Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

Can Religion Ever Be Right about Right and Wrong?

A presentation by Sam Harris


October 26, 2008 Posted by | Lecture, religion | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epicurus: The Problem of Evil

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

– Epicurus, according to Lactantius in The Wrath of God

Problem of Evil

October 9, 2008 Posted by | god, philosophy, Qoutes, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Materialism and Morality

So, according to Michael Humphrey from The Daily Everygreen Online, atheism precludes the possibility of having morals. I thought I would take some time address some of the claims made in his article.

Pure materialism rejects the existence of anything beyond matter and its interaction. When all events in the universe are reduced to the colliding of atoms, there’s no room for good or bad. These interactions are purposeless and irrational.

Though it may be without purpose, it is far from being irrational. The interactions of matter are consistent. If one is rational, it means their opinions are consistent with and logically derived from established facts and observations. The interactions of matter are determined by the properties inherent to the matter itself. Matter never deviates from its own nature, and never reaches irrational conclusions. The material world never actually reaches any conclusions, nor does matter apply reason to anything because matter is not aware of facts and it doesn’t make observations. Matter has no need to derive truth from itself, because the properties of matter, and energy, dictate what truth is.

Because of this reductionism of everything, materialists argue that humans are the same as animals, thus taking away the dignity humans have.

I’m not so insecure that I think my worthiness of esteem and respect is somehow robbed if I’m not the product of divine inspiration. Dignity is only lost if your standard for dignity requires that the entirety of the universe revolves around our tiny little lives. Besides, why should truth conform to the whims of our discontentions. Reality need not think you speacial in order to remain real.

This line of thinking is severe and deadly. Let’s consider whether it is evil or not to kill an animal. If it is evil to indiscriminately kill an animal, then it is also evil to indiscriminately kill humans. However, the unfortunate side effect of this is that we must stop washing anything, because killing bacteria – animals – is just like killing people.

The other option is that indiscriminately killing animals is not evil, but then killing humans indiscriminately isn’t evil either. So the worst atrocities of human history are nothing more than just washing your hands.

In either case, the final issue is that the Holocaust becomes morally equivalent to cleaning a dirty bathroom.

This is a very simplistic view of morality because it does not take into account the reasons why we consider killing in some circumstances wrong and not in others. The killing itself is not inherently wrong and, for most people, the moral implications of the act are based on other factors such as necessity and sentience.

Then things such as altruism are only believed to be “good” because they benefit the species and forward our evolution. However, altruism and self sacrifice are actually a detriment to our progress. If the weak are procreating, they only pollute the gene pool and ultimately damage the species. If Dawkins is right about memes and morality developing in an evolutionary way, then all forms of altruism will quickly exterminate themselves, since it is disadvantageous evolutionarily.

Altruism need not be applied only to the weak and, as a social species, our certain weaknesses can be more tolerated in the population. When a parent cares for her children or her relatives, he/she is helping to ensure that members of the species sharing at least some of his or genome are more likely to survive. While altruism might perpetuate certain weaknesses, such as strength, it selects for intelligence and strengthens the group by cultivating problem solving skills. Altruistic behavior is even present at the cellular level. In multicellular organisms, a process of cell destruction called apoptosis occurs. Apoptosis can be mediated by the organism, or by the cell to be destroyed. In one case we see murder, but in the other we see self-directed cellular suicide. When the cell poses a threat to the organism, it quite literally takes one for the team. I’m fairly certain Dawkins discusses social evolution in more than a few of his books, and he addresses this very concern. If Humphery read Dawkins work at all, he might have been aware of that.

Furthermore, this type of thinking on morality can lead some to justify atrocities. If we take Dawkins at his word about the evolution of morality, then for the sake of the species almost every corner of the world has found it acceptable to enslave, exterminate and sterilize humans at some point.

The behavioral parameters we have are not absolute, because our circumstances are not absolute. Many societies have also deemed slavery not acceptable. Why should we assume that one circumstance is inherently implied while the other is not? Evolutionary pros and cons exist for societies advocating slavery and those not advocating slavery. Ultimately, slavery is less beneficial. Freedom allows for the persistence of genetic diversity and increases the likelihood that a beneficial characteristic will be have a chance to enter the population. Freedom is potentially beneficial for every member of our species, while slavery only favors the few. Humphery also seems to think that those who use slavery are so capable because they are superior. Slave drivers usually have a weapon, something their genetics know nothing about. Technology has changed the course of evolution. Almost anyone, regardless of their genetic “inferiority”, can pull a trigger.

It was once legal and morally acceptable to own slaves, yet Western civilization considers freedom to be an inalienable right. But from Dawkins’ point of view, it could be prudent for our species to enslave the weak for survival of the strong.

Slavery does not favor the strong. With a weapon, even a child is potentially deadly. Also, if I were to advocate slavery, I would have to acknowledge the potential that I might be enslaved. Not only is it in the best interest of our species to remain free, but it is in the best interests of the individual.

These conclusions, once illuminated for what they are, morally corrupt – lose their creditabilty. They are simply a gross oversimplification of the human condition. We are more than biological programs.

This reasoning is completely circular. Humphery correctly implies that certain atrocities such as slavery are neither morally right or wrong, but then arbitrarily decides that such a a conclusion is unacceptable. In other words, he’s assuming the existence of absolute moral truths, and using them as evidence that moral relativism is irrational. Humphery deems the implications of moral relativism unacceptable by applying them to his as yet unjustified absolute moral standards. Humphery’s argument establishes nothing, it requires that moral absolutes already exist. His argument is as follows:

Slavery is wrong, moral relativism implies otherwise, therefore moral relativism is wrong.

That Slavery is absolutely wrong, or that moral absolutes even exist, is never established and the assumption never actually justified.

God gave us stewardship over creation not to exploit, but to tend it as a servant tends his master’s vineyard.

I may have spoken to soon. It seems Humphery feels that servitude is morally acceptable. How ironic…


October 7, 2008 Posted by | Morality, philosophy, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment