Archives for July 2014

Religionists, Bigotry & The Strawman by Beechbum

On: Friday, July 25, 2014

Religionists, in a fit of blind self-righteous self-indulgence, will typically manifest some claim to moral superiority. They will then follow this claim up with what can only be called preemptive bouts of bigotry by throwing stones at any world view not their own. In this manner the religionist hopes to leave his correspondent so disoriented that when he pulls his deity out of his crack, I mean gap, he hopes the taste of morning breath isn't so overwhelming as to make swallowing his foregone conclusion anything other than a mindless impulse. These bouts of moral superiority come in many forms, but when one pulls away the rhetorical ploys and sophistic slides of hand the religionist uses in an attempt to hide the belligerently blatant fallacies and falsehoods, and when one red lines the ubiquitous displays of the religionist's feebly concealed arrogance born of ignorance like a professor red lining the wordy non-answer to an essay question presented by the poorly prepared student, they all reduce to a single concept: I'm more moral than all of you, I'm holier than all of you, because I get my morals from my sky daddy, the one true god. Nanny nanny frigin' boo-boo!

Now, while some of these pious pundits avoid actually using the concept in their argument (and they all seem to keep the wording, well, at least the nanny boo-boo part, under their hat though the feeling stands out like cloaked KKKlansmen at an NAACP rally), it seems this Dr. Andy Bannister doesn't bother.

What follows is a critique of one such preemptive fit of bigotry by the aforementioned doctor.

After a moderately interesting anecdote about smuggling in England, the background for what will become a supercilious lyric throughout, the author edifies us regarding his conclusion and jumps straightaway into his first logical fallacy. A fallacy which is also supercilious and is also carried through the rest of this treatise.

But first, I would like to write a word regarding the author’s conclusion.

“…whenever a writer tells you that something is good and laudable, or that something is bad and condemnable, there is an important question you must ask before you consider whether or not to believe them. What worldview do they subscribe to and does that worldview support the value judgement they are making …”

Herein is the true contraband traversing the smuggler’s cave contrary to the author’s argument obviously, and I will have more to say about this toward the end of this critique, but let me just point out that it is human morality (i.e. ethics) and reason which are used to adjudicate worldviews not the other way around. Worldviews, which are merely opinions, are not and should not be used as supporting justification for value judgments. By the author’s logic there is no moral force behind condemning Hitler’s atrocities (the author’s god created Hitler and permitted the atrocities), nor is there any reason to chastise a pedophile priest who like Hitler shares a worldview with the author. This whole treatise is the author’s attempt to smuggle an obsolete ideology back from the graveyard of dead philosophies. His first thrust shoreward is a stroke of genius, if it’s a self parody he’s after, that is.

The Main Straw Man

In another anecdote featuring Richard Dawkins and the sport of cricket, the author claims that Dr. Dawkins has no moral standing in his view to express moral outrage because Richard, like me, accepts the evidence supporting naturalistic materialism. In other words we don’t share the author’s worldview. But the straw man comes as the author confuses the religionist’s worldview with reality. Just because nature is neither good nor evil as these are merely relative views totally dependent on perspective.

"Indeed, in his book River Out of Eden, Dawkins penned this oft-quoted passage:

''The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it:

For Nature, heartless, witless Nature
Will neither know nor care.
DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.''

But if this is true, it raises a question. If nature really is neither good nor evil, if we are all simply dancing to the music of our DNA, from where is Dawkins deriving the value judgement …?" [double apostrophes are what this author is quoting]

Just because nature doesn't adhere to the religionist’s conception of good and evil because it’s fictitious, to say the least, it doesn't give this author the right to imply that our DNA is incapable of retaining genes which propagate the greatest propensity for healthy and happy offspring; in other words genes that drive superior moral choices. The information is out there, so, in my view, this is a religionist's purposeful misapprehension of both the function of genetics and the origin of morality.

This genetically driven propensity for happy and healthy offspring driven by the successful gene's previously tried and true electro-chemical stimulation through hormones, etc. we call emotions, feelings, even love. This we observe as the maternal drive, maternal care-giving. This maternal drive also expresses itself paternally and then in siblings long before mammals even existed as evidenced by nests of birds which are dinosaurs, and of course fish. In mammals, the act of feeding offspring incapable of feeding themselves made the maternal drive a prerequisite for survival of the gene for the mammalian class of vertebrate which enabled the evolution of humans. So, the moral choice for caring for offspring was strong long before humans had evolved. The advantages of this choice, this moral choice of caring for family, extended to extra-family members of troops then tribes, and it grew from caring for extended family members to not stealing from, cheating, lying to, or otherwise harming them or their offspring; in other words, this maternal drive evolved into our modern morality. It’s quite simple really, and it still happens that way today, as we all learn our basic moral values from family but mostly at our mother’s knee.

Now society— and I mean human society, or if you can fathom: global society throughout the whole of human history as defined by sociology—is the sum total of all influences from all contributions to the society from all past and current members of that society as it has evolved from its earliest forms. Society was originally the result of moral choices and social memes as inherited from our simian state, so our morality has a long history that has nothing to do with modern human constructs like religion, laws, culture, or government. In short, modern morality is one aspect of the sum total of human knowledge and ethics as garnered from survived experiences from our evolutionary history.

Therefore, to claim that anyone who doesn't share you primitive ideology is somehow smuggling in values that they don't possess legitimately is absurd, and it only serves to show your ignorance of evolution and morality among other things.

The False Assumption

In his next campaign against the enlightenment of humanity our author attempts to throw stones at Alom Shaha, former Muslim and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

"Among the many aspects of religion that irk Shaha is the belief in the afterlife:

''It’s an insidious idea, this notion that there is life after death … It depresses me to think that so many people on the planet live their lives with this notion. Can we truly fulfil our potential as a species as long as we hold on to, and encourage, the perpetuation of the lie of life after death?''

"… Shaha is, like Dawkins, committed to naturalistic materialism—the belief that all that exists are atoms and particles. Human beings are just the result of time plus chance plus natural selection, there’s no reason we’re here. And that means there is no potential we have to fill." [double apostrophes are what this author is quoting]

Built upon the aforementioned straw man is this false assumption regarding naturalistic materialism. My only question is: Does the aforementioned straw man and this false assumption result from cognitive bias after years of indoctrination, or is it the result of wanton ignorance in a country with public education? In any case, naturalistic materialism is not the claim that all that exists is atoms and particles. Would this be a false claim? A misapprehension perhaps, or is this a distinction without a difference in the world of woo woo. Naturalistic materialism is the view that all that exists is natural (e.g. brain), as opposed to supernatural (e.g. a mind not generated by a brain), and is therefore material or the result of material interaction (e.g. a mind generated by the electro-chemical processes of a brain and sensed through sentient awareness via passive or active introspection).

Inasmuch as we are the result of natural processes the reason we exist is also natural as opposed to being the occupants of a super-sized terrarium at the whim of a supernatural mad scientist whereupon humanity has neither reason nor potential of its, own (unless one counts servility) to exist. No.

The reason for our existence is therefore obvious. The reason we exist also progresses with our ever developing intellect, i.e. with power comes responsibility. Allow me to elaborate. In the earliest state of our existence our ancestor’s reason for existence was to survive, propagate, and defend the family. Later, in the simian state, this became defend the well-being of the troop, the clan, and then tribe; whereupon our awareness of suffering within our known society was instrumental in developing primitive means for eliminating it and our moral choice was to implement this practice by expanding this moral endeavor out to the extended family, the community, and so on. Now our reason for existing is irrevocably connected to the well-being of society now and for the future, humanity as our global society, responsibility for all life on this planet (especially that life upon which humanity has had deleterious effect), and even biological deference to the planets with which we have had or will have contact. In short, the reason we exist is to propagate the species, of course, but more importantly to contribute to the wellness and well-being, not to mention the elimination of suffering, of all present and future sentient life, the global society.

To quote Albert Einstein,

"Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society."

The idea that the reason for life is the pursuit of favors, or forgiveness, from some strict-father, or primitive sky tyrant, is the reasoning of the most self serving, self absorbed personality. To my mind, it’s a personality disorder. This is why Shaha, and I, find the idea of an afterlife insidious, because it robs one of the only real purpose and the only justification for a purpose that one can have. The fact that all life is precious because it is short, perilous, and the only life we, our neighbors, friends, family, descendants, the only life our species or any species gets.

The purpose of life is a life of purpose; it's just that simple.

Besides, the only reason for living under some imaginary sky tyrant is that of a slavish sock puppet a life of pious prostrate servility in denial of this life, the only life we have. It’s the life of fools.

But our theologian is not done misconstruing, yet.

"So where, pray, is Shaha getting the language of “potential” from? Certainly not from his atheism."

This is interesting. How would anyone propose that potential comes from a lack of belief in evidentially vacuous theistic claims? Why did this author's rhetoric shift from naturalistic materialism to atheism? This is a dishonest rhetorical ploy at best; at worst, it shows this author demonstrates arrogance in his ignorance. Unfortunately, for this author, this work reflects the worst aspects of both. And he calls himself a doctor. Here are some other religionists with questionable credentials calling themselves doctors:

Ironically, atheism would have little or nothing to do with human potential if not for theism and theistic claims, but as it stands our "potential as a species" as Shaha frames it above has a great deal of unrealized potential that humanity could have attained if humans had not been lulled into primitive ignorance with the false promise of an afterlife. The delay in achievements in science and medicine which past ages never realized due to this institutionalized superstition sold as a package deal with this insidious idea of an afterlife. The suffering which could have potentially been avoided had the wool of an afterlife been pulled from the eyes of the sheeple in time to see the absurdity of religious claims during say the auto-da-fé of atheists, the women and girls accused of witchcraft, or those victims of the Spanish Inquisition. This is the potential Shaha writes of: the potential achievements in eliminating material harm. The potential advancement in ethical sophistication, moral deliberation not to mention medical advancement and the advancement of human knowledge is what the religious lie of an afterlife has robbed from a credulous humanity. This is the potential Shaha writes of.

As an example: With the false claim an afterlife the church procured such power through popularity so as to be able to close real schools of philosophy and learning only to build theologically based institutions wherein learning was controlled so the church’s power could not be threatened. Fortunately, control is an illusion.

The Iron Curtain of Absolute Morality

In this next onslaught on the advancement of humanity, Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape is under the gun. Our author seems to think that it was Harris who informed the world that religion has nothing to do with morality. Obviously human potential isn't the only thing that has been retarded by religious indoctrination.

After quoting from Harris’ book our author immediately replaces Harris’ ideas with the old ideas from before the discovery of evolution. The utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is used in another straw man.

This is a replacement straw man of Sam Harris' view. The author goes on to attack utilitarianism and claim it's an argument against Harris' position. One thing Harris' proposition has over Bentham and Mills is that we now have a great deal of evolutionary evidence to rest a history of moral choices upon. We can now see not only how, but why, superior moral choices are better for those who are in a position to perceive them as good.

As an example our author gives me a nice lead in:

"But here’s the problem. Why maximise happiness? Why is happiness a good thing? Even if we decide that it is, why should I decide that your happiness is worth the same as my happiness? (Perhaps mine is more important than yours.) From where is Harris deriving the value judgement that maximising happiness (and doing so with a careful eye to equality and fair play) is a good thing? Watch the wall, my darling, while the value judgements go by …"

If you are like me those first two questions seem to have obvious answers, and they do. Only before evolution, and the subsequent medical advances, we did not have evidence to support those obvious answers. Now we do, thanks to science. Why should we wish to maximize happiness and why is it good? Happiness improves the health of the individual thereby reducing the suffering of not only the individual but also those in her immediate circle of influence. In other words, happiness has health benefits. Next our author asks why he should decide your happiness is worth the same as his. This is on a slippery slope to a false dichotomy in the first place. But, if the need to decide between the two should arise, it only serves to demonstrate that superior moral choices are made by objectively assessing the evidence at the time. This is where millions of years of evolutionary history come in. This is where millions of cultures past and present come in. This is where the experiences of hundreds of billions of Homo sapiens take part in your next decision, your next moral choice. Now choose! Are you the type that will make yourself happy, or are you smart enough to see that her happiness is your happiness? Are you diplomatic or authoritarian? Are you the type to stand proud before a crowd, or prouder still when stooping to help a stranger? When you answered each of these questions it was your experience that informed it not some holy writ. Knowledge, experience, and observation are terms of science and this is all Harris is claiming.

This author should have read Harris' book; or, is the problem one of comprehension? Harris anticipates this misapprehension, the connection to Bentham and Mill, in the second chapter of his book, Good and Evil, and actually expects a deliberate fabrication of just such a straw man stating clearly that his stance is not that of utilitarianism in an Edge interview. The way Harris thinks science might engage moral issues uses various philosophical positions like ethical naturalism, and ethical realism. Harris says a science of morality may resemble Utilitarianism, but that the science is, importantly, more open-ended because it involves an evolving definition of well-being. It also doesn't limit itself to such a myopic view of moral consequences as morality must take in the whole of humanity in a global picture.

This is the scientific case: the particulars of each case must be addressed individually objectively assessing the evidence; therefore, primitive dictates from some absolute authority cannot result in superior moral choices. This is Harris’ view.

Harris' view also imparts a great deal value on the objective observation of consequences for superior moral choice. Rather than committing to Reductive materialism, then, Harris recognizes the arguments of revisionists that psychological definitions themselves are contingent on research and discoveries. Harris adds that any science of morality must consider everything from emotions and thoughts to the actual actions and their consequences. The main point is that the superior moral choices are those that propagate well-being and happiness for the greatest number of people now and in the future while causing the least amount of suffering and not imposing suffering on anyone or anything to the highest degree possible.

Besides, there is no big mystery to moral choices. They're simply the intention to act in ways that minimize harm. Since harm is material, its avoidance is a natural exercise that any atheist can practice with better foresight than the typical supernaturalists, i.e. religionist. Regardless of how many times a supercilious lyric is repeated.

Finally He Gets to the Point

"With practice, you can learn to spot smuggled value judgements everywhere. Whenever somebody tells you that something is good or bad, noble or evil, ask yourself whether their worldview sustain [sic] the value judgement they are making."

Please allow me to point out, again, that it is human morality (the evolutionarily ingrained altruistic memes, and experiences that have been objectively assessed and socially accepted then propagated by all of humanity across the globe (with minor cultural variations, of course) as human culture has evolved and our understanding and intellect have progressed so as to facilitate a better understanding of our empathy, its origins, and the best way to eliminate suffering) and reason which are used to appraise worldviews for validity not the other way around. Worldviews, which are merely opinions, are not and should not be used as supporting justification for value judgments. So, this author’s main point is fatally flawed. Nothing in this elaboration has survived scrutiny either.

But this author is not done yet. He seems to have a penchant for writing anecdotes. Only he makes a fatal flaw that exposes his bigotry.

"You have treated me as person of value and significance. In other words, you have treated me on the basis of my worldview, not of yours."

This author assumes that the atheist worldview is not based on the same values his world view is; though, it is demonstrable that they both get their morality from the same place: the human society at large. I assume the author doesn't own slaves, insist on forced abortions of unwed mothers, doesn't stone obstinate teenagers, or think we should force rape victims to marry the rapist. These are all sanctioned as moral acts in his worldview. Religionists only claim to have moral high ground. In reality the religionist’s stance is not in practice as moral as those who know from where morals are derived, and only wish others would catch on. Besides, atheists don’t seek reward, rapture, or vicarious retribution for their moral choices. Dr. Andy Bannister believes that his worldview and thereby his morals are better than those of an atheist, and likely better than those with belief systems at variance with his own. In other words, Andy Bannister is a bigot. A good example of this is Hitler's view that his Aryan Germans were created in the image of his god making all that didn't look like them inferior. Now there is a moral code informed by a world view. It seems this author's attempts at denigrating the atheist stance are feebly camouflaged acts of bigotry and nothing more.

But our author isn't done denigrating himself yet.

In his last thrust evincing his sanctimonious, self-indulgent, self-serving, self-righteousness he states that his god is the source of all value judgments. Obviously this author hasn't heard of the Euthyphro Dilemma: Does god command it because it's right, or is it right because god commands it? The former shows god is not the moral authority and the latter shows god's morals are arbitrary commands.

The problem for theists like our author here is the same as that for Epicurean Paradox:

If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to
Then He is not omnipotent.

If He is able, but not willing
Then He is malevolent.

If He is both able and willing
Then whence cometh evil.

If He is neither able nor willing
Then why call Him God?

It's also the same for theists who propose a creator deity that created this terrarium habitat (from within it, I still laugh every time I think of this), and humans as a food source for predators and parasites.

In these three cases and many others, if we remove this claimed supernatural agent from its imaginary perch as the source of morality, evil, and the universe we immediately remove the paradoxical enigma. We also see instantly that without a deity morality obviously evolved with life in this ecosystem as a balancing of choices between self preservation in a world where we are both predator and prey and altruism the same world where our family could be prey, and evil becomes merely a description of acts from the victim’s perspective. The application of Occam’s razor eliminates the superfluous supernatural homunculus and the observable becomes almost self explanatory.

The problem lies in making an intelligent agent the cause & authority for the natural balance of reality. Nature, that is the universe, can exist and support states in contradiction. Contradictions between forces, charges, frequency, spin, etc. results in a tenuous balance through opposition. Contradictions between emotions, motives, dreams, and abilities result in cooperation, consideration and moral obligation within a population, within a society. It really is that simple. In fact, any ever-so-slight imbalance produces progress (either by selective pressures changing the population density of a gene pool), called evolution, (or the amalgamation of simple systems into the ever more complex) commonly referred to as the natural development of systems, like say: the universe and everything within it. But on the other hand, a single entity (natural, supernatural, or super-stupid—it doesn't matter) cannot exist in self-contradiction, as an entity with conflicting identities, or with properties that present logical or physical contradictions, or with opposing goals (regardless of the vociferousness or weaponry of those doing the imagining). This is why the god hypothesis is a total failure.

In short, your god is a non-cognitive term replacing your ignorance of the above and leaving us with the following:

Morales, the motives for moral choices we make every day, are the result of an ever evolving human society. A society which is the sum total of an ever expanding accumulation of human experience and knowledge acquired throughout history and from around the globe. - Beechbum