On The Morality Of: Treating Psychopaths

Earlier this week I caught a post on Lindsay Beyerstein's blog Duly Noted, highlighting a horrifying NYT story wrestling with the question of whether children can be psychopaths, and if so, whether they're doomed to grow up into adult psychopaths or whether there's any intervention that can be effective. "Psychopath" isn't a general term for an unpleasant person, but a term with a specific psychological meaning. Psychopaths score highly on indexes of what's called callous-unemotional behavior … [Read more...]

Testing My Moral DNA

I read an article this week about a questionnaire whose creator, the "corporate philosopher" Roger Steare, calls the Moral DNA test. Over 50,000 people from 200 countries have taken this survey, which its creator says is designed to help humanity understand how we make moral decisions. He also says the results so far show that women are more moral than men, and older people are more moral than younger people - both of which are claims I find strange, since the test is intended to show what … [Read more...]

Atheists Don’t Just Want Sex and Drugs

This essay was previously published on AlterNet. The death of Christopher Hitchens in December sparked an outpouring of tributes. Most of them praised his best qualities: his ferocious courage, his seemingly effortless erudition, and his crusading defense of free speech and rationalism. Of course, he had his faults as well - most notably his support for the Iraq war - and I was happy to see that relatively few of the eulogies, even those written by his personal friends, overlooked or excused … [Read more...]

Atheists Don’t Just Want Sex and Drugs

My latest article has been posted on AlterNet, Once Again, Believers Have it Wrong: Atheists Don't Just Want Sex, Drugs, and Lack of Morality. As you might have guessed, it's the culminating entry in my recent exchange with Peter Hitchens. In it, I discuss the absence of evidence for non-human moral authority, the fact that accusations of unbridled hedonism have always been used in an attempt to silence social reform movements, and the evidence which shows that the rise of atheism has no … [Read more...]

The Temporal Democracy of Self-Slices

Via Dangerous Intersection, I saw this TED lecture by Daniel Kahnemann, based on his book Thinking Fast and Slow, about the conflict between the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self". His thesis is that we have countless moment-to-moment experiences, most of which quickly fade from memory and leave no trace, while a few significant ones are retained and used to construct an overarching story or narrative of one's life. According to Kahnemann, many experiences which were unpleasant or … [Read more...]

Morality Is Relative But Not Subjective

Guest post by Samantha Eliza Benten The Law of Non-Contradiction, as stated by Aristotle: "One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time." Often, this is expressed in the formula: A ? ¬A, where "¬A" signifies "not A" or "not having quality A". (To prevent a common error, understand that it does NOT mean "the subset of everything except A." For example, to say that "an animal that is a cat cannot be, at the same time, a dog" is NOT an … [Read more...]

A Response to Peter Hitchens, Part III

Peter Hitchens has written two further comments on my previous post, in one of which he states that he'll be bowing out of the debate from this point on. So be it; there are, of course, many respects in which we disagree, but I appreciate the time and effort he's put into this conversation. That being said, I still intend to have the last word. The fact that men professing to be Christian believers try to rewrite or reinterpret the laws of God does not get rid of the idea that, to be true moral … [Read more...]

A Response to Peter Hitchens, Part II

After our last go-round, Peter Hitchens has posted a further reply. I encourage you to read it in full before reading my response, which follows below: Once again, Peter Hitchens has utterly failed to address the point that even religious moral codes, allegedly based on the will of a perfect and changeless deity, have changed dramatically over time - in virtually all cases for the better. We no longer own slaves, as the Bible permits us to do; we no longer stone disobedient children or require … [Read more...]

A Response to Peter Hitchens

My previous post quoted Peter Hitchens, the conservative Christian brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, to criticize some of his views on divine command morality. To my surprise, it drew two comments that were signed Peter Hitchens. I have no way to be sure they were actually written by him, but the e-mail and IP addresses are plausible, and it's not an extraordinary claim, so I'll accept provisionally that the author is who he says he is. That being the case, I'd like to extend Mr. … [Read more...]

There Is No Non-Human Moral Authority

While reading some remembrances of Christopher Hitchens, I came across a column which quoted this statement from his brother Peter, who was a believer: Like Einstein, he viewed ethics as "an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it," a position that sparked conflict with his journalist brother, Peter, who has argued that, "For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a nonhuman source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to … [Read more...]


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