Re: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snark

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon Oct 19 2009 - 16:41:26 EDT

Re: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snarkI qualified "atheists" with "many" in my earlier post, a qualification I emphasized in my reply to Bernie. I had in mind - & if I had been writing an essay would have said this explicitly - Buddhists in particular as exceptions. The atheists I was thinking of were the sogennante "New Atheists" like Dawkins, Stenger et al who think that one could get rid of all religion & any religious basis for conventional ethics & yet go happily on with some kind of ethic typical of the Enlightenment (if you'll pardon the shorthand). That is quite different (as Jack Haught has pointed out well) from the atheism of Marx or Freud, who realized the implications of their non-belief. Certainly the "New Atheists" could go on to attempt the construction of an ethical system from the ground up but to my knowledge they haven't. They often point to the evolutionary roots of ethics & morality but, having shown (e.g.) that evolution will favor some types of altruism, give no reason why we should continue to behave in that way once we have understood the evolutionary history.

Plato & Aristotle were not atheists, though they certainly weren't as close to Christian theism as the Christian tradition has sometimes thought. More to the point, the worldview of Plato, e.g., would be rejected by Dawkins et al as vehemently as would Christianity or Islam. For that matter most versions of Buddhism would be as well: Even without a supreme God, a multitude of bodhisattvas hardly fit in with the thought world of the New Atheists.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Thomas Pearson
  To: ASA ; Dave Wallace ; Gregory Arago
  Cc: David Opderbeck
  Sent: Monday, October 19, 2009 2:49 PM
  Subject: RE: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snark

  On Monday, October 19, 2009, George Murphy wrote:

>>>& one weakness of the position of many atheists is that they have no clear basis for their ethics. Of course that doesn't mean that they can't be nice people but their worldview provides no reason why they should be nice.<<<


  I've found that this is a very difficult position to sustain. It would require that neither Plato nor Aristotle had a clear basis for their ethics, or that the Stoics, Epicureans and Neoplatonists possessed worldviews that provided no reason why they should be nice. That claim is simply absurd. There is a philosophical basis for ethics that is perfectly legitimate, perfectly sound and perfectly available to Christians.


  I suppose much of this disagreement might turn out to depend first on how the term "atheist" is being deployed (would that term include non-theists, like Buddhists or Taoists? Would it include skeptics and agnostics? Does it simply refer to anyone who is not a Christian?), and second on what the word "basis" entails (does a "basis" for ethics require a source that is a personal intelligence and will that promulgates a moral law?).


  Depending on how those questions are answered, perhaps the prior question might be: what is ethics? Wrestling with that question might separate the sheep from the goats, as it were.


  Tom Pearson




  Thomas D. Pearson

  Department of History & Philosophy

  The University of Texas-Pan American

  Edinburg, Texas












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Received on Mon Oct 19 16:41:49 2009

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