Response To a Comment on Ask an Atheist

Response To a Comment on Ask an Atheist January 19, 2021


Hi Michael, I’m very glad you’ve found me and that you look at my Patheos – I’ve been enjoying blogging here for almost a year.  Thank you for your encouraging interest in my work and thank you for your sympathy regarding my health.  We are obviously kindred spirits!  

You say:

“I don’t understand this desire to disregard that evolution has led to us having a very high level of self-awareness.”

Me neither!  But I propose to speculate about that in a future blog, working title, “Top Down or Bottom Up?”  

You go on:

“the fact that people consciously decide to create the systems to train soldiers or to train their religious flocks to hate proves that morality is, in fact, objective.”

In the above sentence it becomes obvious that we have a disagreement about the meaning of ‘objective’.  I quite like the dictionary definition “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts”, but would take it even further, to the extent of “untainted by a mind”.  If that is taken to be the case, it makes no sense to claim that something that ‘people consciously decide to create’ is objective.  A decision is, by its very nature, subjective.  That leads us to the following misrepresentation of my position (I’ll put your comments in quotes):

“The mistake I think you are making is that if something is “objective,” then everyone will come to the same conclusion.” 

I don’t think that; therefore I don’t come to that conclusion.

“That’s not true in science, which has some of the most robust systems in place for creating objectivity, so why would that be true in any other human institution?”

Yes, indeed, science has some of the most robust systems in place for acquiring (I take exception to the use of ‘creating’ here!) objective results, but we must be careful not to conflate observations/results with conclusions.  I wrote about this here:

Of course, it’s true that scientists can draw different putative conclusions from the evidence, think of the alternative models to explain the ‘missing mass’ of the universe for example, but the different models have no effect on the observations – you simply estimate how much matter there is and how it should behave under its combined gravitational force and there is a gap of 96%.  In our current understanding that is as close as it is possible to get to a fact.  Something is wrong but it’s unlikely to be the observations, which have been robustly repeatable and shareable; it’s probably the model.

“Every human has basic, innate characterizes that cause us to have certain desires and lead us to act in certain ways.  But we also have the ability to control our impulses and think about the longer-term consequences and wider implications of our actions,”

Yes.  Agreed.  That’s what I tried to illustrate in my short video and the live discussion on Ask an Atheist with Chris.

“Good’ or ‘bad’ are value judgements and the operative word is ‘value’.  Whose values?  Who sets them?  Who changes them?  Theists tell us it’s their god and no-one else’s!  That makes no sense; there’s no evidence for any god, and how would She communicate them to us?  Why would She change her mind over time?  And then there is the Euthyphro dilemma…

“but only humans can consciously decide to NOT have offspring at all, making their DNA line extinct for the good of others.”

Weeell….  There is strong evidence that other animals have consciousness as any dog/cat owner will testify.  And there is evidence of instances of the shutting down of the reproductive system in other animals – kangaroos do this in times of drought.  Are they doing it consciously?  How might we tell?

“As for the bad actors, you put it down to evolutionary variability.  OK.  But one thing we have learned about animal behavior in groups is that there is a trade-off between the number of producers and the number of stealers and the costs of taking time away from producing to protect against and punish the stealers.  The ratio of stealers to producers isn’t static.  There are many things that keep it in flux.  We can see it playing out in real time in groups of seagulls, for instance.”

Yes, one thing that evolution teaches us is that, despite our desire for the contrary, there is no stasis.  We must learn to come to terms with this…

I made another short video on that some time ago, click on the pic to see it…


Chris Atlee and I will be addressing the subject of The Commandments on Saturday’s live Ask an Atheist show… 


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