Penn and PZ on Libertarianism and Atheism

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has had a much deserved opportunity to move his blog to the site of Big Think, which features video interviews from the most popular and cutting edge public intellectuals of our time. Adam got the chance to lob the first question asked of Penn Jillette in a new interview at the site. His question was about how Penn reconciles his atheism and his libertarianism. Unfortunately, the question (and Penn’s answer) wound up being not quite as pointed as PZ’s excellent, narrower challenge to atheist libertarians yesterday. PZ asked atheist libertarians whether they favored active atheist community building to develop networks of support and charity to rival religious ones, since they so vehemently imposed such efforts being spearheaded on the governmental level. I would be interested in Your Thoughts on that provocative question below, especially if you are a libertarian or someone who wants to thoughtfully critique the position—but less so if all you want to do is demonize libertarians.

Adam Lee’s question to Penn was not about whether private atheist groups should pick up the slack Penn wants the government to leave to individuals, but whether Penn’s opposition to the government leading the way in creating the conditions of prosperity is consistent with his atheism. Adam’s question was as follows:

I just finished reading God, No!, and I was hoping you’d address a conflict I find in your thinking. From the book and from watching shows like Bullshit!, I know you’re an atheist who values skepticism and critical thinking. But in that book, you’ve also made it clear that you’re a libertarian who values a minimal state and considers it immoral to tax people for any other reason, even if the goal is something good like education or medical research.

From the work of sociologists like Gregory S. Paul, we know that religion and other kinds of harmful superstition flourish best in poverty-stricken, unstable, uneducated, grossly unequal societies. If we as a society don’t commit to educating people, to teaching them how to think, and to providing them some measure of peace and prosperity in this world, they’ll always be fearful, ignorant, and hungry for miracles – easy prey for any religious huckster or demagogue who comes along. And you know as well as I do how this threatens the well-being of the rest of us. Do you think that a true libertarian state could ever effectively address this problem?

Penn’s video answer (which begins by directly countering Dawkins) and Adam’s written reply to it can be viewed and read here.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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