"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Friday, February 16, 2007

Obey, or (and) die.

This post is a response to Rev. Dr. Incitatus who has brought the conversation from meaning back to morality. This is cause for great excitement around here because we LOVE talking about morality! =) To get the background on this post please visit the back-story here.

Before I dig in I would like to enter a plea to all who visit this blog. Please don't let each thread die as a new one begins! If there are still areas you wish to explore in an existing thread, by all means, continue commenting on it. I would encourage everyone to make the "recent comments/rss feed" link the first stop on each visit. I know as we speak there are conversations going on in threads that have long sense sunk to the bottom of the list. I just hate seeing productive threads disappear as soon as a new one is posted. Okay, enough on that. Let the show begin!

Rev. Dr. Incitatus,
Okay here's where I'm at. I can see how our sense of morality could have evolved in parallel with our species. I don't really have a problem with that. My objection begins when the naturalistic assumption goes no further than "mindless purposeless matter and energy". Working within that paradigm you then have a organism that is able to step outside of it's self and see the meaninglessness of it's situation. If pure naturalism is correct this odd little organism could see that his empathy is nothing more than an evolved survival mechanism, then freely circumvent this feature when it advantageous to the current circumstance. Granted, this organism would have to overcome it's ingrained "feelings" to do so, (as in your dehumanizing of the enemy example) but there should certainly be no need for "guilt" in the matter. Living in this paradigm can you then say that is it "wrong" to dehumanize the enemy?

I get the feeling I really need to read Dawkins Selfish Gene. The reason I say that is because I see in the naturalist perspective a continual appeal to what is advantageous for the survival of the species. All morality is viewed through the lens of species survival. There is this undercurrent running through all life on this planet that exudes the need to survive. Where does that come from? What a sad little joke if pure naturalism is correct. You get a planet of organisms that become animated then proceed to strive an yearn for survival on a planet that is doomed to annihilation. That fact renders null this mysterious survival instinct and the morality that has evolved along with it.

Of course that is a big picture view and none of us are existing in the "big picture". We exist in the now. So in the here-and-now how should we operate with regards to morality if pure naturalism is adopted? I'd guess you just do what works. Ride the pony while it's still walking. In a practical sense no one is going to walk around striving to live their life for the good of the species. We will live our lives for the good of US. Nature will decide what is good for the species. Sounds pretty liberating does it not?

So what of the vast populations of the world that do not live in a privileged life filled with the benefits that we in developed nations enjoy?

No worries, nature will take care of it.

What of all wars for territory and resources?

No worries, that is just the natural process of selection in action. Things will be as they will be. All you need to concern yourself with is enjoying this ride as much as possible given your circumstances.

You encapsulate this position well when you state:

Basically, to me morality is simply one of evolutions dirty tricks. But like sex, I'm quite happy to go along with it.

You seem to acknowledge the reality that pure naturalism brings. Your life is a dirty trick. But you may as well enjoy it while you have it. If your life is filled with misery and despair (as many are), tough cookies. If you don't like it you can leave. (and many do)

I don't know man, this treatise on the evolutionary origins of morality may have progressed my thoughts on the natural aspect of morality, but it has done nothing to explain why it should be obeyed. It's not our job to ensure the survival of the species. Our job is to be random variations. It's natures job to sort out who survives.

If my view stands it should be no surprise that morality has a natural aspect as well as spiritual aspect. This is consistent with my view of what it means to be human. We are natural, flesh and bone, yet we are spiritual as well. To separate the two does violence to the way we operate in our day-to-day lives. If morality is purely natural there is no reason to follow it's leadings. If Man is purely natural there is no reason He should be esteemed or bestowed with inherent worth.

If the "now" that we live in continues to tell us to value others, to live a good life, to choose to love your spouse so that "true love" may develop, etc...—yet the big picture that swirls around us takes no notice of us and progresses on to a future that will quickly be the end of us all... The result is a wicked hoax that taunts us. We are all deceived. We have been given a life we never asked for and forced to watch those we love die the deaths they always feared.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

You highlight a point of major difference between a theist and an atheist. A theist integrates their sense of meaning with the origin of their existence, whereas an atheist considers the two entirely separate. Evolution is meaningless and accidental. It has no purpose, but it nevertheless drives towards and end as a result of the physical laws that govern it and the rest of the cosmos. But I have not evolved to directly share that drive. Instead, I’ve evolved certain faculties that cause me to bend towards that invisible will without actually knowing it. I don’t personally and consciously derive my sense of meaning from the whims of evolution, but instead derive it from what I perceive to be pleasurable, and what I perceive to be painful. Watching people and even animals suffer unnecessarily is as painful to me as it is to you and the majority of others. I have little choice in that reaction. It requires considerable psychological disruption to prevent people from having such feelings (a psychopath being defined as someone who, through hereditary of environmental causes, has received such a psychological disruption). The reasons are complex and tied up with the various attributes that are conducive to organized social groups and subsequently to increased chance of survival. Whatever their origin, the feeling is visceral. It cannot easily be contained by abstract reasoning alone. Me knowing that from a purely objective standpoint, this is all completely meaningless (not a cosmic dark joke as you suggest; that alludes to meaning in itself), does not at all alter my views of what is good and bad. My subjective sense of meaning is as vital an organ as my heart.

The bottom line is, although my ethics might have been brought about by evolution, they are not consciously and subjectively tied to its arbitrary cosmic journey. I obey those ethics purely for their own sake. My knowledge of philosophical history is terrible (if that isn't already apparent), but I suppose that sort of lumps me in with the Epicureans.

4:39 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Man, that I'm long-winded. I need to work on that. I think I could sum up all of the above in a sentence: I could choose to abandon my subjective sense of meaning and embrace nihilism, but I choose not to for one solitary reason; I wouldn't be very happy.

4:43 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Man, that I'm long-winded.

Oh don't go beating your self up about that! It's not as if anyone else around here is so brilliant that they can get their point across in a single statement! I be the worst offender I'm afraid.

I could choose to abandon my subjective sense of meaning and embrace nihilism, but I choose not to for one solitary reason; I wouldn't be very happy.

I clearly see your point and I can understand why you would take that stance. The reason I reject that position is that to live in that place you must be comfortable with having the foundation of your life be one of self-deception. Granted it is a self-deception that comes very easily to us, but it is self-deception none-the-less. I see there being a option that allows one to lead a more consistent life. That is the route I choose.

There are many reasons people choose atheism, but to claim that it allows one to live a reason based life cannot be one of them. Atheism at it's very core creates a fundamental contradiction. If reason were king you would not find atheists attempting such things as humanism and other quasi-moral efforts. Such as it is there is a general denial that must be adopted to remain "happy".

10:15 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

to claim that it allows one to live a reason based life cannot be one of them.

Does anyone actually claim this though?

Even the 'Brights' would only go so far as to suggest that atheism is more rational than theism.

Perhaps one of the most famous atheists of all time is Bertrand Russell, who stated that, in his opinion: "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge". While he believed that both were necessary, he was firm that love (by which he meant all its various forms: lust, compassion, benevolence, etc.) was the most essential.

7:07 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Does anyone actually claim this though?

I'm just reacting to what I often hear from some of the more vocal atheists that I'm aware of. For instance the title of Robert Price's latest book is actually "The Reason Driven Life". I'm sure, like you said, it was named out of a desire to illustrate his belief that atheism is more reasonable than theism, but at the end of the day that's where I disagree.

Like the position you presented by Bertrand Russell love in all it's forms is the key to happiness. The problem as I see it is that science is attempting to tell you what love is. They will show you an image of your brain and when you feel loving sensations they will point to a certain area in your brain that 'lights up' and say, "Ah, you see? This here is love. It's just a determined chemical response. No need to get all excited about it."

The natural response is, "To heck with your explaining of my love! To ME it is real and I will follow it!"

If I was an atheist I would say the same thing. I would try not to think to hard about it because the implications are just to uncomfortable to deal with. I would accept my delusion and live in it.

It is because of that willful delusion the atheist must accept that I would argue that Christianity is the more 'reasonable' option.

12:38 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

It is because of that willful delusion the atheist must accept that I would argue that Christianity is the more 'reasonable' option.

But theism is equally if not more delusional than atheism (actively rather than passively delusional, one might say). From an atheistic perspective, it is essentially the fabrication of an explanation in order to establish a meaning that people feel 'comfortable' with.

2:04 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

I'm just reacting to what I often hear from some of the more vocal atheists that I'm aware of. For instance the title of Robert Price's latest book is actually "The Reason Driven Life".

Robert Price isn't an atheist though, he's a gnostic Christian. At least, according to Wikipedia.

The problem as I see it is that science is attempting to tell you what love is.

There's a difference between explanation and experience. Love is simply a chemical reaction on a scientific level, but the description of an emotion is different to the experience of it.

Very few scientists or philosophers would suggest that they're the same thing.

2:15 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Robert Price isn't an atheist though, he's a gnostic Christian. At least, according to Wikipedia.

I was using a blog by Greg Boyd as my source on that one. "For example, he’s an atheist, but he still loves going to church and taking communion!" At any rate, it's just an oft cited reason for rejecting Christianity that I hear a lot of. It seems to be a standard comfort to the atheist that they are on the side of 'reason' while Christians are on the side of ignorant superstition. Whether or not that is true for any particular atheist is a not really what I'm driving at. It's just a 'feeling' I get in the more Dawkinsesque atheist circles.

Very few scientists or philosophers would suggest that they're the same thing.

Agreed, it is this leap between the explanation and experience that I am interested in. The "setting up of the problem" that I am currently working on should address this issue... hopefully!

Have a good time at your bro's place. Where is that again?

3:03 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

From an atheistic perspective, it is essentially the fabrication of an explanation in order to establish a meaning that people feel 'comfortable' with.

Well sure... from the Atheistic perspective. But what if it's true? If it's true, then it allows the Christian to live a consistant life. If it's not, then we are all just deluded. Unless of course you make reason king and live a misserable life, but that would just be stupid.

3:10 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Price seems an interesting guy; part atheist, part religious humanist, part... I don't know what.

I have some reading to so when I get back.

It's just a 'feeling' I get in the more Dawkinsesque atheist circles.

It does sound like something the 'Brights' would say. The Positivist wing of atheism.

Where is that again?

He lives in our fair capital. I'm down on the coast, about an hour or so away.

3:22 PM

 
Blogger james higham said...

This will take me some time to come up to speed on this but I shall.

11:36 AM

 

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