Author Topic: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?  (Read 1034 times)

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Offline Graybeard

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Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« on: October 15, 2012, 02:32:26 PM »
Dawkins on TV- tonight 22:00hrs, Channel 4 = More 4 or http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sex-death-and-the-meaning-of-life/episode-guide/series-1/episode-2
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Series 1 | Episode 1 | Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life

If there is no God watching us, why be good?

Richard Dawkins examines sin. He asks whether the old religious rules about what is right and wrong are helpful and explores what science can tell us about how to be good.

Dawkins journeys from riot-torn inner city London to America's Bible Belt, building a powerful argument that religion's absolutist moral codes fuel lies and guilt.

He finds the most extreme example in a Paris plastic surgery clinic that specialises in making Muslim brides appear to be virgins once again.

But what can science and reason tell us about morality? Through encounters with lemurs, tango dancers, the gay rights campaigner Matthew Parris and the scientist Steven Pinker, Dawkins investigates the deeper roots of moral behaviour in our evolutionary past.

He explores the rituals that surround mating and the science of disgust and taboo. Drawing on crime data and insights from neuroscience, he argues that our evolved senses of reason and empathy appear to be making us more and more moral, even as religious observance declines.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2012, 03:18:57 PM by Graybeard »
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline Nick

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2012, 02:54:45 PM »
Well, there is that Santa guy checking his list.
Yo, put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Quit ragging on my Lord.

Tide goes in, tide goes out !!!

Offline Nam

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2012, 03:33:29 PM »
I dislike such a phrase as that. It's so empty of thought (in reference to the title).

-Nam
This thread is about lab-grown dicks, not some mincy, old, British poof of an actor. 

Let's get back on topic, please.


Offline dloubet

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2012, 04:08:17 AM »
Ask them if they're a sinner.

If they say yes, then you can respond, "Then what difference does a watching god make in whether you do good or not?"

Denis Loubet

Offline Bereft_of_Faith

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2012, 04:41:33 AM »
Ask them if they're a sinner.

If they say yes, then you can respond, "Then what difference does a watching god make in whether you do good or not?"

No one is without sin.  We are all sinners in the eyes of the Lord... so, no difference  :)

Offline jetson

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2012, 06:36:28 AM »
But, on Sundays, the Catholics get to tell their priest about their sins, and clean the slate.  It's an amazing system of...wait for it...wait for it...COMPLETE BULLSHIT!

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2012, 09:26:16 AM »
Most people cheat[1] if they think they can get away with it.  That's why most religions have a god (or someone who stands in for the role of the god) who's always watching.  Because the idea is that people who know they're being watched act differently.  The problem comes from the majority of people who don't feel like they're being watched and so still cheat when they can.

The solution is not to have a Big Brother (or God) who's always watching, but to teach people to watch themselves, to be honest, to realize that such cheating ultimately causes more harm than good in the long run.
 1. meaning anything from cheating on a test to lying to stealing to whatever

Offline Dominic

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2012, 09:38:04 AM »

Some of the various reasons that people do what society consensus expects of them (ie generally known as 'being good') -

- to avoid trouble with the law
- to avoid trouble with the spouse
- to avoid trouble with peers
- to avoid trouble with God (for theists)
- because they have found that it works - eg a society based on honesty is likely to operate more smoothly and happily than one based on dishonesty


Offline JeffPT

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2012, 10:38:35 AM »

Some of the various reasons that people do what society consensus expects of them (ie generally known as 'being good') -

- to avoid trouble with the law
- to avoid trouble with the spouse
- to avoid trouble with peers
- to avoid trouble with God (for theists)
- because they have found that it works - eg a society based on honesty is likely to operate more smoothly and happily than one based on dishonesty

With the exception of the last one, your entire list is nothing but fear, and I don't necessarily agree with that as the primary motivating factor behind much of human behavior.  What I mean to say is... the reason I stop myself from robbing a bank has nothing to do with my getting caught.  It just feels wrong to steal things.  What about you?  Do you walk past a bank and think, "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because I'm afraid I'd get caught", or do you think "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because the money doesn't belong to me"?  I want you to really think about that.  Ask yourself which it is. 

I'll give you a few more to add in. 

-because it feels better to help people than it does to hurt them.
-because we have empathy and we know what it feels like to hurt.
-because doing good things to others often gets them to do good things for you.

I guess the fundamental difference here is that I believe humans are generally good, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like your opinion is that unless they're constantly afraid of the repercussions of their actions, things will go to shit real fast.  I can't agree with that.  Never.
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline Nam

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2012, 11:00:06 AM »
Is this included to those of us who are indifferent to most things?

;)

-Nam
This thread is about lab-grown dicks, not some mincy, old, British poof of an actor. 

Let's get back on topic, please.


Offline Bereft_of_Faith

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2012, 05:59:50 AM »

-because it feels better to help people than it does to hurt them.
-because we have empathy and we know what it feels like to hurt.
-because doing good things to others often gets them to do good things for you.

I guess the fundamental difference here is that I believe humans are generally good, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like your opinion is that unless they're constantly afraid of the repercussions of their actions, things will go to shit real fast.  I can't agree with that.  Never.

What concerns me is that there appear to be people (%?) who like (don't mind > relish) inflicting harm.  There are folks who take out what's been done or likely to be done to them on other people.  I welcome the fear of retribution of the law in its effect on curtailing the natural inclinations of such people

[quick addition]  Laws can also give the  same people I cited above, license to do terrible things. (Nuremberg Laws, bible 'laws' etc).  Laws are not always beneficial.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2012, 06:30:02 AM by Bereft_of_Faith »

Offline Quesi

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2012, 09:52:10 AM »
Excellent program.  Well worth watching.  Thank you Greybeard for sharing. 

I tried Greybeard's link, but got the "this can't be viewed in your country" message, so I found it on youtube. 

For those of us in the US, here it is.



JeffPT - I really appreciate your post.  Dawkins puts a lot of emphasis on the role of empathy in terms of morality, and explores factors that contribute to empathy, and those that block our ability to see the plight of others. 

Bereft of Faith - I'm not sure that I share your concerns.  There are certainly a percentage of human beings who are sociopaths, and genuinely enjoy inflicting harm.  I'm not going to speculate about what percentage of humanity those individuals represent, and I'm not sure if fear of punitive measures can reduce their actions. 

But I think that empathy is something that the vast majority of human beings are capable of.  The problem, perhaps, is that we use our empathy selectively.  We are more likely to feel empathy for those that we love, those who are physically and emotionally close to us, and those whose circumstances are similar to ours.  One of the folks who Dawkins interviews in this piece examines atrocities, and states that "otherization" suppresses empathy.  I agree with her assessment. 

As a parent, I try to nurture empathy in my daughter.  As an advocate for members of marginalized communities, I try to nurture empathy between parties opposing parties as a way to resolve short-term conflicts and hopefully to plant the seeds of building long-term productive relationships. 

Offline Bereft_of_Faith

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2012, 12:13:28 AM »
Bereft of Faith - I'm not sure that I share your concerns.  There are certainly a percentage of human beings who are sociopaths, and genuinely enjoy inflicting harm.  I'm not going to speculate about what percentage of humanity those individuals represent, and I'm not sure if fear of punitive measures can reduce their actions. 

 Good point, and I'm all for imparting empathy.  However, putting sociopaths aside for a moment, I believe normal people (those who would never kick kittens or drown puppies) can engage in behavior that is dangerous to others, without really turning on the empathy.

Let's say I was a guy who liked to drive very quickly.  If there were no speed limits, there would be times that I might drive as fast as I could.  Now I understand that crashing into another car at 155 mph would be disastrous, and more than my own life would be lost, but I know there would be times that I would reason that the likelihood of such an accident would be very low, and that I am a good enough driver to avoid the catastrophe. 

Sitting here now, I know that's foolishness, but there have been times when I've driven a wee bit over the speed limit.  It's in me.  The only thing that keeps me in check is that the police take a dim view of  speeding, and there are unavoidable consequences resulting.  Empathy for others just doesn't enter my mind.  Certainly it should, but when that moment comes, I might make a few assessments and put my foot down.  Empathy is not one of the factors in that decision but I'm always aware that the police might be somewhere close.

My point is that at certain moments, when empathy fails to show up, the law is there to fill in. 

Offline Dominic

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2012, 02:17:03 AM »

Some of the various reasons that people do what society consensus expects of them (ie generally known as 'being good') -

- to avoid trouble with the law
- to avoid trouble with the spouse
- to avoid trouble with peers
- to avoid trouble with God (for theists)
- because they have found that it works - eg a society based on honesty is likely to operate more smoothly and happily than one based on dishonesty

With the exception of the last one, your entire list is nothing but fear, and I don't necessarily agree with that as the primary motivating factor behind much of human behavior.  What I mean to say is... the reason I stop myself from robbing a bank has nothing to do with my getting caught.  It just feels wrong to steal things.  What about you?  Do you walk past a bank and think, "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because I'm afraid I'd get caught", or do you think "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because the money doesn't belong to me"?  I want you to really think about that.  Ask yourself which it is. 

I'll give you a few more to add in. 

-because it feels better to help people than it does to hurt them.
-because we have empathy and we know what it feels like to hurt.
-because doing good things to others often gets them to do good things for you.

I guess the fundamental difference here is that I believe humans are generally good, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like your opinion is that unless they're constantly afraid of the repercussions of their actions, things will go to shit real fast.  I can't agree with that.  Never.

Yes, I should have included empathy on my list.

And that is a very relevant point to raise about whether humans are naturally 'good'.

I think that the question will eventually come down to 'are we naturally selfish or naturally selfless' ? (recognising of course that there can be a spectrum in between).

If we are naturally selfish then ultimately everyone else is a competitor and their gain is potentially our loss and vice versa.  When put in these stark terms it sounds quite horrible (to me anyway) but depending on our belief system, selfishness could be an individuals logical conclusion as the best way to behave.

If we are naturally selfless, OTOH,  then ultimately we are all inter-dependent, if others are unhappy or suffering then my own happiness is less at least to some extent.  This strikes me as being closer to an accurate overall picture of the reality of human society.  But I recognise that this is simply my own current belief.

What I seem to have left out so far is feelings.  Much of the above belief and behaviour is often dependent on our feelings.  Eg a feeling of pleasure when I win a race (ie appear better than others in some way), or a feeling of sadness when I see starving children (witness the suffering of others).

It could easily be argued that we are generally both naturally selfish and naturally selfless to varying degrees.  We have also all heard stories about people who seem to be very far to one end of the spectrum ie very cruel or very kind to other people.

However, what I'd like to suggest brings this all back to the last point which I put on my list 'we discover what works'.  I think that there is a strong inter-relationship between our feelings and our emotions, our beliefs, and our behaviour.

'Discovering what works' relates to our feelings feeding in to our beliefs.  This will continue to happen during our lives and also occurs for society in general which gradually learns what works and what doesn't (even if that learning involves the decay or destruction of some parts of society).  Our feelings will generally tell us if our current beliefs and if society's current (general) beliefs are working or not.  By 'working' I mean leading to good outcomes both for individuals and for society as a whole.

I suggest that if the majority of individuals are selfish then a society will fail and if the majority of individuals are unselfish (selfless) then a society will flourish.  Individuals over time will gradually recognise this and will tend to modify their beliefs and behaviours accordingly (sounds a bit optimistic).  But if they don't learn and modify behaviours when necessary, then they, and their larger group, will tend to fail and even perhaps die out.

I believe that laws can be an attempt to guide behaviour modification for the better over time, however laws can also (unfortunately) be used by the selfish to gain control over others.

And now, to throw the cat among the pigeons, I'll bring God back in to the discussion : - ).  God is the essence of selflessness (I am not talking about Bible-god which is often men's clumsy attempts to describe and personify something they don't understand).  At the heart of most major religions is unity with God through the recognition of selflessness.  Thus for example 'all is one' in various Eastern beliefs and 'denial of the self' in Christianity.

« Last Edit: October 21, 2012, 02:20:32 AM by Dominic »

Offline Graybeard

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2012, 06:34:09 AM »
With the exception of the last one, your entire list is nothing but fear, and I don't necessarily agree with that as the primary motivating factor behind much of human behavior.  What I mean to say is... the reason I stop myself from robbing a bank has nothing to do with my getting caught.  It just feels wrong to steal things.  What about you?  Do you walk past a bank and think, , or do you think "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because the money doesn't belong to me"?  I want you to really think about that.  Ask yourself which it is.
I think, "Gee, I shouldn't rob that bank because I'm afraid I'd get caught and if I am caught, I will be punished because it is wrong to rob people."

We are conditioned to take advantage of opportunities to survive better (have money) because it was important for us to be able to take the opportunities to get food, shelter, other advatages.

Quote
And that is a very relevant point to raise about whether humans are naturally 'good'.
“Good” is very subjective – steal to feed the starving children, etc. and there is no absolute. But, by and large, we interact with society so as to obtain our advantage without creating too much disadvantage. So, “being good” actually means, “keeping within the norms of our society, whilst recognising that other societies might differ.”

Quote
I think that the question will eventually come down to 'are we naturally selfish or naturally selfless' ? (recognising of course that there can be a spectrum in between).
That spectrum is important.

Quote
It could easily be argued that we are generally both naturally selfish and naturally selfless to varying degrees.
I would agree with that. Ebay is a famous example – their philosophy, stated on the site, is that they believe that people are basically honest – and it works; 99.999% of transactions are honest. Yes, there will be those cases where there is a slight misdescription and those where the buyer thinks that the price he paid is far too cheap.

Quote
However, what I'd like to suggest brings this all back to the last point which I put on my list 'we discover what works'.
I think that this observation is very good – to me it says, “We learn our morals from others.” And this is true.

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I suggest that if the majority of individuals are selfish then a society will fail and if the majority of individuals are unselfish (selfless) then a society will flourish.
You will find that this is an established fact.
Quote
I believe that laws can be an attempt to guide behaviour modification for the better over time, however laws can also (unfortunately) be used by the selfish to gain control over others.
Yes, and this is why democratic societies in which consent to the law is agreed by those subject to it are invariably happier societies.

Quote
And now, to throw the cat among the pigeons, I'll bring God back in to the discussion : - ).  God is the essence of selflessness (I am not talking about Bible-god which is often men's clumsy attempts to describe and personify something they don't understand).  At the heart of most major religions is unity with God through the recognition of selflessness.  Thus for example 'all is one' in various Eastern beliefs and 'denial of the self' in Christianity.
Well, Daniel, I admit to some disappointment ; you cannot justify your statement that “God is the essence of selflessness”, unless you mean “selflessness is that thing that comes closest to the mythical concept of God.”

However, you were spot on right up until the moment you pointlessly introduced a being that has no known definition.

We cannot have “unity” with a creature we cannot understand or define.

In this paragraph, you can, with equal confidence, place any noun in place of “God”. That you can do this, shows that the addition of “God” does not alter what you are saying – “God” (or whatever noun you wish) must therefore = 0. It is an indication that it is not necessary and, more than that, it would be wrong to add it.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline JeffPT

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Re: Dawkins: If there is no God watching us, why be good?
« Reply #15 on: October 21, 2012, 09:35:52 AM »
I think that the question will eventually come down to 'are we naturally selfish or naturally selfless' ? (recognising of course that there can be a spectrum in between).

Selfish. 

If we are naturally selfish then ultimately everyone else is a competitor and their gain is potentially our loss and vice versa.

I think that's incorrect.  And it's especially not true for the human species.  In a social species like ours, people gain more by working together more than they gain by tearing each other apart.  In that respect, it is selfish (more gain for me) to work together. 

When put in these stark terms it sounds quite horrible (to me anyway) but depending on our belief system, selfishness could be an individuals logical conclusion as the best way to behave.

In the terms I used, I think it is.  And I don't see it as horrible at all.  It's great that we work together. Cooperation is people being selfish... together. 

If we are naturally selfless, OTOH,  then ultimately we are all inter-dependent, if others are unhappy or suffering then my own happiness is less at least to some extent. 

To me, selfless means that you care only about the well being of others... but keep in mind; there is another side to that.  Selfless also means you don't care about your own personal suffering.  The problem with that is obvious.  If you are always concerned about the well-being of others, and not of yourself, then you would never accept the generosity of the others around you, and you, yourself, wouldn't care that you were suffering.  It would be detrimental to the individual to be completely selfless.  And since we're all individuals, the species would suffer.

Evolution was able to get us to the point where working together is a selfish act.  And it is.  If it were more environmentally fit to be completely selfless, we probably would be.  But that's not how things play out. 

This strikes me as being closer to an accurate overall picture of the reality of human society.  But I recognise that this is simply my own current belief.

Given what I've just said, do you still think so?  Can you provide an example of someone being completely selfless?  There was an episode of Friends a few years ago, where Phoebe challenged Joey to do something completely selfless.  He couldn't do it.  Can you? 

What I seem to have left out so far is feelings.  Much of the above belief and behaviour is often dependent on our feelings.  Eg a feeling of pleasure when I win a race (ie appear better than others in some way), or a feeling of sadness when I see starving children (witness the suffering of others).

Feelings and emotions lead most religious people around by the nose.  Most of the reasoning behind this is that the decision making processes inside our brain take place in the same spots as our emotions.  The neocortex isn't intertwined with our decision making.  I think it takes practice to weed through emotions in search of what's really going on. 

It could easily be argued that we are generally both naturally selfish and naturally selfless to varying degrees.  We have also all heard stories about people who seem to be very far to one end of the spectrum ie very cruel or very kind to other people.

Maybe.  But again, can you give me an example of a completely selfless act?  Something where the individual does something for no personal gain, satisfaction, reward, or to make themselves feel good about what they've done.  Giving to the poor feels good.  Donating blood feels good.  Even something like jumping on a grenade to save your buddies can be seen as a selfish act, because they are rewarded with saving the lives of your friends, and it feels good to help your friends.  And even if you want to call that act 'selfless', look what the net result is?  The death of the individual.  How long would our species last if everyone did that sort of thing?

However, what I'd like to suggest brings this all back to the last point which I put on my list 'we discover what works'.  I think that there is a strong inter-relationship between our feelings and our emotions, our beliefs, and our behaviour.

We didn't discover what works.  Evolution gave us what works best, because being the way we are made our species most fit to survive.  And I agree with your second statement. 

'Discovering what works' relates to our feelings feeding in to our beliefs. 

But our feelings can lie to us.  What we need to do is discover how to balance what our feelings tell us, with what's logically, and rationally going to get us to the best end result. 

Our feelings will generally tell us if our current beliefs and if society's current (general) beliefs are working or not. 

Yes, but we can't just rely on our feelings to make the decisions for us, because life and society is a bit more complex than that.  Take, for example, the issue of pre-existing conditions and mandating health care.  Now, the whole notion of pre-existing conditions makes us feel bad.  Nobody feels good about insurance companies telling people they can't have insurance because they have a bad condition.  And nobody also wants to be told that they have to buy health care.  Those are emotional reactions.  But you have to THINK it through before realizing how important the mandate is.  If you don't mandate health care, you can never get rid of pre-existing conditions, because nobody is going to purchase health care until they get sick.  And that will eliminate the idea that people are paying into the system all the time, and thus, how would running a health care company be profitable at all?  It wouldn't. 

So we can't just be led around by the nose.  It's critical to think things through. 

By 'working' I mean leading to good outcomes both for individuals and for society as a whole.

Yes.  And in the above example, mandating health care is 'less bad' than telling someone they can't have insurance. 

I suggest that if the majority of individuals are selfish then a society will fail and if the majority of individuals are unselfish (selfless) then a society will flourish. 

I don't think you're thinking this through.  Think further into it.  What does it mean to be selfish in a social species like humans?  It's different than what you're making it out to be.  Selfishness means that the individual will naturally try to find the best way to get what they themselves need.  In a social species, working together is better at that than working apart.  So what you see is groups of selfish people working together toward the same end.  Selflessness is working only for the benefit of others.  It would be a detriment to the individual to do so.

I believe that laws can be an attempt to guide behaviour modification for the better over time, however laws can also (unfortunately) be used by the selfish to gain control over others.

Religion may also be used by the selfish to gain control over others. 

And now, to throw the cat among the pigeons, I'll bring God back in to the discussion : - ).  God is the essence of selflessness (I am not talking about Bible-god which is often men's clumsy attempts to describe and personify something they don't understand).  At the heart of most major religions is unity with God through the recognition of selflessness.  Thus for example 'all is one' in various Eastern beliefs and 'denial of the self' in Christianity.

The whole thing works fine without the notion of God.  It's superfluous to put it in.   
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT