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Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism
Posted: 14 December 2007 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 13 December 2007 08:34 PM
SkiCarver - 13 December 2007 11:05 AM

I would suggest that eating humans should only be considered if you are going to die otherwise. There are HUGE desiese risks associated with any animal eating members of its own species. examples include, BSE (cows being fed cows), kuru (or however it is spelt) wiped out an indonesian tribe who practiced canibalism, Aids (from eating a related species)....

Yes, there are also enormous health risks involved in people eating other species of animals, particularly mammals.  Diseases, coronary, liver, kidney, stomach and intestinal issues, etc.  And as with humans, of course, its not very nice to be killed, chopped up, cooked and eaten (and in many cases tortured gruelingly for the whole of one’s life).  So I think that it would be tough to rationally argue that it could be ethical in some way.

Say, since we’re on the topic, have any of you all seen the film Earthlings?  If you are a meat eater and can stomach watching it, you’ll never eat meat again.


Thanks for the reference to Earthlings, erasmusinfinity. It’s interesting to note that the text used in the opening voice over is taken, word-for-word, from chapter 3 of Singer’s Practical Ethics and also from Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights.

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Posted: 14 December 2007 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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StephenLawrence - 14 December 2007 02:18 AM
DJ Grothe - 13 December 2007 08:35 AM

I dont see the point as banal at all, unless you misunderstand it—I take Dawkins to (merely?) be saying how rare it is that we are alive, and to be calling for gratitude at our existence. Obviously, he isnt talking about the “rights” of the nonexistent not to be insulted. Instead, he is saying what Sagan and others have said—it is amazingly improbable that we should exist at all and so we should be grateful and live life fully, etc. I found the text he paraphrases from Unweaving the Rainbow to be very moving and inspiring, and see it as something of a guiding principle in my life.

Of course, Marcus Aurelius and others have made the similar point in the history of the western intellectual tradition, and I find it as inspiring when they do as well. Dawkins just says it more beautifully.

Hi DJ,

I’ve been thinking about the connection I see between what Dawkins said about this and vegetarianism. Most animals we eat are farmed animals and would not exist if we did not eat them.

Assuming Dawkins is right then it seems to follow that to think it is wrong to eat farmed animals, we need to think it would be better if they didn’t exist and that they are not lucky to have the life they have.

If they are kept in bad conditions and suffer a great deal at the end of their life perhaps that’s true but then we would have to concede that many humans are not lucky to exist either.

Stephen

Hi Stephen,

I think you raise an interesting question here: Does it follow from the the fact a sentient being (including a human being) has come into existence (despite the extremely low probability of its coming into existence) that the being should feel gratitude for being alive? I don’t see how the answer must be Yes. I think DJ gets it right when he writes above that “we should be grateful and live life fully”. However, I can see no reason to be grateful to be alive if one were, say, born into a life of horror and misery as a slave. Or as a factory farmed nonhuman mammal. Singer (as a utilitarian) argues that it would, in fact, be better for many factory farmed nonhuman animals not to exist. And I think he’s right. I don’t think that Dawkins’ sentiment can hold true for all sentient beings (including humans). But I do agree with DJ that if you have the luxury of living life fully, you should feel quite fortunate to have won the cosmic lottery.

-rcj

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Posted: 14 December 2007 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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Here is Richard from this episode of PoI. I notice a conversation had started concerning what he says here, so I thought I would type it out to gather the full picture.

Unweaving the Rainbow is sort of my testament, on that aspect, on the spiritual quality of life that you get from science. That you get from contemplating your situation in the universe with clear open eyes, the eyes that have been opened by science. Facing up to reality, not so much facing, but rejoicing in the astonishing good fortune that you have in being alive. It’s an astonishing unlikely contingency that you should be here, that any of use should be here.

I don’t have a copy of Unweaving the Rainbow on me. But, the opening words are something like; ‘We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born. The number of possible people that could be standing here in my place, but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. We know this because the set of possible combinations of DNA so massively outnumber the actual people.’

So we are fantastically lucky to be alive and as I said this morning; nobody should ever complain of being bored. It’s a kind of an insult to the gazillions of people who will never be born, to complain of being bored. It’s an insult to them to complain that our time in the sun is limited to some decades, we’re just fantastically lucky to have those decades at all. It is an insult to them to whimper and whine at the prospect of its coming to an end. We owe it to them and to ourselves to make the most of the time that we have on the planet.

...

But, I’d like to think that all my books about expounding evolutionary science contribute to the same feeling of ‘spiritual’, I don’t mind using the word, spiritual welfare.

It appears to me, and I trust this is so, that people understand what Richard is saying. In a way I find it rather frustrating that where there is honest dialogue concerning something like this that people find it necessary to have to frame their criticism with saying how much they appreciate Richard, or the wonderment of it all. I say that only because there is no great mystery here and I trust we can understand each other without feared accusations that ‘you just don’t get it’. But, I understand the need people feel to do such and in fact the reason I am frustrated is because of how easy it is for people to misunderstand a point then to carry that over as a criticism of an entire understanding.

Last year in a forum I was in rather heavy debate with a few people over different aspects of the “New Atheist” etc. It was inevitable that Richard kept coming up and with each issue I would criticize if I felt the need. What I didn’t do was expect that I would be accused of “hating Richard Dawkins.” Which I was, and in more ways then one. When this was said about me in a fairly heavily used forum a few people chimed in adding to what felt to me was an insult, but was believed by them. What didn’t happen was a single person step forward and say; hey, look that’s bullshit, he’s said this and this, and they’re all favorable, he’s talking about specific points.

As to Richard’s quote. It is poetic and scientific, that’s part of the point. These types of ideas sometimes help to ground us and act as a kind of aid in staying in the here and now while offering an insight as to why this time we have is precious. But, I also completely understand what Doug and J are saying and in large measure I agree.

[ Edited: 14 December 2007 06:15 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 14 December 2007 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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dougsmith - 13 December 2007 10:03 AM

Right, DJ, only I wouldn’t call J’s point a misunderstanding. I mean, s/he is aware that Dawkins is not a pro-lifer. What s/he is saying is that Dawkins is playing the same sort of nonsensical metaphysical game that some pro-lifers do; he’s serving the ball up in their court, as it were.

Just to be clear, I am a big fan of Dawkins’s style generally, and also loved his book Unweaving the Rainbow. But I do recall when reading that book before that the same issue came up for me in the back of my mind. It just rang false for me. He says:

Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.

To be a philosophical pedant for a moment, this is either trivial (banal) or false. Trivially, however you count possibility, there are many possible persons who will not be actual. But we have no moral obligation towards nonexistent entities.

And of course it’s false to think of these nonexistent “people” as existing somewhere, longing to be born. But it seems to me that one has to be thinking as if there were such unhappy folks out there somewhere in order to make Dawkins’s point gripping.

De gustibus non disputandem est, yes, or chacon a son gôut.

wink

Hi Doug,

Okay, now I’m going to put on my philosophical pedant hat for a moment. You state that “we have no moral obligation towards nonexistent entities”. Though this seems obvious in the case of characters like Santa Claus and Oliver Twist, it’s not so cut-and-dry in other cases. The metaphysics of nonexistent entities (and thus our possible obligations to them) is not so tidy when it comes to, for example, future generations. It’s certainly reasonable to argue that one has an obligation to nonexistent future earthlings to not presently poison the environment. I’m not saying that that is, by any means, supposed to be some kind of knock-down argument for obligations to nonexistent entities. I’m simply saying that a quick out-of-hand dismissal of the notion obscures some important and interesting potential problem cases.

-rcj

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Posted: 14 December 2007 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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rcjones - 14 December 2007 06:43 AM

Okay, now I’m going to put on my philosophical pedant hat for a moment. You state that “we have no moral obligation towards nonexistent entities”. Though this seems obvious in the case of characters like Santa Claus and Oliver Twist, it’s not so cut-and-dry in other cases. The metaphysics of nonexistent entities (and thus our possible obligations to them) is not so tidy when it comes to, for example, future generations. It’s certainly reasonable to argue that one has an obligation to nonexistent future earthlings to not presently poison the environment. I’m not saying that that is, by any means, supposed to be some kind of knock-down argument for obligations to nonexistent entities. I’m simply saying that a quick out-of-hand dismissal of the notion obscures some important and interesting potential problem cases.

Hi rcjones, and thanks for the comment. You do raise some very interesting metaphysical issues, but I hesitate to get into them too deeply here as they’re kind of OT in the thread ... Let me just say that I agree with you, but would not consider entities that exist at other times than this to be “nonexistent”. By “nonexistent” I mean “nonactual” (= not existing in the actual world). I think this is what Dawkins meant as well. He wasn’t making a claim about people only born in the past or the present. His point was rather about all people who will ever be born.

Agreed that we have obligations to future persons. As to whether we have obligations to past persons, that is an interesting claim, more questionable, but I think OT.

Hi Jackson,

Again, perhaps it’s just a matter of what floats your boat. All I can say is that my metaphysical scruples don’t allow me to enjoy this particular part of Dawkins’s argument. But I fully appreciate where he is going with it, and certainly agree with his aims. As Zarcus intimates, we need not accept every jot of what Dawkins (or anyone else) writes in order to be a fan of their general enterprise ...

wink

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Posted: 14 December 2007 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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dougsmith - 14 December 2007 07:52 AM
rcjones - 14 December 2007 06:43 AM

Okay, now I’m going to put on my philosophical pedant hat for a moment. You state that “we have no moral obligation towards nonexistent entities”. Though this seems obvious in the case of characters like Santa Claus and Oliver Twist, it’s not so cut-and-dry in other cases. The metaphysics of nonexistent entities (and thus our possible obligations to them) is not so tidy when it comes to, for example, future generations. It’s certainly reasonable to argue that one has an obligation to nonexistent future earthlings to not presently poison the environment. I’m not saying that that is, by any means, supposed to be some kind of knock-down argument for obligations to nonexistent entities. I’m simply saying that a quick out-of-hand dismissal of the notion obscures some important and interesting potential problem cases.

Hi rcjones, and thanks for the comment. You do raise some very interesting metaphysical issues, but I hesitate to get into them too deeply here as they’re kind of OT in the thread ... Let me just say that I agree with you, but would not consider entities that exist at other times than this to be “nonexistent”. By “nonexistent” I mean “nonactual” (= not existing in the actual world). I think this is what Dawkins meant as well. He wasn’t making a claim about people only born in the past or the present. His point was rather about all people who will ever be born.

Agreed that we have obligations to future persons. As to whether we have obligations to past persons, that is an interesting claim, more questionable, but I think OT.


wink

Thanks Doug. Good points. I have lots more I could say on this, but I agree, it’s a bit OT. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to discuss this stuff in person someday while we’re both donning our pedant philosopher’s caps! wink

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Posted: 14 December 2007 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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rcjones - 14 December 2007 08:09 AM

Thanks Doug. Good points. I have lots more I could say on this, but I agree, it’s a bit OT. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to discuss this stuff in person someday while we’re both donning our pedant philosopher’s caps! wink

Always up for some good philosophical pedantry!

LOL

Start up a thread in the Philosophy folder anytime if something strikes your fancy.

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Posted: 14 December 2007 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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dougsmith - 14 December 2007 08:19 AM
rcjones - 14 December 2007 08:09 AM

Thanks Doug. Good points. I have lots more I could say on this, but I agree, it’s a bit OT. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to discuss this stuff in person someday while we’re both donning our pedant philosopher’s caps! wink

Always up for some good philosophical pedantry!

LOL

Start up a thread in the Philosophy folder anytime if something strikes your fancy.

Thanks. I’m a newbie (joined two days ago) and didn’t realize there was a philosophy folder. Unfortunately I’m grading…philosophy papers, all day (WEE!!!) and will have to wait on the pedantry a bit (leaving aside the pedantry currently found in my student papers’ marginalia!). But thanks for the heads up. I’ll have a look/post this weekend I reckon.

Best,
-rcj

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Posted: 14 December 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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dougsmith - 14 December 2007 07:52 AM

Hi Jackson,
Again, perhaps it’s just a matter of what floats your boat. All I can say is that my metaphysical scruples don’t allow me to enjoy this particular part of Dawkins’s argument. But I fully appreciate where he is going with it, and certainly agree with his aims. As Zarcus intimates, we need not accept every jot of what Dawkins (or anyone else) writes in order to be a fan of their general enterprise ...
wink

I agree that the reader gets to choose what appeals to him; he is in control of the book (not like the opening sequence of Outer Limits) - unless he’s infected by a meme or something…
I also agree that skepticism and critical thinking is at the heart of this forum.

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Posted: 26 February 2008 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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zarcus - 08 December 2007 01:28 AM

They have the interview posted on RichardDawkins.net.

I bet we have more presents coming from the AAI conference.  surprised


can you please point me out to which one (at his site), there are 1000’s of them in there and I have not been there in a while. thank you so much.

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Posted: 27 February 2008 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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Daisy - 26 February 2008 10:56 PM
zarcus - 08 December 2007 01:28 AM

They have the interview posted on RichardDawkins.net.

I bet we have more presents coming from the AAI conference.  surprised


can you please point me out to which one (at his site), there are 1000’s of them in there and I have not been there in a while. thank you so much.

I did a search on “Grothe” and it was 2nd on the list - I agree there is a lot here.  Hope this works…

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1974,Richard-Dawkins—-Science-and-the-New-Atheism,Point-of-Inquiry

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Posted: 27 February 2008 08:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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Thank you so much jackson, What I love about Daddy Dawkins is he always manages to completely uproot me out of my current confort zone, no matter how well grounded I may think I am at the moment. I love that man. Thank him for him.

[ Edited: 27 February 2008 11:03 PM by Daisy ]
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Posted: 20 October 2008 03:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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zarcus - 08 December 2007 09:59 AM

What I would like to understand a bit better is his thoughts on vegetarianism. If I am hearing him correctly he is saying that yes there is a certain moral argument to be made to become vegetarian which is based on current understandings of animals. Yet, he appears to then say what it will take for him to become a non-meat eater is a consensus since he already fully understands the moral arguments and agrees with them. It’s a slightly odd position that I find myself in also. But, clearly the choice is mine to eat meat knowing full well the arguments that Richard highlights. These ideas are not new by any means and I find it difficult to fully accept this idea that what would change my behavior is for me to convince others of the moral argument so there becomes a tipping point of people who will accept the argument and change their behavior which will then finally allow me to convince myself.

Richard Dawkins made, what is in my opinion, an irrefutable argument that eating meat is immoral.  Yet, he is unwilling to put this into practice.  This is very disappointing and feeds into the accusation that atheists are immoral.  If Dawkins, without using religion but only his own reason, came to the conclusion that something is immoral, he should, without the threat of eternal damnation, refrain from doing that, which he just concluded is immoral.

His excuse for not being vegetarian is very lame.  There is no country (apart from India, maybe) in which it is easier to be vegetarian than in Great Britain.  When I visited GB, I found vegetarian food everywhere.  Even McDonalds was selling a veggie burger!   

I think Dawkins has a brilliant mind, but he needs to work on his will a bit.

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Posted: 20 October 2008 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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zarcus - 08 December 2007 09:59 AM

“imagine if all the missing links that ever exist were here—would we behave differently” is a false analogy. Completely false. For me though I started thinking “wow! I wonder why the missing links ARE missing—why is that? why does that always happen?”

Why is this a false analogy? 

There is a reason why the related species are missing.  Darwin gives the answer.  Related species are similar, and if they occupy the same environment, they compete with each other.  With time, the better fit species wins. Others become extinct.

[ Edited: 21 October 2008 04:55 PM by BaIB ]
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Posted: 20 October 2008 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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zarcus - 09 December 2007 07:27 AM

Well said, Jackson.

I agree with you almost completely, but I may add (though I am sure this is pretty well understood) that Peter Singer has been working on creating a discussion on “animal liberation” for almost 30 years. For the most part these discussions break down quickly in the freethought community, but keeping the conversation alive has been one of his primary goals. Often I do notice a kind of waffling amongst many of my meaty brethren which at times creates fruitful dialogue. Here I am thinking about the debates over animal rights. Recently Peter has argued, in Free Inquiry, that a starting point for ethical treatment of non-human animals (consciousness raising terminology) is to go for organic meats and stay away from buying meats that are gotten from “farm factories” which treat their animals sometimes very poorly. (Is saying non-human animals a form of political correctness? I mean why not just say animals, we already don’t eat each other, well not in the bad way)

To clarify to those who are not familiar with the animal rights philosophy, Peter Singer is not an advocate of rights, not for humans, not for non-human animals.  He believes in utilitarianism.  This is what causes his arguments to be contradictory with arguments for rights of individuals. Most animal rights advocates do not support Singer’s ideology.  They support the ideology of Tom Regan as presented in his book, The Case for Animal Rights.

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