No Greater Power

When you arise from the abyssal depths of self-chosen slavery, when you step out from the obscuring shadow of superstition, you begin to see the world as it truly is. And with the clear sight that atheism grants, the next step follows naturally. Once we know what beliefs are false, we have to begin the much harder task of discovering what’s true. I’d like to offer a signpost in that quest.

As human beings, we find ourselves in a world not of our own making. But although we didn’t choose it, we know that we belong here, that we’re part of this world. Science confirms that, as it shows us that we are coalesced stardust, made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe; that we, like everything else, are patterns of atoms endlessly recycled through the ebb and flow of natural processes.

But for all that, the world isn’t always kind to us. We’ve accomplished great things, built magnificent works of architecture and technology, but we’re still dependent on natural forces that are far more powerful than us and that we can’t command. Even the richest, most advanced societies in the world are by no means exempt, as we’ve been repeatedly reminded. Last year, Hurricane Sandy swamped the East Coast, stunning the world with images of flooded Manhattan streets. This year, a prolonged Midwest drought is threatening to make the Mississippi River impassable as water levels drop to all-time lows.

Whenever there’s a disaster like these, there are always religious apologists jostling for attention, trying to blame it on some alleged sin committed by the people affected. They never seem to ask why it is that people who live on fault lines are always punished by earthquakes, people who live on the coasts are punished by floods and hurricanes, and people who live on plains are punished by tornadoes and wildfires. If preachers could regularly predict natural disasters in a way that meteorologists couldn’t, they might be worth taking seriously. As it is, they’re clearly inventing post hoc explanations for random events.

The truth is that there’s no recognition of good or evil woven into the fabric of the universe. To believe otherwise raises impossible problems. We can stand awestruck before the sunshot spaces in the high branches of trees, the vista of continental cliffs overlooking the ocean, or the diamond whirl of a spiral galaxy; but how should we respond to the sadistic subtlety of a parasitic hookworm, the machined precision of an Ebola virus, the mindless inexorability of a cancer that consumes its host and in so doing kills itself? What should we think of a cuckoo chick that invades a nest, pushes the other eggs out to smash on the ground, and deceives the parents into feeding and sheltering the killer of their children? If we admire the jewel-like glistening of a dewy spiderweb, shouldn’t we also think of the horrific death it represents for the luckless insect that flies into it?

But if we stop looking for reasons, if we cease the futile project of theodicy, we arrive at a simpler and more comforting view: the cosmos doesn’t reward or punish, it simply is. There’s no greater power, no intelligence behind the world; this is it, it’s all real, it’s all here. Nature is full of vast, luminous, breath-catching beauty, but also death, savagery, appalling destruction and hideous cruelty. It dispassionately spins out joy and agony in equal measure, and notices neither the happiness it creates nor the havoc it wreaks.

And if there’s no supernatural operator in back of nature, then that means just one thing: it’s all up to us. The empty heavens don’t care if we cry out to them, but we care about each other. We can’t fully control nature, nor can we escape our dependence on it. But if we devote ourselves to scientific progress, we can improve our situation by eradicating those evils we can and building resilience into our society to withstand the rest. In an indifferent and often hostile universe, this is more than enough work to occupy our full attention as a species – which makes it all the more tragic that we so often waste resources fighting each other in zero-sum competition, letting natural evils go unremedied. Had we put those same resources into cooperation, we could instead have produced something that would have benefited everyone.

Now we’ve reached that signpost, so let’s take a look back. We began with the fact of our vulnerability in a chaotic universe, and wound up with an ethic of reason, compassion and cooperation, what’s usually called humanism. This is just how secular ethics should work: moral principles flow from a correct understanding of the facts. We must care for each other, because nature doesn’t care about us, and no one else will do it if we don’t. There’s no greater power transcending nature, but we can become that greater power. We can be a force for morality in an amoral cosmos – but it will only happen if we work to develop our moral wisdom alongside our technological prowess.

Image credit: Shutterstock

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Discoverer

    Though life is obviously more complex than this dichotomy, it seems like we often get the choice to be:
    1. a Victim
    or
    2. a Hero
    At first, the loss of faith in Jehovah felt like being abandoned into an empty and unfriendly world – which seemed so unfair. But that was just a dream, born of the required death of autonomy that is necessary to believe in any lie as large as faith.

    And though I had to defibrillate the ego that I had tried so hard to smother (since it was utterly odious to Jehovah) the ongoing transformation of myself from a state of “1.” to a state of “2.” has led to a joy and affirmation and strength that I could never have imagined. The faithful might say that losing belief is like falling into a pit, but now I know it’s like climbing a ladder OUT of that pit.

    The universe is only empty and unfriendly in the parts that WE have neglected.
    WE are (perhaps) the only beings who can create meaning in an ambivalent universe, and I don’t think the prospect is a frightening one.

    Thank you for another inspirational post, Mr. Lee! I apologize if I waxed too long, but I really respond to this kind of positive sentiment :)

  • FuzzyDuck

    One of my favourite quotes: “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

  • JRS

    Adam,

    Very good article. It’s good to see you getting back to basics with this one, it is where your true strength lies, instead of the broken A+ SJW stuff. Hopefully, we will see more of this type of work in the future.

  • Discoverer

    @JRS: Hi, I’m actually a little surprised to see a positive support of Adam, mixed with problems over “broken A+ SJW stuff” – do you mind taking a little time to define what these problems are? I haven’t noticed anything myself, but I definitely want to hear about anything you might have seen that I didn’t. Thanks!

  • Adam Lee

    @Discoverer:

    the ongoing transformation of myself from a state of “1.” to a state of “2.” has led to a joy and affirmation and strength that I could never have imagined. The faithful might say that losing belief is like falling into a pit, but now I know it’s like climbing a ladder OUT of that pit.

    Thank you! That’s a wonderful sentiment. :)

    @JRS:

    It’s good to see you getting back to basics with this one, it is where your true strength lies, instead of the broken A+ SJW stuff.

    You’re going to be disappointed by my next post, then.

  • Azkyroth

    Very good article.

    Well…

    It’s good to see you getting back to basics with this one, it is where your true strength lies, instead of the broken A+ SJW stuff.

    …it’s too bad…

    And if there’s no supernatural operator in back of nature, then that means just one thing: it’s all up to us. The empty heavens don’t care if we cry out to them, but we care about each other. We can’t fully control nature, nor can we escape our dependence on it. But if we devote ourselves to scientific progress, we can improve our situation by eradicating those evils we can and building resilience into our society to withstand the rest. In an indifferent and often hostile universe, this is more than enough work to occupy our full attention as a species – which makes it all the more tragic that we so often waste resources fighting each other in zero-sum competition, letting natural evils go unremedied. Had we put those same resources into cooperation, we could instead have produced something that would have benefited everyone.

    …you didn’t READ it.

  • Discoverer

    @Adam Lee:
    :)
    also,
    “You’re going to be disappointed by my next post, then.”
    can’t wait!

  • Izkata

    @FuzzyDuck: One of the themes that ties together Babylon 5 is also appropriate here: Taking control of your own destiny, instead of being pushed around by forces perceived to be supernatural.

  • JRS

    @Discoverer:

    I’ve followed Adam’s writing for many years and promoted his work to many of my friends. I no longer do that. I think he has enormous potential that is being cheapened and wasted by certain relationships that have compromised his skepticism and objectivity in a material way, becoming more of a propagandist than a atheist, skeptical writer. I actually stopped following him sometime ago after reading some particularly atrocious contributions on various forums, such a Salon and twitter. He has adopted some especially odious habits of censoring comment posts that raised fair questions rather than deal with the very real points raised. (ie: recent example: noelplum99), in violation of the rules he set himself earlier in his blogging career. These actions were never hallmarks of Adams work only a short year ago. I liked your comment above, as it represents a perfect example of what Adam is capable of when his writing is less corrupted by certain ideologies. He can really communicate directly to people such as yourself who have made that transition. It was what I most admired in him.

    @Adam “You’re going to be disappointed by my next post, then.”

    Not unexpected and, well, only you can choose your path. For me, it will just be another day in the continuum. I’ll get over it. Life is rife with disappointment, but adults know how to happily move on in spite of it.

    @azkyroth

    I see Adam’s thought police stay close by his side, lest he stray. You also make your usual useless ‘contribution’ to the conversation. The quoted statement is generic and, in its essence, accurate. I wouldn’t change a word of it. You, of course, have to apply your biased subtext to it, which in fairness was quite possibly Adams intent as well, but one needs to know the broader background to make that connection. I see the words at face value and, even with the subtext, they are good words. The problem lies not in the thought, or even the intent. The problem lies in execution, and even the best of intentions can go horribly wrong, corrupted by self interest and misguided interests. Recent history bears out my predictions made several months ago, if you happen to recall. But of course I’m not qualified to contribute to the conversation, according to some. ; )

    All that said, in the end, it is neither here nor there. This is all just a small digital blip in a small corner of cyberspace. It will pass without most people even knowing it happened. I still manage to get pleasure out of seeing good done and, as illustrated in Discover’s post here, Adam still has that capability. This makes me feel good and gives me a small bit of hope.

  • Adam Lee

    …becoming more of a propagandist than a atheist, skeptical writer.

    Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder. I have no doubt that many religious people would say I was a propagandist from the start.

    He has adopted some especially odious habits of censoring comment posts that raised fair questions rather than deal with the very real points raised. (ie: recent example: noelplum99), in violation of the rules he set himself earlier in his blogging career.

    Let’s be clear about one thing: I offer no apologies for moderating my site as I see fit. If anything, I find that writing about sexism requires heavier moderation than my posts on other subjects, because it reliably attracts bad-faith comments from obsessive people who just want to distract, derail, and apply hyperskepticism to every individual claim of prejudice while ignoring the broader patterns visible in the data.

    Frankly, I don’t even remember the person you’re talking about. But if I banned him, then there must have been a good reason for it. If it needed to be restated, no one has a right to comment on my blog. If anyone doesn’t like the way I run things, they’re welcome to start their own site elsewhere, and if anyone isn’t interested in the things I choose to write about, no one’s forcing them to read it, either.

  • JRS

    Noelplum99 is a fairly well known video blogger who also comments quite intelligently on a number of atheist/skeptical matters. His post on your blog was quite reasonable and asked some very pointed and pertinent questions. For that his comment was deleted without response, along with others.

    “If it needed to be restated, no one has a right to comment on my blog. If anyone doesn’t like the way I run things, they’re welcome to start their own site elsewhere, and if anyone isn’t interested in the things I choose to write about, no one’s forcing them to read it, either.”

    Of course, this statement is technically true, but why is this statement becoming so familiar among a certain group who choose to speak publicly on controversial matters, and then cry foul when people respond with counter arguements – often well founded ones, such as noelplum99′s? One migh tsuspect that certain claims and positions tend to fall apart when a very bright, skeptical light is focused upon them. I would direct you to your own words:

    “Eighth Commandment: Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.”

    I recommend you re-read that old post of yours, along with entries 9 and 10 as well.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-new-ten-commandments/

  • Adam Lee

    Noelplum99 is a fairly well known video blogger…

    Not well-known to me.

    His post on your blog was quite reasonable and asked some very pointed and pertinent questions.

    Well, you’ll be happy to know that I did some digging, and I’ve located the exchange you were referring to. I didn’t recall it at first because this person commented on my blog under a different alias, Patriarchae Persona. But here it is, an excerpt from the reasonable and pertinent comments of noelplum99:

    “But please, Mr Lee, don’t attempt to conflate disagreeing with the socio-political hijacking of atheism via this atheism+ crap (which so far has amounted to nothing more than a forum filled with enough hatred and bigotry to fuel a new Reich) with being a troll.”

    Here’s a hint: when you start out by comparing advocates of social justice to genocidal Nazis in your very first comment, that’s a good sign that you have nothing of value to contribute to the discussion. Yes, I deleted that ignorant and outrageous comment without a second thought, and I’ll show the same treatment to anyone else who acts similarly. And since this exchange is off-topic and is rapidly derailing this thread, I wish it to end here.

  • JRS

    “when you start out by comparing advocates of social justice to genocidal Nazis in your very first comment, that’s a good sign that you have nothing of value to contribute to the discussion”

    Have you been to the A+ forum lately to see what is going on there? If you had, you might learn that comment is hardly inacurrate, although it naturally suffers from the Godwin association. It is no wonder that all the original supporters are quite noticeably pretending it doesn’t exist and possibly never happened.

    “And since this exchange is off-topic and is rapidly derailing this thread, I wish it to end here.”

    Fair enough. It is getting late, besides. Good night.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    We began with the fact of our vulnerability in a chaotic universe, and wound up with an ethic of reason, compassion and cooperation, what’s usually called humanism.

    Doesn’t this run into the same object that is raised against Aquinas Five Ways, that the conclusion at the end of “This is usually called X” isn’t justified? What you describe here sounds a lot like the Hobbesian Social Contract, but I doubt that most humanists would accept the Egoistic underpinnings of it. Moreover, religious moralities claim to produce that same ethic in at least some cases (not all reject reason) and yet are clearly not humanistic. It’s not a good idea to try to tilt the playing field so that if we come to the same ethic as you we must be accepting humanism, let alone the implication that this is the right ethic to use.

  • GCT

    I know this was supposed to end, but why is JRS so set against speaking out for equality for women and other minorities? Apparently it’s not properly skeptical or objective to fight for equality? JRS, you may seem like you’re trying to be reasonable, but the position you’ve staked out is far from reasonable. And, your support for comments that link advocates for social justice to nazis is beyond the pale.

  • GCT

    VS,

    Moreover, religious moralities claim to produce that same ethic in at least some cases (not all reject reason) and yet are clearly not humanistic.

    I doubt you can name a single one. Religion relies upon faith. Faith is a rejection of reason. They may claim to produce the same ethic, but the claim is clearly false.

    It’s not a good idea to try to tilt the playing field so that if we come to the same ethic as you we must be accepting humanism, let alone the implication that this is the right ethic to use.

    If a religion comes to the same ethic, it is purely by chance if the method of getting there was faith. If the religion does not employ faith and uses secular reasoning to get there, then it is basically humanism with a splash of supernaturalism dishonestly thrown in after the fact. Additionally, the “right ethic to use” will not come from faith but from reason and rationality.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    GCT,

    I doubt you can name a single one. Religion relies upon faith. Faith is a rejection of reason. They may claim to produce the same ethic, but the claim is clearly false.

    Any religion that engages in philosophical theology, particularly in advancing arguments for the existence of God and/or for the moral principles that shoudl be followed also uses reason. For the most part, when people talk about faith being a rejection of reason Martin Luther is usually the one cited … except that he was a breakaway from the mainstream Christianity at the time and didn’t reflect their full views. Considering the influence that thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas had on Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular and considering that they definitely pushed rational arguments and the use of reason in evaluating claims, the insistence that faith means rejecting reason must be a conclusion on your part, and not a matter of historical record.

    Moreover, the worst the moderate religions get is that pure reason has limits … and it is not irrational to point out some instances where reasoning is inappropriate or not possible.

    If a religion comes to the same ethic, it is purely by chance if the method of getting there was faith. If the religion does not employ faith and uses secular reasoning to get there, then it is basically humanism with a splash of supernaturalism dishonestly thrown in after the fact. Additionally, the “right ethic to use” will not come from faith but from reason and rationality.

    Considering that this was a callback to the explicit comment about Hobbes and an implicit callback to views that don’t see things the same way, it is amusing that you spend all of your time talking about religion and no time at all considering if there are alternatives to humanism or to the ethic that Adam Lee cites that would be rationally based.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    If the religion does not employ faith and uses secular reasoning to get there, then it is basically humanism with a splash of supernaturalism dishonestly thrown in after the fact.

    Yes this. Where religion arrives at a humanistic ethical point of view it is only because it has cherry picked or bowlderised its core teachings. The only way to do this successfully is to ignore the deontological crap and insert God back in later by post hoc rationalisation.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    Steve,

    Despite what you may think about the process used to get there, if religions DO get there they would have the same ethic and yet would not be humanists because they would ground it, however dubiously, in something beyond humans. Thus, your claim here would seem to prove my point that this purportedly “humanist” ethic can be legitimately promoted by things that won’t count as humanist.

  • GCT

    Any religion that engages in philosophical theology, particularly in advancing arguments for the existence of God and/or for the moral principles that shoudl be followed also uses reason.

    No, it doesn’t. You don’t get to put in garbage, get garbage out, and claim that somehow in the middle you were using reason to get from point A to point B. If you start with irrational claims and illogic, then you are not doing reason and rationality.

    Considering the influence that thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas had on Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular and considering that they definitely pushed rational arguments and the use of reason in evaluating claims, the insistence that faith means rejecting reason must be a conclusion on your part, and not a matter of historical record.

    Wrong again. Consider this, many people claimed to be using reason and rational arguments when debating the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. According to you, they were using reason and rationality, simply because they claimed such.

    Considering that this was a callback to the explicit comment about Hobbes and an implicit callback to views that don’t see things the same way, it is amusing that you spend all of your time talking about religion and no time at all considering if there are alternatives to humanism or to the ethic that Adam Lee cites that would be rationally based.

    Considering that you completely ignored my statement in order to post some sort of snide accusation, I’ll take that as a sign that you know you’re beaten.

    Despite what you may think about the process used to get there, if religions DO get there they would have the same ethic and yet would not be humanists because they would ground it, however dubiously, in something beyond humans.

    Wrong again. How do you “ground it” when your method of doing so is faith? The answer is that you can’t. It simply doesn’t work, except by accident as I already explained and you declined to actually answer.

    Thus, your claim here would seem to prove my point that this purportedly “humanist” ethic can be legitimately promoted by things that won’t count as humanist.

    Nope, sorry. You don’t get to ignore the points made against you and then claim victory. It’s too bad that Adam moving to a new site didn’t give you any sort of impetus to clean up your act and stop being intellectually dishonest.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    Considering the influence that thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas had on Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular and considering that they definitely pushed rational arguments and the use of reason in evaluating claims, the insistence that faith means rejecting reason must be a conclusion on your part, and not a matter of historical record.

    I think you are conflating thinking really hard about something with reason. Aquinas has the same problem all theologians have which is that they have to get back to God come what may. You can defend faith with apparently reasonable argument, plenty of people manage that, but to honestly arrive at a humanistic perspective starting from scripture you have to be prepared to do a lot of post-modern exegesis. On the other hand, starting from a premise of naturalism, humanism pretty much invents itself.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    GCT,

    No, it doesn’t. You don’t get to put in garbage, get garbage out, and claim that somehow in the middle you were using reason to get from point A to point B. If you start with irrational claims and illogic, then you are not doing reason and rationality.

    In a basic logic class, the example of a valid argument was:

    If the moon is made of green cheese, astronauts will not go hungry.
    The moon is made of green cheese.
    Therefore, astronauts will not go hungry.

    This is indeed using reason. You cannot assail the logical argument here, but only attack the premises by pointing out that they aren’t true. Thus, even if by your terms it’s “garbage in and garbage out”, that they use reason and hold their arguments to the standards of logic means they use reason, which means they don’t reject it, which makes your claim false.

    Wrong again. Consider this, many people claimed to be using reason and rational arguments when debating the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. According to you, they were using reason and rationality, simply because they claimed such.

    No, according to me they’d be using reason if they held their arguments to the standards of logic. You seem to be expanding “reason” beyond what we would comfortably accomodate today, and even more so beyond what the people you claim to be rejecting reason would consider to fall under the scope of reason.

    Also note that that story of those sorts of arguments seem to be invented:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F

    The closest given there that actually links to someone like Aquinas is this:

    “Can several angels be in the same place?”

    But given his conceptual arguments it is clear why he’d need to address this question, even if he couldn’t do so empirically, as if his concepts led to a contradiction then we could dismiss his claims using pure reason without even having to bother to go look at the world.

    Considering that you completely ignored my statement in order to post some sort of snide accusation, I’ll take that as a sign that you know you’re beaten.

    I ignored your statement because it was irrelevant to what I was saying in the part you quoted, and the “snide accusation” was pointing it out to you. To make it clearer, in a comment where I talk about religion in exactly one sentence and in a manner that’s basically an afterthought, going on about how religion could only get there by chance and ignoring that I start from a roughly secular philosophy in insisting that you can get to that ethic through means that would make you not a humanist means that you aren’t in any way addressing my point. Or, shorter, you aren’t going to get rid of the Hobbes example by ranting about religion.

    Wrong again. How do you “ground it” when your method of doing so is faith? The answer is that you can’t. It simply doesn’t work, except by accident as I already explained and you declined to actually answer.

    They ground it by an appeal to the existence of that superhuman being, just as Adam grounds it by appealing to there not being one. Different starting points, same ethic at the end, which is the entire point of my comment: that Adam cannot justify his statement that that ethic is usually called “humanism.”

    Nope, sorry. You don’t get to ignore the points made against you and then claim victory. It’s too bad that Adam moving to a new site didn’t give you any sort of impetus to clean up your act and stop being intellectually dishonest.

    Again, since my whole point was that you can start from non-humanist starting points and end up at that ethic, Adam is not justified in claiming that ethic as being particularly or exclusively humanist.

    Steve,

    You can defend faith with apparently reasonable argument, plenty of people manage that, but to honestly arrive at a humanistic perspective starting from scripture you have to be prepared to do a lot of post-modern exegesis.

    Again, my point is that that purported “humanist perspective” is NOT particularly humanist, which allows you to start from non-humanist starting points and end there. I agree that you can’t start from scripture and end up at a humanist perspective, but that since you can start from scripture and get to the ethic of “reason, co-operaton and compassion” as you seem to have conceded then that ethic cannot reasonably be called humanist in and of itself. Humanists may all accept that ethic, but things that are non-humanistic can accept it as well.

  • GCT

    This is indeed using reason.

    No, it’s not, and that’s the part you’re missing. It is unreasonable to come up with the first premise. I don’t have to attack the premise to point out that it’s not a reasonable starting point. You don’t get to pull something out of your ass and then proceed as if you’ve done nothing unreasonable to start with.

    Thus, even if by your terms it’s “garbage in and garbage out”, that they use reason and hold their arguments to the standards of logic means they use reason, which means they don’t reject it, which makes your claim false.

    Again, false. Faith is a rejection of reason, full stop. If you are going to put forth ideas based on faith, then you are rejecting reason, no matter how much you try to gussy them up with logical sounding arguments after the fact.

    You seem to be expanding “reason” beyond what we would comfortably accomodate today, and even more so beyond what the people you claim to be rejecting reason would consider to fall under the scope of reason.

    Nice projection on your part. I’m not expanding it, I’m simply holding it to the flame. Your unreasonable ideas get burned, the reasonable ones survive. You are the one claiming that all one has to do to be reasonable is posit their superstitions in clauses on the page that are in a somewhat logical sentence structure.

    Also note that that story of those sorts of arguments seem to be invented…

    From your own source, which you clearly didn’t take the time to read and/or understand:

    That certain renowned medieval scholars considered such questions is clear.

    Of course, you’re trying to make the argument that it doesn’t seem that the exact wording that I used was used, so somehow that invalidates my argument. Rubbish, and what I would expect from a dishonest hack like you.

    I ignored your statement because it was irrelevant to what I was saying in the part you quoted, and the “snide accusation” was pointing it out to you.

    False. The point I made was specifically germane to the point you were failing to make.

    Or, shorter, you aren’t going to get rid of the Hobbes example by ranting about religion.

    Wow, you are dishonest aren’t you. We all know what you are trying to do, and lying about it isn’t going to help your cause.

    They ground it by an appeal to the existence of that superhuman being, just as Adam grounds it by appealing to there not being one.

    Wrong and wrong. The first doesn’t work. The second is simply not true (and rather dishonest of you again to claim so when you should know better from previous times your arguments have been smacked down).

    Different starting points, same ethic at the end, which is the entire point of my comment: that Adam cannot justify his statement that that ethic is usually called “humanism.”

    Wrong, and this is why my comment – that you claim doesn’t matter – absolutely matters. It’s not simply different starting points with the same methodology. It’s completely different methodologies. One uses faith or wishful thinking/superstition/etc. while the other uses reason.

    Again, since my whole point was that you can start from non-humanist starting points and end up at that ethic, Adam is not justified in claiming that ethic as being particularly or exclusively humanist.

    And again you dishonestly ignore the fact that I’ve already addressed this, as has Steve Bowen. Simply repeating your inane rhetoric doesn’t make it true.

    …since you can start from scripture and get to the ethic of “reason, co-operaton and compassion” as you seem to have conceded then that ethic cannot reasonably be called humanist in and of itself.

    No, you can’t unless you add in secular ethics and/or simply get lucky. That’s what I’ve been saying all along, which you keep claiming is inconsequential (and why I keep pointing out how dishonest you are).

  • Azkyroth

    I know this was supposed to end, but why is JRS so set against speaking out for equality for women and other minorities? Apparently it’s not properly skeptical or objective to fight for equality? JRS, you may seem like you’re trying to be reasonable, but the position you’ve staked out is far from reasonable. And, your support for comments that link advocates for social justice to nazis is beyond the pale.

    I can’t speak for JRS, but generally people who take this position nominally agree with the abstract idea of equality, but not with actually having to do anything or give up anything or rethink anything in order to achieve it. See the paragraph about “The white moderate” in A Letter From Birmingham Jail.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

    And if there’s no supernatural operator in back of nature, then that means just one thing: it’s all up to us. The empty heavens don’t care if we cry out to them, but we care about each other.

    I very much love this part. The world is imperfect anyway, and I think there’s a certain feeling (at least, there is in me) of hope in knowing that we can make things better, rather than waiting to see if god will or won’t make them better (or if he will decide to just end the human experiment one day and destroy the lot of us).

    Incidentally, I recently came across the following post by a pastor named Barry York: http://gentlereformation.org/2013/01/10/an-open-letter-to-susan-jacoby/

    I bring it up, because it’s a good example of the kind of attitude that nonreligious people are up against when we say that, yes, we can have morals, hope, meaning, comfort in times of grief, etc. even though we don’t believe in god. People have so thoroughly linked god to all good things in life that they’ll insist you can’t have those things without their god, even when there are (1) people of other religions find those things in their different ideas of god and (2) nonreligious people have all these things as well.

  • CelticLight

    Very good article, one of your best. I still like to check in with you from time to time, as you provide an interesting philosophical perspective. I am glad you left Big Think.


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