The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Grumble » Fri Jun 11, 2021 4:08 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 3:13 pm
I recall lots of very heated arguments with believers in the inherent morality of Atheism after I pointed out all the crimes committed by atheists in the Soviet Union, China etc.
That was my problem with Atheism Plus.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by IvanV » Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:44 pm

I propose a better definition of what we abhor (I'm assuming) as "coercive belief systems". They don't have to include a god. So far such systems have generally included a requirement to adhere to a belief which we reject.

Atheism is only a partial response. It responds to attempts to coerce god-belief. That is a widespread kind of coercive belief system today. Though there are others also, and atheism doesn't respond adequately to those.

In plenty of coercive places, the coercive belief imposed is minimal, along the lines of "I'm in charge and you'd better believe it". Not every coercive regime subscribes to the well known coercive belief systems, nor goes to the lengths of Turkmenistan or North Korea to manufacture a customised and detailed coercive belief system for their own regime. They are content with coercing mainly by force.

So I'm not sure this is a satisfactory analysis, but I propose it for discussion.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by dyqik » Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:47 pm

"No Gods, No Masters" is briefer. ;)

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by IvanV » Fri Jun 11, 2021 6:01 pm

dyqik wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:47 pm
"No Gods, No Masters" is briefer. ;)
That's an anarchist slogan. Anarchy results in failed states, and they aren't nice places to live.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by dyqik » Fri Jun 11, 2021 10:56 pm

IvanV wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 6:01 pm
dyqik wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:47 pm
"No Gods, No Masters" is briefer. ;)
That's an anarchist slogan. Anarchy results in failed states, and they aren't nice places to live.
It's also a labour movement slogan.

And outside of the anarchist context, it's the essence of what you said.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Tessa K » Sat Jun 12, 2021 7:06 am

dyqik wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 10:56 pm
IvanV wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 6:01 pm
dyqik wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:47 pm
"No Gods, No Masters" is briefer. ;)
That's an anarchist slogan. Anarchy results in failed states, and they aren't nice places to live.
It's also a labour movement slogan.

And outside of the anarchist context, it's the essence of what you said.
Wiki:
An early 20th century usage is evident in a pamphlet handed out by the Industrial Workers of the World during the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.The phrase is derived from the French slogan "Ni dieu ni maître !" (literally 'Neither god nor master') coined by the socialist Louis Auguste Blanqui in 1880, when he published a journal by that name. ... The French phrase appears twice in Friedrich Nietzsche's 1886 work Beyond Good and Evil.... In 1914, Margaret Sanger launched The Woman Rebel, an eight-page monthly newsletter which promoted contraception using the slogan "No Gods, No Masters". Sanger insisted that every woman was the mistress of her own body

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by secret squirrel » Sat Jun 12, 2021 7:56 am

IvanV wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 6:01 pm
dyqik wrote:
Fri Jun 11, 2021 5:47 pm
"No Gods, No Masters" is briefer. ;)
That's an anarchist slogan. Anarchy results in failed states, and they aren't nice places to live.
Where have Anarchist ideas such as those of Kropotkin led to failed states? I can only think of a handful of places where they have been tried, and in all those places external forces make it difficult to attribute failure to inherent problems with the ideology (e.g., can we really attribute the failure of the Makhnoists in the Ukraine to Anarchism? How about the present situation in Rojava?).

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by shpalman » Sat Jun 12, 2021 9:47 am

There's an argument which states that morality comes from God and therefore atheists are either amoral, or secret implicit Christians.

It's easy enough to point out that when a Christian picks which bits of the bible are good advice or not, they're exercising moral judgement on the tenets of their faith rather than deriving it entirely from their faith, which means it must come from something else. It can also be pointed out that godless animals aren't amoral ("Dogs have the ability to work out when someone is being rude or dishonest").

This isn't to say that atheists are inherently superior (although it's pointed out that doing good things just for the approval of a supernatural entity isn't necessarily a purer motivation than doing it for the approval of fellow humans). But it doesn't rely either on accepting someone as a perfect moral authority just because they wrote a few well-received books at the beginning of their career.

Sam Harris actually suggested trying find a rational science-based approach to morality in one of his books. It doesn't actually matter what you think of him as a person if you can find ways to make moral decisions based on psychology and sociology (i.e. the way in which humans and groups of humans actually behave). Of course those scientific fields have their issues, but still, how else should you decide questions of ethics or benefit-harm balance, or decide when to be progressive and when to be conservative, or when or person's morality should adapt to the country they live in versus when the country should accept theirs? The point about science is that done properly, it takes the imperfect human biases out of it, which is especially important if you need to study imperfect human biases themselves.

None of it means oh well God exists after all.

Belief in moralizing gods.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Tessa K » Sat Jun 12, 2021 10:49 am

shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 9:47 am
There's an argument which states that morality comes from God and therefore atheists are either amoral, or secret implicit Christians.

It's easy enough to point out that when a Christian picks which bits of the bible are good advice or not, they're exercising moral judgement on the tenets of their faith rather than deriving it entirely from their faith, which means it must come from something else. It can also be pointed out that godless animals aren't amoral ("Dogs have the ability to work out when someone is being rude or dishonest").

This isn't to say that atheists are inherently superior (although it's pointed out that doing good things just for the approval of a supernatural entity isn't necessarily a purer motivation than doing it for the approval of fellow humans). But it doesn't rely either on accepting someone as a perfect moral authority just because they wrote a few well-received books at the beginning of their career.

Sam Harris actually suggested trying find a rational science-based approach to morality in one of his books. It doesn't actually matter what you think of him as a person if you can find ways to make moral decisions based on psychology and sociology (i.e. the way in which humans and groups of humans actually behave). Of course those scientific fields have their issues, but still, how else should you decide questions of ethics or benefit-harm balance, or decide when to be progressive and when to be conservative, or when or person's morality should adapt to the country they live in versus when the country should accept theirs? The point about science is that done properly, it takes the imperfect human biases out of it, which is especially important if you need to study imperfect human biases themselves.

None of it means oh well God exists after all.

Belief in moralizing gods.
It's interesting that when believers say morality comes from God and the Bible they're ignoring the Greeks who spent a long time pre-Christ working out ethical behaviour both personally and socially. Or how they explain the fact that social animals all have behavioural codes, rules and punishments that make group living possible. But when Christian morality was laid down they didn't know about animals and have conveniently ignored them since.

It is hard to separate science completely from human bias because science is done by humans but it's the best shot we have. However, science tells us how the world is, not how to live in it, that comes from ethics and philosophy with the recognition that we are social animals.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Chris Preston » Sat Jun 12, 2021 10:55 am

I have to admit that I have never had a lot of time for Dawkins et al. They seem to spend a lot of time being nasty to people just for the sake of making themselves look superior. It would be much better if they were to offer a positive contribution to the discussion.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by shpalman » Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:09 am

Tessa K wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 10:49 am
shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 9:47 am
There's an argument which states that morality comes from God and therefore atheists are either amoral, or secret implicit Christians.

It's easy enough to point out that when a Christian picks which bits of the bible are good advice or not, they're exercising moral judgement on the tenets of their faith rather than deriving it entirely from their faith, which means it must come from something else. It can also be pointed out that godless animals aren't amoral ("Dogs have the ability to work out when someone is being rude or dishonest").

This isn't to say that atheists are inherently superior (although it's pointed out that doing good things just for the approval of a supernatural entity isn't necessarily a purer motivation than doing it for the approval of fellow humans). But it doesn't rely either on accepting someone as a perfect moral authority just because they wrote a few well-received books at the beginning of their career.

Sam Harris actually suggested trying find a rational science-based approach to morality in one of his books. It doesn't actually matter what you think of him as a person if you can find ways to make moral decisions based on psychology and sociology (i.e. the way in which humans and groups of humans actually behave). Of course those scientific fields have their issues, but still, how else should you decide questions of ethics or benefit-harm balance, or decide when to be progressive and when to be conservative, or when or person's morality should adapt to the country they live in versus when the country should accept theirs? The point about science is that done properly, it takes the imperfect human biases out of it, which is especially important if you need to study imperfect human biases themselves.

None of it means oh well God exists after all.

Belief in moralizing gods.
It's interesting that when believers say morality comes from God and the Bible they're ignoring the Greeks who spent a long time pre-Christ working out ethical behaviour both personally and socially. Or how they explain the fact that social animals all have behavioural codes, rules and punishments that make group living possible. But when Christian morality was laid down they didn't know about animals and have conveniently ignored them since.

It is hard to separate science completely from human bias because science is done by humans but it's the best shot we have. However, science tells us how the world is, not how to live in it, that comes from ethics and philosophy with the recognition that we are social animals.
I'm saying that there's a branch of science which tells us how people are, which might help us in developing ethics and rules on how best to live socially.

Otherwise ethics and philosophy are just people reckoning things, introspecting and then projecting outwards.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Tessa K » Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:19 am

shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:09 am

I'm saying that there's a branch of science which tells us how people are, which might help us in developing ethics and rules on how best to live socially.

Otherwise ethics and philosophy are just people reckoning things, introspecting and then projecting outwards.
Fair enough, we're saying roughly the same thing about science then.

That's not what ethics and philosophy are at all, though. Not when they're applied to behaviour rather than 'how can we tell that this table really exists?' type of thinking. I've noticed that some sciencey people like to diss philosophy (not saying you do) as useless compared with science - even though science relies on logic which is a branch of philosophy. For determining morality and social behaviour, science works best alongside ethics/philosophy. How and why do humans behave? How can we ensure that the best parts of human behaviour outweigh the worst? And why bother? Thought experiments can be as valuable as actual physical ones.

Of course, we can also learn a lot about human nature, the best and the worst, from fiction. Writers (and historians) were observing human nature long before scientists got their act together.

So there's a role for science, philosophy, literature and history in the understanding and regulating of human behaviour. It's good to be cross-disciplinary. One writer who's better at this than many scientists (yes Dawkins, I am looking at you) is Frans de Waal.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by shpalman » Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:57 am

Tessa K wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:19 am
shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:09 am

I'm saying that there's a branch of science which tells us how people are, which might help us in developing ethics and rules on how best to live socially.

Otherwise ethics and philosophy are just people reckoning things, introspecting and then projecting outwards.
Fair enough, we're saying roughly the same thing about science then.

That's not what ethics and philosophy are at all, though. Not when they're applied to behaviour rather than 'how can we tell that this table really exists?' type of thinking. I've noticed that some sciencey people like to diss philosophy (not saying you do) as useless compared with science - even though science relies on logic which is a branch of philosophy.
The kind of logic we use is mathematical if we're talking about something like quantum mechanics, but by "science" here I don't just mean hard science. (All maths and science started as philosophy but science intends to ask questions to which you have some possibility of finding answers in experimental facts,* and mathematics is the language it's written in.

* - you can see this in the different attitudes to logical positivism between scientists and philosophers.)
Tessa K wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:19 am
For determining morality and social behaviour, science works best alongside ethics/philosophy. How and why do humans behave? How can we ensure that the best parts of human behaviour outweigh the worst? And why bother? Thought experiments can be as valuable as actual physical ones.
Ok, if the person doing the thinking is a relatively representative example of humanity and not a sociopath or nihilist. How do I check that other people think and feel more or less the same way I do?
Tessa K wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:19 am
Of course, we can also learn a lot about human nature, the best and the worst, from fiction. Writers (and historians) were observing human nature long before scientists got their act together.

So there's a role for science, philosophy, literature and history in the understanding and regulating of human behaviour. It's good to be cross-disciplinary. One writer who's better at this than many scientists (yes Dawkins, I am looking at you) is Frans de Waal.
... but Frans de Waal is a scientist though? (His work does look interesting though.)
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by shpalman » Sat Jun 12, 2021 12:45 pm

shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:57 am
Ok, if the person doing the thinking is a relatively representative example of humanity and not a sociopath or nihilist. How do I check that other people think and feel more or less the same way I do?
Or, more relevantly to the thread, what do we do if we like the thinking the person came up with but later on discover that they're a terrible person?*

We may be inclined to cut them some slack based on appreciating their earlier thinking, but this is a kind of reverse ad-hominem error, and it's maybe the one which has been going on with the apologists of Dawkins or whoever.

Or, we may be inclined to dismiss or revise our attitude to their earlier thinking, which is an actual ad-hominem error. This isn't the same as re-evaluating someone's earlier "of its time" thinking according to modern standards.

It's related to fundamental attribution error but not exactly the same thing. It's more a case of "person I like does thing therefore it is good / person I don't like does thing therefore it is bad" ("person I like does bad thing but it they must have had good reasons / extenuating circumstances" / "person I don't like does good thing they must have cynical motives").

I think that the only way to resolve this sort of thing relies on some way to evaluate the thinking as detached from the person who thought it. This is part of what the scientific method tries to do, but which religion (or any other system which bases the value of something almost entirely and solely on the authority of who said it) doesn't seem to have a mechanism for.

I look forward to a time when atheism won't need to be a thing in the same way that the world doesn't need a special word to describe people who aren't into my niche hobby of swing dancing.

* - both of which would presumably require that even atheists are able to make moral judgements.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Tessa K » Sat Jun 12, 2021 4:03 pm

Yes, Frans de Waal is a scientist. I interviewed him once. He's lovely. He's like the anti-Dawkins. I wasn't saying that science can't do the job, just that it does a better job when there's a bit of a cross-disciplinary approach in the mix to create a fuller picture. There should be more hugging between science and the humanities. :D

I agree that we need to separate the person from their work when evaluating it retrospectively. The guy I did my PhD on (Belgian Symbolist playwright, late 19th century) was a bit of a tw.t and Sartre was a huge tw.t on occasion but their work is still important. There's a danger in saying someone's thinking was 'of their time' as an excuse because not everyone in every era thinks the same. Take slavery for example. There were anti-slavery campaigners at a time when the majority still favoured it. Same goes for Votes for Women. And many science ideas that challenged orthodoxy.

I don't think Dawkins fans give him a pass because his early work was good, it's more to do with them being invested in him as part of their identity, both personal and group - as we discussed above. There is a frequent discussion now about people, including scientists, who have turned out to have some loathsome ideas along with the good ones. Churchill may have been a good wartime leader but was a vile old racist too. The re-evaluation of Colston has generated a lot of heat. Yes he was a philanthropist, but ... Or just dumb ideas (Newton and alchemy, for example).

Part of the problem is that people do take a religious approach to their heroes - nothing can change, it's all set in stone, they're flawless etc. It's a basic failing to understand human nature and also history. Part of the palaver about Colston, Rhodes etc is that people who want the full facts known are accused of rewriting history when they're filling in the missing bits. Filling in the missing bits past and present about Dawkins etc is the same process and is not a million miles away from the scientific method of re-evaluating theories according to updated information. So sticking with someone whatever they do or say is very unscientific.

Anyway, I just had hot cross buns and the sugar/carb rush is making me ramble. Back to my demonstrative pronouns and adjectives in my Spanish book.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by temptar » Sat Jun 12, 2021 4:17 pm

Chris Preston wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 10:55 am
I have to admit that I have never had a lot of time for Dawkins et al. They seem to spend a lot of time being nasty to people just for the sake of making themselves look superior. It would be much better if they were to offer a positive contribution to the discussion.
I have to say I align with this view. Also, vindication on Pinker too. I have never been particularly enamoured.

That being said, the issue I see here is they are no less tribal than many religious movements with a core code of if you are not with us, you are against us.

I used to date a rabid atheist who hung out with other rabid atheists and talked about how atheists were like herding cats. I never got his point on that because they came across as supporters of a single football team.

The interesting thing was, it was a singular part of his identity. He didn’t like it when I told him, you have a whole belief and tribal system that makes your behaviour and code no different to the Catholic Church you despise. He was utterly emotionally bound to it.

It was months before he discovered that a) I despised the church and b) I despised the gods of atheism. They were not live and let live people.


As an aside, he still held more views in common with the Catholic Church than I did. And based on discussions we had, he would have voted Brexit/UKIP if he lived in the UK. We were not suited.

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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Millennie Al » Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:12 pm

shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 12:45 pm
It's related to fundamental attribution error but not exactly the same thing. It's more a case of "person I like does thing therefore it is good / person I don't like does thing therefore it is bad" ("person I like does bad thing but it they must have had good reasons / extenuating circumstances" / "person I don't like does good thing they must have cynical motives").
It's a consequence of the Halo effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect), which seems to be a universal cognitive bias.
I think that the only way to resolve this sort of thing relies on some way to evaluate the thinking as detached from the person who thought it. This is part of what the scientific method tries to do, but which religion (or any other system which bases the value of something almost entirely and solely on the authority of who said it) doesn't seem to have a mechanism for.
Yes, indeed. But the first step is to recognise the need to split the different aspects apart, when our instincts do the opposite.
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Re: The New Atheists, from heroes to zeroes

Post by Tessa K » Sun Jun 13, 2021 10:54 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:12 pm
shpalman wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 12:45 pm
It's related to fundamental attribution error but not exactly the same thing. It's more a case of "person I like does thing therefore it is good / person I don't like does thing therefore it is bad" ("person I like does bad thing but it they must have had good reasons / extenuating circumstances" / "person I don't like does good thing they must have cynical motives").
It's a consequence of the Halo effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect), which seems to be a universal cognitive bias.
I think that the only way to resolve this sort of thing relies on some way to evaluate the thinking as detached from the person who thought it. This is part of what the scientific method tries to do, but which religion (or any other system which bases the value of something almost entirely and solely on the authority of who said it) doesn't seem to have a mechanism for.
Yes, indeed. But the first step is to recognise the need to split the different aspects apart, when our instincts do the opposite.
People studying the arts and literature have been doing that for a long time.

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