Now that we’ve gone around that circle I’ll go back to the original question, the first part of which was:
What do you think about the argument that one should not criticize religion, because the morals of people depend on it,
I have no problem with being critical of religion as I don’t think people’s morals really do depend on it. The problem is that if you want to try to convince religious people that their morals don’t depend on it, you are further ahead to show by example that it is not necessary to depend upon religion to be moral. If you try to convince them of it by being critical, they’ll get defensive, stop listening, etc., etc. and become more entrenched in their viewpoint. If you want to debate: use critical arguments. If you want to persuade: show by example.
The second part:
and if the majority of people will not have religion, they will not be religious anymore?
I must confess I don’t understand. Perhaps Wandering could elaborate?
We agree about setting a good example. But I also think that it is easy for people to dismiss positive voices when they are not spoken up well enough. Taken to its fundamentals, religion is not just a set of bad metaphysical and ethical ideas. It is also a herd-speak that is worn so heavily on the sleeve that it guides the bearers fist right into the face of alternative viewpoints, regardless of the quality of their example. Because of their religion, religious persons will not always understand positive ideas to be positive. So, a “moral exemplar” only approach won’t do it alone. Turning the other cheek didn’t work for Jesus and I don’t see how we can expect it to work for us. We need to be critical, debate with critical arguments and set a good moral example.
Daniel Dennett’s elaboration to the words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the topic, as spoken in her recent Atheist Alliance Convention appearance, is timely:
[quote author=“Hirsi Ali & Dennett: Atheist Alliance Convention”]
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “Personally I think when we say help, the definition of helping these women and men is to cause as much dissonance as possible, so that it becomes so unbearable that for those of them that do not go mad, at least they can go sane and have it be their reason.”
Daniel Dennett: “We need as many different approaches as we can to keep the dissonances up. We should expect to be loathed and hated and feared by many, but if we have many different voices speaking to different elements we have the best chance of not just being written off as a sort of marginalized lunatic fringe.”
There are quite a few examples of animals doing moral things, e.g., the female gorilla who protected a child who fell into the zoo enclosure and who brought the unconscious child over to the access door so the attendents could retrieve the child. And she had no religious training. I’ve witnessed about five major traffic accidents during my life. Each time, I called the police, then went back to offer any assistance I could, and gave my name to the officers. I was called to testify in four of the cases. This took my time and required driving quite a distance out of my way. I neither got nor asked for any reimbursment. I felt the moral thing to do was to give an unbiased view of what happened to help the people involved. It never occurred to me to ask myself, “Wait a minute; I’m an atheist. Why should I bother helping people I don’t know because there’s no god to punish me if I don’t?”
I think that you are right that it is some sort of a tautology, so my statement sounded a bit absurd sitting there by itself.
My words were meant in contrast to the inclusion of a middle man, namely religion, from the equation. It’s just what’s good for us that matters. Not what’s good for us in the eyes of a god or other external device.
I’m not sure what he means by “lunatic fringe,” zarcus. His comment was stuck in the middle of Hirsi Ali’s speech and she hadn’t been talking about that subject in such a way herself. I’m also not sure what would allow for the greatest chance of us being written off. I am under the impression that Daniel Dennett is suggesting that we already are being written off in some way.
To me, this is one of the dilemma’s that organized religions have always presented.
It seems that one should be “good” because it is the right thing to do. However, with organized religions, you should be good to avoid punishment. If I’m being good only because I don’t want to be punished, does that still “count”?
I’m no psychology major, but I DO know that if you want to train a dog (i.e. teach acceptable behavior), you reward desired/good behavior and ignore undesireable/bad behavior. Punishment does not aid in learning. In fact, the message is often lost when punishment is used. Why is it that an all powerful and all knowing God would not realize this simple principle?
I would like to share something I read in the recent issue of Skeptic that I think may fit in with the conversation. It is from a book review by Norman Levitt, the book under review is Darwin Loves You. The title of the piece is, Theodicy for Atheist (he gives the book thumbs down). I have read similar ideas to what I will present, but Norman really lays it out well here I think.
I have to type it out, so the grammatical errors are probably mine.
~ “Virtually all of us moralize from time to time, if only to ourselves. Typically, our moralizing springs forth with a deep and passionate subjective sense of the hard-and-fast rightness of our position. Yet considered from the materialist worldview, our moral convictions cannot be accounted facts about the material universe - the only universe there is. Immanuel Kant Famously remarked, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe – the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Of course, Kant understood this to mean that the “moral law” has the status of a priori truth whose certainty the undamaged and uncorrupted mind instinctively grasps. Like geometry, it is a fact embedded in the very tissue of the universe, thereby authorizing the objective truth of correct moral judgments. But if we play the deconstructionist jokester just for a moment, might we not find in Kant’s pronouncement an opposite and unnerving truth? The moral law exists “within me” because that’s the only place it can exist – within my altogether private, subjective, and idiosyncratic realm of opinions and prejudices. It reposes on nothing more objective than my own subjectivity; it certainly does not encode moral fact in the sense that the periodic table of elements encodes physical fact.
As I say, we judge and act on our moral values reflexively as though we fully accepted their status as fact. We do so because we are human and can do no other, just as we judge and behave in the midst of life as though free will were an unquestionable reality. Literally, we can’t help it. Nonetheless, reflection on the implications of materialism show us, I think, that the notion of “moral fact” is an oxymoron. Among philosophers, the logical positivist were famous, or perhaps notorious for insisting on this point. But the logical positivists weren’t original in this respect, merely unusually blunt. Indeed, evolutionary thought, starting with Darwin himself, not only assents to the sweeping implication that materialism renders moral fact illusory, but goes further in that it accounts, quite plausibly, for the material fact that we deceive ourselves into thinking of morality as factual. We are animals who erect moral codes precisely because we are social animals whose very survival, given our hypertrophied cognitive apparatus, necessitates a degree of altruism, generosity, and honesty.” ~
Excellent quote, zarcus, and very germane. As one of the few relativist types around here, I have to agree with the gist of what is said. I don’t think morality inheres in the material universe; it is simply a human creation. It has rules and structures that stem from what we are, but to imagine there are moral facts as there are scientific facts that are objectively extant in the physical universe seems to me a mistake. (Doug will, undoubtedly, now explain why I’m wrong )
What I don’t understand is, why are so many Atheist not seeing this. They offer up their arguments like great statues of pigeon shit landings. When did it become fashionable to try to persuade by not understanding (oh wait… that exactly what I’ve been battling Theist about).
Lost philosophers trying to grasp concepts of “free will’ with apologetic mechanism they can barely explain. They die and explain in the same breath but remark on the unspeakable. Wanting to distant the existential lube to ease the locked wheel they inevitably bind while playing host to transcendental temptation. The fact is they will not see this, it’s to dangerous, to set in self serving ways, to caught up in anti-science while shouting from broken “pains” of glass… Science Rules.