Thursday, February 22, 2007

First came the brain dead, now come the brainwashed

First I had Martin, the brain dead, now I've got someone calling themselves Amicus commenting in my post about Sam Harris' and Andrew Sullivan's debate turning into a pillow fight. This is what Amicus wrote in his first comment, among other things:

"As for your post here, quite a lot of doctrine or dogma can win the form of rationality."

Does anyone know what he is talking about? What exactly is "the form of rationality"? Is that some kind of pseudo-rationality? Like rationalization?

Well, I asked Amicus what he meant and he came back with a long reply in which he never really gets to the original question. It illustrates the thinking of someone who has been brainwashed and lied to most of their life. It illustrates many Christian flaws -- a lack of scientific knowledge, a lack of social data or blinders, a lack of moral development (He basically asks: "If there is no god, why should we be good?"), and lack of imagination. Here's my first example, he wrote:

"I think agnostics have a more defensible position than do atheists, because atheists actually posit a truth that ultimately looks like a religious truth - a belief IN something, i.e. "no God" - rather than agnostics, who don't go so far, but just recognize the limits of rationality on the matter."

The first thing wrong with that is that he obviously doesn't know the definition of atheism and according to Austin Cline the particular definition he uses is attributed to Christian lies:

"Most disagreement over this comes from Christians who insist that atheism must be the denial of gods, or at least of their god. Mere absence of belief in gods is, they claim, properly labeled agnosticism — even though agnosticism has it's own definition and is about a different concept entirely."

Amicus gets that even more wrong by saying this:
"belief IN something, i.e. 'no God'"

That would mean that Amicus' non-belief in Zeus, Allah, Amen Ra and Shiva are all various religion-like beliefs to Amicus. Or will Amicus claim to be agnostic about Zeus? If he's going to be consistent, he'll have to claim he is agnostic about Zeus and Shiva.

To be fair, it is a muddy issue this definition of atheism and it ultimately divides into weak and strong versions of atheism. Austin Cline and Wikipedia both offer explanations.

I am a strong atheist of a type, it has to do with two things, 1) the Christian concept of God as usually defined is contradictory and 2) there is strong evidence that the anthropic intelligence people want to attribute to God must evolve and cannot exist before there is a universe.

There is justification in believing the Christian God does not exist based on current evidence. I'll get to that in a different post, but for now more huge examples Amicus' brainwashing, like this:

"For me, the 'insanity of religion', as you phrase it, is too broad a characterization (and unbalanced because it ignores the ideological excesses of non-religious 'insanity'). If Islamic Jihad is Sam's yardstick (first letter), then that 'insanity' is de minimus compared to the large number of self-describe religious people who are NOT involved in that."

Jihad is neither Sam's yardstick nor mine, it is but one small (numbers of people wise) symptom of religious insanity. Other more prominent symptoms are:

1) It's the fact 47% of Americans believe God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.

2) Women treated as second-class citizens or even slaves.

3) Pentecostal snake-handlers

4) Persecution of homosexuals

5) Sometimes fatal exorcisms by priests believing they are removing demons.

6) The requirement of theism in order to stand for public office.

7) Religion represents a huge financial and work burden on mankind. Imagine how that effort could be better spent.

8) Faith healers and plenty of instances of ill people being "healed" by a priest, ceasing to take the medicines prescribed to them by doctors, and dying as a result. Some people have died because they have refused blood transfusions on religious grounds.

9) Opposition to birth control, and even condoms and embryonic stem cell funding by the Fed.

10) Ted Haggard

11) Mel Gibson

12) People who claim to be Jesus:

13) Pat Robertson's contradictory theology

14) Swami Prabhupada

15) Scientology, Scientology

16) The Salem Witchcraft Trials

17) The European Witch Craze

18) When God sanctions killing

And that's just a quick surface scratch, I could keep going on. In fact, I've found other people doing similar lists that don't repeat mine, like here.

And then comes the clincher that proves how brainwashed Amicus is:

"As an atheist, how do you reject murder (homocide) on an exclusively rational basis?

"That would be one example, one of a 'moral truth' that might be evidenced *both* by rationality (whatever your own atheist argument might be), but also by dogma/doctrine (derived solely from various religious texts thought to hold the truth on such matters)."


Third, I might offer faith as a viewpoint, a perspective, not altogether arbitary in the way Sam (and Dawkins) suggest, but as ways of ordering the world as far as individual ethical questions. Arjuna, at the opening of the Gita, as best I recall, learns about duty, amid the mind-numbing destruction of war. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have an injunction to Honor they Mother and Father. This is a viewpoint, one on which moderates, extermists, and atheists might all have widely different interpretations, but, notwithstanding, it is a general point of departure that pure rationalists (or "truth now" people) do not have, arguably."

This question has been dealt with often so I don't have to answer it, here's one answer:

And some more, and one more.

As for the practical dimension, survey's have shown only one major difference: That church members are more charitable than non-members. Probably because churches get some social pressure going that atheists aren't yet exposed to.


Amicus said...

Brainwashed, eh? Just because Andrew was *truthful*, admirably so, in revealing to Sam that he had never really been without his faith, as he conceives it, doesn't mean that you are not going to encounter those who really are going hit those serves back at you with a tennis racket strung more tightly. I'm not quite sure that I'm that person, but you cannot imagine that the such challenges haven't been dealt with, each in its turn, over time by those far more schooled than I am.

Regarding the definition of "atheism", I'd agree that no belief in God is different than a belief in no God, as a logician might formulate it. However, this doesn't show "ignorance" in my formulation to you, but it did get you to reveal that you are a "strong atheist" (apparently in a stylized way, as you conceive it, related to the Christian God only), a tidbit which can only move the dialogue forward. More on that, later, perhaps.

I would agree that the word "atheism" is problematic, because of the dual uses for the prefix, "a", so that it might be interpreted either as "against God" (Latin prefix, as in "avert", with connotation of "anti-theism") or "absence of God" (Greek prefix, as in "atonal", with connotation of "nontheism"). I hardly feel "brainwashed" because I used one interpretation of the term, that's for sure.

Your author, Cline, suggests the rigorous categories of agnostic-atheist and agnostic-theist, while admitting that many often drop this rigor in regular-way talk (see conclusions section, see the two penultimate paragraphs). For myself, I'm not sure it changes what I said, which was "I think agnostics have a more defensible position than do atheists ...", other than that I would sweep both these two agnostic terms into my general use of "agnostic" in order to match the justification I gave.

The argument that there are lots of theisms so that there cannot be any truth in any one theism is a bit of a red herring. To be sure, the capacity of people *in general* to believe or do this or that thing, even against logic is astonishing (why do people smoke, if it is known it will kil them?), but you couldn't just start calling yourself a God and have everyone believe you. It's really not that arbitrary, altogether.

Jihad is most certainly part of Sam's apparent motivation for writing letters (it's right there in his opening note to Andrew, right?). But, as I've shown, this is just atheist opportunism, if you consider that he hasn't made the broader case that atheist beliefs will somehow magically erase the hatred in the hearts of men. Sullivan gives Sam a pass on this, but I don't have to.

On the rest, you didn't answer my questions. What do I care if my neighbor believes that the earth is 6,000 y.o. or if he knows the physics of black holes? Do have any special interest in whether someone is a snake handler that I should know about - be more specific? I can make a list of a-religious actions that caused the deaths of tens of millions, so you need to bring more to the table than this list, that's for sure.

Also, I asked specifically, "As an atheist, how do you reject murder (homicide) on an exclusively rational basis?" I didn't ask for some long discussion about Law and Humanity, anymore than Sam asked for Sullivan to go into what seemed to you a long digression about the importance of tradition in his spiritual life, which some interpreted as his dodging Sam's "hard hitting" questions.

So, what's the problem? Forty words or less, answer the question, if you would. It's not a trick. My cards are on the table as to how your specific answer fits into what seems to be a stumbling block for you, which is how doctrine can win the form of rationality.

AtheistAcolyte said...

"As an atheist, how do you reject murder (homicide) on an exclusively rational basis?"

"Forty words or less, answer the question, if you would."


"Because it is most rational to hold respect for all human beings, therefore to not cause intentional harm and, when practical, to alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings is rational."

31. Fortunately, I have filler material:

"I KNEW I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque"

To expound on this a bit:
"... it is most rational to hold respect for all human beings..."
All human beings have certain 'inalienable human rights', most notably the right to live. If this were a truly secular moral standard, we would expect all societies to maintain this as a cultural rule, regardless of religion. It is interesting to note that this is widely true, with punishments meted out to all who break this rule. (However, one must note that there are exceptions in the form of human sacrifice and warfare; the first is primarily religious and the second is primarily nationalistic and occasionally religious; both thrive on the demonization of the "others")

"...therefore to not cause intentional harm and, when practical, to alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings is rational."
Note that this does not require that one seek out those in need of aid, nor even that it requires us to aid those we find. Rather, it establishes the directive that we do not cause harm to others with the intent to harm them, and that we help those who need our help when we can practically help them. This establishes a need to take care of the self before helping others, but the selfless nature that once you are taken care of, you should help others. This is exemplified in airline pre-flight instructions: Put your own oxygen mask on before helping your child put theirs on. Another way, you are of no help to anybody when you help others to the point of exhaustion of your own resources.

(For a humorous note, I originally had omitted the ", when practical," and my filler consisted of "Oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang walla walla bing bang!". It's remarkably difficult to come up with a phrase consisting of only 9 words.)

Amicus said...

o.k. So a theist and a rational atheist can hold the same belief that murder is wrong. It would seem to follow that doctrine isn't wholly outside the bounds of reason.

Rather than be contentious just for the sake of it, I'll leave it there, except to note that you haven't proven anything. I could disagree / refute you at every turn in your argument (If you don't see for yourself how, exaclty, I suppose I could do it if you asked - I'm just not going to trash everything you said just because).

The big picture is just that the kind of argument you've made isn't quite like 2+2=4. That's not just a strawman observation either - ethics is not wholly a product of the scientific method.

AtheistAcolyte said...

First, I did not set out to 'prove' anything. I set out to answer your question, under the circumstances you set out. And I did.

Second, no, I have not proven anything, other than how an atheist can arrive at a moral and ethical decision secularly. I'm sure many atheists derive their morality differently than I derive mine, but as long as their morality and mine are compatible (and I can challenge them to rationally support their morality when they are not compatible), then I have no problems.

Amicus said...

AA said: "I have not proven anything ..."
o.k. That's copacetic with me and the fact that other atheists have different arguments than you might be analogous to various theists having their own basis in their doctrines.

Notwithstanding that concurrence, how come if I were ever to offer something not quite "proven" I get called stupid or wanting ("in conflict with reason (and, therefore, ... necessarily in conflict with science" - SH)?

AtheistAcolyte said...

You asked me to answer how I as an atheist account for my ethics. And I gave you a good basis for secular ethics to rival any theistic ethics. If you asked me to prove something, I would have to deal with more rigor than my brief 31-word basis. If I asked you to prove something and you gave me wishy-washy twaddle, I'd have to say "Sorry, but that's not rigorous enough for a reasonable doubt proof."

Amicus said...

I think that you gave *a* basis, just as theists do.

Your claim that it is a "good" one is not proven. What's more, if you were to try to make a case that it is, I suspect it wouldn't look like a "reasonable doubt" proof.

Moreover, I would suggest something even stronger: that it cannot be proven, conclusively, even if you have more than 31 words.

Accordingly, it starts to look like you have "faith", of a kind, in postulates that you take as given.

Maybe a challenge to atheist ethics might help afterall. Here is one:

My friend Sam doesn't believe that murder is "wrong" outright. He is bigger and stronger than his neighbor. Accordingly, he believes that it is his obvious biological evolutionary role to kill his neighbor, take his food and money, and procreate with his wife and/or daughters, while killing the sons or pressing them into service.

This seems to be a right order of things to him. In his mind, it makes sense for him to preserve his position by taking from others, because it is so obviously an efficient use of his time.

AtheistAcolyte said...

"Good" and "Bad" cannot be proven. They must be judged. And you judge based on the situation and your moral basis. I cannot prove to you that the Inquisition was "bad", or that the Renaissance was "good", because they are subjective terms. Just as I cannot tell you that Picasso's Guernica is "bad" or "good". I can tell you it is an example of cubist impressionism, and that will be objectively true, but if your moral basis favors cubist impressionism, you might think it's "good" while I may think it's "bad".

Moral bases are allowed (indeed, perhaps preferred) to change, and that's why things like the Inquisition have changed from a "good" thing (at the time) to a "bad" thing now.

I regard my basis as good (I shall eschew the quotation marks for now; I assume my point is made) because it emphasizes respect for everyone, explicitly forbids intentionally harming others and explicitly promotes benevolent behaviour.

My problem with theistic (specifically, Judeo-Christian) moral bases is that they are contradictory. For example, they explicitly forbid murder (The 6th Commandment) and explicitly promote murder (See Deuteronomy, Leviticus, any number of God-blessed genocides). This is not the theist's fault, of course. The Torah, Bible and Koran are all horribly unparsimonious and ambiguous documents which will ultimately lend itself to contradiction in one form or another.

As far as your example, if Sam had my moral basis, they would have respect for their neighbor's life, family and property and not infringe on their right to enjoy any of these.

If Sam had a theistic moral basis, he may do the exact same thing. But if Sam's neighbor was a Hindu or an Amalekite, perhaps, Sam may order his buddy Saul to exterminate his neighbor based on a 400-year-old grudge. (1 Samuel 15:2-3).

As the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Steven Weinberg said, "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."