Atheist Pride in Understanding Religion

September 28, 2010

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a study about who understands religion, saying that:

"Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge."

The LA Times reports on this new finding ,  

A majority of Protestants, for instance, couldn't identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church's central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them. Atheists and agnostics -- those who believe there is no God or who aren't sure -- were more likely to answer the survey's questions correctly.

The New York Times comments on this study:

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman over at the Faith and Reason blog of USA Today isn't too impressed:

What do the answers say about the role God may/may not play in your life, the influence of religious doctrines and practices, or how your faith or lack of it shapes your moral life in the world? Even if we flunk Religion 101, do we know why this matters?

Maybe Grossman thinks she is helping believers with such comforting words. Let me reply with suggestions why knowledge about religion really matters.

First, intellectual laziness and outright ignorance has no excuse. If you don't understand what you supposedly believe in, you have no right to suppose that your beliefs are better than anyone else's. For religious people to even suggest, "So what, real belief doesn't depend on understanding what my religion says," then we are looking at an embarrassing collapse of standards. Unfortunately, this collapse of standards doesn't automatically mean a collapse of faith -- just the opposite. With too many religious leaders encouraging followers to just rely on sheer faith, we are only looking at a hardening of stubborn conviction.This is a trap, but there is a way out.

Atheists who have some comprehension of religion and how its ideological system works should rightfully be proud, as proud as atheists satisfied with knowing naturalism alone. And all atheists should be encouraged to put their knowledge to good use. Those atheists who want to publicly engage believers in civil discourse will admirably support the rational and naturalistic worldview, and probably open up more cracks of doubt in believers. There is no reason at all to just assume, as a few atheists do, that no intellectual engagement with religion is possible or worthwhile. As I repeatedly urge, atheists do have the superior worldview and our intellectual leadership from Richard Dawkins to Daniel Dennett and many more, too numerous to name, should be our role models. Recommending some familiarity with religious thinking is no treacherous betrayal, but wise counsel.

Atheists capable of guiding public discourse about religion, and capable of showing religious people a dignified and smart way to abandon religion's delusions, are heroic figures in these dangerous times. We must use every strategy possible to confront religion. From the sparks of slashing debate to the smiles of pointed blasphemy, atheists can do it with our wits.



#51 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Monday October 04, 2010 at 8:16am

My definition of materialism?

I was using the one you provided.  If you want to impeach it now and give us another definition you want to argue about you can do it but I’d want the unanimous agreement of the materialists here before going down that series of endless circles.  And I’ll also want the assurance that you won’t pull a different one out later.

#52 Robert Schneider on Monday October 04, 2010 at 8:56am

Anthony #50:  Your inability to see me navigating this question is a limitation on your part.  I don’t even understand what you are asserting in the phrase my “materialism in the gaps.” 

Statements about morality are equivalent to statements about God:  In one sense, you’re right.  We make statements (and have arguments about) concepts dreamed up and expressed by humans.  The difference, however, is that we can have a discussion about what constitutes morality, and it will remain on the plane of human actions and negotiations.  The discussions of God… beyond sociological analysis of why people yearn for a “supernatural” or “non-material” invariably leap out to assertions of the existence of something which has no evidence to support its existence.  False equivalency between “morality” and “God”.

“My system” does account for concepts of morality, and concepts of God.  They are concepts. And as I said, while the unknown aspects of “consciousness” remain “unknown,” that unknown-ness does not in any way imply that I should appeal to an un-supportable assertion… the assertion of some “immaterial” realm that we can’t see, touch, interact with, but which somehow forms my morality. 

I still cry “Sophistry!”... can anyone else help me put a name to the fallacy he is engaged in here?

Anthony #51.  If you care to point out where I defined materialism, I’d love to see it.  To my knowledge I have not used the term except in response to you, so obviously you have read something into my text.

#53 olvlzl (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 9:24am

I seem to be experiencing an inquiry malfunction at the CFI commenting system.  The several attempts to answer your questions have been rejected many times.  Odd, that.


#54 wbthacker on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 11:20am

#50 Anthony McCarthy wrote:

“your system doesn’t can’t account for [morality’s and ethics’] existence or why one idea is morally superior to another”

My materialist system doesn’t account for the absolute morale standard you describe, because it doesn’t appear to exist.  Can you prove that one idea objectively IS morally superior to another? On what basis do you make that measurement?  If two independent experimenters measure the same two ideas, will they get a repeatable outcome?

I think morality is unique to each individual, and is a combination of “instincts we acquired through evolution” and “learned, perceived information which we try to plug into the instinctive circuits”.  I see no reason to think there is any absolute standard.

So, prove that your absolute moral standard exists, and then I’ll worry about explaining why science hasn’t quantified it.

Here, maybe it would help to have an example; a simple question you can use to demonstrate the existence of your moral absolute standard, and how it is used.  I had a bacon cheeseburger for dinner last Friday night, while my guest enjoyed a tuna salad.  Which of these choices was morally superior, and why?

#55 olvlzl (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 11:52am

I’m using my old pseudonym to try to answer in case there’s some glitch blocking my responses under my regular name.

First, RS, you didn’t give a definition for materialism, BG did, do you agree with the one he cribbed from Wikipedia?

In so far as neither morality or ethics or God can be found in materialism, they are equivalent ideas in those terms.  Each one is as unestablished in the kind of evidence that science was invented to discover in so far as the material universe is concerned.  Any of them could, if desired, be considered “pink unicorns” though, as I generally end up pointing out, unicorns were believed to be actual animals in the physical world and so would, actually, be better compared to memes or those genes that are always being theorized to be the origin of the explanatory myths of evo-psy.

wbthacker, if materialists hold there is no such thing as morality then they should come clean and admit that so people can decide if they want to adopt that faith or not.  I don’t see any difference between an individual moral code and no moral code at all. For example, if someone’s personal moral code doesn’t require them to observe the rights of other people, then it’s immoral, if an individual is required to observe those rights, that’s a moral position that would have to be universally valid.

Let’s see if this posts.

#56 olvlzl (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 11:56am

I’d like to know what you would think would constitute “proof” in the matter of an absolute moral code.  I’d also like you to use it to “prove” that the system advocated by the owner of this blog is superior to that of the odious Rev. Fred Phelps.

I have no expectation of “proof” in such matters, persuasion being the best that can be obtained.  But I’m not a devotee of scientism or other absolute systems of philosophy.


#57 wbthacker on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 3:01pm

55 olvlzl wrote:
“bthacker, if materialists hold there is no such thing as morality then they should come clean”...

No, you’ve jumped to a conclusion.  Morality obviously exists.  In my materialistic view, it is a phenomenon of the human brain with physical causes.

What I said is that NO ABSOLUTE MORAL STANDARD exists.  That there is no official meter stick against which to measure moral claims.  This is something you’ve asserted without evidence. 

“I don’t see any difference between an individual moral code and no moral code at all. “

Really?  That says some pretty devastating things about your own integrity, then, if you equate your personal moral code with amorality.  I may be wasting my time talking to you. 

“For example, if someone’s personal moral code doesn’t require them to observe the rights of other people, then it’s immoral”

OK, you’ve made an assertion.  Prove it.  Prove this is immoral.

See, here’s what I think you’re doing.  It’s obvious to you (and me) that it’s important to respect the rights of others.  We believe that because, for two million years, our ancestors have been evolving instincts that foster cooperation between people, and that’s one of them.  But you probably don’t agree with that, so unlike me, you’re left to puzzle why you believe this so strongly — why it’s so *obvious* to you.

Your conclusion, though, is pure hubris.  You think that the strength of your belief proves that you have tapped into the Ultimate Moral Standard.  You think you’re resonating with the spheres, or something like that. 

Get over it.  We all feel like that.  Hitler felt that same certainty when he ordered the Holocaust.  It doesn’t mean you’re right, it just means you’re certain.

#58 wbthacker on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 3:11pm

#56 olvlzl wrote:

“I’d like to know what you would think would constitute “proof” in the matter of an absolute moral code.”

A way to measure the relative morality of two alternatives, which produces the same results no matter who makes the measurement.  But I’m negotiable, if you have another approach.

“I’d also like you to use it to “prove” that the system advocated by the owner of this blog is superior to that of the odious Rev. Fred Phelps.”

I can’t.  It can’t be done.  This is what I’m trying to tell you; there’s no absolute way to say one morality is better than another.  It’s all just opinion.

I can tell you that in my opinion (based on my personal morality) Phelps is an immoral person.

Or I can measure Phelps’ morality against that of other people.  Compared to the social norm, the “average morality” you get when you combine the individual moralities of all 300 million Americans, Phelps is an immoral person, hence he is so unpopular.  But probably about 10% of Americans would say they think he is extremely moral, hence he has supporters.

Is slavery moral?  Justify your answer.

#59 olvlzl (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 5:08pm

I don’t hold that morality is a result or chemistry, I don’t even hold that consciousness or thought is the result of chemistry.  I don’t claim that morality has a physical origin or that its nature or character is limited in its determination by the interaction of chemicals and particles.  I don’t claim to know where or how it originates except that I don’t see any volition or moral character in chemistry or physics so I don’t believe that is where any origin of morality could be.

You asked me to prove my assertion that it is the moral position that people have a responsibility to observe the rights of other people.  You said that a standard of measurement of that position would constitute proof to you. Well, that can be tried.  You can measure the possibility of agreement between two parties.  Two people who hold that they have no obligation to observe the rights the other holds. Then you will have a total of zero people who agree that the other person has a right and no likelihood that rights of the other will be considered allowable and a greater likelihood that rights can be exercised freely. 

If one of them holds that position and the other one doesn’t then there is one out of two who agree that the other person has rights and an increased likelihood of rights being exercised freely.

If both of them holds that position then there is 100% agreement that the rights the other holds are important and a complete likelihood that rights will be exercised freely. 

I’m sure there are other ways to measure that position, though I wouldn’t think that’s necessarily superior to the mere holding that rights are inherent and inalienable. 

I have no problem with declaring Phelps immoral based on either or both of those methods. 

In matters of evolution, I prefer to go with what can be known with some reliability based on the physical record, the behavior of animals in the past being, in just about every case, irretrievably lost.  I don’t trust science that isn’t based on evidence and data.  I don’t think it’s science.  It would be a real shame if evolution, the phenomenon of science which is more massively established in evidence, was dragged backwards into speculation based on no evidence, though folks like Richard Dawkins seems determined to do just that.  I hold that evolution should be considered a fact because of the massive evidence supporting it, I think it’s irrational to want to retreat on that status by making up stuff that sort of seems like it should be true, without any evidence.


#60 olvlzl (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 5:17pm

Materialism is a straight jacket, it forces people to assume that any phenomenon any concept which is held to exist must have an answer based in physical objects and forces.  In cases where that isn’t available or which seems to be impossible, then they fill in that gap with some, generally, nebulous assertion of a material mechanism. That there is no evidence supporting the existence of it makes no difference to that faith tradition.  It is the origin of the spectacle of atheists who condemn the authors of the Bible on the basis of explanatory myths who then invent explanatory myths, making their words flesh, in the form of theoretical genes and genetic complexes to flesh in their myths with a physical basis.  I hadn’t realized until Hawking’s latest theological declaration how wide spread no-evidence science is with the new atheists.  I’d figured the physicists still wanted to be attached to physical evidence.  And I understand he also wants to be free of logic.  Which I theorize is the result of this kind of materialism in the gaps mixed with large doses of desire and even some professional self-interest.

#61 Robert Schneider on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 6:48pm

NO, NO, 1000 Times NO.  You keep repeating the error. 

“Materialism…forces people to assume that any concept which is held to exist…” must be material.

NO.  Materialism holds that any phenomenon OBSERVED to exist; measured to exist; independently confirmed to exist; will be objectively sensible (aka material.)

You keep trying to sneak in concepts “HELD” to exist as being material, and then leaping to the conclusion that the concept of God is just like the concept of moratlity, is just like the concept of gravity, is just like the concept of oxygen… and since (you argue) “we” can’t prove the material source of reason and consciousness and morality, we’re in a strait-jacket.

We can hypothesize about things unknown, based on material observation, and then with any luck a clever experiment or an advance in technology will actually allow us to confirm or falsify the idea.  So material hypotheses are testable and falsifiable, and no hypothesis from a materialist will include unfalsifiable speculations like a creator God.

We hypothesize about a material mechanism, in the absence of any other means of “knowing” about the experiences we have.  Take “Dark Matter” as an example, or the “Higgs Boson”.  These are hypothesized entities that might explain observed features of the universe… consistent with the rest of physics, testable, predictable and falsifiable.  There is a dramatic difference between this kind of “Material gap filling” and the empty “Goddidit” postulations of the religious, because their claims are unfalsifiable, untestable, inconsistent, etc.

In #59 you slander Richard Dawkins.  Could you elaborate on exactly what he says that fits into this tendency to drag evolution backward? 
Your quote:
“It would be a real shame if evolution, the phenomenon of science which is more massively established in evidence, was dragged backwards into speculation based on no evidence, though folks like Richard Dawkins seems determined to do just that.”

Please, illuminate me.  Provide full context of any quotes you provide from Dawkins, and perhaps references so that I might assess and be enlightened, or alternatively, criticize your quote mining—if that turns out to be the case.

#62 Robert Schneider on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 8:01pm

WBThacker, #57… Dude, you’re making me wet my pants!! So dead on.  I had an English teacher who summed up your statement thusly, “Even Hitler could confidently sing “I Did It My Way!”

#63 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 11:49pm


I don’t claim to know where or how it originates except that I don’t see any volition or moral character in chemistry or physics so I don’t believe that is where any origin of morality could be.

Then how do you account for say impacts moral judgements?

#64 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 at 11:54pm

That’s odd, my post came through very, very redacted.

Should read:

Then how do you account for say, damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex impacts moral judgements?

Your argument fails to account for the data - it just pretends it doesn’t exist. You call materialism a straightjacket, I call your non-materialism intellectually fraudulent.

#65 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 2:35am

Robert S. Because evidence of some speculations about the physical universe has subsequently been found in an impressive number of cases is hardly an endorsement of other speculations about it.  I’m especially interested in the ether, which, a hundred twenty years ago was quite widely accepted, to the point where some of the foremost physicists believed they could measure it. I read an eccentric idea about reviving the concept recently but am rather doubtful.  I am very concerned about the idea that black holes, as popularly understood, might, actually not ever develop in reality.  Though only out of a concern for the popular acceptance of science, being indifferent to the existence of black holes.

I wonder exactly what you believe constitutes “independent confirmation”.  Independent of whom and what?  If it’s of human bias, then you’re out of luck because we all happen to be human beings looking at the world with human equipment and in human terms. 

You seem to mistake my citation of what materialists constantly and commonly assert as being things I’m asserting.  I don’t believe that there is any part of the material universe that is known to people in anything but human terms and I think anyone who believes that is possible is naive and only looking at the matter superficially or with some form of ideologically induced myopia. 

Even within that framework, oxygen, or rather, the ideas we have about oxygen, is quite a bit different from the ideas we have about morality and God because we can fit the ideas we have about oxygen into a rather simple scheme of causality.  The ideas of morality and God don’t seem to be contained within anything like that simple scheme.  Science is most successful when the things it studies can be fit into a rather simple causal network, they’re least successful when that’s not possible.  Most of human experience can’t be fit into the methods people have invented to study the limited range of things that can be fit into those kinds of simple schemes.  Though even the things studied by science can only be successfully studied if the models and schemes of science can contain those parts of the things which are relevant to any problem concerning them.  The social sciences, with their enormous masses of accepted, then failed ideas, are a good model of what happens when science is pushed beyond its abilities.

That the true believers of scientism find our inability to devise a science that can explain everything unsatisfying or even disturbing, really doesn’t change that situation.  No matter how emotionally they deny that is the obvious case.


#66 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 2:45am

As to Dawkins, any assertions about the behavior of our pre-human ancestors is extremely speculative at best, in almost all cases totally without evidence. You are familiar with his writings on the subject, aren’t you?  I’m not going to get into the game popular with the new atheists, of having them accuse you of cherry picking as you produce quote after quote.  I seem to recall that’s a game that Dawkins is rather fond of, I’m not sure if he invented it as a shield for his intellectual practices or not but the idea, which just came to me, could probably be studied.

I’d suggest if you’re interested you look at the critics of evolutionary psychology and Sociobiology if you want to see what I mean.  There is a large body of those at a site mounted in honor of Stephen Gould:

#67 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 2:47am

#68 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 2:52am


Are you going to deal with any evidence for your supposition that there is a supernatural, or are you going to drown us in wank about how human perception is limited, therefore we should all trust yours?

We are well aware of our limitations - I am not entirely sure you are aware that you share them.

#69 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 2:57am

Apparently the CFI commenting system cuts off links.

Look for the Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive,

If you’re having any problem seeing the difference between Hitler having it his way and, say, Dorothy Day having her way, I suspect your scientism is inhibiting your intellectual activities in a rather serious way.  I can’t imagine anyone who is serious taking that assertion seriously.

BG.  I’d like to know what data you’re talking about before I say anything about it.

If you’re talking about the fMRI stuff that seems to be coming out at an amazing rate, it’s hardly uncontroversial as to its meaning or even its validity.  There seems to be growing skepticism about its use, much of what I’ve read coming from the Max Planck Institute. Nikos K. Logothetis, in particular.

I’m extremely skeptical of any science done in this area.  There is no way of determining what the relationship of something like morality and the functioning of the brain is.  Filling that gap in with materialist supposition, not being evidence but more story telling.

#70 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 3:01am

Why do you think I’m here to convert you to religion?  I’m here to refute the idea that atheists have a deep understanding of the ideological faith of materialism.  I don’t think what I said constitutes “wanking around”.

Your belief or disbelief in God isn’t in my hands.

“We are well aware of our limitations.”

That doesn’t match my experience of materialists and most certainly isn’t true of the new atheists who are especially lazy and uniformed in general.  They believe they’ve found the one true faith and don’t think they need to bother with things like philosophy.  Which I’d think the owner of this blog would find kind of inconvenient.

#71 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 3:27am


Here is your argument stripped down to its basics:

Human understanding is limited. Therefore lets just assume things based on my human understanding.

That humans do not fully understand the natural (AKA: Material) is no argument for the supernatural. It is in fact supremely irrelevant to the argument.

You employ this avoidance tactic while ignoring the data we DO have.

For example we do not fully understand morality and the brain. What we do understand is if you harm the brain you can harm the morality - as well as a lot of other elements of what constitutes someone’s personality.

That would indicate a naturalistic, material root, somewhat akin to the workings of a computer for want of a better analogy.

However instead of dealing with this we get a bunch of fluff about how human perception is limitted, along with nonsense about the limitations of science.

If you have evidence for a supernatural explanation, if you have any evidence at all (and guess what, the fact that you lack imagination isn’t evidence), stop wanking and present it.

You claim materialists are being arrogant and lazy. Frankly that is more fitting to your arguments than anyone else’s. You say “Oh I can’t see how this could possibly be explained by chemical reactions” and then figure an answer you pulled from your backside is answer enough.

To us an unanswered question is something we seek the answers to. To you a question is vindication.

Everyone else is willing to support their arguments, all we get from you is dodging around cognative biases that seems more based on the Nirvana fallacy than anything else.

Sure science isn’t perfect, and materialism? It could end up getting proven wrong some day. But until that day comes, it is a lot better than blind guessing.

#72 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 3:51am

BG, I’m familiar enough with the habits of fundamentalists, both religious and anti-religious to know their practice of dishonestly framing my arguments. 

The entire aim or science is to produce information about the physical universe that is MORE RELIABLE than guess work or supposition or blind theorizing.  Like it or not that depends on evidence that can be checked and that fact limits the possibility of gaining the kind of reliable information that science produces when there is evidence and data.  When those are not available pretending that sciency sounding stories are the same thing is massively dishonest and only evidence that the person doing it has a very limited understanding of the foundations of science.

We have no idea of what personality consists of, we have no known way to gain the kind of evidence to make that attempt science and so we have no reliable information about that.  It’s not that I can’t see how chemical reactions could produce morality, no one knows how it could.  In order to do that scientifically would require a step that falls definitively outside of science, the ability to scientifically verify what is and what isn’t moral.  You might as well ask science to define the correctness of the separation of church and state, which it also can’t do.  Or to verify the causes of the Thirty Years War with physics and chemistry.

Face it, science produces very good information about a confined range of things, it can’t do a single thing outside of the possibility of doing that.  History is vastly more useful than science in doing that, in fact, much of the information which history deals with is more reliably known to be real than most of what the social sciences attempt to deal with.  Human experience and human society can only be addressed by science within very narrow limits, and the largest part of both are entirely beyond the competence of science.  That is true no matter how unhappy that makes materialists no matter how anxious that makes the true believers of scientism. No matter how much that might upset the most arrogant star of science.

#73 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 4:33am

We have no idea of what personality consists of, we have no known way to gain the kind of evidence to make that attempt science and so we have no reliable information about that.

And psychiatry wept. As did neuroscience and the various drug companies that make medication to deal with mental illness. Cocaine dealers just snickered.

It’s not that I can’t see how chemical reactions could produce morality, no one knows how it could.  In order to do that scientifically would require a step that falls definitively outside of science, the ability to scientifically verify what is and what isn’t moral.

Not for the purpose of pointing out that any explanation would be materialistic it wouldn’t. Harm the brain, and suddenly the personality changes. Hmm, I wonder where personality comes from?

That marvelous learning machine - the brain.

Morality is a mental construct, it is a framework developed through social cues we pick up from other very material members of our species, along with us running simulations of reality through our heads, and a bit of variation through biology.

The fact that we all have different morals, kind of points to this process because we all have different experiences, and different brains. If there was an objective source of morality that went beyond the material? That wouldn’t matter.

This all relies on brain chemistry as well as a bit of electricity - not unlike what happens in a computer.

We do not understand it fully, we have cognative limits, but we do recognise that the source is in the material universe. We do not, without one shred of evidence, make up bullshit about how what we don’t understand points to something more.

And we do not ignore the data we DO have.

#74 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 4:50am

You think psychiatry and neuroscience have a comprehensive knowledge of even what personality is?  Or even that the intellectual construct “personality” is the same thing as a person? 

BG, I’ve said that my purpose here was to expose the ignorance of atheists about the dogma of materialism, it’s not really my purpose to shake your faith to the roots, but that is an amazing assertion.

Virtually everything you said in your last comment is unfounded in evidence and, I believe, will remain unfounded in evidence for the time our species has left to investigate it.

You should read more about the foundations of science, I’d recommend Eddington’s The Philosophy of Physical Science, which goes into a lot of the problems with your faith.  You’ve been greatly oversold on the ability of science to deal with things entirely outside of its ability.  Redefining words and terms to fit into a sciency seeming framework really doesn’t get it anywhere as anyone who wants to look at the basis of those will notice the chopping and fitting and will notice what is allegedly dealt with and disposed of isn’t the original idea represented by those words.  The social and behavioral “sciences” are largely based on that kind of convenient exclusion and redefinition. 

When I’m talking about science I mean those things that produce reliable information that has a longer shelf life.

#75 Bruce Gorton (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 5:37am

You think psychiatry and neuroscience have a comprehensive knowledge of even what personality is?


They have a more than zero knowledge of personality. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to come up with drugs to treat schizophrenics for example. Very little isn’t the same as nothing.

And what very little we have points towards a materialist explanation for personality. We don’t have that explanation, we may never have it but we also don’t have any reason to suspect something beyond the material universe.

Your rants have been ignorant of this. They are not even on my level, and I’m just a journalist, a short tempered layperson with a professional interest in spotting bullshit, which you reek of.

You use appeals to personal incredulity and ignorance like they are going out of style, while outright dismissing entire academic fields. You ignore evidence that goes against your views, and then claim people are cherry picking.

You have not presented a single fact this entire argument. You have waffled, you have masturbated over how intelligent you are, you have accused the other side of ignorance. You have not provided a single thing to back yourself up.

What pisses me off here is not that you believe morality is beyond the ambit of science.

What pisses me off is your utter arrogance. The utter brain dead arrogance of “well humans are limited” like you are some other species.

Your entire argument about how ignorant these materialists are, without actually presenting a single thing to give us a reason to think there is more than the material universe.

#76 wbthacker on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 7:45am

I’ve reached the same conclusion so ably expressed by Bruce Gorton in #75.  I think we’ve seen the full breadth and depth of Olvizl’s reasoning; there’s nothing more to learn from him and he’s not interested in learning, himself.  My last reply, as a courtesy:

In #59 olvlzl wrote:

“I don’t claim to know where or how [morality] originates except that I don’t see any volition or moral character in chemistry or physics so I don’t believe that is where any origin of morality could be.”

If you know so little about morality, why are you so cocksure that there is an absolute moral standard?

“You asked me to prove my assertion that it is the moral position that people have a responsibility to observe the rights of other people.  ...  You can measure the possibility of agreement between two parties.”  [If both agree to respect each others’ rights, there is] “a complete likelihood that rights will be exercised freely.”

Oh look, it’s another turtle! 
( )

I asked you to prove your assertion that it is more moral to respect the rights of others than to ignore their rights.  I do appreciate the effort you put into this, but your response boils down to, “It’s more moral to respect others’ rights because that leads to rights being exercised freely.”

That’s a logical step, but it is just another assumption you need to prove.  Why is it moral for rights to be exercised freely?

As I don’t intend to continue this, let me spell out a line of logic for that so you understand the process.

1) It’s moral to respect the rights of others, because
2) when rights are respected people exercise them,
3) which makes people happier,
4) and happiness is desirable because humans want to be happy,
5) because our brains are wired to drive us to seek happiness,
6) because that was how our DNA motivated our bodies to perform various acts necessary for the DNA’s replication.

(The chain extends from this point into chemistry, then physics, of increasing complexity, but it’s unimportant to this discussion.)

Conclusion: it’s moral to respect the rights of others, because people like to feel good.

But you see, this only explains why morality seems important to humans.  On a cosmic scale, it doesn’t matter one whit whether humans are happy or not.  An asteroid strike could end all human happiness, but we wouldn’t consider the asteroid “immoral”.

Further, the exact same argument could be applied to any animal; it’s moral for you to respect the rights of cows, since not being slaughtered makes them feel good, so it’s immoral to eat meat.  Likewise for pigs, chickens whales… and cockroaches, house flies, rats…  Does your absolute moral standard extend to animals, or is it only about humans?

“I don’t trust science that isn’t based on evidence and data.  I don’t think it’s science.”

That would sound laudable, except that you fill the voids where you don’t trust science with something based on no evidence at all, and something that’s inconsistent with the proven science you claim to resepct.  You have no evidence or data to support the idea of an absolute moral standard, yet you assert that to be unquestionably true, and also beyond the realm of science.

#77 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 7:50am

Arrogant, moi?  I’ve never doubted the abilities of the new atheists to generate irony.  I don’t think I’m the one who’s descended to personal attacks in this go round.

You seem to not get it yet that any evidence that science produces is, by the very practices of science, material in nature because science begins by excluding everything that isn’t part of its subject matter, the physical universe.  It also excludes anything within the physical universe which it can’t process.  Science is a very limited activity because of the exigencies of trying to make certain that what information about the physical universe it produces is reliable.  I know the social and behavioral sciences constantly violate that prerequisite for obtaining reliable information and so its information is demonstrably not reliable.

Psychiatry can treat some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, they don’t know what it is and they can’t really cure it.  And those treatments are hardly uniformly successful.  If any psychiatrist claimed to have even a significant, scientific understanding of personality I’d avoid them as possibly dangerous or superstitious.

Let me guess, you’ve been published in Skeptical Inquirer.  You guys always seem to find me too skeptical for your taste.

#78 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 8:05am

It’s another turtle.

As I understand it was William James who first told that anecdote, in which case the new atheist addiction to it couldn’t be more ironic and likely uninformed.

wbthacker, I asked you what you’d accept as proof, you having challenged me to prove it.  You said measurement would do it for you.  I gave one way to measure the results of believing that it is the moral position that people have a responsibility to observe the rights of other people. And now you seem angry with me for having done what you asked.  I don’t see that you’ve come up with a logical problem with what I asserted would be a way to measure that.

Now you want me to “prove” that it is moral that rights be exercised freely.  I’ll have to ask, again, what you’d accept as “proof” of that.  I might be able to fulfill that improvised requirement or not but I’d have to see it first.

I would like to ask you if you’re prepared to live in a world where no one believes that there is any such thing as a right that another person has and which they have a right to exercise. 

I will also point out that I didn’t assert that the rights would automatically be exercised freely but that there was an increased likelihood of that being possible.  Of course, anyone who wants to exercise a right which, in some way, conflicts with the rights of another person has some obligation to modify or curtail that right.  There’s a case in the courts today, involving the odious Rev. Phelps, which I hope the courts will decide that he has no right to harass mourners at a funeral.  If he wanted to make an obnoxious display at his cult center I’d have no problem with him doing that, but he has no right to rob a family of their one and only right to bury their dead and to not play a supporting role in his media stunts.  I wonder if CFI has a position on that case.

#79 Robert Schneider on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 8:48am

I must check out of this debacle, for fear of epitomizing the hoary definition of insanity: “Repeating the same actions over and over and expecting different results.” 

WBThacker and Bruce Gorton, your input has been quite enjoyable, clear, fair and (in my opinion) both sincere and correct. 

It is clear that Anthony McCarthy/olvlzl is the antithesis of that assessment.  My only regret in departing this conversation is that he will be pumping his fist in deluded victory, “Yes, I win!!”

No, AM, in your refusal to address the core issue of asserted super-natural, or non-material items to include in our discernments, you have chosen to leave yourself out of civil, public discussion of things that matter.

#80 olvlzl (Guest) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 at 9:21am

RS, you seem disappointed that I’ve not done what you’d hoped for so you could make the same old arguments that I read more than forty years ago, when they were already decades old.  And yet you complain that this is gone on too long.

Your ideology is far less rational than you like to believe it to be.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.