Re: [asa] Re: good atheists?

From: Cogan, Susan L. <>
Date: Fri Sep 04 2009 - 15:42:19 EDT

On 9/4/09 12:53 PM, "Schwarzwald" <> wrote:

> Heya Susan,
> Some replies interspersed below.
>>> Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, . . .
>>>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?

Atheists don't reject the foundation of morality. They reject belief in
gods. Morality is founded on the fact that we are a social species. What is
arrogant is the assumption that any group of humans could be thrown together
in a social situation and not develop a morality without input from

> 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.

Only if you assume that morality has no intrinsic value but is merely an
empty pantomime performed to please someone external to yourself. The truth
is, that every time one child kicks another in the shins morality is born
anew. Don't like the pain in your shins? Don't steal your friend's pencil!
Good is friendship. Evil is the pain in your shin or the loss of your
pencil. Or the loss of a friend.

In order to make your statement above be true you would have to assume that
people's shins don't hurt unless they believe in God, that you won't care if
someone takes your pencil unless you believe in God and that you can't make
friends unless you believe in God.

>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.

A bruised shin is an objective wrong. You don't need a heavenly observer to
point it out to you.

>> 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.

Have you ever heard of sumptuary laws? The European caste system was only
abolished recently in human history. Polygamy is just one kind of marriage.
All societies have some way of forming new families.

There are a lot of detail differences in cultures, but there is no (or very
little) difference in morality. If you have 3 wives and you commit adultery,
it's still breaking your promise to be faithful. Promise breaking is immoral
and everyone knows it.

>>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?)

Since all that's rejected is belief in God you'd have to ask the individual
atheist. No objective morality? Are you serious? Objective morality is based
on "do no harm."

> As for prison populations, Vox makes some reference to that too. From the
> book:
> I previously referenced the number of atheists being held by the
> prison system . . . .

As I said, I was unsure if it was a cultural thing. Atheists are often
better educated and more affluent. That could be keeping them out of prison
as much as morality. My intuition is that religious affiliation or lack
thereof has little influence on behavior.

>>> 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 Vox:

Usually people toss up the Big Three (Hitler, who wasn't an atheist, but was
very very bad, Stalin and Mao)

> 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 Peoplešs Republic of China,
> the Democratic Peoplešs Republic of Korea, the Lao Peoplešs Demo-
> cratic Republic, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Of the Asian countries listed above are nearly all Buddhist (not China, but
we've already mentioned China) which means they are technically atheist.
Their governments are repressive, true. The Japanese are technically atheist
and their government used to be horrible and now it isn't. All without
changing their religion in the slightest. So again it's culture, not
religion we're talking about.
>> 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.

So morality has more to do with appeasing a deity than the laws of conduct.
In that case why are we talking about how murderous Stalin was in the
context of morality? Surely he was merely unethical.

> 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?

Neither the Swedes or the Japanese are virtual slaves. They are free
democracies like our own.

>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.)

No, it certainly wouldn't. Without asking around you probably wouldn't be
able to tell a difference.


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Received on Fri Sep 4 15:43:32 2009

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