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Staring into the Abyss: Why Peter Singer makes the New Atheists nervous.

Think Christianly: Staring into the Abyss: Why Peter Singer makes the New Atheists nervous.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Staring into the Abyss: Why Peter Singer makes the New Atheists nervous.

I came across an interesting article the other day by Dinesh D'Souza

here is an excerpt:

"I write this fresh from debating bioethicist Peter Singer on "Can we be moral without God?" at Singer's home campus, Princeton University. Singer is a mild-mannered fellow who speaks calmly and lucidly. Yet you wouldn't have to read his work too long to find his extreme positions. He cheerfully advocates infanticide and euthanasia and, in almost the same breath, favors animal rights. Even most liberals would have qualms about third-trimester abortions; Singer does not hesitate to advocate what may be termed fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born."

His conclusion is perceptive as well...

"Some of Singer's critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler's schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn't want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide."

"Why haven't the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven't considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist."

(HT - STR)

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13 Comments:

Blogger Gary Baumgarten said...

Peter Singer will be my guest on News Talk Online on Paltalk.com at 5 PM New York time Friday March 27.

Please go to my blog then at http://www.garybaumgarten.com and click on the link to join the chat to talk to him.

Thanks,

Gary

March 24, 2009 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

"Why haven't the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven't considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist."

What hogwash. Demonizing the "enemy" is a common tactic used by the propagandist.

Could it be that "atheists" do not embrace this guys views because they are reprehensible and immoral?

I fail to understand how Christians who can write perfectly coherent sentences and otherwise carry on rational conversions could possibly fail to understand that atheism is nothing but a disbelief in god. Nothing more. Nothing less.

March 25, 2009 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Hello Gary, thank you. hope to be able to be available then.

March 27, 2009 at 1:42 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

“What hogwash. Demonizing the "enemy" is a common tactic used by the propagandist.”

Actually, he has read Singer and debated him and is simply showing the logical conclusions of his view. It isn’t propaganda if it is true (of Singer).


“Could it be that "atheists" do not embrace this guys views because they are reprehensible and immoral?”

First, let me say that I agree with you that Singer's views are “reprehensible and immoral.” And I don’t doubt that many like yourself, as an atheist, hold this view. My question to you though is why? (more than a feeling is needed for rational justification...though feelings can be indicators of rational beliefs)

On the other post we have been interacting some about morality. But I don’t think you answered my specific question about whether you concede that objective moral values, duties, and obligations exist (for all people, for all time, and everywhere…regardless of whether people agree or not).

Do you hold to objective moral values? And would you be willing to say that Singer is objectively wrong?

Secondly, you have mentioned some studies of animals and ‘morality’ being driven by evolution and genetics. (do you distinguish between animal instinct and humans acting morally?)

I think this actually leads down a path to behavioral determinism where freedom is removed (and ultimately responsibility because “my genes made me do it”) especially if genetics is driving the “virtue train.”

Do you hold to human free will? If so, on what basis. As an atheist, the only resources you have to work with are physics and chemistry. Laws acting on particles…and you can throw genes in there if you like…but these are dominos that fall and (on this view) humans have no choice of the matter bc the desires they find themsleves with they had no choice about. Again, most philosophically trained atheists would not dispute what I have just said…they concede free will is an illusion. That is why the discussion about philosophy of mind and the reduction of everything to one’s brain is so interesting. If you are just your brain (i.e., there is no mind or soul) then at best you have epiphenomenalism—which shows free will to be illusory.

So, do you hold to human free will? If so, on what basis?


“I fail to understand how Christians who can write perfectly coherent sentences and otherwise carry on rational conversions could possibly fail to understand that atheism is nothing but a disbelief in god. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

Again, I disagree with you. Atheism is not the absence of a belief (Dawkins repeats this often in his interviews and writings). It is a positive statement that there is no god (and an implicit affirmation of the other commitments coextensive with atheism as a worldview). You wouldn’t let me get away with saying that Theism “is the absence of a belief in no God” and leave it at that would you??

March 27, 2009 at 2:11 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

"Do you hold to objective moral values? And would you be willing to say that Singer is objectively wrong?"

Actually no, I would not say that Singer is necessarily wrong, objectively or otherwise. In fact, my reaction to what Singer claims stems from what the Christian interviewer has to say about the man. It could be that Singer is actually stating that animals have just as much right to life and living as we humans do and that, if we are to be consistent, animals life should have the same status as human life - or vice versa.

I disagree with the stance for my own personal reason: mainly because I love a good steak, lobster and friend chicken. If we elevate those "mere" animals to human status (or de-elevate the status of what it means to be human) then I must necessarily stop eating meat.

That said, I the premise - as stated by the interviewer - is wrong because it is wrong.

You keep coming back to this question of why or how I determine when something is "right" or "wrong." I'm nearly certain that you are trying to assert that that ability to discern right from wrong can only come from the Creator?

Rightness or wrongness is a situational judgement. No, it is not "always wrong" to kill another human being, for example. I am certain you would agree with that.

It is not "always wrong" to steal, lie, fornicate, purger, defame, drink to excess, and call the lord's name in vain. I can easily think of many moral reasons to violate each of those sins.

How do both you and I, an atheist and a Christian, determine when something is right and wrong?

I posit that we use the exact same biological/chemical processes that are generally based upon innate evolutionary survival traits.

What do you posit?

March 29, 2009 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 29, 2009 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

"It isn’t propaganda if it is true (of Singer)"

I took the greatest offense at this: [i]"In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist."[/i]

That is demonizing. It is simply not true of me nor any other atheist I have ever communicated with. We tend to be (but I'm sure not always) terribly honest. Every atheist that I have met is so incredibly honest that they are willing to be ostracized by a society that will demonize them because they have thoughts about the nature of reality that are different from the "norm."

I have to be careful of who I expose my disbelief to or I will be condemned by people like this person.

Jonathan, you are talking to an intellectually honest atheist. I am so honest that I even deny your god at risk of eternal damnation (Romans 1:21-23).

I am risking my immortal soul just by talking to you. It doesn't get any more honest than that, my friend.

March 29, 2009 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Hello frank, just some quick thoughts since I try to take some time off from virtual reality on the weekends ;) but I just wanted to make sure you heard what I was and wasn't saying about the Singer example.

First, I appreciate you and the civil / rational conversation we are having and think that is what needs to happen in the public square on matters of great importance--the big questions of life.

I don't think anyone should be demonized for their ideas. I firmly believe in freedom of speech and the freedom to organize religiously or not to.

But also, I do think ideas have consequences...and in the end they can be far more dangerous (for ill) than bombs ever could.

In that regard, Singer is the chairperson of Ethics at Princeton. He is an evolutionist and a committed utilitarian. He has a worldview and its foundation is that there is nothing transcendent--no God, ultimate standard or ultimate foundation for good or evil.

I think the main issues in our conversation revolves around grounding. can bio-chemical evoultion produce objective morality. I contend that they at best give a description of what has happened up until now, but cannot offer prescription for why be moral tomorrow and in x situation. How do biochemical processes produce "oughtness? and is it even "free" at that point if it is just bio-chemical dominoes falling throughout human history?

BTW-I have had several conversations with charitable atheists so it isn't a matter of atheist or Christian (some far more gracious than Christians I know ;)

For clarity - of the examples you mentioned, I was wondering if "rape" and "Child abuse" fall into situations that are not objectively evil for you?

I appreciate and respect your candor regarding the implications of this discussion. As a Christ-follower I do believe what he teaches about the eternal life available now and forever to anyone who trusts him to be their leader, savior, and teacher (John 17:3 cf. John 5:24). But also the awful reality of eternity outside of the presence of God...if Jesus is who he claim to be.

March 29, 2009 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

For clarity - of the examples you mentioned, I was wondering if "rape" and "Child abuse" fall into situations that are not objectively evil for you?

I wold almost always consider those evil. However, I could come up with a scenario that would make either one acceptable. Perhaps a 13 year old boy knows the password to disarm a nuclear bomb sitting in downtown Nashville. They only way he will talk is by forceful means.

Rape? Perhaps if someone was given a choice between committing rape or watching his family die, that person might be moved to commit rape.

The essences is that we both - Christian and atheist - have similar moral values based on the value we place on the central oral issue. For me, it would be more important to get that password from the boy and try to live with my conscious rather than do nothing and allow hundreds of thousands of people to die.

So, no, there are no moral absolutes. Morals evolve just like we do. The morals of the Old Testament are obviously quite different from our own.

Test tube babies were a huge ethical issue 25 years ago. Human cloning is an issue today. Gay and animals rights were unheard of 30 years ago.

You and I will generally use the same process to determine the ultimate morality of these situations as they come up.

March 30, 2009 at 6:27 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Hello Jonathan

I too the time to listen to an interview of Peter Singer from one of my favorite podcasts, Point of Inquiry. I urge you and anyone else interested to listen to the interview and hear this man's arguments from his own mouth instead of it being filtered through people with an agenda.

Here is the link: http://www.pointofinquiry.org/peter_singer_ethics_in_an_age_of_darwin/

Yes, some of his stances are quite striking and I very much disagree with some of them. For example, he states, essentially, that if we take a strict Darwinian, godless, stark view of life on this planet, we "must" accept hat all animals are equal to humans and, thus, deserve equal rights.

I see where he is going with that and, to be honest, it is hard to dispute form a logical standpoint. However, I (and most people regardless of their beliefs) place a greater value on "intelligence" as a measure of the value of a life. That is why I have no problems eating a cow for dinner tonight unless I really think about what body part I am eating and . . . Ewww. I think I'll have a nice salad instead.

But if you think about it from a "purely" logical standpoint, eating a cow is just as horrendous as eating a person. Thank goodness I am not a purely rational being.

But make no mistake, this man is not necessarily taking the view that we should elevate all animals to "personhood" or vice versa. What he advocates is that we think about our relationship to other life on this planet.

March 31, 2009 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Hello Frank.

My computer has been down for a while--whatever our disagreements may be, I am sure we can agree that Microsoft Vista is in need of some serious evolution! (it has been a pain from the beginning...now back to XP)

It is a fairly busy time for me right now, so please don't take a longer than usual pause in our conversation as that I have lost interest.

BTW-thanks for the link on Singer. We read his work as well as a response to him (Rethinking Peter Singer: A Christian Critique by some Australian ethicists) in a bioethics seminar.

OK, I wanted to return to something you said earlier regarding child abuse and rape.

"I wold almost always consider those evil."

(a quick disclaimer to anyone stumbling in on our conversation - in philosophy you do thought experiments--hypotheticals--in order to test the coherence and consistency of ideas. Sometimes this is rather abstract in say metaphysics, but when it comes to morality, it is anything but abstract; so neither frank and I mean to be uncaring or insensitive about these examples--but they do help us clarify our views and their relative adequacy).

Frank, you gave me situational ethical examples (ends justifying the means / utilitarian / greater good for the greater number).

But I think that missed what I was trying to clarify on your view. So let me tighten the example.

a person who enjoys causing pain and raping people (for no further purpose than enjoyment) no bomb to save the world scenario. is that on your view always objectively evil? and the parallel example you mentioned...

"Perhaps a 13 year old boy knows the password to disarm a nuclear bomb sitting in downtown Nashville. They only way he will talk is by forceful means."

how about a 3 year old being abused or tortured for fun and / or sport? is that objectively evil?

Would you still apply your view that "So, no, there are no moral absolutes. Morals evolve just like we do." to those 2 illustrations? Those aren't absolutely evil?

April 1, 2009 at 5:24 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Hi Jonathan,

Yes, of course, given the circumstances you posited, of course those two acts would be considered evil.

"Objectively" evil? I'm not sure what that means since good and evil are, by definition, subjective terms.

So where are you going with this, my friend? How do you think we discern good and evil?

April 6, 2009 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Hello Frrank, no hidden agenda here; I just want to understand your view and the implications of it.

you said:

"Yes, of course, given the circumstances you posited, of course those two acts would be considered evil."

"Objectively" evil? I'm not sure what that means since good and evil are, by definition, subjective terms."

Here is what I mean by objective - "To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them."

Subjective cannot get you always and everywhere evil. It seems to me you are still left with preference or we all agree...but those, in my oppinion don't explain what we mean when we refer to these horrible things like child molestation as evil...they aren't just illegal, they are immoral and objectivley evil--even if everyone alive voted that it wasn't.

discerning evil isn't he issue, groudning it is. If I am right and theism is true then there is a good explanation of why you and I have similar approaches to basic good and evil. I don't think the same is true of atheism. I think we lose objective morality--and for me that is too high a price.

Frank, I really appreciate your thoughtful and spirited engagement on these issues--hopefully at least we are understanding one another's positions better. Would you permit me a more personal question?

Would you like it to be the case that God existed and that Jesus was who he claimed to be and could really deliver on the hope and life now and after death that he promised? (I am not asking if you think there is good evidence for this, rather, your desire...would you want this to be true?) Would you want to live in a universe like that?

April 8, 2009 at 1:34 PM  

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