“A Week?” Tell me you’re a _____

If you cross-read the atheism portal here at Patheos or have atheist friends who are heavily engaged with the movement, you may be seeing images like this pop up across Facebook this week.

It’s ‘A’ Week, which, as Hemant Mehta explains at his blog, is a challenge to atheists to come out and give their friends a chance to know they know atheists.  This year’s celebration seems particularly well-timed, falling right after Rob Portman’s rapid about-face on gay marriage demonstrates that people may not bother imagining how they feel about their beliefs and prejudices when they move down one level of abstraction.

Discrimination against atheists is still a problem, and an embarrassing number of people elide “You can’t metaphysically sustain a philosophy of objective morality without God” into “You can’t follow objective morals without God.”  So I’m glad that Hemant, JT, and others will be forcing people to confront the places where their model of atheists and atheism is in error.

But, if it’s a tradition to come out on A Week, it’s also a tradition (the last two years running) for me to wish it went further.  And I don’t feel inclined to skip it just because I’ve swum the Tiber in the interim.  My complaint about A Week is just that atheism isn’t very interesting or specific.  While you’re telling your friends and family what you don’t believe, why make them pick up what you do believe implicitly from your actions?

Atheism is a really big tent.  And I’m pretty sure my atheist bookclub friend might be likely to come to (probably-rhetorical) blows with any number of the A Week participants, just as he frequently did with atheist!me a year ago.  So why not use Facebook’s spacious cover photo slot to mention something about what you do believe in?  Presumably, it’s what you want your religious friends to come around to after their deconversion, so it’s only polite to pitch it now.

So, start a more interesting conversation/fight and, atheist commenters, tell me what you would have stuck in your version of my Reason Rally sign.

What’s the most pertinent and/or interesting thing for someone to know about your ideals, once they already know you don’t believe in God?

 

I’ll take a roundabout crack at it.  If someone already knows I’m Catholic, I think the most useful next thing for them to know is that I have a really Aristotelian/MacIntyrian understanding of virtue/right action.  Every action you take is a choice to reinforce/ratify that way of thinking and acting for the rest of your life.  Which is still basically my sign from last year.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Octavo

    I’m game for it. I’m an atheist and an emotivist. I think moral statements are just a matter of saying “boo” or “yay” to a particular action or idea. I personally try to say “yay” to kind actions and “boo” to cruel actions, since my ethical goal is to reduce human suffering.

    • anodognosic

      May I ask where your ethical goal comes from? Is it different from the “boos” and “yays”?

      • Octavo

        It’s hard to say more than “I have a strong preference against suffering.”

        • Theodore Seeber

          But gay marriage *leads to suffering*. As do abortion and contraception, and several other things that “good without God” people seem to be for.

          So until you learn the value of short term suffering for long term gain, don’t try to tell me that you have a rational morality at all.

          • Octavo

            I think that a “rational morality” isn’t something anyone has actually achieved. It’s something worth striving for, though.

            You imagine that same sex marriage leads to suffering, but that’s a gross generalization that’s clearly made without even an attempted reference to any evidence. I have anecdotal evidence of happy gay couples, and I’m sure there are some unhappy ones. I’ve heard many straight hetero people tell me that they’re sure gay relationships are intrinsically disordered, and will lead to suffering. No one has shown that they’re any worse than hetero relationships. Even if that were the case, statistically, it’s very hard to actually correlate happiness with the orientation itself. A lot of the unhappiness is caused by religious pronouncements of guilt, shame, and hellfire.

            A lot of the same can be said for your other opinions on the other subjects you’ve mentioned. Gross generalizations that do not account for individual experience.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I don’t imagine same sex marriage leads to suffering. I’ve talked to children raised by same sex parents decades after the fact and I KNOW that same sex marriage (of either male or female variety) leads to suffering. This is data, not imagination.

            The couple isn’t necessarily who is suffering, though that happens too, but I see no reason why it should happen to a homosexual couple more than to a heterosexual one. And I don’t actually see any more damage for children raised by a homosexual couple than children raised by a divorced couple or by a contracepting couple- All of these produce suffering pretty equally.

            Hetero relationship alone doesn’t produce a better relationship. Hetero relationship *for life* *in commitment* to *raise children* does produce a better relationship, far superior to any other.

            The data is there, IF you can get past your personal ugh field to search it out. Nobody showing it to you in a combox is going to do it, because you’ll just reject it.

          • anodognosic

            [citation needed]

          • Octavo

            @Theodore.
            I know you like the term “ugh field”, but you really can’t just run around applying it to people you don’t know. I don’t know your “ugh fields” and you don’t know mine.

            One thing that’s interesting about the arguments you make is that they correspond nicely to the arguments that racists made (and make) against interracial marriage. They claimed that it would cause so much suffering, and the children would be messed up by being the product of a relationship that was intrinsically disordered.

          • Random

            Interesting maybe, but not relevant. It’s an empirical claim, and its truth value is not affected by the truth value of similar claims about different things. If someone were to object to the morality of the Iraq war on some random empirical ground, it is hardly convincing to say: “Interesting how the arguments you make correspond nicely to the arguments by some people who were opposed to intervening in World War 2 before Pearl Harbor.” If the WW2 protestors were wrong about the morality of WW2, it still does not imply that the people protesting the Iraq war for similar reasons are wrong about the Iraq war. Except here, it’s worse, because you’re using an unsubstantiated and unargued-for statement to assign to him the extremely negative connotations of racism.

            Just to be clear, I disagree with Seeber and the onus is on him to prove his claim, not you. Absent additional context though, your statement just sounded to me like an instance of the noncentral fallacy: http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_noncentral_fallacy_the_worst_argument_in_the/

          • Random

            Sorry, my example was too vague and lends itself too easily to misinterpretation. A more concrete example would be if someone were advocating that the U.S. invade North Korea because they are close to getting nukes, and you said: “Interesting how the arguments you make correspond nicely to arguments made to support the Iraq war. They claimed that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.”

          • Josh Lyman

            They just do! They do they do they do they do they do they do!

          • Theodore Seeber
          • Darren

            Thanks, there, Ted.

            Let’s clarify shall we? When we say, “Show us citations”, we mean published, peer reviewed data (with footnotes and everything!).

            Not transcripts from the O’Rielly Factor…

          • ACN

            While we’re talking about Bill, it sure sounds like he’s having fun destroying his blessed-by-god-and-the-church marriage. Hiring the custody/parenting mediator onto his personal staff, trying to annul his marriage that produced two children, using his influence with the police dept and church to harass his ex-wife and her new husband…

            It’s a good thing he’s out there in the faux news trenches protecting the sanctity of marriage from those despicable homosexuals!

          • Theodore Seeber

            Darren, thanks for proving that you have a filter on the data you will accept, and thus proving my point to begin with- that you are a biased researcher who doesn’t know the first thing about data.

          • B. R. Lind

            Mr. Seeber, do you know whether that study controlled for things like being bullied at school, or having other parents not let their kids be friends with them?

          • Brandon B

            I believe that this is the study that Mr. Seeber’s article was referring to. So Darren’s point is important, but in this case putting the names of the authors was all you need to do to find the study.
            http://www.maggiegallagher.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Allen-et-al-Demography-2012.pdf

          • Brandon B

            Important words missing from my last comment: putting the names of the authors “into Google Scholar’s search box”.

          • Not A KU Fan

            I have always supporter equal rights for ALL Human Beings.

            Atheists, on the other hand, do not.

          • Darren

            Abortion I assume?

            Well, at a whopping 0.9% of the U.S. populace, abortion laws really aren’t up to us. Go yell at some Christians, if you like, they’re the ones making abortion legal.

            Pretty sure you have one running this blog… I’m sure she would _love_ to hear your opinion of her moral culpability.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

      Reduce human suffering? All humans equally? Or do you try hard to reduce the suffering of those humans you feel an affinity for and not so much for people you dislike or are not connected with? If it is the ladder then it is quite unremarkable. Every human does that out of sympathy. It boils down to personal pain and pleasure which is not really a moral choice at all.

      If you really mean all humans equally I would ask where you get that idea? I believe that all humans have great dignity as an article of my Catholic faith. I don’t think it can be proved scientifically. I think it is counter-intuitive. All humans? The unborn, the handicapped, sex offenders, Republicans, everyone. I am curious where an atheist would get such a notion.

      • Slow Learner

        From basic empathy – other people are human too, they have thoughts and plans and dreams, they take pleasure and suffer pain…the nap idea of treating them all equally is quite intuitive to me, and has been for as long as I can remember. No faith required.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          But was it intuitive to anybody before Christianity came along? It is certainly easy for people to forget. Humans very quickly separate into factions and then only really care about those in their own faction. How many are concerned about the Muslims who experience drone attacks? How many are concerned with the unborn? The point is that without a solid reason the empathy will frequently become limited in some way so it will no longer be for all. Just look at Darren’s comment below.

          • Slow Learner

            Randy, I am not equally concerned with foetuses. They do not have thoughts and plans and dreams – they are not yet people. Their potential to become people deserves some consideration, but the potential person does not outweigh the actual person in whose womb the foetus is located.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            OK, so you do allow yourself to exclude some people based on what seems reasonable to you. That is hugely different from being concerned for all people. Everyone picks the people they think are morally obligated to be concerned about. They exclude some or even most based on criteria that make sense to them. Sounds like a recipe for anarchy. But someone will win. Someone will acquire power and impose his morality on everyone else. Who is to tell them they are wrong to do so?

          • Darren

            Randy, you have missed the key difference, either intentionally or inadvertently.

            Fertilized eggs are not people. Fetuses are not people. Not people the way an infant, or a two year old, or a 50 year old are people.

            The abortion argument is actually very simple. Issues such as health exemptions for mothers, or term limits, or rape exemptions are all just so much smoke. The central issue, the only issue, is whether or not a fertilized egg, a zygote, a blastocyst, or a fetus is a person in a moral sense. If so, then it’s death is murder; if not, then it is something else.

            Now, look around you. Think about the actions of those who call themselves Pro-Life. Think about the actions of those who say that abortion equals murder. Do they really believe that?

            At Sandy Hook Elementary School, twenty children and six adults were murdered. Twenty six people murdered. Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach apparently confronted the would-be murderer, attempted to stop him, to at least warn the other staff and children. They died heroes.

            Think of your own views, Randy. If you knew, absolutely knew, that another Sandy Hook was happening right now, right next door, and you also knew the police would not make it in time, that no one in the building was capable of stopping it, but you could, you with your trusty deer rifle could march into that school and save the life of twenty six other humans, even at the cost of your own life, even if it deprived your own children of their father, would you not be morally obligated to do just that? To fight, if need be to die, so that murder might be prevented?

            The Pro-Life movement would have us believe that Sandy Hook happens every day. Not just one, though, but 105 Sandy Hooks every single day, 2,700 children murdered every single day in the US. If they really believed this, what would they be obligated to do about it? Call their Senators? Hold a bake sale? Write a blog post? Go and protest? What would you think of a group of people who made up signs and marched in front of the Sandy Hook Elementary school demanding tougher gun-control laws, while Adam Lanza was still inside? Would we think they were doing all they could? Would you think they were good people?

            I would not.

            I know what I would be doing if I believed that 2,700 children were going to be murdered today and I could put a stop to it…

            Lucky for _me_ that I don’t believe that…

            What is your excuse?

          • Anonymous

            Suppose you’re an abolitionist in the early 19th century. If you really believe that black people are also people, what are you obliged to do about it? Call your Senator? Hold a bake sale? Write a blog post (or, umm, a pamphlet)? Shouldn’t you fight and if need be, die? … Or maybe, just maybe, you’re constrained by the political discourse of your day. *Insert march of history and all that about how stupid your fetalphobia will look in 40 years.*

            Both the “you’re not doing enough to show that you take your position seriously” argument and the “march of history” argument are utter trash. Can we please abolish them? Let’s stick to actual arguments from first principles concerning what ‘qualifies’ as human or otherwise worthy.

          • Mike

            Darren, when you were a zygote, was it you or was it someone else or nobody else? Please answer honestly.

            Keep in mind that if there is 1 thing that we all agree distinguishes you from everyone else it is your DNA.

            So when you were a little zygote was it you? Yes or No. Please answer honestly. Was it you?

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”Suppose you’re an abolitionist in the early 19th century. If you really believe that black people are also people, what are you obliged to do about it? Call your Senator? Hold a bake sale? Write a blog post (or, umm, a pamphlet)? Shouldn’t you fight and if need be, die?”

            Thank you, Anonymous, that is _exactly_ what you do.

            That is what John Brown did; he was an abolitionist who actually believed what so many of his contemporaries only claimed to believe. When he swung from the gallows, he did so a hero.

            That is what the New England Immigrant Aid Company did, and the men, women, and children who left everything to brave discomfort and death for the sole purpose of ensuring Kansas was admitted to the Union as a Free State. They also truly believed what others only claimed. They, too, were heroes, if of a less dramatic sort.

            It is what Abraham Lincoln and 360,000 dead Union soldiers did.

            No march of history arguments here, I just grow weary of those who crow upon their high moral hill without having to do anything so inconvenient as to actually back up those beliefs…

            In short, put up or shut up.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”Keep in mind that if there is 1 thing that we all agree distinguishes you from everyone else it is your DNA.”

            Not so Mike. My DNA is no more central to my identity than is my fingerprint.

            It is who I choose to be that is who I am. Before I had the capacity to make such a choice, I did not exist.

          • Mike

            Darren, THANK YOU! For now I know everything important there is to know about you and atheism. And no surprise it is what all atheism in the end must be: evil and de-humanizing.

            But thank you for answering honestly. It was not you who was in your mum’s tummy and if she had decided to flush that stuff down the tiolet you would still be here to annoy me, right?

            Ahh, take a gander folks, the evolved mind of a critical thinker bright! Atheism, where nothing is beyond reason, except reason itself.

          • Anonymous

            Darren,

            Your examples are in the 1850s, when clearly the political tide had turned to make this type of advocacy politically feasible, if still dangerous. Bring me examples before 1820 (I said “early 19th century”, and this is more what I meant… I almost went with late 18th just to ensure we didn’t have this problem). At that point, you’re stuck with a different political reality. You can either try predicting the future and stick your neck wayyy out for very little current societal gain… or you can make small arguments and try to slowly turn the tide.

            The theme that ties the “you’re not doing enough” argument to the “march of history” argument is a heavy reliance on a person’s ability to accurately predict the future. We’ve seen other countries move in the opposite direction on homosexuality and abortion. I ask you, Mr. Scientist, what are your error bars for predicting social/cultural progression beyond 10 years? Either you’re betraying the scientist’s devotion to error analysis or you’re disavowing the “you’re not doing enough” argument and the “march of history” argument.

            To bring this discussion closer to home, I think you pretty closely agree with Jake and might even have “freedomist” tendencies to go along with your humanism. In that case, I put the question to you: given that you can see what’s happening in North Korea, why aren’t you out there fighting (and possibly dying) for their freedom? Is it possibly because you don’t really believe in freedom? Or is it that the political situation would currently render your efforts inappropriate and ineffective?

          • Mike

            OMG forgot to add, Darren you are obviously scientifically illiterate if you think your DNA is no more central to your identity than your finger print? Don’t you know anything about the influece our genes have on our pre-dispositions to behaviours? Remember gays are born that way, remember? They have no choice in the matter, remember? It’s their genes that make them feel a certain way, remember? Your height, hair, eye color is all determined by genes, remember?

            Atheists: believe in nothing except their own existence. LOL!!!! :)

          • Mike

            Sorry just one more thought: what an ugly sentiment this is: “It is who I choose to be that is who I am. Before I had the capacity to make such a choice, I did not exist.”

            Scientifically and morally ignorant and just plain ugly.

            But on the bright side Darren I think you might be a Buddhist.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            @Mike- you are aware that identical twins share the same DNA, correct? I presume you do not consider them to be the same person.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ” Darren, THANK YOU! For now I know everything important there is to know about you and atheism. And no surprise it is what all atheism in the end must be: evil and de-humanizing.”

            Goodness, Mike, when did you turn so nasty? The angry shoe is on the other foot, I think.

            You should look more closely at my Christian upbringing, those years when Darren was a luminous soul, created by God, and merely inhabited this vessel of clay and its requisite DNA.. dust, dust, and nothing but dust…

          • Mike

            Of course they have the same DNA and no they are not the same person, but when they were in their mummie’s tummy they were THEMSELVES and NOT YOU or ME or NOBODY, no?

            PS Thoughtful atheist, an oxymoron if there ever was one. Yes I am being rude but I can’t help myself. What do you have to be thoughful about when existence itself is a giant illusion and you’re actually a robotic machine whose actions have zero moral value? Zero. There is no punishment no judgement beyone this world, nothing. So think away but it is totally absurd.

            Ok I really need to simmer :). But you folks frustrate me. You’re all atheist but then sneak in morality and love and justice and other bs concepts like that and then you tell me you’re materialists – what a crock.

            99% of atheists are only atheists because they’re angry about 1. abortion. 2. gay sex 3. female ordination.

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”Your examples are in the 1850s, when clearly the political tide had turned to make this type of advocacy politically feasible, if still dangerous.”

            I have some doubt that the Rev. Brown waited until the political tide had turned to foment armed insurrection and get himself promptly hung by the proper authorities.

            Perhaps you misunderstand me. I do not think abortion is murder. I am simply pointing out what would be the logical conclusion for someone who actually did believe it to be so. Since we do not see bombings of Planned Parenthood clinics on a daily basis, I conclude that either the Pro-Life crown does not really believe what it claims to believe, or they are more cowardly than their Muslim counterparts who are a little more sincere in their convictions.

            And as a godless Nihilist, I am under no particular obligation to hold the worth of 20 million oppressed North Koreans to be on par with the well being of my own three children, that well being being in jeopardy should I decide to wage a one-man war on tyranny… ask me again once my youngest has graduated college… I do happen to keep a ‘nothing left to loose’ list, perhaps that one should be on it.

            ;)

          • Mike

            Oh lordy, Mikey has to cool down. No seriously I am banging away here on my keyboard and not doing any work. If I get fired I am suing Leah L. and Darren.
            I am just having a bit of fun though.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”Sorry just one more thought: what an ugly sentiment this is: “It is who I choose to be that is who I am. Before I had the capacity to make such a choice, I did not exist.””

            Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings. I thought it was a beautiful sentiment.

            I also thought it to be rather in line with themes of personal responsibility, free will, made in God’s image, soul-making, etc.

          • Anonymous

            What particular obligation does the pro-lifer have to hold the worth of 2,700 unknown children to be on par with the well-being of his own three children? If you can claim an in-group weighting out of nowhere, why can’t he? (In reality, this weighting is due to… wait for it… current political circumstances! If the political circumstances allowed you to vigorously advocate for NK freedom without sufficiently endangering your children’s well-being, you would. You can’t rely on political circumstances to relieve your own bind while by fiat turning them off for the pro-lifer’s bind. You might each have different levels to which you need the political circumstances to be turned down… but then the onus is on you to demonstrate that this difference is sizable and relevant!)

            You can’t claim that it’s due to the fact that the pro-lifer has a god (as opposed to your godless Nihilism), because that’s not necessary to being pro-life. But even if we assume it, why does that god require the weighting that is necessary for your argument?

            …or does the existence of your weighting imply that you don’t really believe that freedom is fundamental to your moral system? You can ignore it all you want, but that’s what you’re claiming.

            (Sidenote: reviewing your humanist manifesto, I’m not sure where you get your in-group weighting. You were so busy building a big tent to be nice to everyone that you forgot to add this bit in. Commandment the Second combined with Virtue I require you to try to intervene in NK… unless you’d like to smuggle in ‘political expediency’ or ‘in-group weighting’ into Really Good Reasons (in which case, you’re still giving the pro-lifer a sufficient out). I suppose you could also claim that you must merely call shenanigans or something… but again, where are you deriving a “you must fight/die” criteria for pro-lifers from? If your bind is based purely in reason and not on some other hidden assumption that you think is inherent in pro-life-ism, it would still apply to your humanism. If your bind relies upon an assumption you think is inherent in pro-life-ism, please state it explicitly.)

          • Brian Westley

            “99% of atheists are only atheists because they’re angry about 1. abortion. 2. gay sex 3. female ordination.”

            Now you’re just typing.

          • Darren

            Now _that’s_ a Pro-Life bumper sticker I would be amused to read:

            “2,700 children were murdered today, but I had to get the kids to soccer practice”

            I roll my eyes are you, sir.

          • Mike

            Maybe this story will rouse the conscience if it exists in the atheist brain: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/343460/unmourned-mark-steyn

          • Anonymous

            …and the accompanying Jake/Darren Freedomist bumber sticker:

            “20 million North Koreans were ruthlessly and brutally deprived of their morally fundamental freedom, but I had to get the kids to soccer practice.”

            Do you seriously not see how this absurd bind affects you too?!?! Or are you being trollishly intentionally obtuse?

          • Darren

            I would _so_ buy one of those…

            It would go great on the minivan next to the Hello Kitty Darth Vader sticker

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”Sidenote: reviewing your humanist manifesto, I’m not sure where you get your in-group weighting. You were so busy building a big tent to be nice to everyone that you forgot to add this bit in.”

            I can see how that would be confusing. That was months ago, though. These days I am more a Solipsist. It is the one solution to the Problem of Evil that I find most plausible.

            So, North Koreans not really a problem, being all imaginary and stuff…

          • Anonymous

            Touche. Granted, then, reproductive rights, women’s rights, civil rights, the well-being of your children, etc. are also not a problem for you… being as all those people are all imaginary and stuff, too. So, why don’t you just bugger off? kthxbai

          • Mike

            Ohh, so many words, just words, nothing but words, all words, words, nothing more than words! Dear God, forgive us.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”Ohh, so many words, just words, nothing but words, all words, words, nothing more than words! Dear God, forgive us.”

            Wasn’t that _my_ point?

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”kthxbai”

            Wait! You stand there and tell me that, as self-appointed champion of the (supposedly) most moral and righteous group on Earth, that you personally see no reason to take a position on 2,700 (claimed) child murders every day unless and until you can be sure that the winds of history favor that particular position over all others, then you want to flit off with a text-speak dis?!?

          • Anonymous

            You stand there and tell me that, as self-appointed champion of the (supposedly) most moral and righteous group on Earth

            False. I am no such person and I appointed myself in no way. You’re just making things up.

            you personally see no reason to take a position on 2,700 (claimed) child murders every day unless and until you can be sure that the winds of history favor that particular position over all others

            False. I said that the “you’re not doing enough, therefore you don’t actually believe it” argument is fallacious. That is all. I never said anything about my personal beliefs or my personal weightings. I simply demonstrated that one particular argument is utter trash. I can even go on with a pro-choice or freedomist life given the things I’ve claimed (I like some things about freedomism).

            Now, did I claim that a general person has, “no reason to take a position on (insert atrocity here) unless and until he can be sure that the winds of history favor that particular position over all others”? Absolutely not. First, let’s correct your gross mischaracterization: “take a position”. I clearly claimed that one could take a position, and that they could do so without fighting until death. However, you have claimed otherwise.

            Thus, I claimed merely the negation of your claim: that someone can choose to not fight until death while still retaining a strong moral belief. I supported this by noting that generally, this is due to political circumstances. One need not have the political tide turned entirely in their direction (as evidenced by many activists)… but history demonstrates time and time again that they wait to really come out until the point where their behavior actually has a chance of helping their intended cause. If they will merely be labeled a psychotic murderer… have their moral point ignored by everyone… and not succeed in saving any lives anyway (you might be able to free a few North Koreans, but that lady is likely to still get her abortion elsewhere), they might choose to take care of their own kids (or do something else that is good in their moral system) rather than die pointlessly… and they can still actually believe that abortion is murder. There is nothing inherent in temporary inaction that necessarily implies that they really believe otherwise. The onus is on you to demonstrate an inherent feature that implies your ridiculous conclusion.

            Clearly, you don’t really believe in solipsism… otherwise you would have buggered off. Also, I’d like you to take this opportunity to tell Jake that he must go fight and die in North Korea lest he lose his true belief in freedom (even though you’re a solipsist, you can still apply your same terrible argument to your friendly cohort). He really ought to know how vigorously you’re opposed to him.

          • Darren

            Anonymos said;

            …I simply demonstrated that one particular argument is utter trash…”

            Oh, it is not utter trash, it is a great argument, we just don’t like the answers it gives. More even than a great argument, it is a brutal argument. It shows us what we really value, what we really believe.

            Now, after providing a simple technique by which any one of us, myself included, can easily expose the lies we tell others, and ourselves, about our values and beliefs, allow me to demonstrate with a pop culture romantic comedy reference:

            What we really value

          • Anonymous

            You forgot to tell Jake that he doesn’t believe in freedom because he’s not fighting/dying in NK. Please do this now.

            At 5pm last night you avoided admitting that you don’t believe in freedom by claiming that you’re a Solipsist and disavowing the requirements of your Humanist Manifesto. At 1pm today, you claim that your Humanist Manifesto is still an accurate (yet perhaps incomplete) account of your thinking. Please specify how this works, admit that you do not believe in freedom because you are not fighting/dying in NK, or admit that you are a liar and are arguing in bad faith.

            Alternatively, you can still admit that your argument is utter trash. It simply does not follow that one does not believe X because they’re not fighting/dying for it. It might follow that they do not value it above all else (your current post seems to try to set these goalposts, but that was hardly in dispute), but it does not follow from that they don’t actually believe it! There are, for example, many circumstances that prevent one from valuing acting on a belief over not acting on it… and these circumstances do not require disavowing the belief itself. You have yourself claimed that the circumstances of your children may prevent you from committing your entire existence to some belief that you may have. Does this value weighting imply that you do not actually hold those beliefs?

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”You forgot to tell Jake that he doesn’t believe in freedom because he’s not fighting/dying in NK. Please do this now.”

            Sorry Jake, you heard the man. Best of luck with the suicide attack on Kim Jong Un. How are you with disguises? I suggest PSY. I hear Kim loves that guy, and you can learn the dance and everything…

            Leah is going to _love_ the publicity when it hits CNN.

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”…or admit that you are a liar and are arguing in bad faith…”

            I prefer Evil Sophist… don’t you read these threads?

          • NotMike

            I was gonna go with this as a disguise… I think it could work :)

          • Anonymous

            Darren, what do you think about this template? I think I have just enough time in my day to post one after every comment you make.

            CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            I remember reading an article years ago on some guy who made repeated trips to Iraq with just a knife and a compass back before we had found Saddam Hussein, with the express purpose of hunting him down… he was a tad bit crazy, but also vaguely action-hero-esque.

            I also remember a sermon by Francis Chan where he spent half an hour working the crowd into a frenzy over slave trafficing in a third world country, and then quietly asked why none of us had done anything about it. Awkward silence ensued.

          • Darren

            ”I was gonna go with this as a disguise… I think it could work.”

            That is a great idea, NotMike!

            No North Korean would ever think a seven-foot tall cross-dressing black man might be up to no good…

            (made me laugh, thanks NotMike)

          • Anonymous

            Jake,

            Great stories. Surely you agree with me that one can believe that Saddam Hussein was evil without personally going after him. In the same vein, pointing out that the crowd should value doing something to deter slave trafficking more is not the same as demonstrating that the crowd does not actually believe that slave trafficking is anything but Jolly Good, A-Ok! You’re willing to admit truth, right?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Man, I hate it when mom and dad fight….

            The truth is, I’m somewhere between Darren and Anonymous’ opinions. Darren is correct that actions are the final arbiter about what we actually care about. One of the reasons capitalism is so depressing is that it’s an accurate reflection of what we value- and it turns out we value shoes that are $5 cheaper more than we value avoiding child labor in China.

            By not flying to Iraq/NK/Darfur etc. to exact moral justice on some hapless dictator, we are demonstrating that the value we place on not doing those things is higher than the value we place on doing them. Maybe that means we just think that the odds of success are so astronomically low that the expected value of going after a dictator is essentially zero. Or maybe we’re cowards. Or maybe we simply care about the wellbeing of ourselves and our families more than we care about the wellbeing of perfect strangers (this seems the most likely to me, particularly in light of evolutionary psychology)

            It is certainly possible to believe that something is wrong and not do anything about it- but it means that you’re judging the evil as much less substantial than you would probably like to think. It certainly is a challenge for any objective morality that says things like “evil should be fought wherever it is found,” or “God seeks justice for all people.”

            A fair question might be, what would NK have to start doing to its citizens before you would personally intervene? What if they started up gas chambers, or started indiscriminantly torturing everyone? What would it take for you to join the army and push for war (which I suspect has a much higher expected value return than vigilanteeism)?

            I’m afraid, as Darren said, “it is a good argument, we just don’t like the answers it gives.” This doesn’t let us relativists off the hook. It’s a good argument, and I don’t like the answers it gives about me either- it says I prefer my own comfort to justice for complete strangers. I’d like to think that if I was presented with an option that had a reasonable expected value (say, a 1% chance of succeeding, and a 99% chance of producing no change) that I would take it. I’m not sure if this is actually the case.

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”Darren, what do you think about this template? I think I have just enough time in my day to post one after every comment you make.
            CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.”

            That is a _great_ idea Anonymous, because nothing says “My arguments are True” quite like being a stalker…

          • Anonymous

            Jake,
            Great job detailing a bunch of different types of valuations a person does before deciding whether to act on a belief. Surely, when you say, “the answers it gives”, you mean, “the information it provides about the valuation you have performed,” and not, “whether or not you believe something.” The former would be consistent with everything you’ve said. The latter needs some proof.

            Darren,
            Good thing those posts aren’t intended to demonstrate “my arguments are True”. Perhaps you should try reading comprehension again and figure out what their intent is.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            @Anonymous-

            Surely, when you say, “the answers it gives”, you mean, “the information it provides about the valuation you have performed,” and not, “whether or not you believe something.”

            Sure- I would probably phrase it as “The information it provides about my utility function,” but I think we’re basically saying the same thing there. I don’t think the fact that you’re not actively doing something to oppose X means that you don’t believe X is wrong. But it does mean that you don’t really care. You’re stuck in the awkward position of saying “X is wrong, and I’m over it,” instead of “I don’t really think X is wrong”- and I’m not sure that leaves you on any more solid footing.

            I suspect Darren is presupposing that “being willing to do something to stop it” is part of the definition of “morally wrong.” I think this is true in most moral systems- it would be quite odd to hear someone actually advocate for the position “X is evil, and I’m totally ambivalent about whether or not X happens.”

            I don’t think you’re trying to do that here- but you come accross as saying “X is evil, and while I would prefer it not to happen, I’m not really willing to do anything to stop it.” I think Darren is trying to point out an inconsistency between how you (Pro-Lifer’s in general, not you specifically) treat murder and how you treat abortion. To his point, if these two things are actually equivalence classes, then how do you explain the difference in observed behavior? (Or alternatively, I guess, do you claim that there is no difference in behavior? Do you think pro lifers are doing the same thing they would be doing if the government was rounding up 2,700 random people a day and executing them by firing squad?)

          • Anonymous

            No one is saying, “X is wrong, and I’m over it,” or, “X is evil, and I’m totally ambivalent about whether or not X happens,” or even, “X is evil and while I would prefer it not happen, I’m not really ready to do anything to stop it.” They’re saying, “X is wrong, but the circumstances are such that I’m not going to go die for it.” That’s not a terribly strong statement… but Darren needs for it to be flatly impossible to correctly assert it. If you think someone can assert it, then his original argument has clearly been shown to be a non sequitur.

            …if these two things are actually equivalence classes, then how do you explain the difference in observed behavior?

            Political circumstances. Same thing I’ve been saying all along. (Btw, I intend “political” in a very general sense… including responsibility to your children and such. Perhaps I shouldn’t even include it and merely say circumstances.) They affect a person’s valuation of action/inaction options. This valuation can change widely over time or even over individual people who are in different situations. Variation in valuation does not imply variation in belief. You have to completely ignore the circumstances degree of freedom.

            Maybe the easiest way to see this is to have you answer the question, “Why are you not fighting/dying in NK right now?” If your answer includes any weighing of circumstances (I have other priorities due to.., I wouldn’t be effective because…, etc.) to produce a valuation that you think is below some “action threshold”, then imagine turning those circumstances down while holding belief in freedom constant. You might go through several stages (I’ll change the way I vote; I’ll donate money; I’ll write a blog post; I’ll write my Senator; I’ll join a protest; I’ll join the army; I’ll grab my knife and compass and commandeer a plane to get to NK…). At some point, you might decide to fight and die for your belief. But we’ve held the strength of your belief constant. We’ve merely changed circumstances. Therefore, the implication “you’re not fighting/dying for belief X” => “you don’t believe X” is false.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Yes, my answer would definitely include weighting of circumstances. I think it’s totally reasonable to weigh the odds of success or failure before decide what action, if any, to take. I agree with your analysis of holding strength of belief constant while changing mitigating factors, and I think clearly this is what humans do in practice (whether or not this is supportable under various different moral systems, I don’t know)

            The question I’m asking (can’t speak for Darren, but this was the impression I got from his comments in this thread) is whether you’re actually treating abortion the same as murder. You say it’s circumstances keeping you from doing something about it- let’s hold the other variable constant and run your experiment again. Replaced abortions with random murders, but keep the surrounding circumstances the same.

            For example, the courts rule that any children you have are technically your property, and therefore you have the right to kill your children at any point, no matter how old they are. Teenagers, adults, doesn’t matter. People start exercising that power 2700 times a day. For some reason, roughly 50% of people support this zany new government policy. Are you claiming that in this situation, you would do exactly what you’re doing now about abortions? Or do you not actually consider abortion and murder to be the same thing?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Oh, and in order to exercise this right, people had to go down to government sponsored clinics during regular business hours… so you knew exactly when and where this would happen, if you wanted to stop it.

          • Anonymous

            Of course, I would like to think I’d do something about it (as I think anybody would… regardless of their position on abortion today), but that’s probably an underestimate of the power of circumstances. Many people agree with euthanasia policies. In situations where a person is unable to make decisions on their own, we are fine with giving those decisions to family members. Additionally, we’ve historically given quite a few rights to parents over their children. Now… a plausible scenario where we kinda combine all this, move way past where we’d normally allow it, and give parents ultimate life/death authority at any time for any reason? That’s a lot harder to imagine than, “I don’t have any kids to take care of… and my skills can actually free North Koreans.”

            At the end of the day, my unfortunate guess is that circumstances will rule the day. Society has clearly decided what is acceptable to them. I’d love to turn the tide, but bombing the clinic won’t do much good. I’ll just get arrested, and society will just consider me a lunatic (they’ll probably just jail or execute me without learning anything). Furthermore, the person I was hoping to save wouldn’t be saved. Their parent would still have the authority to kill them. They’d just do it the next day, at the next clinic. I’d probably be spending most of my time making sure my own parents liked me (or if they didn’t like me, trying to run away (I don’t blame slaves for not being vocal and ardent supporters of abolition.. their circumstances didn’t really allow it.)). I do think, however, you’d see some sort of Underground Railroad type systems propping up for people running away from their parents. I could see myself supporting that.

            …perhaps, if the circumstances were that we had organized a group that attacked the clinic as part of a plan to take away the condemned people, shuffle them through our network and into a new, free life away from the death wishes of their parents, I’d think I was actually accomplishing something. This is still, at its core, a matter of valuation… a success/failure measurement. If you take even that away via circumstances, I don’t think either of us would go die for the cause. I would argue against it… so long as I knew that argumentation wouldn’t piss of my parents. Would you go die if you thought it would accomplish nothing (assuming, of course, that you think giving parents ultimate life/death authority at any time would still be murder)?

      • Darren

        Randy said;

        ”Reduce human suffering? All humans equally? Or do you try hard to reduce the suffering of those humans you feel an affinity for and not so much for people you dislike or are not connected with?”

        Did someone say that we should reduce human suffering for all, and not just those we like?

        Reminds me a bit of this comic:

        If an Atheist were God

  • anodognosic

    I’m an atheist, a reductionist, a probably-but-not-definitely materialist, ethical pluralist, moral realist by way of a Humean relation-of-ideas, who believes that any one metaethics is insufficient to account for ethics as a whole and thus that human ethics might be ultimately inconsistent, and I don’t really have a problem with that. (AMA? Is that how it works?)

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      Can you talk more about reductionism? I’ve only ever heard the word “reductionist” as an insult or a criticism; in the discipline of English literary theory, whenever someone calls a reading “reductive,” you know they disagree with it. In other words, I’ve heard of it, but not as something anyone would claim. And Wikipedia describes several different reductionisms. In short, what do you mean when you describe yourself with this word?

      • Darren

        Christian H said;

        “Can you talk more about reductionism? I’ve only ever heard the word “reductionist” as an insult or a criticism; in the discipline of English literary theory, whenever someone calls a reading “reductive,” you know they disagree with it. In other words, I’ve heard of it, but not as something anyone would claim. And Wikipedia describes several different reductionisms. In short, what do you mean when you describe yourself with this word?”

        Bang on, with that; might as well call someone a relativist. I use Reductionist all the time..

        How I look at Reductionism is strongly influenced by Daniel Dennett’s concept of the Sky Hook versus the crane:

        Sky Hooks .vs. Cranes

        If you have a world with only cranes, as in Methodological Naturalism, then you have Reductionist.

        • Theodore Seeber

          And I have significant problems with that sort of reductionist, mainly because of the bigotry, prejudiced, and ugh fields involved.

      • anodognosic

        Hi, Christian, that meaning of reductionism might be why it gets such a bad rap as philosophy. Essentially, reductionism means that complex things can be broken up into simpler component parts, and that the simpler component parts are sufficient to make the whole. Materialistic reductionism says that everything is matter and energy and the interactions thereof, and possibly something simpler still. I want to make clear that materialism does not imply a denial of higher-order phenomena like airplanes and love and the economy and such; it just holds that, ultimately, physics is sufficient to explain everything at the most basic level.

        • Mike

          If you had a trillion billion carbon atoms and you could have them arranged in any order you want, if you had them arranged in the order that is you, would that thing come to life?would it be you?

          I know there are other elements in us but say you had those too.

          PS How do inanimate chemical elements and compounds come to life? We know they do because we see it but how at the atomic level can they; it seems impossible on naturalism alone.

          • anodognosic

            Hi, Mike, I believe that, properly arranged, they will be alive, yes. In fact, simpler life is well-understood in chemical terms, and vitalism has been largely replaced by materialistic accounts. I also believe that to be true for a human being, but I am less certain. The problem of consciousness is harder to account for, and I admit that I don’t have an answer for that. But I also contend that dualism (or monist idealism) does not provide a good answer either, and would add nothing in the way of dispelling my (or anyone’s) confusion about the nature of consciousness.

          • Darren

            Hello, Mike.

            ”How do inanimate chemical elements and compounds come to life? We know they do because we see it but how at the atomic level can they; it seems impossible on naturalism alone.”

            It is a conceptual difficulty, but that is the beauty of Reductionism – you don’t have to understand the whole thing, all you have to do is comprehend to the next level down, then down, then down again until you hit bottom.

            I tend to think of it in the realm of computers. I am not a Computer scientist, or even a programmer, but I understand well enough the various levels involved.

            1. Electrons, little billiard balls of electricity, bouncing through the maze of atoms;

            2. Macro properties of materials, conductors and semi-conductors

            3. Transistors, composed of layered materials, either allowing of preventing the flow of current

            4. Chip architecture, billions of transistors, arranged so and so

            5. Logical architecture, structures of one and zeros, numbers and mathematical operations in a ordered pattern;

            6. Low level system programming, the firmware and operating system

            7. Application programming, the commands to shuffle numbers this way and that, into and out of this register or that, over and over.

            I have varying understanding of each of these levels by themselves, yet when I ponder how jiggling electrons bouncing through an atomic lattice can translate into me raining avian vengeance upon larcenous porcines, it really does seem impossible…

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ” If you had a trillion billion carbon atoms and you could have them arranged in any order you want, if you had them arranged in the order that is you, would that thing come to life?would it be you?”

            I have long pondered this, from my earliest years of, as a then Theist, wondering whether or not the Star Trek transporter was actually killing the crew every time it was used and then creating exact duplicates of Kirk, Scotty, Spock, etc. At the time I pondered a Star Trek heaven, with a vast horde of Kirk and Spock souls, and every now and then a new one would arrive…

            Now I am being greatly amused by the same though but in a duelist world where the original Kirk and Spock are long since dead, replaced by a long string of p-zombie Kirk and Spock’s – soulless automata that nevertheless behave exactly as Kirk and Spock would behave…

          • Mike

            Ok brilliant, here, “2. Macro properties of materials, conductors and semi-conductors” and especially that word “properties” WHERE DID THEY JUST COME FROM?

            Do you see what I mean? At 1 you had electrons and then by 2 you have properties but still only electrons, so do the properties just magically appear out of thin air? Are there some electrons with some special properties yet to be discovered?

            This seems impossible. I don’t think it’s a conceptual problem as much as it is a problem of physical science or reductionism, which clearly doesn’t work in real life, although it does seem like a sometimes useful tool.

          • Darren

            No, I just skipped a whole bunch of steps. Depending on how fine-grained you want it, you could put, oh, 5 or 10 steps between my 1 and 2.

            How material properties derive from atomic properties, and how atomic properties derive from sub-atomic properties, and how sub-atomic properties derive from elementary properties are all well understood (though less on that last one). If they were not, we would not have DVD players or flatscreen TV’s (the blue LED as a real bitch, BTW, which is why it lagged the red LED by, like, 30 years).

            Now we are busily poking and prodding how elementary properties get the way they are, but we have yet to find any magic so far…

          • Mike

            I wouldn’t be so sure we aren’t finding “magic”.

            I know we know that properties arise, but what I bet you we don’t know is what physicality they inhabit. We just observe them coming into being but they are still nevertheless all 100% made up of the elementary stuff, aren’t they?

            I’ve heard John Lennox put it this way. He once asked a Nobel winning physicist what energy was. The guy replied it’s this and that to which JL said no I meant what is it not how it’s described or what its functions are. At that point the physicist said well we don’t know what it “is” but we’re damn sure it’s there. So this is my point: materialism can not be correct and reductionism is very limited actually.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”I’ve heard John Lennox put it this way. He once asked a Nobel winning physicist what energy was. The guy replied it’s this and that to which JL said no I meant what is it not how it’s described or what its functions are. At that point the physicist said well we don’t know what it “is” but we’re damn sure it’s there. So this is my point: materialism can not be correct and reductionism is very limited actually.”

            Ah, he is asking after the “Substance” of energy… There is no such thing.

            Three Minute Philosophy – David Hume

            If something walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck, right? We are pretty sure that ducks really exist… But what is a duck if we conceptualize the fundamental substance of a duck _independent_ of its properties – no quack, no waddle, no feathers, no size, or shape, or what have you… What _is_ a duck?

            Aristotle, and St. Thomas, and the RCC say there is, indeed, some ephemeral ‘substance of duck’ separate from the ‘accidents of duck’ like, well, everything a scientist might think made a duck a duck and not a golf cart…

          • Mike

            Ok, so if something, say existence, life, appears to have things in common with a particular worldview, then those things count as real tangible evidence do they not?

            You say there is no such thing. So, we know it’s there, we can deduce it, we know alot about it, yet it is not there in the sense that other things “are there”? Hmmm. Would the concept of God be like that? Real, but “not there”?

            It sounds, to me, like there are clues in the physical universe pointing to a God, a creator, maybe not one or maybe a monster unicorn but something, something unaccounted for, something that seems to animate but is hidden. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit proceeding from Christ and God?

          • Alex

            @Mike
            I’m not sure what you’re asking regarding how life arises from physical processes. Does the following link answer your question? If you were to put together the right configuration of molecules at the correct temperature, then you would indeed end up with something indistinguishable from a normal organism.
            http://news.illinois.edu/news/11/0330cell_zaidaluthey-schulten_elijahroberts.html

            As for the question of what energy is: I’m not sure how much physics you are familiar with. In a technical sense, energy is a quantity that is a result of the invariance of the universe under time translations (from Noether’s theorem). On a more qualitative level, physical laws are simply a way of expressing relationships between measurable quantities in a way that is predictive.

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

          Thanks for clarifying. Would you say that reductionism is more important to you as metaphysics (ie. a specific sort of materialism) or epistemology (ie. a way of explaining phenomenon)? Or are those not separable for you?

          • Scott Hebert

            @Mike: In answer to your question as to where level 2) properties can come from, they come from (at least) lower-order processes. I do not like reductionist philosophy, but I can certainly see this.

            An example is the material property called Young’s modulus, a measure of stiffness (resistance to stress) of a given material. At the atomic level, it is found by the length of the ‘bond’ between adjacent molecules in a unit crystal.

            My own issue with reductionism comes in the area of what you might call emergent properties. A strict reading of reductionism would seem to disallow emergent properties as a group, and that is very dangerous thinking.

          • Mike

            Hi, yeah to be clear I don’t doubt the existence of energy or properties, I am the product of them, but either we are 1 missing some physical properties that cause emergent properties to arise or 2 there is a GAP that we have to account for. This is strictly from a “scientific” perspective of looking at matter and properties.

            As for energy I know that that’s how it is described or explained but that still does not say what it is. Remember if materialism is true it, energy, must have some physicality. Because it doesn’t appear to I think materialism can not be true.

            Take this example too. How do individual atoms store information. The DNA sequence is just GTCA which are actually just chemical compounds (guanine etc.). So how do the inanimate, basic buildings blocks, when combined with other things, “suddenly” come to life and contain a script? The answer is there is information there, that like math, is there but is not material or not material in the atheist view of it, which is very 19th century. The information contained appears to interact on another level at the very least.

            I think the sciences are increasingly pointing towards the eternal not the other way round.

          • Slow Learner

            @Mike, there is no gap. If you start with the most fundamental level of physics we know so far, you can build layer by layer up to chemistry; you can then build layer by layer into biochemistry, then into biology.
            Emergent properties aren’t caused to arise by something else. The whole point about emergence is that an emergent property spontaneously arises once the foundations are in place.
            For example, there is a cellular automaton called Langton’s ant. It runs on some very, very simple rules – the Ant moves forwards one space. If the new square is white, it turns left and changes the square to black. If the new square is black, it turns right and changes the square to white. It then moves forward again.
            So far so simple. But if you leave it running for thousands of steps, Langton’s Ant will draw a quite complex repeating pattern, which no-one could have predicted just from looking at the original rules. However, there is nothing “extra” – the Ant moves consistently, and you can trace back each step to the beginning. THAT is an emergent property.

          • Alex

            @Mike
            Did you read the article I linked on whole cell simulations? I’m not sure what you think is missing from a physical account of life.

          • Darren

            Scott Hebert said;

            ” My own issue with reductionism comes in the area of what you might call emergent properties. A strict reading of reductionism would seem to disallow emergent properties as a group, and that is very dangerous thinking.”

            Well, I consider myself a Reductionist, and I find it silly the thought that this would preclude emergent properties. Perhaps this means I am just a bad Reductionist.

            Reductionism, IMO, just says that all properties are explainable by simpler properties. I would take the existence of emergent phenomenon to be just another property to be so explained.

            Right now I am thinking of the musical, Sunday in the Park with George
            and the associated impressionist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat. Up close, lots and lots and lots of little colored dots. Far away, a lovely painting. My knowledge that up close it dissolves in colored splotches in no way detracts from my enjoyment of the painting any more than my knowledge that Bernadette Peter,s voice is really just varying frequencies of fluctuating air densities…

  • Pingback: “A Week?” Tell me you’re a _____ - CATHOLIC FEAST - Sync your Soul

  • Darren

    I’ve always been fond of the term, “Freethinker”.

    From the Wiki;

    ”Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason and empiricism and not authority, tradition, or other dogmas.”

    • leahlibresco

      Well, that definition included both of us. Though I’d add reason can point us to fruitful traditions and authorities.

      • Darren

        As I conceptualize it, Reason can be applied in the service of faith, just with a different category of valid data – revelation. As I think of it, Theology could be considered the application of reason to revelation.

        Just my way of thinking, though, and may not correspond to anyone else’s.

        Don’t think I didn’t notice you left out dogma, though… ;)

        • Theodore Seeber

          It corresponds to Pope Benedict XVI’s ideas, not that anybody noticed them because the Islamics got mad immediately after that and started killing priests and nuns over an ancient quote he used in the speech.

          • Darren

            Well, that’s what you get when you allow revelation as a valid source of evidence…

          • Theodore Seeber

            No, that’s what you get when your definition of God is irrational.

          • ACN

            Right. Your imaginary friend is rational. Their imaginary friend isn’t. Convenient, huh?

          • Darren

            Now, now, Ted. We just said that revelation, as a category, was fair game for feeding into reason – now you go out saying that someone else’s revelation is “irrational”.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I don’t know any other way to describe a concept of a God who can “reveal” that gravity is 32ft/s/s one day and -32ft/s/s the next day.

            Allah is not tied to human reason in Islam.

            The God of Catholicism has to obey human reason- that is, if direct observation conflicts with revelation, revelation must be either falsely interpreted or falsely described.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Well any God working in the Imperial system is clearly not tied to reason

        • Scott Hebert

          “As I think of it, Theology could be considered the application of reason to revelation.”

          Isn’t this _exactly_ the definition of Theology? The rational examination of God?

          I might point out that Authority is a valid source in its own right. Our entire educational system is based on it, after all.

          For me, I’m ‘Catholic and… scared.’

          • Brandon B

            As a Catholic, what are you afraid of? Is it something that Christ can’t overcome?

    • Darren

      Might as well add:

      Skeptic, Naturalist, Reductionist, Humanist, trans-humanist, Simulationist (we should be so lucky) and occasional curmudgeon.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        OCCASIONAL curmudgeon?!?

        ;)

        • Darren

          Hey!

          Occasionally curmudgeon, broken up with periods of disgruntled…

      • Darren

        I forgot to add “Evil Sophist”

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ 2CM

    “Atheism is a really big tent.” Well said, and so is Religion; a big problem with these kinds if discussions is Over-Generalization. People lump “religion” as one thing and “atheism” as one thing. As we separate & clarify what we believe, we find that we ALL believe things we can’t prove. As Bishop Sheen once said “we all have a philosophy”.

    • Qmwne

      Religion isn’t even a tent! My beliefs differ from your average Christian or Muslim as much as they differ from an average atheist.

  • Mike

    How about this, “I am an atheist and I will follow the evidence where ever it takes me, even if to Christianity.”

    And; I am a Catholic and a critical thinker. (Sounds lame but all I could come up with.)

    • Theodore Seeber

      How about this- I’m a Catholic who was once a Catholic Fundamentalist, then an atheist, then a Wiccan, then a hedonist, then a Zen Buddhist, and finally came back to my faith with the zeal of a 5 times convert.

      And I did it all by reducing my ugh fields.

    • grok87

      @Mike,
      I don’t think it’s lame at all. “Me too”.

      I guess what I would add, is that while i believe and strive to follow the traditions/disciplines of the church (Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, prayer, fasting, almsgiving) I think we need change as well. For example I think we need women priests. We can start by rediscovering women deacons I guess…
      http://americamagazine.org/issue/kasper-proposes-women-deacons
      Once that happens, we would just need another generation or two to get to women priests
      cheers,

      • Mike

        I think you might be an Episcopalian; there might be one of their churchs left in your state.

        • grok

          @Mike,
          Good rejoinder. I would hate to see us end up as the Episcopalians have- divided and dwindling.
          On Women priests- I think it is inevitable. But it may take a long time. I think we will start with deaconesses. We already have, if we haven’t officially called them that. At one Catholic church I go to there is no parish priest (due to the priest shortage) just a shared priest (with other parishes). A woman runs the church. I think her title is church administrator or something like that. I think of her as the deacon.

          • Mike

            Ok, good luck, seriously, all the best with women priests. You have a long trip ahead of you.

      • Theodore Seeber

        The day we get women priests is the day we lose all the gifts of the Patriarchy. Which of course is the real point of women priests- to chase all the men out of the church.

  • Ambaa

    I had no idea this event was happening now! What funny timing. I just had a post on my blog called Are Religious People “Better” Than Others? It’s been interesting to see the different points of view on that. I can see on my own page now how prejudiced people are against atheists. This idea that you can’t be “good” without a belief in God is quite a misunderstanding.

    • Mike

      Of course you can be good with out God; it’s just that it is less likely. And from my perspective, if you are good and don’t believe in God you still nevertheless “have” God because without God there is no good, only evil.

      I’d say that 99% of the atheists I’ve known were not real atheists in the philosophical intellectual sense but were merely disgruntled theists – people angry at one thing or another.

      • Octavo

        Got any statistics to back up your assertion that it’s less likely that the godless are good?

        • Theodore Seeber

          The support of abortion and gay marriage among atheists is a good start.

        • Mike

          The Soviet Union, National Socialism in Germany, Communist Poland, Czech. Rep., Slovaki, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, and on and on and on; officially atheist China, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, officially atheist Cuba, Vietnam…I could go on and on and on.

          Plus obviously, the murder of millions of babies who were almost ready for life outside the safety of their mother’s protective wombs.

          Oh and the killing of millions of girls by so-called feminists in the developing world.

          • Slow Learner

            Mike, Communist dictatorships are barely relevant to the experiences of Western democracies.
            Look at Sweden or the Netherlands for more representative samples.

            If you want to talk about “millions” of abortions, please remember you are talking about foetuses, almost all under 12 weeks of development (weighing about 12 grams aka half an ounce). That is not murder in any sane system of ethics.

            Citation needed on your last point.

            You’re welcome.

          • ACN

            You do not understand totalitarianism. Or rather, you seem to understand it in the least meaningful way. Yes, the SU claimed to be an atheistic state. It was in fact a totalitarianism built around a cult of personality surrounding its early leaders, and brutally enforced by secret police. It was effectively a religion surrounding the worship of its supreme leaders.

            I would eat my hat (and I own several) if any atheist in this thread, or hell, who follows this blog, is seriously advocating soviet style totalitarianism as some sort of serious end-game. Can anyone seriously claim that the principle problem with the Soviet Union, or the Nazis is that there was entirely too much critical thinking, reliance on reason, or evidence-based thinking? Of course not, because that wasn’t the problem. The problem is totalitarianism. The problem is cults of personality. The problem is when the people have so little and expect so little that in order to get SOMETHING, or feel better about their nothing, they’re willing to subjugate their critical thinking to the charisma of their leaders, and to their leaders revealed wisdom.

          • Mike

            Sweden up until like 2001 HAD AN OFFICIAL RELIGION, CHRISTIANITY!! you dolt. And the Dutch have a religiously based culture that extends thousands of years into the past. Both countries were for 100s and 1000s of years CHRISTIAN and puritan at that! Denmark too has an official religion, Christianity! Finland defines marriage as 1 man 1 women and it’s 2013 last time I checked.

            And atheists say they’re the intellectuals? Forgive them father for they know not what they do.

            Geez, what is with you people? Isn’t there some nothingness somewhere you should be not celebrating? LOL.

            Atheists: spend most of their lives talking about religion. You can’t make this stuff up.

          • Mike

            The world has suffered through enough atheism to last 10,000 years. We’ve had enough, thank you. Take your killing and your oppression to Cuba or China if you like it so much.

          • Slow Learner

            Mike, do you have any idea what percentage of Swedes are non-religious? Approaching 80% according to some surveys, at least 50% by any honest accounting. That’s why they dis-established the church in the first place, because it was meaningless to have an established church with no members!
            The Netherlands is around 50%, which is similar to the UK. All three are reasonable examples of less religious countries and cultures than the USA; all are more functional societies on almost all measures (yes, including frequency of divorce and rates of abortion).

          • Theodore Seeber

            “If you want to talk about “millions” of abortions, please remember you are talking about foetuses, almost all under 12 weeks of development (weighing about 12 grams aka half an ounce).”

            Good example of how atheists are a bunch of bigots.

          • anodognosic

            Mike and Ted, please stop strawmanning yourselves.

      • B. R. Lind

        I wonder if you could explicate what you mean by being an atheist in the “philosophical intellectual sense” vs. “disgruntled theists angry at one thing or another”?

      • Slow Learner

        Oh, that’s lovely of you Mike – you see your god as being so important that even though there are millions of people quite happy to say “Nope, there are no gods”, you define 99% of us as “merely disgruntled theists”. Does this help you to feel better about believing in god, to be able to claim that only 1% of atheists *really* disagree with you?

        As an aside, I fucking HATE false consciousness arguments. It’s possible that there are occasions when someone’s thinking is stuck in a paradigm which falsely rules out valid options and modes of thought; but generally there is no greater disrespect than insisting that you know better what someone else believes than they themselves do.

        • Mike

          See, I just proved it!!!! Do you see it Slow Learner? You just resorted to using the word “fucking” and “hate” to make a point!!!!

          Wow you atheists are sometimes so painfully predictable. Please tell me you see my point? Come on be honest.

          BTW Yes, I’ve know some atheists and like 99% are white, post-Christians, mostly well to do, mostly sexually liberated i.e. randy and mad as hell about something. They are usually angry folks, disgruntled like Darren maybe but peed off. And yes BTW their arguments are often childish, boiler plate stuff.

          • Slow Learner

            I expressed some of my vitriol against a fundamentally dishonest form of argument.

            But of course, focus on my momentary vitriol, not on my substantive point.

          • Mike

            What form of argument?; not everything is! That’s why atheism will never take hold, because it is obtuse. I was making an observation that you didn’t like so you blurted out “fucking hate”. BTW you sound like a gay “marriage” supporter.

            Advice to budding atheists: stop attacking other people and tearing down and start building up what you actually believe, if anything.

          • Slow Learner

            False consciousness arguments, which claim that your opponents don’t really believe what they state they do. I believe my sentence was quite clear; if your vision was too distorted by the word “fuck”, please see it re-written below without that:
            “I hate false consciousness arguments…[G]enerally there is no greater disrespect than insisting that you know better what someone else believes than they themselves do.”
            You made not an observation, but an assertion which claimed false consciousness for “99%” of atheists. If you can back that up, please do, because on the face of it you are lying.

          • Mike

            OMG Stop. Leah how did you ever manage to take these people seriously?

          • ACN

            At least it’s clear that you’re actually a mega-troll. I apologize for feeding you. Consider the mistake corrected.

          • Darren

            Who you callin’ disgruntled?!

  • Darren

    Leah said;

    “Discrimination against atheists is still a problem, and an embarrassing number of people elide “You can’t metaphysically sustain a philosophy of objective morality without God” into “You can’t follow objective morals without God.””

    If you insist on repeatedly inserting these backhanded swipes implying the moral bankruptcy of the Atheist worldview then I am going to continue to insist that you answer questions regarding your own claims vis-à-vis Objective Morality:

    1. Why is it that you feel that Objective Morality must require an external agent in order to exist as opposed to other Objectives which you (to date) have not placed such a demand upon. How so Math, Physics, the Cosmos itself, but not Right & Wrong?

    The God of the Gaps having retreated out of the physical sciences back to before the Big Bang, are we not just planting him anew in the moral cosmos, safe from the ravages of science?

    2. If we posit God as the skyhook upon which we can hang our Objective Morality, how then is it any longer Objective? Is it not now Subjective? It now depends upon the particular God or Gods we choose to hang it from, the daily temper of our God when he summons us to the mountain. Are we to be commanded to love our neighbors today, or perhaps to cleanse the Canaanites?
    Claims that God is necessarily singular, or that such a singular God is in some manner necessarily, as part of his nature, moral, these are naked assertions, invisible pink unicorn territory.

    I could go on, but these will do for a start…

    • Mike

      I think math and things like it do have external agents.

      The moral law written on our hearts is accessible to science.

      We don’t hang “our” morality on it, it imposes it on us. I thought this was pretty basic stuff.

      I think they are assertions based on evidence. We could go on and on about the explanatory nature of that evidence but they are evidential.

      Atheism is morally non-existent is maybe a better way of putting it. On atheism alone, good and evil are delusions, persuasive though they may be, they are nevertheless imaginary. IMHO.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I’m not Leah and I don’t play her on TV, but I do require legitimate authority for who I’ll listen to in other fields of science and philosophy as well.

      For instance, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and his Platform Sutra hold a special place in my theological knowledge, but the Bagwan Shree Rajneesh not so much.

      Oh, and I’m Catholic. So much for “religionists never take theology from outside their religion”.

  • vandelay

    “an embarrassing number of people elide “You can’t metaphysically sustain a philosophy of objective morality without God” into “You can’t follow objective morals without God.””

    Do they? I’ve spent time in both Christian and atheist circles (I’m agnostic) and I have to say I see this sort of elision a lot more among atheists. The entire “Good Without God” campaign, for instance, almost seems designed to confuse those concepts, and it’s worked so well that now it’s almost impossible to bring up the problem of establishing a godless objective morality without being accused of trying to say that atheists are incapable of acting morally.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

      I do think it is more often the atheists who conflate the two. It is called the straw man fallacy. Attack a position like the one you opponent has put forward but change it slightly so it is obviously false. I would wonder if Leah has any examples of any respected theist doing this. I can’t think of any. There are always stupid people in every belief system but you can’t go by those. Is there any Christan with a serious readership that has argued that atheists can’t be good?

      • Darren

        Randy said;

        I would wonder if Leah has any examples of any respected theist doing this.”

        I don’t know, Randy, do Mike and Ted count as respected? If so, it is a pretty short walk…

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          Mike just wrote:

          BTW Yes, I’ve know some atheists and like 99% are white, post-Christians, mostly well to do, mostly sexually liberated i.e. randy and mad as hell about something. They are usually angry folks, disgruntled like Darren maybe but peed off. And yes BTW their arguments are often childish, boiler plate stuff.

          I think that was uncharitable and an over-generalization. I get where he is coming from but I don’t see such statements as representing the Christian position. I have likely come close to saying such things myself from time to time so I don’t want to judge.

          Tedd? He says things that make me cringe all the time. I don’t read all the comments. I pick and choose threads.

          I know this comment also borders on being judgmental and uncharitable. But comment box guys are what they are. That is why we need guys like you to keep us honest. The guys are call respected are ones that stay away from the obvious over-reaching. There are a lot of them.

          • Darren

            Randy, I know you to be kind and considerate, even when you think we are wrong. Good for you.

            I was just being glib, though I think it still accurate.

            Ted? Well, when even Rebecca Hamilton at Public Catholic has to occasionally tell him to calm down, it does kind of put some perspective on things.

            Mike? I think he must be on a roll with this thread. He is normally hyperbolic about things, but he seems in a nasty mood on this… It happens to the best of us, perhaps it will pass.

            Anyways, baby crying – nice talking to you.

      • Darren

        Also, here on Patheos:

        Bad Catholic, On the Couch, God and the Machine, Public Catholic, Standing on my Head, Why I am Catholic, Catholic and Loving it, perhaps others…

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          Can you give me quotes? I don’t read all those blogs but I do some of them off and on. I don’t think I have read that atheists can’t be moral. Probably in the comments some where but I would be surprised if any of the blog authors said it. It is silly and uncharitable. I can’t imagine Fr Dwight or Mark Shea saying it.

          • Darren

            OK, call me lazy, but I am not going to go back and quote mine… I did limit my selection to only those blogs where I have seen Atheist bashing personally, though.

            Fr. Dwight – is subtle about it, more an implied “poor atheists to be so incapable of good” kind of thing, but perhaps that is just my reading. He is probably the mildest of the bunch, but then again I read very little of his stuff. Check out the one where he was pondering the ‘silly’ Atheists and their concern over the Fermi Paradox…

            Mark Shea? Really? I actually kind of like Mark, and after a stint of me playing super-nice he actually came close to calling me a “good Atheist”, but he still loves him some Atheist bashing. I don’t actually think he is hateful about it, more bombastic and hyperbolic, but again that is just my reading. I also don’t think he would ascribe all Atheists as incapable of good, just most of them.

            On the Couch – check out the recent discussions we had over the Christian origins of science.

            Public Catholic? Bad Catholic? Why I am Catholic? Just read anything… It won’t take more than two or three posts, max, to run across some Atheist whuppin’

            God and the Machine – again, a blogger who I have some respect for, but he also loves him some Atheist bashing.

            Really, even among the most charitable of these, the best we Atheists could manage is pity that we are so deluded and isn’t it a shame we are doomed to failure in our attempt to actually be “Good without God”.

            So, yeah.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            You equate atheist bashing with making precisely this argument. That is that atheists can’t live good moral lives because they are atheists. I think they attack atheists all the time. Often it is fair comment. Occasionally they cross a line. But the “atheists can’t live moral lives” argument is a rookie mistake. I don’t see veteran apologists make it. I do think atheists characterize theist objections that way. Intentionally or not they complain theists say that and almost every time you go back and check what the theist actually said and he didn’t make that argument at all. So it is the straw man fallacy. I do think that it is made often enough by intelligent enough atheists that they must know they are using the straw man fallacy. They just don’t care. They know most people won’t think so hard as to see the problem. So it will work rhetorically. Atheists are really not nearly as rational as they think they are.

  • Theodore Seeber

    My problem is, whenever I look at it, I can’t justify abortion, gay marriage, and contraception OBJECTIVELY. And that leads me to believe you can’t be “Good without God”.

    I can’t even justify abortion, gay marriage, and contraception from “a strong preference against suffering” concept because they all cause worse suffering than the ills they try to remedy.

    So don’t even try to justify atheism to me until or unless you can find me an atheist who understands the value of suffering and can judge such morals OBJECTIVELY.

    • Evelyn

      How does gay marriage cause suffering?

      • Theodore Seeber

        By depriving the children of an example of a healthy heterosexual relationship. Same way divorce causes suffering.

        • Mike

          I wonder how many of today’s gay activists were raised by their mums and dads but who now want to take that basic human right away from other children? Hmmm…do as I say not as I do.

          • B. R. Lind

            “I wonder how many of today’s gay activists were raised by their mums and dads but who now want to take that basic human right away from other children? Hmmm…do as I say not as I do.”

            Being raised by opposite-sex parents is not something they “did;” it’s something they had no say in. (I’m not saying they don’t love and appreciate their parents; I’m just pointing out why their behavior is not hypocritical. The fact that they happened to be raised by opposite-sex parents doesn’t mean they consider such an upbringing superior.) It’s difficult to take you seriously when you make obviously nonsensical points.

        • A Philosopher

          But heterosexual marriage deprives children of an example of a healthy homosexual relationship. Looks like a symmetric situation.

          • Mike

            LOL. You can’t seriously believe that. That is just insane.

            FYI, in the 16 billion or so people who’ve every lived there’s never been even 1 born of 2 women or 2 men. WOW! Atheism really is rational LOL.

          • Theodore Seeber

            The problem being that there is no such thing as a healthy homosexual relationship.

      • Josh Lyman

        By magic!

    • Octavo

      Sorry, the case for atheism that a lot of people make has little to do with morality. We don’t see evidence for a non-human intelligence that exists apart from matter, created reality, or revealed himself to mankind. Don’t even try to justify theism to me until you have shown strong evidence that minds can exist apart from matter. That seems to be the lynchpin of the whole theistic and supernaturalist enterprise.

      • Theodore Seeber

        Those are just your ugh fields, preventing you from seeing the evidence. But the support for abortion and homosexuality is real, and is by definition, preventing you from displaying the ability to be “Atheists can be Good without God”. I’m not arguing the “without God” part. I’m *directly* arguing the “Atheists can be Good” part.

        • Jay

          @Theodore Seeber: It’s hardly fair to assert that “the support for abortion and homosexuality . . . is by definition, preventing you from displaying the ability to be ‘Good without God,’” when we disagree on the morality of abortion and homosexuality in the first place. There’s nothing in the definition of those concepts that make them immoral (i.e., nothing like “sexual attraction to the same sex that is also wrong”). I could just as well assert that the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception makes it wrong “by definition,” and I would have advanced the conversation just as little.

          More generally, I think focusing on high-level moral questions like abortion and marriage is really, really missing the point of this thread. The issue isn’t whether individual atheists reach the right answer on particular questions; it’s whether a non-theist worldview is, in principle, capable of conceptualizing and resolving moral disputes to at least the same extent as a theist worldview. You seem to implicitly accept this premise, but then argue that (most) atheists are immoral because of abortion and same-sex marriage. Fine, but that’s really not the discussion we’re having. It would be like me saying “well, Catholics can’t be good with God, because they oppose contraception.” Maybe Catholics are wrong to oppose contraception, but that has basically no bearing on the more fundamental question of whether moral reasoning is possible under a Catholic worldview.

          Also, on an unrelated note, I strongly second Octavo’s suggestion that you’re not using the concept of ugh fields constructively. It seems to me like whenever someone is making an argument you don’t like, you just accuse them of having ugh fields that prevent them from being objective. But of course, you don’t necessarily know what other people’s ugh fields are, just like we don’t necessarily know yours. Be wary of fully general counter-arguments that you find yourself able to use as ammunition against any opposing position.

          • Theodore Seeber

            “There’s nothing in the definition of those concepts that make them immoral (i.e., nothing like “sexual attraction to the same sex that is also wrong”). ”

            Thanks for the laugh of the day. Especially since biology itself shows that sexual attraction to the same sex can’t breed and thus isn’t fruitful.

            “I could just as well assert that the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception makes it wrong “by definition,” and I would have advanced the conversation just as little.”

            Good example, let’s test that. People who don’t use contraception and abortion have children. People who use contraception and abortion, don’t have children. Who will still be around 3 generations from now?

            “The issue isn’t whether individual atheists reach the right answer on particular questions; it’s whether a non-theist worldview is, in principle, capable of conceptualizing and resolving moral disputes to at least the same extent as a theist worldview.”

            And the specific test of that, is whether or not the non-theist world view comes is able to come to the same ANSWER as the theist worldview.

            Since it can’t, there’s obviously a problem with the non-theist conceptualizing and resolving moral disputes at all.

            I maintain that the real problem- is that the non-theist is incapable of looking at a problem outside of their narrow political point of view objectively. And thus comes to insane conclusions like “contraception is good” when it clearly isn’t.

          • B. R. Lind

            Mr. Seeber: You argue that same-sex relationships are immoral (or at least morally inferior) to opposite-sex relationships because they biologically cannot result in children. I hate to trot out such an oft-repeated point, but what is your position on post-menopausal women, infertile couples, etc. getting married?

            More directly, why is there a moral imperative to breed?

    • Kristen inDallas

      Ted, there was a whole wing of pro-life atheists at the MfL in DC. I wasn’t one of them, but I acknowledge their existience. Not ALL atheists believe the things you seem to think they believe. That’s good news right? So cheer up!

      • Theodore Seeber

        Acknowledged. A famous one is George Orwell, though he had some significant other problems with morality in general.

        Most Catholics wouldn’t have a problem with Atheists that fit that definition of Good. We all have doubts from time to time, we’re all tempted by materialism.

        But this whole “Atheists can be Good without God” movement, if it is going to succeed, has to start with “Atheists can be Good”. Which when it comes to New Atheism, I’ve yet to see an example of.

        • Slow Learner

          Theodore, that is probably because you seem to define “Good” as “agrees with my interpretation of Catholic doctrine”.
          Where Catholic doctrine bears little relation to morality, there you are highly unlikely to persuade people to follow it without persuading them to be Catholics; unless you can come to an agreed definition of Good, of course you will not agree on where the term should be applied.
          The purpose of the campaign is to persuade moderate theists that the bogeyman Evil Atheists their religious leaders present to them is unrelated to actual atheists, and in that it seems to be effective.

          • Kristen inDallas

            I think we’d be approaching a point of agreement if the phrase were instead “Atheists are capable of living up to their own individual interpretation of ‘good’ just like every Christian, Muslim, man, woman, cab driver, dentist, politician and psycopathic murderer.” Key word being “capable” because there are also individuals in each of those categories who judge themselves unworthy by their own standards. (And those people are generally the ones I want to be friends with).

          • Theodore Seeber

            “Theodore, that is probably because you seem to define “Good” as “agrees with my interpretation of Catholic doctrine”.”

            Perhaps that’s because Catholic doctrine, unlike New Atheist dogma, is objective.

            “The purpose of the campaign is to persuade moderate theists that the bogeyman Evil Atheists their religious leaders present to them is unrelated to actual atheists, and in that it seems to be effective.”

            It isn’t effective as long as we don’t have a common definition of what is Good, and as long as atheists continue to display objective evil as good.

          • Brian Westley

            “Catholic doctrine, unlike New Atheist dogma, is objective”

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief/files/2012/05/inigo.jpg

          • Theodore Seeber

            Brian, you are the one putting forth a faith- and yes, atheism is a faith- that is against observed phenomena.

          • Brian Westley

            WAHAHA~!

          • Darren

            Ted said;

            “Brian, you are the one putting forth a faith- and yes, atheism is a faith- that is against observed phenomena.”

            OK, I gotta here it… which observed phenomena contradict the standard (or at least my standard) Methodological Naturalist Empirical Atheist paradigm?

    • Alf

      Contraception prevents suffering by slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and by preventing unwanted pregnancies.
      Contraception causes suffering by?
      Gay marriage prevents suffering by allowing gay couples to have their already existing relationships aknowledged by the law, instead of having them treated as ‘lesser’ relationships and making gay people feel like second class citizens. It confers a set of legal protections, such as a right to visit their spouse in hospital. Imagine not being able to see your partner in hospital after they’ve had an accident or are dying from a disease.
      Gay marriage is good for gay men:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16203621
      http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-same-sex-marriage-20130311,0,6014471.story
      There’s no evidence that two gay parents are worse for a child than two heterosexual parents:
      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100121135904.htm
      in fact they may even be better:
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/16/gay-parents-better-than-straights_n_1208659.html

      I don’t like abortion and I think it would be better if it could be avoided, but the fact is women will have abortions whether it’s legal or not, and they’re more likely to suffer and die from an illegal abortion than a legal one. The fetus can’t feel pain for most of the preganacy (http://discovermagazine.com/2005/dec/fetus-feel-pain#.UUfmrzd2HFw) and is not conscious and cannot suffer in the way it’s mother can. Since pregancy is still a risky business, it seems unfair to force a woman to stay pregnant for the sake of a clump of cells with no awareness of it’s own existence, especially when she might lose her job/her chance of education/her health because she’s pregnant. Most abortions happen early in the pregnancy- see the pie chart in the middle of the page here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

      • Theodore Seeber

        “Contraception prevents suffering by slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and by preventing unwanted pregnancies.
        Contraception causes suffering by?”

        By preventing so-called unwanted pregnancies (the DNA in the fetus wants to live and will try to live, if given a chance, and thus all pregnancies are “wanted”.

        The rest of your diatribe hinges on that singular completely subjective and without evidence error.

        • Alf

          DNA has no thoughts or desires. You might as well say a rock ‘wants’ to fall when gravity pulls it to earth. Wants and desires are the products of brains, which DNA doesn’t have.

          Besides which, most contraception prevents the sperm and egg from meeting and forming a fetus in the first place. Condoms, for example, create a physical barrier which stops the sperm getting into the uterus. So, there is no fetus with DNA in it. The sperm has DNA in it, but I hope you’re not claiming that every sperm has the ‘right’ to seek an egg so it can replicate it’s DNA. Because that’s ridiculous. If you are claiming that, I hope you freeze all your sperm every time you have a wet dream and then find a woman to put the sperm into. Doing any less wouldn’t be fair to what the DNA in the sperm ‘wants’ after all.

          The points in the rest of my diatribe were independent of my arguement on contraception, but I guess it’s hard to argue against facts, so you just gave up.

  • ACN

    An agnostic atheist with a secular humanist personal philosophy, which includes a strong bend towards libertarianism (in the authoritarian vs. libertarian sense, not the “libertarian party” of american politics sense), socialism (in the usual sense), feminism, and a generalized commitment to science, reason, and freethought.

    “Inspired by art, informed by science, motivated by compassion”.

    Also, what Darren said above re: objective morality. :)

    • Mike

      Sounds like you’re an Episcopalian :).

      • ACN

        Ouch. Big talk from somone who’s trying to poach episcopalisn priests :)

        • Darren

          Just the angry ones… ;)

        • Mike

          Most are not angry but sad, but I see your point, which in either case will not matter in 10 years when the last Epis. church finally closes its doors and turns over the keys to the Democractic party. :)

          • ACN

            What does that even mean?

            The episcopalian church is probably not going anywhere any faster than the catholic church, and they’re not a branch of any american political party.

  • Slow Learner

    RmI am an atheist materialist reductionist.
    I am a humanist and a feminist.

    @Christian H, to me “reductionist” denotes the principle that complex systems are generally better understood by breaking them up, understanding the bits, maybe breaking them up some more and then building a synoptic knowledge on a firm foundation. The hard sciences are at base a combination of empiricism and reductionism.

    • Kristen inDallas

      I think just like Leah’s beef with not clarifying “atheist” I have a similar beef with an unqualified use of the term feminist. Well not really, I wish everyone considered themselves a feminist on some level, but I suspect some people using the term think it’s only valid use is as a synonym for “reproductive choice advocate.”
      So yeah I’ll be the first to clarify my views there in a subthread:
      I believe in the inherent dignity and beauty of the female, in her capacity to face hardships without compromising her virtue, and in her ability to be “good without gonads” :))

      • Slow Learner

        I am a feminist in that I believe in the radical proposition that women are people too. I’m aware that there are many feminisms, some of them mutually contradictory.
        Based on wiki’s main “Feminism” page I am probably closest to a Liberal Feminist, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
        Essentially based on my knowledge and experience the differences between men and women seem to be based purely on different hormones rushing around their bodies, and social construction of gender roles, so I am deeply suspicious of any claims that “women do X and men do Y” that can’t point directly at the causal link to androgens or similar.

      • Josh Lyman

        Did you miss all of high school biology? Women have gonads.

  • Val

    Atheism is “uninteresting” only because it is simple. No angels to count on no pinheads. No Byzantine rationalizations to supply. Nothing to interest those who are seduced by the prettiness and ‘sophistication’ of argument into affirming nonsense.

    • Octavo

      If I had to choose a belief system based on fun, I would probably go for hard polytheism. You’ve got a nigh infinite number of personalities to deal with, unusual forms of worship, and magick incantations! Materialism, which is more likely to be true, is less fun.

    • ACN

      That’s why we get fun belief systems like pastafarianism! :)

  • Jack

    I am an atheist and a scientist. For me, the scientist label is the more important and revealing of the two. I think science is by far the best, if not the only, tool we have for understanding this universe in which we find ourselves. We, our brains, our feelings and our thoughts are all part of that material universe. I learned right from wrong the way most people do, starting with innate human moral intuition as an infant, upon which were layered more elaborate systems of rules for acceptable behavior. These were taught to me by parents and teachers and other authority figures. As I matured, I learned to adjust these based on my own empirical experience with what causes harm or happiness for myself and others. As far as I can tell, there is nothing magical, supernatural, divine, mystical, vitalistic or spiritual in any of this. We are members of a hypersocial species, and innate human moral intuition is a big part of what makes us so. It is not, of course, the whole story. Cultural evolution plays a big role in our morality as well. But silent, invisible and inscrutable supernatural beings clearly do not.

    And while we’re all discussing morality, and since many readers here are Catholic, I must ask: how can you view the Catholic church as an institution that holds the high moral ground, when so many of its priests have molested and raped defenseless and innocent children, when its higher authorities have deliberately shielded these criminals from prosecution, and when the whole sordid mess could have been prevented by abandoning the ridiculous, patriarchal, centuries-old doctrine that priests must be celibate men? How can you live with yourselves knowing that the money you drop into the collection plate every week goes to fund this corrupt organization?

    • Theodore Seeber

      “how can you view the Catholic church as an institution that holds the high moral ground, when so many of its priests have molested and raped defenseless and innocent children, when its higher authorities have deliberately shielded these criminals from prosecution, and when the whole sordid mess could have been prevented by abandoning the ridiculous, patriarchal, centuries-old doctrine that priests must be celibate men?”

      I’m not Leah and I don’t play her on TV, but for me, the reason is in the question itself: Because none of the priests or Bishops that did that, were living up to that doctrine. If they were, it wouldn’t have happened.

      As for the doctrine being “ridiculous, patriarchal”, those are subjective judgments and you have just gone beyond the dogma of your own religion as a scientist. There is no objective proof for those categories, only emotional claptrap.

      • Jack

        @Theodore Seeber:
        You’re evading my question, not answering it. You seem to be suggesting that Catholic authority figures can commit any crime, no matter how heinous, and you’ll always be happy to keep dropping your money into that plate every Sunday, because you can always just dismiss those criminals as “not living up to that doctrine”. Somehow their crimes just don’t count.

        The matter of celibate male priests is an empirical question, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that, if the rule were changed such that only married women could hold positions of power and authority in the Catholic church, the problem of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy would vanish.

        • Slow Learner

          Slightly overstating your case there, Jack. Married women have been guilty of sexual abuse of children, both at the behest of their husbands and independently.
          Admittedly, at much lower rates than “celibate” men in positions of authority, but nonetheless it’s worth noting.

          • Kristen inDallas

            Admittedly at much lower rates than *non-celibate* men in positions of authority…
            Because if they were actually celibate, the rate would be 0/total, no?

            But otherwise ditto on the married women comment. (part of my feminism involves my hair getting rankled when someone implies that women are less capable of wrong actions, simply by being women, bc that is just as much a stereotype as them being less capaable at any thing else.)

            FYI for Jack – the same argument for letting women hold combat positions (if they can pass the physical test) applies here. You are no longer talking about averages, you’re talking about the specific woman who applies for the job. One need look no further than politics to understand that the type of woman who seeks a position of power and authority over others is generally just as disordered as the type of man who seeks the same power. Of course there are women and men who seek politics and the priesthood out of a genuine desire to serve. But if you want to compare women vs. mens propensity to abuse power, your statistic will mean more if concentrated among those women and men who actually seek or hold power. (ie. june cleaver may be a less likely suspect than father flynn, but what are the odds June cleaver even wants the job?)

          • Mike

            What about lesbians “married” to other women? I am pretty sure rates of child abuse are higher among them than among men-woman married couples.

            For a citation check out http://www.prc.utexas.edu/nfss/. Peer reviewed, media scrutinized, checked out internally by the college, and passed all tests with flying colors.

          • Slow Learner

            Oh no, Mike, you did not just cite the Regnerus study?

            For reference, for anyone who doesn’t know about it in detail, this is a study which compares:
            1) stably married heterosexual couples
            with
            2) families which have divorced, been through a period of single-parenthood, and where one of the parents has reportedly had a homosexual relationship at some point.
            Hopefully you can see that this is hardly a comparison of like with like.
            If you want to check it out further, look at:
            http://www.asanet.org/documents/ASA/pdfs/12-144_307_Amicus_%20%28C_%20Gottlieb%29_ASA_Same-Sex_Marriage.pdf
            the above, which is the American Sociological Association’s Amicus Curiae Brief in the Proposition 8 case currently before the US Supreme Court. Section IIA is specifically about the Regnerus study, though the rest is well worth a read as it gives an update on the current state of the research on this issue.

        • Beadgirl

          “The matter of celibate male priests is an empirical question, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that, if the rule were changed such that only married women could hold positions of power and authority in the Catholic church, the problem of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy would vanish.”

          Actually, given that a study from i think 2002 showed that rates of abuse among Catholic priests were identical to rates of abuse among rabbis and Christian ministers (who can marry), and given that abusers are also found among teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and so on, all of whom can get married, and finally that there is (unfortunately) no shortage of adult men and women willing to sleep with priests, I would argue that priestly celibacy is a big old red herring.

          • http://Disqus Obliged_Cornball

            Agreed. In fact, my understanding of child sexual abuse is that it’s sort of its own “orientation.” That is to say, it’s not necessarily associated with ordinary hetero- or homosexuality in any way, and that a failure to fulfill those desires won’t automatically lead to higher child abuse rates unless the person also happens to be attracted to children already. In other words, sexual deprivation of a non-pedophile does not a pedophile make.

    • deiseach

      Jack, please explain to me the reasoning that gets you from “if Latin Rite priests had been permitted to marry, there would have been no child sexual abuse scandals” to “paedophilia is only caused by celibacy”? I think you are making the argument that the clerical abuse scandal was a case of “situational abusers”, as defined by this site:

      “The majority of child sex abusers are situational abusers. They are usually men who use a child for sex because the child is made available to them, most commonly through prostitution or within the family. The situational abuser does not usually have a specific sexual preference for children. Situational abusers are generally regarded as opportunistic and indiscriminate, though it may nevertheless be the case that they prefer as a sexual partner someone who fulfils socially defined ideals of beauty and sexuality, such as looking young and/or physically immature.”

      Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen court cases in the news where married men raped their own biological children. And also some other cases where men who were not priests, were not celibates, raped children (Sandusky)?

      Now, if we could be sure that every single case was that of a purely situational abuser and they would not have sexually targeted children if they could have married, there might be some merit in the argument that “compulsory celibacy caused the abuse”. But I don’t think that is so; if you are going to break the commandments about sex outside of marriage, and you are not oriented to find pre-pubescent/early adolescent children primarily sexually arousing, then you could just as easily have an affair with an adult (and indeed, there are sex scandals where vulnerable adults have been persuaded into sexual or romantic relationships by those in a position of trust, such as doctors, therapists, and the likes).

      Ironically, whether you know it or not, you’re relying on the same idea that was behind so much of the cover-ups back in the 70s and 80s: assurance that this was a temporary psychological blip that was amenable to therapy, and after a course of such, the perpetrator would be cured and could be permitted to have contact with young people and children again. And of course, that worked as well as you’d expect and they re-offended.

      • Kenneth

        The married priest/abuse connection is not as simple as men buggering young lads because they don’t have an old lady to get it from at home. It has to do with the nature of celibacy. Healthy celibacy requires that one has a very high level of personal maturity and a healthy sense of sexuality. In other words, that man must be fully capable of sustaining a healthy adult sexual relationship and be in a head space to then forgo that for deep reasons. MOST of the men inducted into the priesthood in past decades, and ALL of the abusers within, did not meet those conditions. They were emotional and sexual cripples, permanent adolescents, basically, many of whom would have turned into healthy gay men in the right circumstance. That was not an option for them, so they took the collar and figured they would just stuff all their “dirty” feelings down with their vows. Well, surprise of surprises, that didn’t work. You had thousands of 14-year old boys running around in men’s bodies and victimizing real kids who they still emotionally related to as peers. Would married priests solve the abuse issue? No, but they would tend to yield more candidates who are in a better position to embrace celibacy in a healthy way. The real problem, though is not the marital status of seminary candidates but a culture of secrecy and absolute non-accountability within church leadership.

        • Darren

          Thank you, Kenneth. Nicely put.

        • Theodore Seeber

          It is for this reason that I strongly support *second career priests*, particularly the widowed.

        • Ben

          Your argument would be stronger if you hadn’t equated gay men with pedophiles.
          Most pedophiles in fact form adult relationships with women and are attracted to children regardless of the child’s sex. It just happens to be the case that in a church, a priest will find it easier to gain access to young boys than young girls, because activites tend to be sex-segregated.
          Suggesting pedophiles would become healthy gay men if conditions were right is a slur against gay men which has no basis in fact.

    • Jack

      @deiseach:

      Jack, please explain to me the reasoning that gets you from “if Latin Rite priests had been permitted to marry, there would have been no child sexual abuse scandals” to “paedophilia is only caused by celibacy”?

      I never said that.

      Ironically, whether you know it or not, you’re relying on the same idea that was behind so much of the cover-ups back in the 70s and 80s: assurance that this was a temporary psychological blip that was amenable to therapy, and after a course of such, the perpetrator would be cured and could be permitted to have contact with young people and children again.

      Quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that Catholic doctrine virtually assures sexual abuse of children by priests, because its edicts fly in the face of what is known about human biology and human nature. The male celibacy doctrine assures that a significant fraction of priests will be men who at best are insecure about their sexuality, at worst have pathological sexual feelings and inclinations, and in some cases are fully aware of their own pedophilia and choose the priesthood as a convenient means of access to children over whom they will have unquestioned authority. And on that subject…
      @ SlowLearner and Kristen inDallas:
      There are biologically-based behavioral differences between men and women. A study of more than 4000 convicted pedophiles found that about 0.4% of them were female. Other studies using different methods and criteria find different rates, but in nearly all of them the prevalence of female sexual abuse against children is less than 10% of the total. So if the rule were changed such that only women could have positions of authority in the Catholic church, it is reasonable to expect that the number of cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy would drop by at least 90%, and more likely 99%, from current levels. If only married women could hold these positions — women more likely to have stable and healthy sex lives with adult males — then the rate would be reduced even further, most likely to something statistically indistinguishable from zero.
      But, as I said before, this is an empirical question. Why don’t you write a letter to your Pope requesting that the rule be changed as I have suggested, so we can all see who is right? Of course we all know why you won’t write that letter. It would be a wasted postage stamp. The male Catholic power structure would never authorize a change to a female-led power structure, because they care about their own power, tradition, and archaic misogynistic Christian dogma more than they care about the health, happiness and safety of children in the Catholic church. This is immoral.
      Every Sunday you contribute money to pay the salaries, pensions and legal defense fees of pedophiles. How can you do this and call yourselves and your church moral? None of you has answered this question.

      • Beadgirl

        “Every Sunday you contribute money to pay the salaries, pensions and legal defense fees of pedophiles. How can you do this and call yourselves and your church moral? None of you has answered this question.”

        We could turn this back on you, Jack. Do you pay property taxes, that pay the salaries of public school teachers that are abusers? Do you pay income taxes, that go towards the salaries of politicians who have committed horrible abuses or things you think are completely immoral?

        I’d also ask that, if you are going to call us complicit because of the money we put into the collection plate every Sunday, that you prove your allegation by showing the break-down of where that money actually goes for each parish in question.

        Finally, I don’t think this is an argument that will convince you, but for us there is a difference between the men and women, lay and ordained, who populate our Church and the Church itself, which is far more than the sum of its people. The fact that far too many people can not live up to the morality of the Church does not mean the Church is itself immoral (and if you think the corruption and moral bankruptcy is bad now, you should read up on what priests, bishops, and popes were doing in the Middle Ages).

        • Jack

          We could turn this back on you, Jack. Do you pay property taxes, that pay the salaries of public school teachers that are abusers? Do you pay income taxes, that go towards the salaries of politicians who have committed horrible abuses or things you think are completely immoral?

          This is a specious argument. Paying taxes is compulsory. None of us has a choice about that. Being a Catholic is voluntary. You could choose to leave, as a great many former Catholics of high moral integrity have done.

          The fact that far too many people can not live up to the morality of the Church does not mean the Church is itself immoral (and if you think the corruption and moral bankruptcy is bad now, you should read up on what priests, bishops, and popes were doing in the Middle Ages).

          Thanks for your refreshing honesty about the historical tradition of moral corruption in the Catholic church, and, yes, I am aware of some of it. Whether or not people can live up to its teachings, the church itself is immoral if bishops and cardinals shield pedophile priests and move them from parish to parish so that they can have years- or decades-long careers as child molesters. That is immoral. It is intrinsic to the real values of the Catholic church, which place the public image of the church and the authority and power of its clergy above the safety of children. It doesn’t matter what the catechism says on this subject. Actions speak louder than words. I know the church is trying to clean up its act with respect to this scandal. I hope they succeed, but I have grave doubts. Clinging to the doctrine of the celibate male clergy shows a serious denial of reality. My arguments above about married female priests still hold.

          • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com Beadgirl

            If your argument is that taxes are compulsory and the collection plate is not, I point you to my second paragraph, which asks you to demonstrate that what we give at Mass is going directly to fund an evil, rather than something good.

            And no, I won’t leave the Church over the fact that a minority (and it is a minority) of priests and bishops have done horrible things. Just like I have not renounced my American citizenship because of the crimes and misdeeds of Bush and Obama, and I do not reject the Bill of Rights or our legal system despite gross injustices that happen every day, and I do not reject the institution of marriage despite the fact that 50% of people get divorced. This is what I mean about an institution being greater than the sum of its parts.

            Finally, no, your arguments about married female priests do not hold, not the least because the existence of female rabbis and female ministers and female Episcopal/Anglican priests has not prevented instances of abuse in those religions. Not to mention the presence of married females in schools, sports, foster homes, and anywhere else abuse is found.

  • Thomas

    Are there honestly that many atheists these days whose friends don’t know that they are atheists? I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s struggles with being upfront about their beliefs (and perhaps it’s a peculiarly American problem, I’m speaking from a British perspective), but every atheist I know is both comfortable and open about their position. To put it another way, I’ve been surprised to learn that certain friends are religious, but I’ve never been surprised to learn that certain friends are atheists.

    • Jack

      @ Thomas:
      Yes, in the U.S. there are many atheists who keep quiet about it. In some parts of the country, coming out as an atheist can severely degrade neighborly relations. Of course, in a place like Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia, it could easily get you killed.

    • Josh Lyman

      Every atheist you know is happy that people know they are atheists? Seriously? Did you just type those words? That is quite possibly the dumbest thing I have seen in quite a while.

      • Ken

        It’s a lot easier being an atheist in Britain. Religion is not widely talked about and is considered your own private business. 25% of the country described themselves as non-religious at the last census. There really isn’t the stigma here against atheists that there seems to be in America. So, if all Thomas’ atheist friends are British, it’s probably not as dumb as you think.

        • Josh LymaN

          Yes, it is stupid no matter where he lives. The people who afraid of the repercussions related to coming out as atheist will be the ones he doesn’t know about.

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I am a materialistic reductionist in epistemology, a descriptive relativist in public discourse, and a secular humanist in private metaphysical discussion. I would call myself a “Freedomist”, if that were a thing.

    But most of all (by a wide margin), I am an empiricist. I seek to believe that which is true about the world, and I determine what is true through observation and reason. Empiricism has led me to reductionism and descriptive relativism. Hope has led me to secular humanism.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      Ooo, please talk about Freedomism.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        Challenge accepted!

        My moral philosophy values freedom extremely highly. In particular, I’ve noticed it’s one of the things that differentiates my moral decisions from those mode by most (though certainly not all) religious people.

        My position is that freedom is the single most important right a human being has- freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of self-determination, and even freedom of annihilation. I shy away from placing the onus of “responsibilities” or “duties” on other people, and am generally of the opinion that your only actual moral duty is to not actively and intentionally hurt other people (there are clearly some corner cases, but this is my rule of thumb).

        Interestingly, this does not preclude me from making subjective moral claims like “you ought to help someone in need”- hence my secular humanism- but is merely a claim that (in most cases) you have the right not to help them if you so choose.

        There are 3 reasons I would call out as to why I value freedom so highly (and so should you!):

        1) Empiricism- my observation is that societies that fail to value freedom highly end up as much worse places to live than societies that value freedom highly. Capitalism, for all it’s flaws, works, and it applies to more than just economics- maintaining a free marketplace of ideas allows the good ideas to flourish and the bad ideas to die.

        2) The Golden Rule- this may or may not apply to you, but it certainly applies to me: I don’t like being ordered around. Don’t like it one bit. Or more accurately, I value my own freedom higher than pretty much anything else, so I ought to be extremely careful before infringing upon someone else’s freedom.

        3) Rational Argument- So far as I can tell, any time we take away someone’s freedom, it’s ostensibly either for their benefit or for someone else’s. There are certainly cases where we can and should abrogate freedoms to protect other people- drunk driving laws, gun laws, etc. But given that freedom constitutes a significant component of human flourishing (see reasons 1 and 2), abrogating that freedom is itself a significant harm. So we’d better have an awfully compelling reason to do so.

        If we’re doing it for their own good, then that is a claim that we know better than they do what will make them happy. This is certainly possible, but a) seems extremely unlikely in most cases and b) even if it were true, I don’t see a way of verifying it. There are some cases where we as a society have deemed it likely enough that we are comfortable enforcing rules on the individual that have no direct effect on others- e.g. bicycle helmet laws. Again, in order to actively override someone’s free choice, we’d better be darned sure. In subjective, morally ambiguous, or personality-dependent cases (gay marriage, sexual fetishes, hygiene, clothing style, use of swear words, and pretty much anything else that might make you uncomfortable but is not clearly, demonstrably, in-every-case bad for the individual), society ought to keep it’s grubby little mitts off.

        In truth, I fear I must admit that I value freedom even more highly than my reasons listed above give me license too- which is why I would label myself a Freedomist. Even if you could demonstrate to me that the Utilitarian effect of limiting certain freedoms (freedom of religion, for example) was a net positive, I still wouldn’t do it- at least not unless you demonstrated that it was a really really big net positive.

        *footnote: I notice that I perhaps come across here as a neo-conservative/libertarian, and would like to point out a major difference between Freedomists (e.g. me) and that lot. I am totally fine with social safety nets, minimum wage, etc. I don’t see those as “removing someone’s right to fail,” or anything like that. It is perfectly reasonable for society to decide that it wants a bar under which none of its citizens can fall, and that is not a legitimate case of limiting anyone’s freedom.

        • Darren

          Nice.

          You even did my shameless self-promotion for me!

  • Cam

    Sometimes it’s not a matter of ‘philosophy X vs philosophy Y’, but instead ”correct application of philosophy X’.

    Many religious people’s beliefs can spring from errors in a philosophy they share with their secular counterparts. Showing someone that 2+2=4, not 37, doesn’t involve introducing a competing philosophical worldview.

    • Cam

      Not to diminish the fact that it probably is more often bad philosophy rather than error in philosophy that leads to religious beliefs, though.

  • Ken

    I haven’t heard of ‘A’ week until now and it doesn’t hold much significance for me, since my father was and is a militant atheist and my mother an agnostic who has become more atheistic as I’ve got older. Add to that my brother, his girlfriend, my sister, her husband and those co-workers who I’ve talked to about religion are all atheists, so there’s no-one to ‘come out’ to. But then I’m British where about 25% of the population identifies with no religion. I get that it’s much harder in America and other places.

    As for your question, I lean towards being a consequentialist. I think the effects of an action are the most important thing when deciding if it is right or wrong. That doesn’t mean intentions don’t matter at all, I just think effects matter more. Right and Wrong for me are bascially synonyms for Harmful/Not Harmful, pleasant/unpleasant, beneficial/not beneficial. I think whether something is harmful or not can be worked out using scientific means. With physical harm, it’s pretty easy to tell if something causes it. With psychological harm, it’s much harder, but psychologists are getting better at finding ways to do that.
    Why should we avoid harming people? Well, I was born with the ability to feel empathy, compassion and guilt. So, if I harm others I suffer myself, albiet ‘only’ psychologically. I also believe in social contact theory. I want to be treated well, and the best way to get people to treat me well is to treat them well. I don’t want to live in a society where murder is considered fine, because I might get murdered myself, or someone I love might. A society which values law and order is more likely to stay stable long enough for me to live my life in peace and comfort. It’s also the kind of society I want my niece to live in, and my children, if I ever have any.

    • ACN

      How many times has your father taken up arms in the army of atheism and gone into combat against the religious?

      My guess is ‘none’, so it’s a little peculiar to describe him ‘militant’.

      • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

        My guess is ‘none’, so it’s a little peculiar to describe him ‘militant’.

        Unless you speak English, in which ‘militant’ is a relatively common figure of speech capable of applying to any number of positions, regardless of their literal militancy.

        • ACN

          I’m actually aware of how people use the word, and it’s this use that I oppose.

          “Militant” is a word, like “literally”, which is thoroughly misused, and in particular, it’s often used to marginalize people who are outspoken by poisoning-the-well. It serves to take someone who’s nonviolent but outspoken, and plaster them with an adjective used to describe someone who’s not only violent, but probably some sort of fanatic who can’t be reasoned with.

          I find the description of anyone as “militant” who isn’t actually taking up arms to be at best distasteful.

          • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

            This is all well and good, but it is obviously a mere matter of taste that you are attempting to dictate to everyone else, not a substantive position. It’s not difficult to find atheists who deliberately use the terms of themselves, because the word is obviously associated with protest movements. If you don’t like protest-movement terminology, that’s fine; but nonsense about ‘marginalization’ is either mere ignorance or a rhetorical ploy.

          • Darren

            This discussion calls for this comic

            Militant Atheist

          • ACN

            I didn’t dictate anything to anyone, and I don’t have the power to enforce such a dictate even if I did.

            I said it was peculiar. I pointed out why. And I gave you a more detailed explanation when you tried to dismiss me as someone so ignorant that I didn’t understand language. It’s not nonsense. If it were nonsense, the religious wouldn’t be so vocal in labeling as ‘militant’ or ‘shrill’ or ‘angry’ in order to dismiss us.

            I mean for goodness sake, Mike is basically making exactly that claim above in this thread! That all atheists are angry and can thus be ignored.

          • grok

            @ACN,
            Re Militant. It’s possible that the original meaning was closer to this meaning
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_militant_and_church_triumphant
            i.e. meaning those who struggle, i.e. are involved in the struggle to propogate their beliefs and live them out in the world. If you read the Wikipedia link above apparently that sense of the word militant goes back to the 1300s
            cheers,
            grok

          • ACN

            If that was the spirit in which the remark was delivered, as one who struggles against evil, I’m happy to sheepishly withdraw my criticism.

          • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon

            What I largely meant was that it makes no sense to think of it as peculiar given the existence of reasonable atheists like this who have coherent accounts of what they mean when they call themselves militant, and it doesn’t make much sense to treat it as marginalizing given that it is an adjective members of protest movements will often affirm of themselves precisely for the sake of emphasizing that they refuse to be marginalized. (That the two points can often be connected can be seen in the example at the link.) It’s true that people can insinuate with the term; but this is true of any possible label (witness ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘atheist’, and ‘freethinker’, all terms which people can and do sometimes use to sneer, mock, etc.)

            I apologize that my comments came out so harshly; re-reading them, they are certainly too dismissive.

      • Ken

        I was using ‘militant’ in the sense of “vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause” (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant_%28word%29 )

        He’s never taken up arms, but he’s always happy to share his opinion with anyone who will listen. So, I guess it depends how you define ‘combat’.

  • TomH

    “discrimination against athiests is still a problem…”/”…atheism isn’t very interesting or specific.” – i don’t know why that is a problem leah. no one is trying to take away their democratic rights, right? we all have all kinds of opinions about everything, some intelligent, some stupid, so why should athiests be left out. you saw the light and “swam the tiber.” my opinion, the best thing you can do for atheists is to pray that they too will give up their attachment to escapist abstractions, come to christ and his church. like you came to see leah re your question “where does the moral law come from?” from a “person”. christianity is not remote and abstract even though the church has baptized abstract pagan greek philosophy in order to shed light on human nature and god’s nature. as you now know god is love. christianity is essentially a religion of love. when we get that a lot of other things fall into place. those atheists who were so critical of your conversion, and many of those who have responded to this post are out of their depth. they are boring.

  • TomH

    how do you like our new pope leah? isn’t he great. the holy spirit has given us another brilliant intellectual and holy man. very humble. amen.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    I’ve been fascinated by how everyone here has described themselves. I notice a lot of commonality: materialism, reductionism, secular humanism, empiricism. I guess this blog’s commenting community is an incomplete representation of the atheist population as a whole; I notice no existentialists, Nietzscheans, Derrideans, postmodernists.

    In a way, though, is the big-tent-atheism/atheism-is-boring problem not a recapitulation the problem of diversity within every tradition (which isn’t to say I don’t support this initiative, because I do)? Or, really, with the limitations inherent in using single-word or even single-phrase labels to describe one’s position in…is it conceptspace? Is that the term people around here use? You could ask of Christians to the fill this blank: “I’m a Christian and _________.” Or, I suppose, “I’m a Catholic and ___________,” since many of the Christians here are Catholic.

    Or am I wrong? Is there a difference? Other than that there is more explicit pressure within Christianity to identify all of one’s thought as intrinsically Christian than there is within atheist culture to identify all of one’s thought as being intrinsically atheist…

    • Slow Learner

      I have to say, in my extensive reading of the atheist blogosphere, I have encountered precisely no-one discussing Derrida as an influence on their atheism; indeed I thought he was primarily a literary theorist as I have mostly heard of him via literature students, and precisely the ones who might consider themselves postmodernists and say the word “reductionist” with a sneer.
      This blog’s audience almost certainly is skewed towards empiricists and materialists, though I would be fascinated if you (or anyone) could find me a real live Derridean on the internet.

      For what it’s worth, the only Nietzschean I can think of off the top of my head is Daniel Fincke at Camels with Hammers. There may be a few more existentialists.

      • Ray

        Does this qualify Zach Weiner as an existentialist atheist?
        http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2871

        As I side note, I don’t really see how being a materialist would preclude existentialism. The way I see it, the core claims of existentialism are things like “existence precedes essence,” while the core claim of materialism is that the language of physics is universal in the sense that it is, in principle, possible to translate any true statement about the world into the language of physics. “Essence” doesn’t have a standard definition within the language of physics, so it seems like the materialist would have a lot of freedom in deciding the proper translation of “essence” into materialist terms, and therefore wouldn’t have too much trouble doing so in such a way that existentialist claims were true.

        That said, if you reconcile materialism with existentialism as above, materialism comes off as a much more fundamental and useful claim, while existentialism comes off as more of a criticism of moribund (or at least misleading) paradigms like Platonism and Aristotelianism, so I’m not surprised that Atheists would take materialism to be their core philosophy, even if they enjoy existentialist literature and agree with existentialist claims.

        • Slow Learner

          Interesting thoughts Ray- they sound plausible and fit with my general reaction of “Meh” to existentialism.

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        Hmmm. I know a number of people IRL to whom Derrida is personally important, and at least some of them would not self-identify as postmodernist. However, to my knowledge they are not on the Internet, so I cannot direct you to them. Maybe it is “atheists who organize as atheists on the Internet” that is not representative of “atheists in general”?

        • Ray

          Truth be told, my guess is that it’s your circle of friends that is unrepresentative of “atheists in general.” Remember that the most popular atheist author of our era is Dawkins, who very much is coming from a hard sciences perspective.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I’ve noticed that my atheist friends who also happen to have been born outside of the US, in places where atheism is the default belief, are much less vocal. It simply doesn’t cross their minds that they should be arguing with theists on the internet. It’s the deconverts who seem more likely to fall into the category of “atheists who organize as atheists on the internet”

            Purely anecdotal data, so take it with a grain of salt, but it seems like a plausible pattern.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

            1. It’s more the utter absence of Continental-tradition atheists that surprises, not the majority of the Anglo-American tradition. It would not surprise me if the Anglo-American tradition was larger, particularly in English-speaking countries with American and British influence.
            2. But that all aside, this conversation is mainly anecdotal. Without really good demographic work, it would be difficult to determine what most atheists look like.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I actually actively avoid describing myself as a Christian. Zen Catholic is the closest if I want a philosophical description. Heavy on the Catholic, but I love a good paradox.

  • grok

    Just found out about the korrektiv blog. Looks pretty interesting. Maybe worth a look while waiting for Leah’s next post?
    http://korrektivpress.com/blog/
    cheers,
    grok

  • Jay

    I’m skeptical of the whole “atheist and _____” approach. On the one hand, yes, clearly just calling yourself an atheist doesn’t say much of anything about your broader metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, or political views. And in a context where you had reason to talk about those things, it would obviously be quite silly to summarize your views by saying “well, I’m an atheist” — indeed, I would be dreadfully concerned for the state of mind of any atheist who thought that was a sufficient or even helpful response.

    But then, contexts where you have reason to acknowledge that you’re an atheist often aren’t going to be contexts where it’s necessary to go into all those other subjects. Given that we’re talking about “coming out” as atheists for A Week, let’s compare it to homosexuals coming out. Imagine your friend says “hey, I’m gay,” and you respond with something like: “Well, okay, but what’s your gay and _____? Just saying that you’re gay doesn’t tell me how you understand love and romance, what sort of relationship you want to have, how you want to raise a family, etc.” The appropriate response would be “No, of course it doesn’t, but that’s not what we’re talking about! I’m just letting you know that, amongst other things about myself, I’m gay, and for complicated historical and social reasons, it’s important that I make this particular fact clear to you.”

    Similarly, atheists coming out aren’t necessarily intending to talk about their entire set of views on the world; rather, they’re responding to historical and social conditions that make it necessary to articulate “I don’t believe in God or gods/I don’t find it very likely that God or gods exist” as a specific, reasonable viewpoint. If we’d never developed the concept of gods and religion in the first place, this sort of identification would be unnecessary. In fact, “atheism” itself probably wouldn’t even be a meaningful concept, any more than azybilism is a meaningful concept to us now (because zybilism has never been a social norm).

    Ultimately, “atheism” is nothing but an empirical view on the nature of the universe, albeit one that presently has a lot of social implications. Saying “I’m an atheist and a virtue ethicist” sounds about as natural to me as “I’m a heliocentricist and a utilitarian.” That’s fine, I guess, but why are you talking about those two concepts like they’re related?

    • A Philosopher

      This is the correct answer.

    • http://Disqus Obliged_Cornball

      All of my “yes.”

    • :)

      I’d upvote this post if it were possible.

  • grok

    @Mike,
    Good rejoinder. I would hate to see us end up as the Episcopalians have- divided and dwindling.
    On Women priests- I think it is inevitable. But it may take a long time. I think we will start with deaconesses. We already have, if we haven’t officially called them that. At one Catholic church I go to there is no parish priest (due to the priest shortage) just a shared priest (with other parishes). A woman runs the church. I think her title is church administrator or something like that. I think of her as the deacon.

    • Darren

      Episcopalians just need to grow a pair and pirate all the bad Catholics who do not hold to the official teachings on: priestly celibacy, gay marriage, contraception, the real presence of Christ, etc.

      You know, all the Catholics that are actually Episcopalian already but don’t know it…

      ;)

  • Jack

    “If someone already knows I’m Catholic, I think the most useful next thing for them to know is that I have a really Aristotelian/MacIntyrian understanding of virtue/right action”

    lol, you’re such an idiot.

  • Jack

    Ah Leah, why do you want atheism to spread.?

    • Kenneth

      Maybe because her own faith is strong enough to stand on its own, without needing the validation of forcing/hustling the rest of the species to fall in line with her beliefs. She is an anomaly in the Christian world, and a welcome one.

      • Jack

        Yes we know you live in your own world. That’s part of the problem.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      This does not spread atheism. It brings it into the open. When people admit to being atheist we can question them on it. When people claim to be Christians and yet act like atheists it is much harder.

  • fats

    Im a reductionist. Why, just last week, i cooked a cow to make beef stock

    • Darren

      Actually, I think it is wine to make a reduction.

      Beef stock would be more of an elution…

      • jenesaispas

        Picky Darren. It was amusing :)

      • Darren

        Yeah, I wanted a pun but am pun-challenged.

        Huzzah to the humor of Msr. fats.

  • Steve

    I am an atheist leaning agnostic.

    I don’t have a problem calling myself a moral-relativist. I feel that ‘right’ & ‘wrong’ are concepts that, at the fundamental level, are unique to the individual based on their experiences, environment & inclinations. As such when someone says ‘that is right/wrong’, it should ultimately be understood as ‘it is my opinion that this is right/wrong’ rather than some sort of absolute objective declarative statement. Most if not all communities and societies at large have come to a consensus about what behaviors and actions are acceptable, and what I believe happens is that the near universal practicality of a group deciding murder as ‘wrong’ (and other near universal typically harmful standards) creates an illusion of some sort of objectivity. These effectively objective standards (though ultimately subjective) are most often derived from biological truths, say, pain & suffering is bad (and not the type of imaginary suffering that some dope above suggested that homosexual couples suffer).

    I feel all you can say with authority about the world is that which is learned by examining the physical world. Anything else is an opinion, even if widely held. People who insist they have authority to make supernatural claims are lying, either to themselves or to the world.

    When you die, that’s it. Fin. Our experiences in the year 2200 will be identical to our experience in the year 1800. For the finite period of our existence, comes the real value of our temporary lives. Who values their dollar more, then man with a million or a man with one? Regardless of the truth of an everlasting life (and if you know for a fact that we ‘live forever’ you are simply lying), for me, life is lived best with this mindset. It puts additional pressure to soak it all in while you have the chance. I realize the thought of losing literally everything, is a profoundly sad one (and perhaps subconsciously that’s why I prefer ‘agnostic’ to ‘atheist’ to sort of keep the door open, but I’m not convinced), but it feels the most honest rather than wishful thinking. I’m a stubborn man, but I wouldn’t begrudge the world for proving me wrong on this one.

  • Jack

    Here’s my contribution to duh-week.

    atheism-analyzed.blogspot.com

    • anodognosic

      Yikes. I frequent this blog for thoughtful disagreement. Leah still delivers plenty, but Jesus Christ has this comment section gone downhill of late.

      • anodognosic

        I regret the above. There is a lot of thoughtful disagreement in this comments section. Sometimes the good seems overshadowed by the bad, but it’s definitely there and worthwhile.

      • Slow Learner

        Yeah, I’ve had some interesting exchanges with Randy, KristeninDallas and Ray; and frustrating trollish ones with Theodore and Mike.
        Note to self: do not respond to Theodore and Mike unless they comment on my comments.

        • Mike

          LOL. Yes, please do that. :).

          BTW, You’re on a CATHOLIC blog in case you didn’t notice!

          Don’t worry I love poking you guys.

          Again: Atheists: spend most of their free time talking religion – you can’t make this stuff up!!

          Does anyone see the cosmic/divine irony in this? Darren I know you do but at some point come on, don’t you just have to move on and start the difficult task of building up your own disbeliefs?

          • anodognosic

            Sigh.

          • Mike

            LOL. I like “sigh”. It’s very useful I am going to use it. I am kind of new to this format and not familiar with the various rhetorical tricks, so this is helpful. Thanks.

          • NotMike

            Sigh *Ugh Fields* LOL!

          • anodognosic

            Mike, your smug sense of superiority does not make you actually superior. If you openly mock those who oppose you, you preclude the possibility of learning or teaching. This makes your presence here at best sterile, and at worst obnoxious. Perhaps this is your intention, in which case the best thing you can offer this forum is your absence. But I sincerely hope that it isn’t.

        • Jay

          I definitely agree with this policy. It seems almost impossible to have a substantive discussion on this blog that doesn’t descend into umpteenth argument about same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception, even when those subjects aren’t at all related to the original post. I know that Leah has good reasons for not wanting to pick and choose which commenters to ban, but I think the commentariat as a whole needs to start adopting policies of just not responding to certain people, or to comments that are clear distractions from the current issue. It would be really, really nice if there were some way to downvote these sorts of comments, so that people could see the -20 rating and move on without feeling the need to respond, but apparently there were technical difficulties with this before.

          I won’t say any more about the subject here because I imagine people are mostly done with this post, but this is an issue that Leah’s more thoughtful readers and commenters need to start taking very seriously. Maybe Leah could have like, an open thread for commenting policy, where we try to work out a sensible anti-troll policy?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I would second, third, and fourth the idea of a comment rating system. But then, I might be unduly influenced by reddit….

          • Mike

            I’ll forth that dictum, per the “freethinkers”: thought shall be graded according to freethinker grading insofar as it is applicable to freethought per defined definition per bright freethinker.org.com.freethinkeratheist.null.free.

            PS Have any of you folks ever seen the lives of others or heard of the Democratic Republic of East Germany?

  • Brian

    Hi Leah:
    “Of all the gin soaked churches in all the world…”

    The CC can be very enticing, it is a church of images, it is a school of images, of symbols. When we feed ourselves with these images one may even become what one hope to become, but by then one also realizes that the images are merely aids, empty in themselves. Unfortunately, most get stuck in the imagery and will defend its perceived weight, to the death, with bile and contempt.

    Is this really your path? I fear the jejune repetitiveness of its liturgical year will grind your mind to a powder over time. Its priest class is not there to answer questions but to stop them from arising, I believe your being kicked out of RCIA should be a clear sign for you. We all want to “belong”, but we forget that we already do.

    May I suggest Leibniz – his Monadology. It is capable of answering many questions. You may have even read it, it is short. The edition for students by N. Rescher is great. It is more thorough as it gives Leibniz’ underlying arguments from his works and letters, which he never added to the Monadology himself.

    Truly, being of one mind on issues of “covenant marriage” cannot be grounds enough to join any church, can it?

    • Val

      > I believe your being kicked out of RCIA should be a clear sign for you.

      Must have missed that bit. Cite?

      • leahlibresco

        I got preemptively kicked out the first time I tried to join a class, and actually kicked out around Advent when I went to one in 2011.

  • Dorfl

    I’m an atheist, bordering on theological noncognitivist.

    Morally, I’m a consequentialist. I judge the morality of an action based on how close it comes to maximising the ability of beings capable of having life goals to fulfil those goals. This morality is something I believe everyone should follow.

    Within that, I of course have my own life goals. Those are my own, and not something that I think should necessarily be shared by anyone else, although I think it’s nice when they are.

    Epistemologically, I hold the pragmatic view that as long as we only have human brains to think with, any interesting idea we might have is more likely than not to be wrong. This means that to get anywhere, we need some way of weeding out the bad ideas. As a result of that, I expect any field lacking a way of doing that – including most philosophy and all theology – to quickly become a growing mess of mistaken ideas. This would probably be considered scientism by most religious people, and I don’t really mind that term.

    • Slow Learner

      Props for the commenting name!

      • Dorfl

        Thank You.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    I believe the universe is eternally swimming in the “womb” of “god”

  • jenesaispas

    I thought you became Catholic (at least in part) because you couldn’t square objective morality with being an Atheist anymore?

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    Darren,
    The comment thread got confusing so I am going to reply here. My point was not to get the discussion onto an abortion sidetrack. I was merely pointing out that if you morality is open to exceptions based on logical arguments then you have a problem. Who has to think the argument is logical? Just you? If so, then can anyone come up with some sort of argument to exclude some people group from their moral obligations? Remember the argument only has to make sense to them. This is especially true when the obligation to treat all human suffering equally is just intuitive. We can talk ourselves into a lot of things.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the exception is really quite irrelevant. The question is whether there is any solid foundation to such a morality or if it can be easily finessed whenever it gets the least bit difficult.

    • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

      It’s impossible to construct a morality against which this same objection cannot be levied. You claim Catholicism has an objective moral standard grounded in God- but who’s to say your understanding of that objective standard is better than someone elses? You claim that the Church is the arbiter of that morality- but your belief that the Church is the arbiter is logical to you, not to me. If you allow “logic” to be something so wishy-washy as “whatever is convincing to me,” then you cannot bootstrap yourself out of being dependant on faulty hardware.

      Logic is independant of human cognition. Something is either logical or it’s not- it can’t simply be
      “logical to me.” If something is logical to you but not, in fact, logical, then your opinion is wrong. The challenge of logical-argument-based-exceptions to morality is in ensuring that your arguments are in fact logical- which is one of the reasons we (Rationalists, Leah included) spend so much time talking about cognitive biases.

      Ultimately we are all, in all cases, making our own moral judgements. Every morality is, in practice, subjective. You may believe it to be based on some objective standard (you may even be right), but so long as we have incomplete or imperfect access to that standard, or even have complete and perfect access but no way to verify it, you are practicing subjective morality. You are doing what you think is right according to your interpretation of reality.

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        You claim Catholicism has an objective moral standard grounded in God- but who’s to say your understanding of that objective standard is better than someone elses?

        I would never claim that. But in the case of Catholicism we have a living magisterium. So the church can clarify its teaching if there is serious doubt about what the proper understanding of the objective standard is. The is a larger problem for protestants because the bible alone can leave us with real disagreements that can’t be resolved.

        Logic is independant of human cognition. Something is either logical or it’s not- it can’t simply be “logical to me.” If something is logical to you but not, in fact, logical, then your opinion is wrong..

        Humans are strange creatures. Very smart people can disagree bout moral matter and both claim their position is based on logic. The truth is that our arguments have embedded philosophical assumptions which we are mostly unaware of and almost never question.

        Ultimately we are all, in all cases, making our own moral judgements. Every morality is, in practice, subjective. You may believe it to be based on some objective standard (you may even be right), but so long as we have incomplete or imperfect access to that standard, or even have complete and perfect access but no way to verify it, you are practicing subjective morality. You are doing what you think is right according to your interpretation of reality.

        I agree. What I am saying is that Catholicism actually has a chance of accessing some unchanging, objective moral standard. It has the right properties that it could be that. It transcends time and culture. It goes back to the beginnings of recorded history. Things that don’t do that can’t really be seriously considered as reliable sources of objective moral truth. Our own biased reason is one such source.

        • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

          I think I agree with almost all of this. Protestants have a bigger problem than Catholics. Humans are weird, and have a lot of implicit assumptions in most things we do. I’m even on board with the sentiment that it’s possible, in principle, that a being could exist with perfect access to a theoretical objective moral standard, provided that being was both omniscient and perfectly logical.

          But I disagree on two points:

          [The Catholic Church] transcends time and culture

          The Catholic Church didn’t exist until 2000 years ago, and even if you’re calling dibs on Judaism up until then, modern archeology has shown society to be much, much older than the 6000 or so years claimed in the Bible. Unless you’re making the claim that Israel was the first society, there was a period of history in which nobody had ever heard of Yahwey. And even if you are making the claim that He was somehow revealed to the first humans (whatever THAT means in an evolutionary context), huge portions of the world had never heard of Catholicism up until the last millenium. The Church is not all that ubiquitous throughout history.

          Things that don’t [transcend time and culture] can’t be seriously considered as reliable sources of objective moral truth

          It’s odd to me that you place human reason in this category. Reason exists externally to humans; it _has_ existed since the beginning of time. Moreover, there’s no compelling reason to think that older is better. If anything, it’s the opposite. We should be updating our beliefs as we get new information and make new discoveries.

          I think what you’re really saying (correct me if I’m wrong) is that humans are incapable even in principle of accessing _anything_ truly objective. I agree with this. The best we can do is become really really really confident- e.g. what we’ve done with the basic laws of physics- but we can never actually be sure. But introducing a higher authority who is capable of accessing objective standards doesn’t solve any problems, because humans are equally incapable of being sure about any of the properties of that authority. I guess my point is, no matter how many layers of abstraction we add, your reason is still the thing that ultimately lets you differentiate between different worldviews, and therefore the accuracy of your reasoning capabilities is a limitting factor, no matter what worldview you end up choosing.

          (Just to be clear- all of this is just me prodding at what I think are weaknesses in the Catholic claim to exclusive moral revelation. I don’t think objective morality is the way the world actually works)

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            On you first point, the Catholic church does claim God has been revealing Himself to man since the beginning of man in a progressive way. That is the revelation gets stronger and fuller over the course of history. That is a story that makes sense. You might not believe it is true but that is not the point. There is at least the option to believe it as a source of objective moral truth without getting a mass of contradictions.

            That is the problem I see with pure reason and even to a lesser extent a finite revelation interpreted by reason. Empirically we see that disagreements are huge. You say the best we can do is become really, really sure. I don’t think we can do that unless we pick one particular school of thought. If we do that and limit our interactions mostly to those who think basically the same way then we will become sure. But how did we pick the one school. If it was in an ad hoc we are really cheating. We are becoming sure in our mind but we don’t have good reason to believe some else who picked a different school of thought also in an ad hoc way is wrong and we are right. Pure reason is stymied. We need some real indication of which school of thought will be right. In the area of morality we don’t have experiments. We need revelation.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            On you first point, the Catholic church does claim God has been revealing Himself to man since the beginning of man in a progressive way

            As far as I can tell, this is a nonsensical claim in an evolutionary framework. It’s not like we went from Homo Heidelbergensis to Homo Sapien overnight- we gradually transitioned into being human (which, by the way, is why the platonic form of “human” is also nonsensical. But I digress.) “The beginning of man” is ill-defined.

            That is the revelation gets stronger and fuller over the course of history.

            So… it doesn’t transcend time and culture then. Moreover, there’s no reason I can’t make the same argument for anything else- human reason, science, math, you name it.

            That is a story that makes sense.

            On this point we disagree.

            There is at least the option to believe it as a source of objective moral truth without getting a mass of contradictions.

            No, the idea of objective moral truth itself leads to a mass of contradictions (See Dilemna, Euthyphro), and believing the Catholic Church to be the source of that moral truth (or arbiter, or gateway, or what have you) layers on top a whole new set of contradictions (see empirical evidence of it NOT being a good source of moral truth throughout most of its history, see the problem that “the Church” is actually a bunch of humans, so we’re ultimately just trusting a human being’s ability to access the moral standard anyway, see the crock of history that the Bible turned out to be, etc.)

            You say the best we can do is become really, really sure. I don’t think we can do that unless we pick one particular school of thought. If we do that and limit our interactions mostly to those who think basically the same way then we will become sure

            This is just a rewording of the same argument we just had about “logic.” I’m not claiming that humans are incapable of tricking themselves into believing incorrect things- we very clearly are. I’m saying that objective truths about the physical universe back up one and only one interpretation of them- and our aim (at least as scientists) is to get as good of an approximation of that interpretation as possible.

            But how did we pick the one school.

            Using reason. There is literally no alternative other than randomness.

            If it was in an ad hoc we are really cheating. We are becoming sure in our mind but we don’t have good reason to believe some else who picked a different school of thought also in an ad hoc way is wrong and we are right.

            What you’re arguing is simillar to the problem of Geography (Accident of Birth) that causes such a huge problem for religion. Most people believe their religion not because it is more likely to be true than the next bloke’s, but becasue they happened to be born in a time and place in which their religion was foisted upon them. Otherwise, you have no explination for why certain regions tend towards Catholicism, while others tend towards Buddhism, and still others towards Islam.

            Reason does not share this shortcoming. Sorting beliefs by how strictly they conform to reason and empiricism is infinitely better than believing simply that which you were born into. And again- there is literally no alternative. We’re trying to decide what’s true, and the only tools we have for the job are reason and empiricism. You can’t invoke faith or revelation or god or magic because those are the things we’re trying to figure out are or aren’t true

            Pure reason is stymied.

            Sure- you need empiricism too. Reason can only get you a priori truths. But anything beyond reason and empiricism is fanciful delusion.

            We need some real indication of which school of thought will be right

            LITERALLY NO ALTERNATIVE. There is no way to get an indication of which school of thought is right other than by using reason and empiricism. Any other system you use gets you (at best) random results.

            In the area of morality we don’t have experiments

            Sure we do. Since you believe in objective morality, you believe there is some standard against which moral claims can be measured. All you need is a method for determining which of two actions more closely matches that standard. Dare I suggest that whichever leads to the greatest human flourishing and the least human suffering would more closely match your standard?

            I guess if your standard is arbitrary and unknowable, then yes, you’re up a creek. But if your “objective standard” has no discernable affects on reality, then it’s not really an “objective standard” so much as it is makebelieve. Objective things are known and knowable precisely because we can interact with them in some meaningful way. If you can’t differentiate between something that matches your “objective standard” and something that doesn’t, then your objective standard is meaningless.

            As a relativist, your challenge dissolves completely- there’s no objective morality to run experiments against. And it turns out, in subjective morality, we can test whether something matches a moral standard by the very test I suggested. I only care about morality insofar as it affects humans, so measuring the outcomes of different actions is a perfectly reasonable test for whether or not something is moral.

            We need revelation.

            I promise you, you’re not the only one who believes that your religion is true. In fact, I can all but guarantee you that someone out there believes in his religion more strongly than you do (unless you happen to be the single most-believing person in the world.) Revelation unsubstantiated is called fiction. Substantiated revelation would fall under the category of reason + empiricism. LITERALLY. NO. ALTERNATIVE.

            **After rereading this comment, I think I come off as overly aggressive, bordering on dismissive. I’m not sure how I can tone this down- I think you’re making really big unsubstantiated claims that are very very wrong. But no offense is intended to you individually… for whatever that’s worth

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Jake,

            You are exactly like the Calvinist who rejects Lutheranism based on reason or the Lutheran who rejects Calvinism based on reason. You say everything is based on reason but the existence of people just as rational using the same system and arriving at different conclusions means there is something more. There always is. Pure reason needs some axioms to get going. Beyond that the human mind has a need to latch on to some solid truth.

            So to my mind atheists are like protestants. The problem with protestantism is when you try and get them to agree on anything other than the idea that Catholicism is wrong. The problem with atheism is when you try and get them to agree on anything other than the idea that theism is wrong. So Leah’s question is really quite devastating.

            Your proof for randomness does not really follow either. How do you show something is random. In Math we often leap to that conclusion. If we do not know of a pattern we assume it is random just as a modeling convenience. We can’t really prove there is no pattern. All we can say is we don’t know it is not random. In the real world we never actually know it is random.

            So you logic boils down to rejecting the few explanations you are aware of. That is way different than proving there is no good explanation. You reasons for rejecting Catholicism seem very flimsy. More of a matter of taste than a matter of logic. Euthyphro? Really?

            So atheism does not get around the problem of geography. You still have people believing world and life views based on the people they have been exposed to and with whom they have close trust relationships. You replace religious traditions with philosophical traditions but all the problems just get worse instead of better. We still need one tradition we can trust. Trust more than the tradition our friends and family trusts. That is what Catholicism at least claims to provide. One sacred tradition that is kept pure by God. Without that your chance of finding the right tradition is a mass of contradictory human opinions is pretty much zero.

            So logically atheist has no chance of leading me to truth. Catholicism has at least some chance. It becomes a bit like Pascals wager.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            You say everything is based on reason but the existence of people just as rational using the same system and arriving at different conclusions means there is something more

            Rationality isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. I can catch an arithmetic mistake of someone who’s “better” than me at math, because the math is true independant of how good or bad the practitioner is. Rational arguments may be judged by there own merit, and not on the basis of the authority of the person making them- notice how different this is than a religious claim!

            I evaluate arguments from all sides of the spectrum- it just turns out that given the evidence I have seen, materialistic reductionism is the closest approximation for the way the world actually works.

            If you’re legitimately arguing that you can’t use rationality because some smart person somewhere disagrees with you, then I don’t know how you can possibly wind up at Catholicism. There are ample examples of smart atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, and everything-else-ists.

            So you logic boils down to rejecting the few explanations you are aware of. That is way different than proving there is no good explanation. You reasons for rejecting Catholicism seem very flimsy. More of a matter of taste than a matter of logic. Euthyphro? Really?

            Ha… the old courtier’s reply, eh? Very well, an off the top of my head list of everything wrong with Catholicism (and theism in general):

            -Despite loving me and wanting me to believe in him, and despite me spending years of my life looking for him, God has never once communicated with me in a way that was distinguishable from random noise.
            -If there was a God who did want me to believe, it would be trivially easy for him to convince me (and ps, I want to be convinced!)
            -There is no single religion that everyone converts too and no one converts away from (as we would expect if one of them were, you know, true)
            -Religious belief appears to be roughly 90% dependent on when and where you were born and what you were taught as a child (problem of geography)
            -There is no clearly unique religion (Islam claims basically the same evidence as Christianity, Christianity appears to draw archetypes from earlier mythology, etc.)
            -The Bible is chalk full of historical inaccuracy, scientific inaccuracy, and internal contradictions
            -The Bible is chalk full of morally repugnent behavior by a so-called omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent diety
            -The Bible contains no advanced scientific knowledge or clearly fulfilled prophecyto indicate that it was the least bit divinely inspired
            -Christianity has not historically stood against injustice until the cultural zietgeist has already shifted (slavery, the oppression of women, curtailing freedom of religion, etc.) Such things should have been abolished in the time of Constantine if they were truly inherent in Christian doctrine
            -Theistic religions fail to make testable claims about reality that differ from the claims made in the hypothetical-reality-without-God.
            -No particular major religion’s adherents are demonstrably better people than the adherents of all other religions, indicating that increased access to a moral standard is either imaginary, or ineffective.
            -Theistic religions exhort followers to believe through faith rather than evidence
            -The historical record of the Church is one of corruption and undue political influence, rather than a holy body with special access to God- the crusades, inquisition, imprisonment of Gallileo, etc.
            -Papal corruption (Popes Steven VI, John XII, Benedict IX, and Urban VI)- you know, those guys who supposedly have special access to God and can invoke infallibility whenever they feel like it.
            -Evolutionary theory removes the need for a creator to explain the existence of humans
            -Evolutionary theory invalidates the claim that humans are somehow special amongst the universe
            -Euthyphro (your quickness in dismissing it betrays you. Many people consider Euthyphro a defeater of theism- see comment thread below)
            -The problem of Evil
            -The claimed existence of hell (the super-loving all powerful being created you with the express knowledge that you would burn forever in eternal torment- and despite you begging for him to show himself, he’s keeping up his wildly inconsistent “hands off” policy so as to preserve your free will…. to go be tortured for the rest of eternity.)
            -The concept of a soul is poorly formed and inconsistent (souls aren’t eternal in the backwards direction, who a person is changes dramatically over their lifetime (does their soul? which version of the soul gets into heaven?), most of who we are appears to be based on environmental factors rather than some inherent nature of being “us” (i.e. there are statistical correlations between abused children and future abusers, children of Christians and future Christians, children of racists and future racists, etc.))
            -The claim of a soul is experimentally testable and clearly not the way the world actually works (FMRI machines, ability to change thought processes by stimulating specific parts of the brain, the brain does not behave like a radio for the soul )
            -Even if we have a soul, we haven’t solved the problem of free will (your soul was assigned to you by God- no different than your body. Why that magically grants you free will where a purely natural explination does not is beyond me)
            -Reductionism is a defeater of the idea of a soul
            -Reductionism is a defeater of God-as-the-source-of-existence
            -Causality demands determinism (which defeats free will)
            -Christian claims of a “relationship” with God are underspecified and yield no useful predictions about the world.
            -No major theistic religion can provide a standard of belief that passes their religion but fails everyone else’s religion.
            -Belief is a bass-ackwards selector for salvation. Eternal judgement based on epistemological standards makes no sense whatsoever.
            -Authority as a standard of belief is anti-epistemology.
            -Christian tradition and scripture describe God in inconsistent and irrational ways (he changes his mind- a logical impossibility for an omniscient being)
            -Christianity contains failed end-times prophecy (Jesus claims to be returning within a single generation. We reject other religions based on failed apocolypse claims, why not Christianity?)
            -I see no reason to suspect Catholicism to be more likely true than ancient Greek mythology.
            -There is no evidence to suggest a theistic god exists (This is important)

            As far as I can tell, there are basically two arguments for a theistic god that are actually true-in-practice:

            -I have a subjective experience of being more than a deterministic bundle of electrons
            -Reductionism only reduces things to electron-neutron-proton combinations. Where do these come from? What about reality makes it so neutrons exist in the first place?
            -The big bang was a-causal. Explain that, you causality-demands-determinism dunderhead!

            The first seems explicable via evolutionary psychology. It’s a conclusion I don’t like, but one I’m forced into by reality. The second and third are fair question that I don’t have answers for- but notice that they say absolutely nothing about a theistic god. The mystery of why there is anything at all will remain just as mysterious if there turns out to be a god in addition to the physical reality we observe (after all, why is there a god?)

            Meanwhile, science may yet provide an answer.

            You replace religious traditions with philosophical traditions but all the problems just get worse instead of better. We still need one tradition we can trust.

            No, a million times no. Tradition is meaningless. What is true is true regardless of tradition. What is false is false regardless of tradition. The only reason tradition is useful at all is that it is computationally expensive for every human to come up with every new idea independantly. Exposure to tradition is important. Adherence to a single tradition is laziness.

            Incidentally, I came up with my list of problems with theism almost independantly from atheistic literature, opting instead to read mostly religious literature and find the flaws myself. It turns out that I arrived at mostly the same set of problems that other atheists have arrived at. This is not surprising to me in the least, but it seems to deal a solid (anecdotal) blow to your “schools of thought” theory.

            Finally, you seem to think that having an accurate view of the world is an all-or-nothing proposition. My aim is not to be perfectly right, but rather to be less wrong.

    • Darren

      Randy said;

      ”My point was not to get the discussion onto an abortion sidetrack. I was merely pointing out that if you morality is open to exceptions based on logical arguments then you have a problem. Who has to think the argument is logical? Just you? If so, then can anyone come up with some sort of argument to exclude some people group from their moral obligations? Remember the argument only has to make sense to them. This is especially true when the obligation to treat all human suffering equally is just intuitive. We can talk ourselves into a lot of things.”

      Well, Randy, I have rarely seen this said better. I applaud you. :)

      I also most heartily agree with you: when we get to pick and choose which groups of people we treat one way, and which groups we treat another, we are heading for trouble…

      …Am I being too subtle? (A hint, I don’t think this principal should apply only to suffering…)

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        I think you are talking about gay marriage but you are not making much sense. Marriage is between a man and a woman. That does not treat any person any differently from another. We need to treat gay people with the same love and respect we do everyone else. That includes telling them the truth about sex, marriage and human reproduction.

        That is another moral principle atheists have trouble grounding. Why should we tell the truth? Sometime lying seem nicer. Gay marriage is popular because people think a nice lie is better than a hard truth. It certainly requires less courage. Modern society is nothing if not cowardly.

        • Darren

          Randy said;

          ”I think you are talking about gay marriage but you are not making much sense. Marriage is between a man and a woman. That does not treat any person any differently from another. We need to treat gay people with the same love and respect we do everyone else. That includes telling them the truth about sex, marriage and human reproduction.”

          SSM among others, but pretty much any form of discrimination based upon “X”: gender, race, national origin, religion/non-religion. Some we are doing better than others.

          I was really thinking about female ordination more so than SSM, just to pick one.

          ”That is another moral principle atheists have trouble grounding. Why should we tell the truth? Sometime lying seem nicer. Gay marriage is popular because people think a nice lie is better than a hard truth. It certainly requires less courage. Modern society is nothing if not cowardly.”

          Oh, I dunno. I have pretty good reasons for telling the truth. I spelled them out in the Humanist Manifesto. That is far from a complete view of my own thinking, but certainly on the truth part it is pretty clear.

          I think in the public sphere, truth is even more important than in the private. We live in a representative government, with authority proceeding from the consent of the governed. We rely upon people to make decisions in the realm of politics that are in the best interest of themselves and for all of society. How can we expect them to do this if they are lied to?

          I will stack my personal truth telling record up against anyone’s on that score (not-counting for Voltarain moments, which seem obvious enough to me, but I will point them out if need be).

          How is your commitment to the truth? I was brought up to love two things more than anything else: God and Truth. Turns out I loved Truth more than God, but that is a side issue.

          So, diving back into SSM, do you think it OK to lie to the electorate, to mislead perhaps, about one’s motivations, in order to win – even for the greater good? Are we really motivated by a concern to protect children from the ravages of lesbian abusers? Or are we against it because God says so… Do we really believe telling a gay couple in Seattle that they have to pay more in taxes than their OS neighbors is completely and totally non-discriminatory? Or do we just rationalize that away as “not really that big a deal”?

          Let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we. You dive down and you conclude that you really and truly do think so, and if Pope Francis changes his mind tomorrow and says that gay marriage was OK all along, you are gonna’ stand firm because now you think the Holy Father is wrong because look at the child abuse rates. You do that, and you are OK with me.

          Lots of people lie to themselves. I am an Atheist precisely because I was never very good at doing so.

          Hey, this comment was on-message after all!

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            It is good your parents raised you to love truth. I pray you will arrive at the fullness of truth one day. I totally agree with you about politics. Accepting lying in politics, as most people do, means the system cannot work. People don’t get that. Democracy is guaranteed to fail unless we can get a basic expectation of honesty in the process. Yet people elect those who tell them what they want to hear rather than those who tell them the truth. The problem is in all parties in all levels of government in all western democracies. Governance has suffered greatly and is getting worse. I fear the process that gives us the government we deserve.

        • bullet

          Gay marriage is popular because people think a nice lie is better than a hard truth.

          Funny, that’s what we atheists say about religion.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Some religions maybe. Catholicism has a bunch of stuff people don’t like. The role of suffering, the need for obedience, sexual morality, etc. Things that only pay off if it is actually true.

          • bullet

            I know what Catholicism has. But at the end, IF you do what the men in charge tell you, you get to go to the good place and see everyone you love and be happy forever. Or you just die. Nice lie/hard truth.

  • Barael

    Mike & Theodore Top 5 for this thread:

    5. Theodore, after linking to onenewsnow of all things:

    “Darren, thanks for proving that you have a filter on the data you will accept, and thus proving my point to begin with- that you are a biased researcher who doesn’t know the first thing about data.”

    4. Mike objects to naturalistic assumptions of particle physics:

    “I wouldn’t be so sure we aren’t finding “magic”.”

    3. Theodore’s misadventure in Social Darwinism:

    “Good example, let’s test that. People who don’t use contraception and abortion have children. People who use contraception and abortion, don’t have children. Who will still be around 3 generations from now?”

    2. Mike explains the nature of evidence:

    “I think they are assertions based on evidence. We could go on and on about the explanatory nature of that evidence but they are evidential.”

    1. Theodore lays down the real problem of non-theistic world views:

    “I maintain that the real problem- is that the non-theist is incapable of looking at a problem outside of their narrow political point of view objectively. And thus comes to insane conclusions like “contraception is good” when it clearly isn’t.”

    You couldn’t get rid of them even if you wanted to, so stay tuned for more zany hijinks from our unintentional comedy duo!

    • ACN

      It is such a tough call between #1 and #2…..

    • Theodore Seeber

      Why is it that atheism always comes down to the toddler’s complaint “I don’t like other people telling me what to do”?

      The ugh field I was talking about, that Darren displayed in his rejection of non-party sources, that Jay and Octavio display with their support for grave evils while claiming to be Good, always comes down to “Your informing me that X is a sin is an attempt to tell me what is good for me, and I reject anything anybody says is good for me”.

      Mark Shea had a similar post today about a libertarian who in his hatred of the nanny state, took breath spray and sprayed it in his own eye- because the bottle told him not to. The addiction to crossing taboos displayed by New Atheists is similar. Everything any religion ever said was a sin- is a sin for a *reason*, and it is rational to avoid such things.

      • Darren

        Theadore Seeber said;

        ”Everything any religion ever said was a sin- is a sin for a *reason*, and it is rational to avoid such things.”

        You would love this guy, then:

        The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

      • Alan

        Teddy is such a funny rapist – glad he is back. Since everything any religion said is a sin is a sin for a reason and it would be rational to avoid them, and Judaism makes it clear that the partaking in the eucharist is committing the sin of idolatry than it would be rational to avoid communion.

        Good job Teddy, you demonstrated why Catholicism is irrational and should be shut down.

    • Darren

      Barael said;

      ”3. Theodore’s misadventure in Social Darwinism:
      “Good example, let’s test that. People who don’t use contraception and abortion have children. People who use contraception and abortion, don’t have children. Who will still be around 3 generations from now?””

      And see, obviously opponents to SSM just don’t think these things thru. Ted has a real point.

      If we allow gay men to marry each other, instead of encouraging them to marry women and thus propagating their disordered “gay genes” into the next generation, then Ted is exactly right – three generations to no more gays! We would finally be as good as Iran!

      I think this has a real chance… Obviously confining them to the Castro and Greenwich Village ghetto’s didn’t work, nor did luring them into the priesthood… I say let’s give Ted’s plan a try!

      • Alan

        I hope this isn’t meant seriously, if it is it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of genetics.

  • Jannik

    Why the need to categorize or define the extent of our belief system?

    Why, by being an atheist, must be then excuse those ideals by having other discernable beliefs?

    Being an atheist implies not believing in a God (or deity of any sorts), but it might just as well imply a belief in yourself, common sense, rationality, that which is empirically founded and made plausible through research.

  • Dan

    Hi, I’m a Catholic with a scholastic (mainly Thomistic) world-view, especially in terms of metaphysics. I’m also a big fan of the Five Ways. In terms of moral reasoning, I hold to Natural Law Systems.

  • Stephan R

    Long time reader… Anyways:

    I’m an atheist and a sort of neo-Epicurean.
    I’m a materialist/naturalist with regards to ontology. I think the universe is a bunch of stuff, in various arrangements. This would also make me a type of reductionist and I also follow a functionalist view of the mind.

    With regards to epistemology and ethics, I come from a form of virtue theory. I think there are epistemic virtues (like critical thinking, openness, etc) and “ethical” ones, like temperance, friendliness and so on. I think both epistemic and ethical virtues are cultivated tendencies.

    I agree with Anscombe that terms like “moral” carry religious baggage and lack explanatory power. I also agree with her that virtue ethics (of the type she sketches) makes more sense for atheists than many modern moral theories (with an “ought” that seems grounded in a Lawgiver).

    Don’t want to ramble on, but I saw your post so I thought I’d respond. No disrespect to anyone.

  • Michael Vassar

    I’m an atheist and it seems to me that our world is a member of the set of worlds which most typically arise via the intervention of reducible but from our perspective potentially omnipotent and (modulo their computational constraints) omniscient intelligent being (who we may be in a position to trade with) for reasons of its own.

    • Mitchell Porter

      “which most typically arise” (my emphasis)

      So you think that, in the vast sum of all realities, worlds like the one we see are usually artificial? Why do you think that?

  • Darren

    Have I mentioned lately how much I truly love it when Jake shows up and makes my point more effectively than I do? Well, I do.

    New thread, continued from above, still discussing moral obligations to oppose heinous evil vis.a.vis abortion and its equation with murder.

    ! (Trigger alert – contains violent content that is expressly _not_ endorsed by me, the author. This is a further exploration of what I believe others are morally obligated to do, if they were to truly believe what they profess to believe) !

    Anonymous, you take the position that an argument that “…we do not truly believe what we claim to believe unless we are willing to sacrifice everything…”, that this argument is not valid, is garbage, unless it applies to any and all beliefs, great or small (or even a large subset of beliefs great or mediocre); “I believe in “X”, and will fight to the death to defend it!”, or something along those lines.

    And that’s just bullshit.

    Because we are not talking about just any old belief. We are not talking about any “X” that one might name. We are not talking about whether two great tastes really do taste great together, or whether Coke is better than Pepsi, or whether Manchester United is the greatest football team of all time and to prove my commitment to that position I must slit my belly open, crosswise.

    We are talking about murder.

    We are talking about the murder of children.

    We are talking about the murder of children on a scale that would make Joe Stalin, Pol Pot, and Adolph Eichmann nod their heads approvingly.

    We are not talking about murder in some long ago time.

    We are talking about murder that is happening right now, during normal business hours, 9-5, weekends by appointment.

    We are not talking about murder in some far off land.

    We are talking about murder in your own country, in your own state, in your own city. At a location you could drive to in less than fifteen minutes. At an address published in your Yellow Pages.

    We are not talking about murder committed by some evil regime, protected by a million soldiers and nuclear missiles.

    We are talking murder in a strip-mall dentist office, guarded by a $10/hour rent a cop with bad knees.

    This is not some abstract struggle, nor is it some unwinnable cause.

    I think you greatly underestimate the impact one lone, motivated, individual can have…

    One individual, who manages to abduct two, maybe three abortion doctors. Who tortures them to death in the most horrific manner a post-Saw generation can concoct. Who videotapes the event, mailing copies to all the media outlets, who posts it on Youtube, sets up a Facebook and Twitter account. Who mails little wrapped parcels, little dismembered pieces of what used to be physicians, to every Planned Parenthood clinic in America.

    You think abortion would not stop overnight? You think every clinic would not close its doors until the person responsible was found? You think every doctor would not go into hiding? You overestimate the intestinal fortitude of these folks, my friend.

    2,700 child murders per day. 2,700 murders prevented every single day you manage to continue. But, however long one is able to evade capture, however long one is able to continue the killing, many of those seeking abortions will eventually obtain them. But not all. Not all. Some will reconsider. Some will pass the gestational threshold at which an abortion can be obtained. Some will be unable to find an open clinic, it is likely many of those will close permanently.

    How many saved babies does it take to equal your life? 1? 50? 1,000?

    Every media outlet will be talking of nothing but this, every paper, every blog. Every American will have to ask themself the question, “Is abortion murder?” Every politician will have to issue a statement, for or against, but none will remain neutral. Every pulpit in every church in America will be talking about this, and only this.

    If you are lucky, you can manage to continue for a long time, but sooner or later, you get caught. That, too, is part of the plan, because then comes the trial. During that trial, you sit with head held high, and then you speak, and you challenge every person to choose sides, and you call for those who agree with you to follow in your footsteps, and some will, and every camera in America is on your face when you say this.

    And perhaps, just perhaps, the tide of history shifts.

    You telling me that is not worth your life?

    It would be worth mine…

    • Anonymous

      Then you, sir, haven’t seen any of our society’s reaction to other acts which have been deemed terrorism or torture. If anything, it would make the population more resolutely in favor of the abortion doctors against the torturous, terrorizing madmen. Haven’t we seen abortion doctors killed? Haven’t we seen people kidnapped, tortured, and killed in the name of some cause? Haven’t we seen manifestos published? Haven’t we seen every media outlet cover all these types of things? Name one where it changed our societal views/behavior. (One would think we’d all now be gun-toting, anti-capitalist, pro-capitalist, anti-government, pro-government, anti-religious, pro-religious, right wing, left wing fanatics by now… ya know, if we actually changed due to all those lone attacks.)

      Notice that we’ve now completely proven my point: this argument relies on your ability to predict the future. (Your argument was a prediction of the future. Mine was an alternate prediction.) What are your error bars on this prediction? Please specify how you calculated them.

      Additionally, are you a Solipsist? Or was that a lie?

      • Darren

        It is you who forget.

        Anthrax letters? DC sniper? Oklahoma City? Munich 1972? Achille Lauro? Pan Am 103?

        I am afraid this conversation has only demonstrated what kind of person _you_ are…

        ”At the end of the day, my unfortunate guess is that circumstances will rule the day. Society has clearly decided what is acceptable to them. I’d love to turn the tide, but bombing the clinic won’t do much good. I’ll just get arrested, and society will just consider me a lunatic”

        I am ashamed for you.

        • Anonymous

          And how many of their ideas did we adopt? What is something that they advocated for and caused us to say, “Hey, this crazy person has a great idea about ____, let’s do that.”?

        • Anonymous

          …and how do you predict which ones will successfully change our opinions and which ones will be ignored as a crazy person? These guys think your prediction is wrong.

    • Anonymous

      I should also mention that after we predict the future, we’re taking that prediction of the future and using it for a valuation of action/inaction. So, if there is error in our prediction of the future or circumstances that change either our prediction or our valuation, we can still end up on different sides of the action/inaction line when it comes to “going and dying”… all while holding belief constant.

    • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

      Plot twist: Darren and I are the same person, posting from two different accounts to lend herself credibility :)

      • Anonymous

        “Unequally Yoked” directed by M. Night Shyamalan. :)

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      As an argument for the pro-abortion position this is just a nonsense. How many Germans expressed outrage during the holocaust? If the number is low then the holocaust is OK? I guess that is a weird form of moral relativism but it does more to show moral relativism is flawed than anything else.

      Are Christians obligated to use force to stop people from committing immoral acts? No. This is likely why you see the Problem of Evil as being so hard. People have the right to be wrong. God gives us the ability to sin. We need to give it to others. If we want to get rid of things from society then there is a political process for doing that. If we fail to win the political battle then we accept that. We don’t resort to violence. We live with the evil and continue to make the case. If we fight evil with evil then evil has truly won. We fight abortion doctors not by killing them but by loving them. We don’t use the devil’s weapons. We go to the abortion clinic to pray. Do we go often enough? I know I don’t. I don’t live my faith as well as I should. Still truth remains truth. We proclaim it imperfectly. We live it imperfectly. That does not show it is false. It shows we are false.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

        Is it your contention that the Germans who didn’t take up arms to stop the holocaust did the right thing?

        • Darren

          Yeah, gotta’ say I am a bit surprised.

          German, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Polish resistance during WWII, Mujahadin resistance to the Soviets, Czech and Hungarian resistance during Cold War, heck, how about the American Revolution (totally illegal at the time), Gunpowder plot, and Joan of freekin’ Arc – all bad guys apparently for going against the social order…

          Who knew?

      • Darren

        Sorry, Randy, I think perhaps you misread.

        “As an argument for the pro-abortion position this is just a nonsense. How many Germans expressed outrage during the holocaust? If the number is low then the holocaust is OK?”

        If the numbers of Germans were low, that means those Germans who _did_not_ speak out had Jewish blood on their hands as well, perhaps not as much as those who participated more directly, but the Holocaust was not exactly something the Nazi’s imposed from the outside, as it were.

        What is the quote? “All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

      • Darren

        and again, not “immoral acts”, MURDER, mass murder, lots and lots and lots…

        Not spending too much time looking at the Sears underwear catalog, and not sins against the self…

        Do we have a problem with jails? Capital punishment?

      • Darren

        Randy said;

        ”Are Christians obligated to use force to stop people from committing immoral acts? No. This is likely why you see the Problem of Evil as being so hard.”

        Thank you, Randy, for your thoughts. My earlier comments were hastily written, please excuse the tone if they come across as strident – posting while rushed and all.

        I had not actually intended to imply only that it would be Christians who were obligated to resist heinous evil, violently if need be, but everyone. I feel that I would be obligated to take any means necessary were I to encounter a Sandy Hook in progress and had in my power the ability to stop it, or even irrespective of my capacity to change the outcome.

        It has been an interesting experiment. The argument has been rather a flop, I am afraid, thought that too has provided interesting data.

        What I find so hard to understand about why this argument has had such little effect is that this was precisely the argument that worked on me as a young Theist. I heard it, goodness knows how many times, from the pulpits and lecterns. At one point I even began preparations to carry out something very much like this, despite having absolutely no desire to do so, but having convinced myself it was my duty. I must say that I am, now, tremendously grateful for the distraction afforded by the Desert Storm conflict, and after that experience I found my perspective rather altered and so no longer felt bound to carry through.

        It remains a puzzlement to me, though, that others find it so weak. No doubt you are correct in that it relates to my very strong feeling for the Problem of Evil. There, too, I am puzzled by those who can accommodate it.

  • Darren

    Ooh, ooh, ooh! Leah, over here!

    Do you take requests?

    Oh ye of the data nerdage, run through the cites on gay parents .vs. straight parents (or link to another such analysis).

    There have been a few cites, and I know my way around enough clinical studies to ask questions, but the more esoteric (to me) statistical claims are over my head.

    Thinking especially of these:

    This

    This

    and This

    Thanks!

  • Barael

    I would ask a question of Leah:

    In what way do you find your argument from supposed objective morals stronger than Presuppositional Christian Apologetists?

    They love to crow about atheism not having “no justification” for the laws of logic where as they have the regular insufficient non-answer.

    You, on the other hand, have the same insufficient non-answer for the problem (the existence of objective morality) that many people is even a problem / a coherent concept (shades of Euthryphro).

    I posit that Presup Apologists have a far stronger case than you do (since even most atheists accept that there are objective laws of logic); however I suspect you don’t accept their argument. How do you plea?

    • Barael

      “You, on the other hand, have the same insufficient non-answer for the problem (the existence of objective morality) that many people is even a problem / a coherent concept (shades of Euthryphro).”

      Proof-reading fail there, it is meant to say:

      You, on the other hand, have the same insufficient non-answer for the problem (the existence of objective morality) that many people DENY is even a problem / a coherent concept (shades of Euthryphro).

    • Barael

      Disclaimer:

      I find Euthyphro an universal acid against any argument from theistic morality; it is analogous of simply finding the flaw in mathematical “1=0″ proofs.

      • Adam

        Here is an interesting article from a Catholic, Thomist philosopher regarding the Euthyphro dilemma:

        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

        He claims that the euthyfro dilemma is a false dilemma, sprung from an incorrect view of the nature of God.

        • Stephan R

          “The actual situation, then, is this. What is good or bad for us is determined by the ends set for us by our nature, ”

          An atheist can subscribe to this view. It’s taking the view that God commands what is good (not that things are good simply because God commands it.) God might have a good nature, but we can only know that if goodness has it’s own content. (In a non-arbitrary way, mind you.)

          Arguing God is “goodness” itself is specious. It’s like an old-school Pythagorean arguing that God is triangular, as a theistic explanation for triangles having three sides.

          • Darren

            Nice point from Stephan R. (re triangle God).

            Most of what Feser argues really boils down to “God = Good; you can’t explain that!”

            What’s left of Feser’s argument is that Euthyphro only holds in a polytheistic cosmos, and since we are not in such a cosmos, Euthyphro is void, see above for further questions.

            But, is his claim that we are no longer in a polytheism true?

            In the days of polytheism, you had to pick between Athena or Apollo or Artemis or Zeus or Odin or Baal or etc. All different, all commanding different things, so it would make sense to ask if a particular god’s precepts were based upon some higher standard, and if so, which god most closely embodied that.

            Now, in a monotheism, you _could_ argue this is no longer the case. You could make that argument, and we could then debate whether Euthyphro was obsolete or not. But, are we in a monotheism? For Feser, “Duh”, but the view from outside the bosum of the Church is not so clear.

            From outside the Church, it does not appear that we are really in a monotheism at all. Or, if we are, it is an open question _which_ monotheism we are in. Jehovah? Christ? Allah? Atman? Spaghetti Monster? Even if we grant the Christian God (sorry two-thirds of the world), is it the Catholic God or the Anglican God? Even then, the Anglican God that doesn’t care for gay people, or the Anglican God that likes them just fine?

            I propose that most people, in so far as they chose their religions and moralities at all as opposed to adopting what they were conditioned in childhood to adopt, operate as if there is an objective morality to begin with, then pick their God flavor, and which of their God flavor’s teachings to believe in and which to ignore, after the fact.

            Thus, Euthyphro is just a relevant now as it ever was.

  • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

    I am an atheist and an empiricist.

  • duane

    Explain DNA

    • Darren

      How do you mean?

      “DNA: you can’t explain that!” explain, or something else?

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Hey – I took a rather extensive “crack” at your challenge and have yet to receive an iota of response! I’m not sure I accept the assumption underlying your challenge in any case: in a society which heavily normalizes and promotes religious belief (and particularly its theistic versions) it says something quite significant simply to assert one’s atheism. Just because it isn’t the sort of statement you’d like to see people make, that doesn’t make it a valueless or even particularly vague statement. There’s something rather sociologically insensitive – perhaps even imperious – in your request here, I think.

  • Sarah

    I am the most Litvish atheist I’ve ever met.

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