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My talk is now available online on the New Atheism

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Friday, March 13, 2009

My talk is now available online on the New Atheism

Hello everyone! I had a great time meeting some new friends up at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN last week when I spoke on the New Atheism. It was a lot of fun and they had great questions. Thanks to Inversion for inviting me up. If you missed the talk, you can listen to it here.

The New Atheism by Jonathan Morrow

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16 Comments:

Blogger Frank Dracman said...

Hello,

I am an atheist and have found quite a lot of misinformation in your "New Atheism" discussion.

Would you be interested in debating your own material here on your blog? If so, I invite you to pick your best argument then we can go from there. For example, I have a strong disagreement with your assertion blaming atheism on the "big 3" communist regimes. The leaders of the regimes might have been atheists but atheism cannot be used as a foundation for any deed. It is simply a statement that no gods exist.

I have other critiques as well, of course, but we could start with that or we could take each other to task on something else.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,
FD

March 18, 2009 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Hello Frank,

Thanks for stopping by the blog. I would be glad to have a conversation about your concerns regarding my "New Atheism" discussion.

Just so we are starting on the same page, would you mind defining how you are using the terms "atheism" and then also "communism"?

Furthermore, what do you mean when you say that "atheism cannot be used as a foundation for any deed"?

how are you using 'foundation'? And as you are using the term, would the inverse also be true - Theism, the statement that god does exist, cannot be the foundation for any deed?

Thanks,
Jonathan

March 19, 2009 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Frank Dracman said...

Sure, Jonathan, I'll be glad to set some ground rules.

Atheism: An absence of belief in a supernatural deity, aka, "God." No more and no less. I do not believe it is possible to use an absence of belief as a foundation for any philosophical or political stance.

Communism: I suppose we are speaking of general, run of the mill communism which is a socioeconomic/political ideology that asserts an egalitarian society based on common ownership and centralized control. Until recently, I have never before heard of atheism being a defining characteristic of communism.

For the record, I am a capitalist pig, card carrying republican and quite anti-socialist.

Now, as I stated, I fail to understand how an absence of belief can be a basis to form ideological stance such as communism. I assert that it is a belief system that forms the basis of an ideology.

Example: When I ponder whether or not an act is "right" or "wrong" I do not plead to my inner "absence of belief" to help me make a decision. The believer, on the other hand, certainly would pray to his personal god to plead for guidance.

An atheist would not consult his "book of atheism" when constructing a new world order such as communism. No such book exists. He would, instead, rely on his personal thirst for power, glory or "belief" in a set of ideals (such as a belief in God) to build his nation.

Thus, the endless cry of the believers blaming millions of deaths on atheism is a non sequitur. Heck, you really can't even blame those deaths on communism. No, those people died because the people who held power were evil.

I'm sure most Iraqi's consider President Bush (whom I supported) an evil man. We certainly know what his beliefs concerning Christianity were.

March 19, 2009 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Frank Dracman said...

Oh, and to answer your last question, yes, of course theism can be used as a foundation for all sorts of good . . . and evil.

March 19, 2009 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Frank, Sorry for the delay in posting these, the moderation requests got hung up in my spam folder. (it wasn't intentional, I assure you)

March 23, 2009 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

you said: "Atheism: An absence of belief in a supernatural deity, aka, "God." No more and no less. I do not believe it is possible to use an absence of belief as a foundation for any philosophical or political stance."

I appreciate what you are saying about absence of belief. But strictly speaking propositions, thinking, and reasoning don’t work that way. It is not as though an atheist, when the topic of God comes up, has a vacuous cavity there. No, the atheist has a positive set of beliefs that are propositional…the key one being that there is no god.

Moreover, atheism—like theism or pantheism—is a worldview. A worldview answers fundamental questions about reality (sometimes worldview formation is conscious sometimes it isn’t).

As a Christian I have a worldview. As an atheist you have a worldview. Mao, Hitler, and Stalin did too. (BTW – you seem very nice, I am not equating you to those three!)

Worldviews answer fundamental questions. Atheism has positive beliefs that people live out of, their worldview.

God – there isn’t one

Humanity = highest stage of naturalistic evolution, not inherently dignified or valueable for that would be speciest or imply teleology, which a blind, random process cannot provide.

History – is not going anywhere. There is no grand goal or end game or point of it all.

Ethics = there is no objective right or wrong (these are ultimately illusory for how could you ground them apart from social contract—we agree—or might makes right).

Accountability = humans highest authority. There is no ultimate justice or retribution. That’s just life. if the wiked prosper in this life there is no judgment or afterlife to set things to rights.

The unavoidable conclusion for every belief system s that “ideas have consequences.”

"For the record, I am a capitalist..."

I am glad to agree with you on the capitalism idea…knew we would find some common ground somewhere! ;)

"Now, as I stated, I fail to understand how an absence of belief can be a basis to form ideological stance such as communism. I assert that it is a belief system that forms the basis of an ideology."

Atheism is not synonymous with communism nor is it a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary condition.

Also, i appreciate the distinction you are trying to make, but I don't think it works. Atheism is a worldview with its own set of fundamental commitments. It is a belief system.

But again, people are the problem...not religion, atheism, money... which leads me to one of your last remarks:

"Thus, the endless cry of the believers blaming millions of deaths on atheism is a non sequitur. Heck, you really can't even blame those deaths on communism. No, those people died because the people who held power were evil."

On an atheistic view of the world...what is evil?

March 23, 2009 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger paleoman said...

Hello Jonathan,

"Moreover, atheism—like theism or pantheism—is a worldview. A worldview answers fundamental questions about reality "

Does your disbelief in Thor, Zeus, Isis and perhaps Allah give you direction or moral guidance? Of course not.

Would you consider the absence of belief in the thousands of other deities a "worldview"? No, of course not. In that respect you and I are nearly of the same beliefs. Our mutual disbelief in these gods does not define our view of the world any more than our mutual disbelief in invisible pink unicorns.

I definitely would claim a "natural" or perhaps "scientific" worldview. Perhaps an empirical worldview. When you see a fossil-filled limestone rock on the ground, a Creationist may wonder how God caused that fossil to be there during the Great Flood.

I open a science book to identify the fossil.

You claim my atheistic worldview shapes my opinion as follows:

"Humanity = highest stage of naturalistic evolution."

Well, not necessarily. It could be that our intelligence ends up being the death of us. Humanity has only been around for an eye blink in geologic time. If our "supreme intelligence" gives us the power to blow up our planet, then intelligences could be a negative train in the long run. I enjoy it while I can.

"History – is not going anywhere. There is no grand goal or end game or point of it all." Well, yes and no. Our nations certainly has a purpose behind the intent. I would wager than you and I would both come to similar conclusion about where our nations is headed based on current trends.

On the other hand, you and I would certainty disagree on the "forthcoming tribulation." Sure, the world may end tomorrow but if will all happen because of man's actions, not a god's.

"Ethics = there is no objective right or wrong"

That's a deep subject for a short blog post but I will answer that with a question: If I could strip away your belief today, would you suddenly have the urge to rob, kill and pillage? Of course not - or lat least I hope not. If your urge to commit evil is quelled only by your belief in a deity, are you really a moral, ethical person? I think not.

"Accountability = humans highest authority. There is no ultimate justice or retribution. That’s just life. if the wiked prosper in this life there is no judgment or afterlife to set things to rights."

I wish there were a literal hell for evildoers. I wish it so bad sometimes that I can almost make myself believe again. But, alas, there is no hell either except for that we make in the Here and Now.

I certainly do have a higher authority. He is the same authority that you answer to every day and he is one tough, judgmental SOB. He will bug me relentlessly when I commit a wrong and pat my back when I do right. I love him almost as much as I love my family. I call that person the Man in the Mirror. Whether you ever realize (or admit to it) or not, you answer to the same brutal taskmaster, my friend.

So, no, there any many things that shape my view of the world. Sure, my disbelief in the supernatural certainly filters some of the information I receive but no more so than my knowledge of other principals of our universe. I certainly never consult my atheism before I make a moral decision.

So, no, a lack of belief in the supernatural -- atheism -- is not and cannot be a "worldview" any more than a disbelief in Thor. That which does not exist (disbelief) is a poor foundation for a political movement.

"On an atheistic view of the world...what is evil?"

Whew, another deep one. The concept of evil is constantly evolving. The bible certainly condones slavery and inequality. Both of those are now considered "evil" to a modern society. Some consider abortion evil. I think it’s acceptable at certain times and evil at others. We are on the cusp of being able to clone humans. Is that inherently evil? Maybe, maybe not.

Stem cells? Absolutely UN-evil and possibly all good.

Evil is not unlike "porn." I know it when I see it. Again, I don't consult by lack of belief when trying to discern evil. That ability appears to be innate - a process that evolved out of necessity for the propagation of our genes.

March 24, 2009 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger William S. Williams said...

Hi paleoman,

"If your urge to commit evil is quelled only by your belief in a deity, are you really a moral, ethical person?"

Can you define what it means to “commit evil?” While you and I might disagree about whether cloning is evil, we would both agree that there are some things that are, without question, evil. You said "I know it when I see it. ... That ability appears to be innate - a process that evolved out of necessity for the propagation of our genes." I agree with you that the ability to know if something is evil is innate. My question for you is how did that innate ability really get there? Can a naturalistic, scientific process really move something towards a moral end? What would be its criteria for deciding if something was right or wrong? Does any observable scientific process have any knowledge of whether it is wrong to lie? If you answer no, then how come you have knowledge of whether it is wrong to lie?

March 24, 2009 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

" I agree with you that the ability to know if something is evil is innate. My question for you is how did that innate ability really get there?"

Am evolutionary psychologist might have a much better answer but it certainly seems obvious to me that the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, would necessarily be a function of our genes. After all, this same ability to discern right form wrong has been demonstrated in many other animals.

The fact is that life would not evolve anything resembling consciousness if there wasn't some mechanism for self preservation.

"Does any observable scientific process have any knowledge of whether it is wrong to lie? If you answer no, then how come you have knowledge of whether it is wrong to lie?"

I only have a vague sense of what you are asking but I'll take a stab anyway: How do you, as a believer, discern right from wrong? Whatever the process is, I would bet good money that it's the same process I use.

This can be demonstrated in the lab, too. Research has show that various concepts of "morality" are pretty much the same (or have the same level of variability) independent of religious, educational and cultural views.

Google around for "The Trolley Problem" for more information.

Take your own morality test by visiting here: http://wjh1.wjh.harvard.edu/~moral/test.php

March 24, 2009 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

The conversation has shifted a bit to the grounding of morality. Now neither side can "prove" a viewpoitn superior (proof is only available in mathmatics). So the question, is which framwork or worldview makes the best sense of objective morality (i.e., a universal standard of right and wrong).

From your answers, I think you would agree with that, but let's take the example of rape. On your view, is rape everywhere and for all times, always wrong (i.e., independent of culture or majority oppionion?).

Here is what Dr. Michael Ruse, a Darwinian Philosopher of Science at Florida State, had to say about morality:

“Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says "love thy neighbor as thyself," they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . And any deeper meaning is illusory.”

Now not everyone agrees with him. But it is hard not to. Where do objective moral values come from? What about a random, blind process of chemical reactions puts an obligation on me to do one thing and not another? Even an 'obligation' is not physical, though we all know they are real--so how do you get non-physical obligations from a physical process...a rearranging of the bb's of matter?

Also, how (specifically) are Genes supposed to help here? I know that is Dawkins solution. The selfish gene (Oxford colleague Alister McGrath has responded to him on this issue in Dawkins' God). But there is a world of difference between self-preservation and being a virtuous person who is selfless and altruistic.

Moreover, you can tell a story in which genes provide morality. and theists can tell a story about a God who made the world in a certain way, wrote basic good and bad on every human heart via consicnece and general revelation, and gave us moral laws to obey, and ultimatley a virtuous person, namley Jesus, to follow in his steps. Morality is quite at home in a theistic universe. We can also make sense of deviations from the way thing ought to be, becasue of sin, fallenness, and brokeness.

But what is a gene? it is not conscious. it does not envision or purpsoe...iin the Darwinian mechanism, it reacts to environments. It does not foresee. It is part of what needs to be explained, not the explanation.

Darwinian evolution, at best, only offers a description of the current state of morality today--perhaps social agreement? What it does not offer is why I ought to be moral tomorrow.

Regarding your view on Consciousness. If people think objective morality is hard to ground as an atheist / naturalist. Consciousness is much more problematic.

One day something is just biological machine. The next day you find a human who can feel, think, experience, and has the ability to exercise free will. If matter is governed by the laws of nature—and humans are purely physical beings—then there is no free will, only cause and effect. But this flies in the face of what seems obvious to all of us—humans are free to make choices according to reason and desire. The fact of the matter is that Darwinian Evolution has been unable to adequately account for the origin of consciousness.

Again, Prominent Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse summarizes the situation: “Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points, agreeing or disagreeing, with pleasure or pain, deciding to refute me or deciding that I am just not worth the effort? No one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have an answer to this….The point is there is no scientific answer.”

Ruse is far from alone on this point, leading philosphers of mind agree on this point and most of them (especially the atheists like Jaegon Kim at Brown) have abandoned the belief that humans have free will. Physicalism cannot get you immaterial consciousness and the same goes for objective moral, values, and duties.

(as far as the Trolley example goes that gets us into "double effect" and utilitarian ethics...are you a utilitarian?)

In short, how do you get something immaterial like a “soul” or “mind” from the purely material mechanism of DE? The fact that there are no compelling explanations from the Darwinan is telling.

March 24, 2009 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

"Does your disbelief in Thor, Zeus, Isis and perhaps Allah give you direction or moral guidance? Of course not.

Would you consider the absence of belief in the thousands of other deities a "worldview"? No, of course not. In that respect you and I are nearly of the same beliefs. Our mutual disbelief in these gods does not define our view of the world any more than our mutual disbelief in invisible pink unicorns."


I would have to disagree with this statement. The "one god further" argument doesn't work because there is a huge ideological jump that isn't accounted for.

On one hand, there is the belief that a higher authority exists. That there is a law that takes precedence over our laws and we are accountable to something higher than ourselves.

On the other hand, there is the belief that there is no higher authority than ourselves. That there are no other laws than what we create and that we are only accountable to each other.

So the difference between atheists and believers isn't that atheists simply disbelieve one more god than Christians, it's the acknowledgment of a higher power that is greater than ourselves. Those are two ideals that definitely contribute to two differing world views.

If we have evolved morality, that it did not come from God but from ourselves, then what is the evolutionary advantage? In nature, the herds will leave their sick or injured behind. We don't, we care for them and use quite a bit of valuable resources to do so. When someone stronger steals from someone weaker, the stronger one is punished, not rewarded. Why?

If this was a trait that evolved, then it seems like the first group of humans to have developed this would have been wiped out long ago. So what is the evolutionary benefit for morality?

March 24, 2009 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Jonathan,

Whew, More deep stuff for such a little blog! You said much in your post. I'll be glad to address something you feel strongly about if you wish but I guess I'll stick with some talking points on the evolution of morality for a moment.

Did you know that various traits of what we would call morality have been shown to exist in animals much "lower" in the food chain that us?

Elephants explore the bones of their friends much more so that bones of strangers.

A recent study showed how dogs have a sense of fair play.

Apes are known to be altruistic.

Evolutionary biologists are starting to realize that the grand theory of evolution may have more to do with survival of the nicest rather than survival of the fittest. After all, the genes don't give a hoot how they get propagate. They are perfectly content to rape and plunder their way downstream if they must. But as it turns out, altruism is a very efficient (if not counter intuitive) means of the propagation of the species.

The point being that all the moralistic traits that we hoity-toity humans think we alone possess can also be demonstrated in animals as simple as a cockroach (seriously) or as complex as a chimpanzee.

Why altruism? What's the point? How could altruism possibly evolve as a vehicle for genetic transfer? A study released some time ago showed that acts of unselfishness in humans lit up certain parts of the primitive areas of our brains - the same parts that light up during sex.

These parts of our brains are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Bonding and attachment certainly serve as excellent genetic prorogation vehicles - especially so with social animals like us primates.

The experiments shows that altruism was not a superior "moral faculty" that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

You seem to be asserting that God Himself inserted morality into our minds at some point. If so, then He also most have inserted it into all animal minds as well. If that is the case, then that opens up a Pandora's Box of issues that a Christian must face up to or drown in an ocean of moral conundrums over the murder of fellow souls. IT gets complicated form there, doesn't it?

Occam's Razor suggest (and science seems to prove) that perhaps morality is just a physical manifestation of a biochemical process common to most (all?) animals with more than a few thousand synapses.

If you are hanging your belief system on the fact that morality is handed to us by God himself and cannot be explained by science, your faith is probably in for a rude awakening.

March 24, 2009 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

"I would have to disagree with this statement. The "one god further" argument doesn't work because there is a huge ideological jump that isn't accounted for."

No, not really. To paraphrase some guy, "When you understand why you disbelieve in all the other gods out there, you'll understand why I disbelieve in yours.

It's not an ideological jump at all for you to utterly discount Thor. It is no more of a jump for me to discount God.

March 24, 2009 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

In short, how do you get something immaterial like a “soul” or “mind” from the purely material mechanism of DE? The fact that there are no compelling explanations from the Darwinan is telling.

I forgot to address this question: This is a typical straw man argument, unfortunately. It first makes the baseless presumption that a "soul" exists then demands and explanation for the baseless claim.

The "mind" is simply ("simply?") a physical manifestation of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination -- all biological functions that can be demonstrated in the lab.

No doubt, the mind makes us all more than the sum of our parts but science is demonstrating more and more that mind is simply ("simply?") a means to propagate our genes - icing on the cake of evolution.

March 25, 2009 at 8:31 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

The "mind" is simply ("simply?") a physical manifestation of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination -- all biological functions that can be demonstrated in the lab.

What do you mean by manifestation? like an after effect or after image of the eye?

Also, I must disagree...all that has been shown in the lab (an d ever can be show in principle) is correspondence / correlation between a thought, emotion or feeling and a particualr part of the brain or c-fiber firing...

but if you go this route, thinking is effect and not the casue of human action. if it is purley phsycial on your view, you have already given up free will--a very steep price indeed.

and BTW the only way these are correlated int the lab is by asking the human subject what they are thinking about and feeling (1st person access) not available to the scientist.

"No doubt, the mind makes us all more than the sum of our parts but science is demonstrating more and more that mind is simply ("simply?") a means to propagate our genes - icing on the cake of evolution."

How is the mind more...that is the question?

how--specifically--is "science" (in a monolithic sense) demonstrating more and more?

March 27, 2009 at 2:24 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

"all that has been shown in the lab (an d ever can be show in principle) is correspondence / correlation between a thought, emotion or feeling and a particular part of the brain or c-fiber firing... but if you go this route, thinking is effect and not the casue of human action. if it is purley phsycial on your view, you have already given up free will--a very steep price indeed."

How does the ability to obseerve a mind functioning result in the loss of free will? That certainly seem to be a non sequitur.

How is the mind more (than the sum of its parts)...that is the question?

Let's cut to the chase here: I presume you are insinuating that the "fact" that we are conscious is evidently evidence of the existence of God?

In essence, this is a "God of the Gaps" supposition. Science cannot fully explain every aspect of consciousness therefore therefor God did it, right?

No, Jonathan, science is discovering more and more about the mechanism and nebulous operations behind the mind. It is quite clear to any rational mind that cares to ponder itself that the human brain is simply a highly evolved organic computer.

Yes, we are more than the sum of our parts only because we place a arbitrary value on life and intelligence.

The organized mass of atoms called Jonathan should not have existed, after all. Suns had to explode to create the heavy elements in your body. Planets had to coalesce, atmospheres had to form and a billion-trillion other unlikely events had to transpire before it was possible for the zygote that would eventually become "Jonathan" organized itself into a living thinking being.

We place value on that rarity. As we should -- as we should on all intelligent life.

March 27, 2009 at 6:26 AM  

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