Re: [asa] Re: good atheists?

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Sep 04 2009 - 13:53:25 EDT

Heya Susan,

Some replies interspersed below.

> Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, not
> > because they have taken the effort to reason from first principles and
> > miraculously reached conclusions that bear a remarkable similarity to the
> > moral system of those around them, but because lacking any moral system
> of
> > their own, they parasitically latch on to the system of their societal
> host.
> When I first heard that argument in the mid-1980s I was furious because it
> was so incredibly arrogant. Now it's like running into someone from high
> school that you didn't like much back then.
I don't understand what's arrogant here. The idea that individual atheist
morality is largely borrowed from the (often historically religious) culture
they inhabit? Sure, Vox is putting that in strong terms by framing it as
parasitic behavior, but what are you saying? That atheists reject the
foundations of morality found in religion but coincidentally, immediately,
and individually reason their way to moral systems that happen to be
remarkably similar to what they just rejected?

It may sound mean to point out that the reality of "good" and "evil" simply
does not exist under atheist (at least naturalist/materialist atheist)
worldviews. But I wouldn't have to go all that far to find a number of
atheists, even prominent atheists, who don't just admit it, but insist on
the point. Don't mistake the ability to subscribe to an ethical system with
the belief in real, objective rights and wrongs.

> > That's a negative way of describing what is essentially a good thing, and
> it's
> > why atheists in Christian cultures behave according to an individual
> morality
> > that has more in common with the surrounding Christians than with Hindu
> > atheists or Islamic atheists with whom they theoretically have more in
> > common.
> Why would they have more in common with someone from a different culture?
> There is not a nickel's worth of difference between Islamic morality, Hindu
> morality and Christian morality. If you rob a bank or cheat on a business
> deal you are going to receive societal censure in each of those societies.
> Everyone in all of those societies knows stealing or cheating is wrong.

Does everyone in all of those societies know that birth caste systems are
wrong? And polygamy? Interest on loans? Etc. There are a lot of differences
between these cultures, even on questions of what's right and wrong, to go
with the numerous similarities.

> >In practice, this tends to work out as the dominant local moral system
> > minus the proscribed behavior in which the individual really wants to
> engage,
> > which is usually something involving sex or money. But this positive
> moral
> > parasitism can never be confused with the possession of an independent
> system
> > of morality, so the problem is that a voter has no idea which specific
> aspects
> > of the dominant moral system have been rejected by the atheist
> politician.
> >
> Or by the Christian politician. Or by the Hindu politician, etc. Religious
> affiliation or lack thereof is not a predictor of behavior. The conduct of
> all of the politicians in the last few years exposed/convicted/accused of
> misbehavior was around sex or money and every single one was a professed
> Christian. The only avowed atheist in congress is, as far as I know,
> squeaky
> clean. Atheists are quite underrepresented in prisons. The vast majority of
> people in prisons consider themselves either Christian or Muslim. Does that
> mean that per capita atheists commit fewer crimes? Maybe. Again, it could
> be
> a cultural rather than a religious thing.

And one key difference is that a Christian or a Hindu has an objective moral
code to be hypocritical of, if they're sincere about their faith. A sincere
atheist who believes in an objective morality is going to be A) likely
inconsistent with his atheism, and B) not have an obvious moral code, other
than what Vox pointed out (likely inherited from their culture - but then,
what parts of their culture's morality do they reject?)

As for prison populations, Vox makes some reference to that too. From the

*I previously referenced the number of atheists being held by the
prison system of England and Wales, where it is customary to re-
cord the religion of the prison population as part of the Inmate In-
formation System. In the year 2000, there were 38,531 Christians of
twenty-one different varieties imprisoned for their crimes, compared
to only 122 atheists and sixty-two agnostics. As Europe in gener-
al and the United Kingdom in particular have become increasingly
post-Christian, this would appear to be a damning piece of evidence
proving the fundamentally criminal nature of theists while demon-
strating that atheists are indeed more moral despite their lack of a
sky god holding them to account.*

*However, there also happened to be another 20,639 prisoners,
31.6 percent of the total prison population, who possessed “no reli-
gion.” And this was not simply a case of people falling through the
cracks or refusing to provide an answer; the Inmate Information Sys-
tem is specifc enough to distinguish between Druids, Scientologists,
and Zoroastrians as well as between the Celestial Church of God,
the Welsh Independent church, and the Non-Conformist church. It
also features separate categories for “other Christian religion,” “oth-
er non-Christian religion,” and “not known.”
At only two-tenths of a percent of the prison population, High
Church atheists are, as previously suggested, extremely law-abiding.
But when one compares the 31.6 percent of imprisoned no-religion-
ists to the 15.1 percent of Britons who checked “none” or wrote in
Jedi Knight, agnostic, atheist, or heathen in the 2001 national survey,
it becomes clear that their Low Church counterparts are nearly four
times more likely to be convicted and jailed for committing a crime
than a Christian.

> > While the atheist next door is likely to limit his rejection to the
> specific
> > aspects that proscribe premarital fornication or gluttony and indulge
> himself
> > in the sort of everyday moral failure to which even the most devout
> Christians
> > are susceptible, history demonstrates that the ambitious atheist who
> seeks
> > political power is significantly more likely to reject the moral
> proscription
> > on things such as slaughtering large numbers of people who stand in the
> way of
> > establishing a godless utopia.
> All available stats show that atheists are less likely to divorce than
> Christians. Does that mean they are more faithful? I don't know. It may be
> an artifact of culture (most divorces are in the "red" states). Gluttony?
> Are you serious? Have you ever been to a church potluck?

Vox also discusses the atheist/divorce rate - and according to the figures
he cites, "all available stats" don't indicate that. Again, from the book:

*As evidence that moral democracy is theoretically functional, he
asserts without evidence that the prison population is distributed ac-
cording to religious affliation in the general population, an incorrect
assertion that was belied in chapter I. Dennett further claims that
“brights” have better family values than born-again Christians based
on “the lowest divorce rate in the United States” which depends on
the fawed 1999 Barna study15
 instead of the 2001 ARIS study he
makes use of later in the book, a much larger study that reaches pre-
cisely the opposite conclusion. It is certainly a quixotic assertion,
considering that these family value atheists are half as likely to get
married, twice as likely to divorce, and have fewer children than any
other group in the United States.*

Footnote on the Barna study:

 Barna calculated divorces as a percentage of the entire group, not as a
percentage of marriages
within that group. Since according to ARIS 2001 more than half of all
atheists and agnostics don’t
get married, this is an apple-orange comparison. If one correctly excludes
the never-married from
the calculation, then atheists are 58.7 percent more likely to get divorced
than Pentecostals and
Baptists, the two born-again Christian groups with the highest rate of
divorce, and more than twice
as likely to get divorced than Christians in general.*

> >The peg-legged crack whore, on the other hand,
> > only wants to shift agricultural subsidies from cereal crops to coca
> plants
> > and poppies and install disco balls in the White House.
> Hahahahahaha!!!! Ok, this is a parody and I've been hooked.
> Right?
> 80+ years ago a handful of dictators committed some atrocities. Well, two.
> Stalin and Mao. Hitler wasn't an atheist. Yet in modern times a lot of
> countries are led by atheist Prime Ministers and Presidents and many of
> them
> have majority-atheist populations, yet they are the most peaceful and
> prosperous nations in the world. In Bosnia Christians slaughtered Muslims.
> In Africa Muslims are slaughtering animists. The reasons for those
> genocides
> are almost certainly racial and cultural rather than religious, but being
> religious hasn't slowed any of them down.

Insofar as you talk about a lot of these conflicts being 'almost certainly
racial and cultural rather than religious', you're agreeing with a major
point in Vox's book. If you haven't already, you should really read it -
bombastic quotes aside, he's very thorough, and goes through quite a lot of
documenting of his claims.

And if you think there were only two atheist leaders committing atrocities
80+ years ago, you're missing out on quite a lot of history. Again, from
However, there
have been twenty-eight countries in world history that can be con-
frmed to have been ruled by regimes with avowed atheists at the
helm, beginning with the First French Republic and ending with the
four atheist regimes currently extant: the People’s Republic of China,
the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Demo-
cratic Republic, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. These twen-
ty-eight historical regimes have been ruled by eighty-nine atheists,
of whom more than half have engaged in democidal
 acts of the sort
committed by Stalin and Mao and are known to have murdered at
least 20,000 of their own citizens.

The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007
is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of ffty-two
atheists, three times more than all the human beings killed by war,
civil war, and individual crime in the entire twentieth century combined.*

> A lot of these "foundations of atheist morality" arguments seem to be
> predicated on the idea that morality isn't good for you. It's not something
> you want to do and therefore has to be imposed on you. Moral behavior is
> not
> something you would ever do willingly. That's true for children and a few
> adults. Mature adults, though, know that you can only be happy if you live
> a
> moral life. Most people know that intuitively. That's how Japan and Sweden
> have peaceful, law abiding societies in spite of huge atheist populations.
I think you're confusing morality with a (pragmatic) ethical system. A
person who doesn't believe that there's really such a thing as an objective
right or an objective wrong is not therefore incapable of subscribing to
some kind of ethical system, or even promoting one in a pragmatic fashion.
Also, you seem to be mistaking having a 'peaceful, law abiding' society (law
abiding = moral?) with having a moral society. I'd wager North Korea has a
peaceful, law abiding society - I don't hear about many big outbreaks of
crime there. Is NK's society therefore moral? And for the record, I'd
certainly agree America is not impeccable on such a front either. I think
it's impossible to have a very stable, law-abiding society that has morally
abhorrent practices and standards. (Indeed, the argument from Vox and others
isn't that atheism will necessarily lead to utter anarchy.)

As for the huge atheist populations of Sweden and Europe (putting Japan
aside, since eastern approaches to religion/belief are in their own
category) in general, it's worth recognizing that A) the relevant areas in
Europe have for centuries been historically Christian, including
state-sanctioned churches that continue to exist to this day [Which,
paradoxically, may well play a prominent role in their respective nations'
slide to irreligion] which indicates that Christian culture being at work B)
the change in the direction of irreligion has been relatively recent and
informal, C) tends to be more nuanced (The 2005 eurobarometer poll puts 23%
of Swede respondents at believing in God, 23% not believing in any God,
spirit, or life force, and 53% believing in some sort of spirit or life

Anyway, if you're really interested in Vox's arguments (out of curiosity, or
purely to refute them) you can get his book for free - has it in PDF form.

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Received on Fri Sep 4 13:54:29 2009

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