fact.

  153. Imbecile Heureux says

    “Many (if not most) people do not want to be hurt and think we should not hurt others because of how it affects their experiences. But what they mean is that statements like ‘P should not X, because Y’ are either true or false, not just a gut feeling, meaningless verbiage, a learned convention, or a matter of taste equivalent to ‘I think this is tasty’. They think they can reason about it, and they certainly do, profusely. Some of their reasoning makes sense, and I see no problem with it in general!”

    (Apologies, pre-empted blockquote fail…)

    Neither do I; and neither would, I think, most who would describe themselves as either anti-realists or non-cognitivists. I don’t see this as a defence of moral realism (if that’s what it’s intended to be); the fact that there are facts that are relevant to moral judgement does not mean that there are therefore moral facts.

    In general, however, I agree with your main point – for atheism to require a rejection of moral objectivity (or even moral absolutism – and there are some emotivists who are also absolutists) would require the resolution of some of the most important and long-standing debates in meta-ethics. Seems a little presumptuous, regardless of how certain folks are of their own position.

  154. KG says

    In general, however, I agree with your main point – for atheism to require a rejection of moral objectivity (or even moral absolutism – and there are some emotivists who are also absolutists) would require the resolution of some of the most important and long-standing debates in meta-ethics. – Imbecile Heureux

    Yes, I agree: a particular meta-ethical position is not a requirement of atheism: PZ’s just wrong on that count.

  155. echidna says

    me:

    Hmm, I think the thing that atheists have over religion is the ability to be internally consistent, and so I would dearly love the answer to be yes.

    Ichthyic:

    why?

    isn’t the point to find something that works? one can have an inconsistent (at least at the level of one precept contradicting another) so long as those contradictions themselves are consistently resolved.

    I think that resolving internal consistencies is the driving force of science and our progress as a society. As an engineer, of course I will go for the pragmatic solution. But the quick and dirty fix has a way of hanging around and causing troubles for so much longer than expected, and it usually pays to cast ahead to where a better solution lies.

    I am a bit of a fan of Singer, not that I agree with him necessarily, but I admire the way he can suspend the status quo to examine the underlying principles of whatever he is talking about. Not everybody can do that.

  156. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Thanks, Aratina Cage. It was my exact point and it seems to have gone over a few heads at least. And those heads are proving my point by being a part of this discussion at all, especially those who insist that there either isn’t a community or that they’re not a part of it.

    Of course, discussions about morality are presently more interesting than one about purple hats with antlers, so perhaps that proves my point all the better.

  157. consciousness razor says

    It looks to me like the Earth is flat, and the sun and moon are small objects, not far away.

    Please, even if it’s wrong, don’t equate it to anything so naive. If it were so obviously false or misguided, I would think your case would be very easy to make and many more would have already accepted it, the way the vast majority of people believe the Earth is not flat, despite their common sense or their immediate experiences.

    Ethical statements (sucha s “Killing innocent people is worng”) are specifications of the standards by which we intend to judge the behaviour of ourselves and others; just as esthetic statements such as (“Characters in a realist novel should show psychological consistency”) are specifications of the standards by which we intend to judge works of art.

    Are you saying it’s a matter of judgment rather than truth?

    If you’re making such a claim about characters in a realist novel, that is a true statement because it’s put into that context. It’s part of a description of what a realist novel is. However, despite using “should” language, there’s no need to follow such a standard in art, even for those writing realist novels, not in the same way there is a need to follow ethical judgments (or truths, feelings, or whatever). Whatever you call them, they just don’t have the same force or sense of obligation attached to them, so it seems like a big problem if we leave that out of the picture. Artists are expected to experiment with and break conventions, though that brings with it the possibility of aesthetic failure; but following conventions can also produce a failure, so neither is what aesthetic success or failure mean, neither is by itself what we find valuable. In ethics people are not given such latitude anyway, because it’s useless to do so. And even if no one ever comes up with a perfect meta-ethics, we have to get down to business doing normative ethics now, because people’s lives and welfare are at stake, not just violations of their aesthetic preferences or perceptual expectations.

  158. Doubting Thomas says

    Um thanks Thomas that sure was words strung together to form a sentence…

    I see. And this is your attempt to illustrate proper grammar in a blog comment is it?

    I suppose that I should have specified that in the ’60s we believed you could tell the free thinkers by their hair.

  159. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    Please, even if it’s wrong, don’t equate it to anything so naive.

    I was merely pointing out what a poor argument “it looks to me like…” is.

    Are you saying it’s a matter of judgment rather than truth?

    Yes.

    If you’re making such a claim about characters in a realist novel, that is a true statement because it’s put into that context. It’s part of a description of what a realist novel is.

    My example was perhaps not ideal, but I’d say it’s part of what a realist novel should be. If a novel has all the appearance of intending to be an account of events that could have happened, but then has characters with no psychological consistency, then it’s a poorly written realist novel.

    However, despite using “should” language, there’s no need to follow such a standard in art, even for those writing realist novels, not in the same way there is a need to follow ethical judgments (or truths, feelings, or whatever). Whatever you call them, they just don’t have the same force or sense of obligation attached to them.

    Of course not, because they are esthetic rather than ethical specifications! Whether or not we meet ethical standards has consequences for other people in a way that (mostly) whether or not our artistic productions meet esthetic ones does not. I am pointing to their similarity in form (they both frequently use “should” terms, but in other respects they both look like fact claims), and suggesting that they both work in the same way. Could I ask how you see esthetic statements? For example, suppose I say: “George Eliot was the best novelist writing in English in the nineteenth century.” Is this, in your view, a fact claim, true or false in the same sense as “The African elephant is the largest living land mammal.”?

  160. cicely. Just cicely. says

    There’s a very real community right here at Pharyngula. The support is phenomenal* and people meet up on a regular basis and at every opportunity, too.
    *This includes financial support, emotional support, offering a place to stay support, etc.

    THIS. A thousand times, THIS.
    -

    Honestly (IMHO) religious communities should NOT be a model for any sort of community. They’re usually more like emotional pyramid schemes;

    I think of it as more of a protection racket. “Nice place in the community ya got there. It’d sure be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”
    -

    I personally don’t see the point of “community” at all, if it is defined as “ingroup” vs “outgroup”, “us and them” and such.

    Well, there wouldn’t be a point if humans weren’t a social species. But we are, and that’s the situation we have to work with. Ignoring it and hoping that it’ll go away won’t work.

    Think of it as being something like building in Earthquake Country; you can take that into account, planning some flexibility and fire-resistence in from the ground up (aka, building codes), or you can just throw ‘em up any old how, then gripe because masonry falls all over the place and the gas lines set the whole mess on fire. Religions, I think as a result of growing “organically” (setting aside, for the moment, the question of their carbon content), have no “building code”, and are forever trying to retrofit already existing structures—which then drop masonry on people and set them on fire.
    -

    And especially for younger people, internet communities are often more real than the face-to-face ones

    .
    Maybe I’m just old, but I think there’s something to be said for meeting as actual human beings in the real world.

    There is (and I’m old, too!). Thing is, first “meeting” and getting to know people on-line (to the extent that an on-line persona is a true reflection of the person, but then, people you meet in meatspace aren’t necessary showing you their “true face”, either), followed up by real, face-to-face meetings, is getting to be really common.
    -

    Because actually, atheists do believe something in common – that the world is a natural thing brought on by natural events. Right?

    Yes.
    -

  161. consciousness razor says

    If a novel has all the appearance of intending to be an account of events that could have happened, but then has characters with no psychological consistency, then it’s a poorly written realist novel.

    What if the novelist is trying to convey how, in reality, people are not psychologically consistent? There’s no reason to think that by itself would make it not a realist novel, or a worse realist novel, or a better realist novel than what your standard describes.

    Of course not, because they are esthetic rather than ethical specifications! Whether or not we meet ethical standards has consequences for other people in a way that (mostly) whether or not our artistic productions meet esthetic ones does not. I am pointing to their similarity in form (they both frequently use “should” terms, but in other respects they both look like fact claims), and suggesting that they both work in the same way.

    Okay, but I don’t think they work in “the same way.” Similar, but not the same.

    Could I ask how you see esthetic statements? For example, suppose I say: “George Eliot was the best novelist writing in English in the nineteenth century.” Is this, in your view, a fact claim, true or false in the same sense as “The African elephant is the largest living land mammal.”?

    I don’t think “best novelist” is clearly defined and measurable like “largest animal” is, so that particular kind of claim isn’t true or false for that reason. Maybe one could say that Eliot’s writing is the best for something, not that it is the best of something. The statement you gave doesn’t relate anything about an aesthetic experience and doesn’t put it in terms of whatever goals one has or how those can best be achieved. If it had, yes, I would ask for evidence his writing is effective (or the most effective) at doing whatever-it-is, because that’s a claim about reality.

  162. ikesolem says

    A biosphere-centric definition of morality is superior to an anthropocentric definition of morality, which in turn is superior to ethnic, racial or nationalistic definitions (which lead to things like religious wars, etc.)

    It’ll take a while for people to accept this, tho – they’d have to admit that factory farms are the moral equivalent of Nazi concentration camps, which is quite a leap for those raised in the religious or humanist tradition. Nevertheless… they once said that slavery was acceptable because the slaves didn’t feel pain and were less intelligent, so they didn’t suffer the way Europeans would. Curious concept, isn’t it?

  163. consciousness razor says

    his writing

    Sorry. I knew George Eliot was a woman using a pen name. I guess I lost track of who I was talking about while I was thinking about the argument.

  164. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    What if the novelist is trying to convey how, in reality, people are not psychologically consistent? There’s no reason to think that by itself would make it not a realist novel, or a worse realist novel, or a better realist novel than what your standard describes.

    Ha! My cunning plan worked!

    Well actually, there wasn’t one, but your response illustrates perfectly that the sort of statement I made is not a simple fact claim which is either true or false, but also is not a simple expression of preference or emotional response. Instead, it’s an esthetic specification, which (like specific esthetic judgments, or – I contend, like ethical statements that are similar in form) is open to rational contestation, defence, qualification, etc.

    Okay, but I don’t think they work in “the same way.” Similar, but not the same.

    In what way(s) different?

    I don’t think “best novelist” is clearly defined and measurable like “largest animal” is, so that particular kind of claim isn’t true or false for that reason. Maybe one could say that Eliot’s writing is the best for something, not that it is the best of something. The statement you gave doesn’t relate anything about an aesthetic experience and doesn’t put it in terms of whatever goals one has or how those can best be achieved. If it had, yes, I would ask for evidence his writing is effective (or the most effective) at doing whatever-it-is, because that’s a claim about reality.

    It’s not a simple matter of being “defined and measureable”. It could be (though it isn’t), that there was no clear “largest living land mammal” – suppose, say, that some Indian elephants were larger than the largest recorded African elephants, even though their mean and median size was smaller. But in such a case, we can expect to get a yes/no answer to which any rational person will agree, if the relevant facts are available, by making the question more precise. If I’d said “best-selling novelist” then that would have been a straightforward fact claim (and again, it could be that the answer is not unambiguous, e.g. do we count sales in translation, or sales since the nineteenth century?). But if I say “best novelist for giving the reader a feel for what it was like to live in nineteenth-century England”, or “best novelist for convincing readers of the realism of her* characters”, or whatever, then yes, I could give evidence for the claim, but again, it doesn’t seem to be a simple fact claim, because the relevance and weight of the evidence I produce, and of that you could produce in arguing a contrary position, is again a matter of judgement and esthetic response. I might convince you by showing you aspects of her work you had not appreciated, or you might convince me that some other novelist is better in the same way, but still, there are no facts that would compel any rational person to agree.

    My view is that ethical specifications, and specific ethical judgements, work in just the same way: they are not straightforward matters of fact, but they are rationally contestable, defensible, qualifiable etc.

    * Point of information: George Eliot was a woman, real name Mary Anne Evans.

  165. consciousness razor says

    Well actually, there wasn’t one, but your response illustrates perfectly that the sort of statement I made is not a simple fact claim which is either true or false, but also is not a simple expression of preference or emotional response. Instead, it’s an esthetic specification, which (like specific esthetic judgments, or – I contend, like ethical statements that are similar in form) is open to rational contestation, defence, qualification, etc.

    I don’t get it. Do you suppose fact claims are not open to rational contestation, defense, qualification, etc.? That’s the sort of problem I think non-realist meta-ethics suffer: they are defined such that there can be no dispute. So why do people reason about ethics, if ethics isn’t reasonable? Do you think doing so is a mistake?

    In what way(s) different?

    They’re about different things. What makes something aesthetic is that it pertains which perceptual or conceptual experiences we think are preferable or meaningful. Ethics applies to our lives much more generally and how we interact with one another. It also has a different amount or kind of force behind it: it’s more of an imperative that others follow at least some normative principles. We can’t all be happy to have our own, different ethical criteria the same way we can accept others have different aesthetic criteria, because we need some common ground and some workable relationship with other people, or things do go awry.

    If I’d said “best-selling novelist” then that would have been a straightforward fact claim (and again, it could be that the answer is not unambiguous, e.g. do we count sales in translation, or sales since the nineteenth century?).

    It still has no relationship to any aesthetic experience. It is not an example of an aesthetic claim. Likewise, “most moral person ever” is not an ethical claim, because it says nothing about you what you should do or why.

    But if I say “best novelist for giving the reader a feel for what it was like to live in nineteenth-century England”, or “best novelist for convincing readers of the realism of her* characters”, or whatever, then yes, I could give evidence for the claim, but again, it doesn’t seem to be a simple fact claim, because the relevance and weight of the evidence I produce, and of that you could produce in arguing a contrary position, is again a matter of judgement and esthetic response.

    If we were talking about science instead, that we can judge alternative scientific theories or interpretations of theories, based on the amount and quality of the evidence, doesn’t mean there are no scientific facts. For you, “judgment” seems to be taking the place of “explanation,” but if you agree there can be evidence, then there must be some fact of the matter which those judgments are about. I see no need to talk about judgments of judgments of judgments all the way down — at some point we hit bottom, where there are facts about what people should and should not do, which have to do with their psychology and their environment.

  166. says

    It’ll take a while for people to accept this, tho – they’d have to admit that factory farms are the moral equivalent of Nazi concentration camps, which is quite a leap for those raised in the religious or humanist tradition. Nevertheless… they once said that slavery was acceptable because the slaves didn’t feel pain and were less intelligent, so they didn’t suffer the way Europeans would. Curious concept, isn’t it?

    No they are not fucking morally equivalent. If you could shut down a factory farm or Auschwitz which would you choose?

    This is what I hate about a lot of the animal rights bull despite agreeing with it, fucking offensive bullshit like this. To say that Farmer Brown or Agway is as bad as Hitler is profoundly ethically blind.

  167. says

    It’ll take a while for people to accept this, tho – they’d have to admit that Planned Parenthood is the moral equivalent of Nazi concentration camps, which is quite a leap for those raised in the religious or humanist tradition. Nevertheless… they once said that slavery was acceptable because the slaves didn’t feel pain and were less intelligent, so they didn’t suffer the way Europeans would. Curious concept, isn’t it?

  168. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    Do you suppose fact claims are not open to rational contestation, defense, qualification, etc.?

    Yes, of course they are, but if the claim is sufficiently precise, there is a set of facts which, if available, compels any rational person to agree to the answer. To put it more simply: there is a correct answer. My contention is that esthetic and ethical claims are similarly open to rational contestation etc., but there is no such correct answer, for which there is a set of facts compelling agreement from any rational person. I gave the examples for the “George Eliot” case. Do you contend that there is a correct answer to: “Is George Eliot the best novelist for giving the reader a feel for what it was like to live in nineteenth-century England?”? If so, how would you arrive at it, even in principle?

    They’re [esthetic and ethical statements] about different things.

    As I already agreed. My contention is that they nonetheless work in the same way – they have the same kind of relationship to evidence and rational argument. You could agree to that without agreeing to my contentions about what this relationship is.

    If I’d said “best-selling novelist” then that would have been a straightforward fact claim (and again, it could be that the answer is not unambiguous, e.g. do we count sales in translation, or sales since the nineteenth century?).

    It still has no relationship to any aesthetic experience. It is not an example of an aesthetic claim. Likewise, “most moral person ever” is not an ethical claim, because it says nothing about you what you should do or why.

    Of course “George Eliot was the best-selling 19th century novelist” is not an esthetic statement: I was using it precisely to contrast with statements that are! OTOH, “George Eliot was the most moral person ever” is an ethical claim, just as “George Eliot was the best novelist ever” is an esthetic one. But ethical statments such as “Killing innocent people is wrong”, are of a different type, “specifications of standards we intend to judge by”, and correspond to esthetic specifications of standards such as “Realist novels should not have psychologically implausible characters”.

    but if you agree there can be evidence, then there must be some fact of the matter which those judgments are about. I see no need to talk about judgments of judgments of judgments all the way down — at some point we hit bottom, where there are facts about what people should and should not do, which have to do with their psychology and their environment.

    No, there are not: in the ethical and esthetic spheres, we never hit bottom: there are no sets of facts that compel agreement from any rational person. A rational person can say: “Sod everybody else, I do what suits me best.” or: “I consider Tolkien a better novelist than George Eliot” – and there are no facts that compel them either to agree, or to be irrational. If you dispute this, kindly produce the facts that would compel a rational sociopath to agree that their stance is irrational. For another take on this, consider the question of animal rights. There are facts that are relevant to the question of what rights we should grant non-human animals, but none that determine the question. Again, if you dispute this, what facts, or kinds of facts, would those be?

  169. consciousness razor says

    OTOH, “George Eliot was the most moral person ever” is an ethical claim, just as “George Eliot was the best novelist ever” is an esthetic one.

    I don’t know why you think those are ethical or aesthetic; but those are irrelevant to me. I’m talking about ones with “should” or “ought” in them, or those which are functionally equivalent.

    If you dispute this, kindly produce the facts that would compel a rational sociopath to agree that their stance is irrational.

    There are no such facts for “rational sociopaths.” I’ve already indicated that we can deal with how we ought to treat them separately. They are still people with feelings and needs, and thus should be treated humanely, but others interests also matter: society needs to be protected from them if they are dangerous. But we can’t compel sociopaths with rational argument to feel like a normal person who has normal values. It’s an impossible demand which goes just as well for any meta-ethical theory. We can’t “convert” a sociopath with feelings, judgments, facts or anything else. If science can find a cure or treatment for it, then we can talk. It also has nothing to do with the vast majority of people on this planet, how they ought to behave, and why they ought to behave. Normal people in most situations don’t like being stabbed to death, and thus don’t think stabbing other people is a good thing to do. Those are the sort of people we can reason with.

  170. johnsonvillevandenwymalenburg says

    “We deny the existence of an objective morality.”

    Lovely, so Jeremy Bentham isn’t a “good atheist,” either.

    Thanks for the ludicrous Neckbeard Creed for Good Atheists you’ve been providing over the last couple weeks. Your use of the majestic plural is appropriately Popish.

  171. KG says

    But we can’t compel sociopaths with rational argument to feel like a normal person who has normal values. – consciousness razor

    It seems to me you’ve just effectively conceded the argument. A rational sociopath, or any other rational person, can be compelled to accept a fact-claim (or abandon rationality) if the appropriate evidence is there. So clearly, moral “should” statements are not ordinary fact-claims – because they depend on values. Moreover, there are differences in values between non-sociopaths, which are no more amenable to being settled by appeal to facts than the differences between sociopaths and everyone else. I’ve already given one example: what rights should we accord to non-human animals? Others are easy to produce:
    1) How do we weigh the claims of people alive now with those of future generations?
    2) When weighing the claims of people alive now, should everyone have an equal claim on us, or is it permissible to give preferential treatment to our friends and relatives? If so, how far?
    3) When allocating medical care and resources, should everyone be given equal priority, or should we prefer those who have greater (or lesser) life expectancy? If so, how far?
    4) When allocating medical care and resources, should everyone be given equal priority, or should we prefer those who could not have done anything to prevent their illness over those who could? If so, how far?
    5) How far should we restrict individual freedoms of various kinds in the general interest?
    6) Should biodiversity, or cultural diversity, be regarded as valuable in themselves?
    I could go on more or less indefinitely. In all these cases, facts can be relevant, but can you, for any or all of them, identify a class of facts that could, even in principle, give a conclusive correct answer?

  172. Ichthyic says

    What’s wrong with Middle Earth fish that you have to get some sent halfway around the world?

    they all have furry feet.

  173. Ichthyic says

    I’d build community with by taking to my cabin in St. Louis cty where we’d jump on the pontoon, crack a beer or two and proceed to catch some fresh Stizostedion vitreum, P. nigromaculatus and other various centrarchidae and maybe a stray Micropterus salmoides AND the real deal – steamed Esox lucius dipped in garlic butter with a lite sprinkle of Old Bays plus, some bbq potatoes and veggies.

    Your ideas intrigue me, and I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  174. consciousness razor says

    It seems to me you’ve just effectively conceded the argument. A rational sociopath, or any other rational person, can be compelled to accept a fact-claim (or abandon rationality) if the appropriate evidence is there. So clearly, moral “should” statements are not ordinary fact-claims – because they depend on values.

    Then maybe they’re not “ordinary.” Besides, not every “rational person” (if that describes anyone) can be compelled to accept every ordinary fact claim, based solely on the evidence presented. Some people have intellectual blindspots, or are prone to certain kind of biases that they cannot overcome. Beyond that, we’re always interpreting and evaluating what evidence is important, what merits attention, what is the best form of explanation for a given problem, etc., based on our epistemological values. Even this rational compulsion you speak of is a value. Because damn near everything we think about is value-laden, and it takes a lot of effort just to put those aside when they’re inappropriate.

    Can I compel you to believe that black holes as described by the majority of physicists most likely exist? Maybe, maybe not. You may have a pet theory which doesn’t agree with it and be incapable of understanding why it’s probably incorrect. And I’ve already implied there are a minority of physicists, “rational beings” all, who have different views based on the very same evidence. These are people who know what they’re talking about, not crackpots, who disagree with the values and facts others think are relevant. They may lie on their deathbeds still opposed to the conventional theory. So where’s the compulsion, and just how compelling (and to whom) should we expect an ethical theory to be?

    Going back to ethics, why must it be the case that they depend on values? Why can’t it be the case that these are fact claims about our psychological states which are identical to the values? If you went digging into someone’s brain looking for the way they represent the value of some object and the way they represent a fact about it, is there any reason to think those must be represented independently of one another? If we think something has some value, that association certainly seems to get mixed in with the rest of the facts we think we know about it. It seems to inherently have value, so it’s often difficult to wrap our heads around the idea others don’t experience it similarly. But I don’t know the science behind that, so just take that as an aside.

    And again, I admit I probably don’t know the best and most rational form of moral realism, so please beware the fallacist’s fallacy. I also see no reason to go through a long list of cases and write a mini-treatise on each, in a comment section very few will ever read, unless I’m going to be paid and I was fairly sure about the answers. Those are all interesting questions, but please ask them of an ethicist, because this isn’t my job. The only point I really wanted to make was the one you already agreed with. PZ shouldn’t make proclamations about something if he doesn’t have at least a rudimentary understanding of what the terms actually mean.

  175. Anri says

    It seems that I’m Not has long since scampered away, but I just wanted to comment on:

    As to your main question,imagine FtB (representing the “atheist community”) is a party with lots of rooms and each blogger is a room. Imagine you are walking through the rooms with a glass of cheap, warm chardonnay in your hand and the guests are the various commentators on the various blogs. Some are gathered in one room, some wandering like you are, some are in the halls between the rooms looking lost and confused.

    Now read the comments on the latest threads on all the blogs here and tell me you think that would be a great place to be, that this was really coming together.

    Shit, just this one thread about an atheist community would have ended in at least a fist fight.

    And, yet, when large groups of atheists actually get together in the real world, no such thing happens (the fist fights, I mean). I saw some pretty heated debates at the one Skepticon I’ve been able to get to, but nothing that ever looked like it would end up in violence.

    Really, I’m Not, you should drop by a major atheist function some time, to experience what it’s like in person rather than pulling your virtual pud here and whining about how terrible we all are.
    Of course, you run the terrible risk of learning something if you do. You might just have to chance that.

  176. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    Besides, not every “rational person” (if that describes anyone) can be compelled to accept every ordinary fact claim, based solely on the evidence presented. some people have intellectual blindspots

    You’re completely missing the point, which is that even a completely rational person, without any such blindspots, could not be obliged by that rationality to accept so-called moral truths, while they would be obliged by that rationality to accept facts about the world.

    The rest of your latest can be summed up as:
    “Well I can’t meet your arguments, but I still think I’m right.” Pfft.

  177. consciousness razor says

    You’re completely missing the point, which is that even a completely rational person, without any such blindspots, could not be obliged by that rationality to accept so-called moral truths, while they would be obliged by that rationality to accept facts about the world.

    How do you know that?

    Besides that, I’d rather deal in reality, not hypothetical perfectly rational beings. You also addressed nothing about how agreeing to scientific facts “depend on” values and theories.

    And if you’ll help me out here, how important would you say this to your case (the nature of which still isn’t clear to me)? Also, what use is there for not supposing ethical claims have truth values? What is it supposed to give us in the way of better ethics, better understanding, or whatever?

    The rest of your latest can be summed up as:
    “Well I can’t meet your arguments, but I still think I’m right.” Pfft.

    I simply don’t need to waste my time arguing all those points, especially if they’ll just get a casual dismissal in reply which doesn’t settle anything. And I probably would do a bad job of it anyway, because I don’t have the time to do it properly and have no illusions to having all the answers in the first place. You could address that stuff yourself, if you like.

  178. KG says

    consciousness razor,

    How do you know that?

    From the numerous cases I’ve outlined, which neither you nor any other proponent of so-called moral truths has ever been able to meet.

    Besides that, I’d rather deal in reality, not hypothetical perfectly rational beings.

    Again, you’re completely missing the point, which is that there is a fundamental difference between facts about the world, and alleged moral facts: rationality can oblige one to accept the former, but not the latter.

    You also addressed nothing about how agreeing to scientific facts “depend on” values and theories.

    Becuase it’s simply not germane to the issue, which is whether there are such things as moral facts. If you think otherwise, demonstrate the connection. Yes, commitment to the truth is a value, but whether certain practices are conducive to arriving at the truth is a matter of fact.

    And if you’ll help me out here, how important would you say this to your case (the nature of which still isn’t clear to me)?

    How important would I say what is? The referent of “this” is not clear. What about the explanation I have given of my position is unclear? If you can’t or won’t say, I can’t help you.

    Also, what use is there for not supposing ethical claims have truth values? What is it supposed to give us in the way of better ethics, better understanding, or whatever?

    You don’t think the pursuit of truth is worthwhile? Then our values differ fundamentally, and I’m unlikely to be able to persuade you. But yes, both better understanding, and better ethics as a result of that better understanding: if we pursue the illusion of objective morality, whether religiously based or not, we will get bogged down in futile disputes that are by their nature unresolveable, rather than considering the consequences of adopting particular specifications of the standards of behaviour we will apply to ourselves and others.

  179. consciousness razor says

    From the numerous cases I’ve outlined, which neither you nor any other proponent of so-called moral truths has ever been able to meet.

    I was looking for an argument, not cases, concluding that they could not be compelling to a rational person.

    How important would I say what is? The referent of “this” is not clear.

    I meant how important the quote part, your “rational beings aren’t compelled to accept any ethics” claim, is to your specific meta-ethical theory.

    What about the explanation I have given of my position is unclear? If you can’t or won’t say, I can’t help you.

    The nature of a truth claim is fairly straightforward, and I think we both agree about what that means. In contrast, it’s a bit hard for me to know just what “judgment” is supposed to mean and come to many conclusions about it. This isn’t an argument; I’m just trying to describe what I’m not clear about.

    You don’t think the pursuit of truth is worthwhile?

    Of course I do.

    if we pursue the illusion of objective morality, whether religiously based or not, we will get bogged down in futile disputes that are by their nature unresolveable,

    Well realism doesn’t require we dive into just any futile dispute; and if it’s correct, then many aren’t unresolvable. Anyway, that’s the sort of answer I was looking for. Thank you.

    rather than considering the consequences of adopting particular specifications of the standards of behaviour we will apply to ourselves and others.

    I don’t see why I ought to be opposed to any of that, if that’s your implication.

  180. mood2 says

    ooooh oooh a badge! I know!

    Insignia : Spear

    Gang Colours : Hunter Green of course

    Motto : I Don’t Like You