Friday, November 20, 2009

50 blogs on disbelief - Plato, morality and history

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.

P288 Peter Singer and Marc Hauser

As soon as it came in the mail, I sat down to read the first essay. Peter Singer had convinced me to become a vegetarian with his book Animal Liberation, so I started with that one, “Why Morality Doesn’t Need God”. It starts out with a discussion of does God support morality, did he create it, or did morality already exist and he is just pointing us to it. A decent philosophical discussion, including a mention of Plato’s Euthyphro.

They try to compare all religions and atheists and agnostics and look at its effect on different cultures. I think it breaks down for a bit here.

What they do not address is the question of whether or not, at some earlier point in our evolution, did religion contribute to our survival or would morality have survived as well without it, back when the world was not so rapidly changing. They also treat atheism as if it is some sort of genetic trait, referring to an online test of morality that showed that atheist or not, we all make very similar moral judgments when it comes to saving drowning babies and such. I don’t think that proves anything other than most of us were raised well in a moral society. It doesn’t say how that morality was passed on to us.

I don’t think a study is needed to determine what is moral and what is not. We know we should risk getting wet to save a drowning a baby. A poll can't make a complex moral decision. We all have to decide for ourselves if America should have used the atom bomb, for example.

The line that really bugged me was this one:

“If there is no evidence that religion generally makes people more likely to do the right thing, there is ample evidence that religion has led people to commit a litany of horrendous crimes.” and then lists the usual OT wars, the crusades and suicide bombers and others.

This is just bad science. When wanting to show that religion can’t be proven to be good, they look at the big picture and say America with lots of Christians is in some important moral ways worse than Europe, which is less religious. When wanting to say religion can be proven bad, suddenly they are inside individual’s heads and know that their motivations are specifically due to religion. I find it odd that anyone is still using the wars in the Old Testament as evidence of anything since the archeological evidence, or lack thereof, is proving they didn’t happen.

The essay was okay, but I’m hoping others are better. Much of it seems directed to someone who has never considered the sociological or evolutionary reasons for morality. I wonder how many people like that will be picking up this book? Here is their conclusion, with which I agree:

“We inherit from our ancestors a set of moral intuitions that, presumably, contributed to their survival… Some of them, no doubt, still survive, but others may be poorly adapted to our rapidly changing world. It is our task to work out which of them need to be changed.”



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