Feed on Posts or Comments 20 May 2018

Christianity &Islam &Rationals Thomas on 22 Jan 2010 12:32 am

Weekend reading on Atheism

Two documents that help you understand atheism:

1) Atheism Packet.pdf

2) The Philosophy of Atheism

Plus an audio introduction to ethics:

Ethics and Morality, without Religion

The humanist chaplain at Harvard preaches on living an ethical life without belief in God as the underpinning. His new book explores why people manage to do good without belief in a deity. Guests * Greg Epstein: Author of “Good Without God.” He’s the humanist chaplain for Harvard University.

20 Responses to “Weekend reading on Atheism”

  1. on 22 Jan 2010 at 7:41 pm 1.Scott said …

    I must admit —I find this to be a bit comical–atheist telling others what is ethical. Aheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

    Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests a fear of bad consequences will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

  2. on 23 Jan 2010 at 1:53 am 2.Zoo said …

    Scott – what is your alternative? Your “god”, who advocates slavery? Who advocates death for people who work on the wrong day of the week?

  3. on 23 Jan 2010 at 6:55 am 3.Patrick Oden said …

    @Scott: “It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.””

    People can do this whether religion is the basis for a moral system or irreligion is that basis.

    What people actually do is irrelevant to what is morally right. The fact is, you can have moral systems without gods or religions. And you can have moral systems with gods and religions. And you can have some very, very messed up moral systems with gods and religions.

  4. on 23 Jan 2010 at 1:41 pm 4.Spence said …

    “Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.”

    Sure they do. They take their morals from the Bible. Murdering, stealing, etc all find their basis in a Judeo-Christian heritage that form the laws of the land in the US.

  5. on 23 Jan 2010 at 6:26 pm 5.Observer said …

    I always find it funny to see C.S.Lewis quoted. I thought it was completely known, but evidently not, that the theology Lewis expounded was a final futile attempt to preserve his traditional English world from, with his buddy Tolkien, the Continental liberalism and Jewish influence which washed over Oxford from the 1930s onward. Lewis recognized and wrote about a universal morality in “Mere Christianity”. But, I suppose owing to the fact he was an English major, and had no science or math to speak of, he missed the point that universal morality is one of the strongest arguments against religion unless all religions are identical. Thanks to current science, we know what clearer heads of Lewis’ time knew, that materialism does largely explain collective human behavior.

    Those out there who cannot understand how a secular world could develop a socially positive morality fit into one of the following three categories to varying degrees: 1. Those lacking the organic intellect to think clearly for themselves and therefore cannot imagine how anyone, let alone the larger group, i.e. society could do so. 2. Those too ignorant/uneducated/lazy to acquire the conceptual framework and skills to produce a rational worldview which would implicitly allow for a secular morality. 3. Those who for psychological reasons such as but not exclusively neurotic fears, narcissistic disorders, sociopathy, are afraid to live independently or cannot imagine others not having their own antisocial impulses.

    We can only hope that someday Good will triumph over religion and its inhuman waste of capital and, at least for the Christian rabble in this country (USA), impediments to the progress required to save our increasingly corrupted and weakened republic.

    DAMN the willfully ignorant.

  6. on 23 Jan 2010 at 6:43 pm 6.Observer said …

    Spence- You must fit into my first category outlined above. Atheists take their morals from the Bible? I think that anyone who can recognize that after stepping in dog shit on a sidewalk it is good to clean one’s shoe, or has the gumption to pour piss from a boot, can muster the cognitive faculties required to recognize murder is bad.

    I will concede though it does take the Abrahamic God and his Bible to codify the morality of exiling a husband and wife from society for having sex the same day she quits menstruating. That is moral genius in action.

  7. on 24 Jan 2010 at 2:45 am 7.Laura said …

    How then did we ever get right and wrong if there is no God? Did the rules just “appear” or even “evolve”.
    God always existed and ALWAYS has been GOOD.
    Satan left God and by his actions created what is BAD.

    That is where morality even comes from.
    Why on earth would you bother doing what is right when you have no motivation to do so? God is the motivation for doing right, wether you know it or not. Because He created it.

    I will tell you i love Him with all my heart and am willing do die for Him. He is SO good and So wonderful and i am getting to know Him more and more day by day. I cannot live with out Him because i found what is truly good.

    So i say May God Bless YOU, that is simply coming from the heart, and i say it out of His love.

  8. on 24 Jan 2010 at 4:17 am 8.Spence said …

    “to recognize murder is bad.”

    Why? Animals do it and not always for food. So why?

  9. on 24 Jan 2010 at 5:23 am 9.Severin said …

    „Why on earth would you bother doing what is right when you have no motivation to do so?“
    I would ask you: why on earth a chimpanzee mother does not eat her baby when dying of hunger?
    What motivation (on earth) could she have not to do so? She is dying of hunger, and she has a good peace of meat in her hands (chimps eat meat), and she obviously has nothing to do with religion(s).
    It obviously has nothing to do with „god“, because male chimps DO take living youngs from mothers from their own group, and eat them (not often, but they DO it).

    Her motivation is in her genes!
    Her instinct, transfered to her by genes, tells her that the species will not survive if she eats her children.
    As evolution „recognized“ that mothers are more important for babies than males, it imposed „moral“ rules to mothers, but not to fathers!

    Very early during evolution of species some „moral“ rules were transferd by genes to next generations of SOME species, such as „keep your youngs“ and „do not eat them“, but not to ALL species.

    There is no such thing like „morality“ (in our way of understanding it) in nautre.
    Nature is indifferent to pain, thus for „morality“.
    What is „moral“ for lion, is not „moral“ for zebra!
    What is „moral“ for male chimp, is not „moral“ for mother chimp!
    Nature cares ONLY in survival, but also takes care about ECONOMY OF SURVIVAL.
    That is why some animals do, and other do not eat their babies. Sad, but it is the question of ECONOMY of survival of species, depending on enviroment in which they live.

    Humans did not change much in physical way during last 20 or 30,000 yeras, but their understanding (sense) of morality changed a lot, as a reasult of evolution.
    What most people took for moral thousands of years ago, most of them today takes „automatically“ as immoral – their genes transfered such a „feeling“ to them: a hostility to killing other humans.
    „Morality“ is naturally „installed“ in minds of SOME people. Not in minds of ALL of them, unfortunately, but I guess in some 2-3000 years we will all have the „moral codes“ already „installed“ to our minds, as the result of further evolution.
    Additionally, as the only „animals“ able to think and to make assumptions and plans, humans use their brains to make additional „moral rules“ (laws!), against those who do not have them „installed“ yet.
    This is ALL evolution!

  10. on 25 Jan 2010 at 2:58 pm 10.observer said …

    Spence- Sorry, you must be very deep into the first category, or you have quite a bit of the third category going on as well. If you are seriously interested in learning more about the real world, then you might try reading a modern college Biology text used at one of the major research universities (Pac Ten, Big Ten, Ivy League). Aside from the $100 a good text costs, it would take some work on your part to read and understand the book, but you would be profoundly rewarded. The bibliography would also give you further reading.

    For fun, there is Olivia Judson’s columns written in the NYTimes. She knows her stuff science-wise, and her English is very good in that she does not open the door for simple minds to get into semantic arguments. This would be a low cost of entry way to acquire relevant concepts for how the world and universe actually work. The text above would fill in many details. She is also meticulous about including sources which you can get from a public library through inter-library loan if you do not live near a major university.

  11. on 25 Jan 2010 at 3:42 pm 11.Spence. said …


    Don’t pass the buck. Why is murder bad? If an individual determines that come ideas are so dangerous that the individuals should be killed why are they wrong?

  12. on 25 Jan 2010 at 5:54 pm 12.Severin said …

    “Why is murder bad?”
    Is my English so bad that I do not recognize sarcasm?
    Or – it can’t be that you are serious!

  13. on 25 Jan 2010 at 10:53 pm 13.Observer said …

    Spence- I don’t have time to recapitulate the maturation of Western thought leading to the Enlightenment and liberal Western society. That you find ideas so threatening it seems likely you are a Christian or Muslim.

    On further thought, perhaps you should skip basic Biology, and try therapy. Less internal conflict might open you up to new ideas.

  14. on 25 Jan 2010 at 11:30 pm 14.Spence said …

    You don’t have time? Now how difficult can that be to explain why murder is wrong? I am not the least threatened by ideas. I welcome them but you seem unwilling or unable to provide any real insight.

    I can only surmise you are a coward and cannot provide a rationale argument outside of the laws of mankind. remember, dangerous ideas have consequences.

    You didn’t recognize a very well known um,shall I say “quote” somewhat reworded from one of your own atheist leaders.

  15. on 27 Jan 2010 at 2:32 am 15.Observer said …

    Spence old Chum-

    For me to be a coward, that would imply somehow I am afraid of you. I am 6’4 and a very fit 235lbs, from what I can see much better educated that you, and on the highly improbable chance you have more money than me, it is even more improbable you live better than me. Perhaps you could find a better term, but nevertheless, I am responding to you as you no doubt hoped.

    First, murder is a legal term. It will put you on the wrong side of the law, and its consequences if caught are significant regardless of whether or not you are convicted. Therefore, from a purely practical perspective, the downside is significant. Unless you are pathetic, and the range of your outcomes is exceedingly limited, murder provides little upside at any rate: unfaithful lover? dump them. cheated out of money? sue them. cheated out of money from someone you trusted? you learned possibly an expensive lesson- anyone who is honest will have no problem signing a legally binding agreement etc. other reasons to murder someone? you should be committed.

    You seem to be dealing with two concepts: first, your desire to kill people who threaten your obviously untenable theistic worldview, and secondly, your lack of gumption to conceive a world where people would create a morality for mutual benefit.

    On the first point, it is easy for me to say, “You really should look at that.” But, why the anger? Try to understand it. It is not likely something you can do on your own, so it would be advisable to get help. Many communities have services if you are uninsured.

    On the second point, it has been better written than what I am going to do, and again, anyone capable of comprehending and assimilating new information would benefit from Olivia Judson ( she is at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/olivia-judson/ ), although she is not an anthropologist. At any rate, we can see, aside from the sex-loving bonobos ( our species’ closest relative ), chimps and baboons do kill each other often for short-term gain. But, advantages are always short lived, and the endless cycle of violence continues. Given the variety of people anyone knows, it is not hard to imagine sometime in the past there was a clan of proto-humans who actually found that they could get more done by co-operating within their group. Co-operation implies rules of conduct and interaction which would of course been informal, but consistent with the cognition of the creatures. If the co-operation was successful, then the clan would have been more successful reproducing and would have grown. That natural advantage would have come to create dominance in an area, and spread, etc. Cohesion in the group made for success. It is hard to imagine how murder in the group would have made it more successful, you would be like baboons, so it was surely not favored, and likely made taboo.

    This is pretty much the human story up to a few millennia ago. Of course, the downside of a good brain are questions about the nature of the universe, and it is very well documented that the human tries to find a pattern or rule to shore up unknowns. When questions about natural phenomena, lightning, fire, seasons, death, etc. as well as perplexing random events were found to be unanswerable with given knowledge, then our human creative-capable-of-abstraction brains came up with stories, which over time evolved into gods, and with further knowledge and abstraction evolved into monotheism. Unexpectedly, although showing a human psychological need, now the Jesus nonsense is being more widely debunked, folks are finding succor and fun in polytheism (neo-paganism is sort of a new fashion, particularly Nordic Gods possibly because the Bareuth is perennially sold-out). Go figure. But then once the god myths were dispensed, and the best myths believed, the evil side of people came to play and those seeking power began claimed special proximity to the gods and religion and royalty was born, and untold evil ensued.

    I have wasted 20 minutes writing this stuff, and I am equally sure I have not done anything to change your mind and improve your life.

    Readers- Get this… The Bible in action again…


  16. on 27 Jan 2010 at 3:39 am 16.Spence said …


    Wow, I am impressed with your magnificent physique, your money and your position in society. Thanks for sharing, lol…I guess. Moving away from your delusions of grandeur, to sum up your argument, whatever the majority believes is moral becomes the moral law. Murder in this case.

    Yes, I see how well that works in Iran, Iraq, the former USSR and China. Thanks, you proved my point. When the state gains power and makes the decisions in many cases, it becomes might makes right. For Sam Harris, some ideas are so dangerous those who believe them should be extinguished. Great. Again, isn’t it great to be in a nation where Judeo-Christian heritage formed the infrastructure of our laws?

    PS, I played outside linebacker for the Virginia Cavaliers in the early 80s. I can still handle myself quite well if you feel the need….

  17. on 27 Jan 2010 at 4:24 am 17.Observer said …


    I just deleted a really snarky note to you chockablock with ad hominem attacks. But life is too short for this nonsense. You don’t want to hear new ideas with a rational bent. That is your business. Spend your life as you wish, just please do not do any thing to harm people who don’t believe as you do. (Try to) Have a good life.

  18. on 27 Jan 2010 at 9:58 am 18.Severin said …

    Spence 16
    „Yes, I see how well that works in Iran, Iraq, the former USSR and China.“

    How „sweet“ it is to list examples from recent history!
    And how “sweet“ is to neglect the fact that all the organized religions, including christianity, were organized on exactly the same principles as uthorities in Iran, Iraq, USSR, China… were, just not for decades, but for milleniums!

  19. on 27 Jan 2010 at 1:41 pm 19.Spence said …

    The note would have fir your persona well Observer. It is really all you have in this sphere. You cannot grasp the fact IF atheism were to be true, man is the ultimate determiner of morality. Therefore it would all be relative and thus no such thing as right and wrong.

    You might want to stop with your emotionalism. It is petty and silly. My life is and continues to be outstanding but thanks for the concern.

  20. on 27 Jan 2010 at 2:33 pm 20.Severin said …

    “IF atheism were to be true, man is the ultimate determiner of morality.”

    Yes, exactly!
    So what? Man is the only responsible for future of this world, and our future and the future of the planet is in MAN’s hands. That is,if we exclude natural forces man is not YET able to fight. You might call such natural forces “god’s will”, and I do not doubt you will, immediatelly.
    But do not forget that the plague was once called “god’s will” against which man was helpless!
    Lightning was also “god’s will”, but then man invented a lightning rod. Floods were “god’s will”, but man invented levees and dams.
    If we were in “god’s hands”, we would all be exterminated already: he never offerd us vaccines, dams,…

    Why would a modern man be worse in determining morality than jalous and cruel biblical god, or any other god, with similar properties. And no other god ever appeared since biblical times, with more modern determination of morality.

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