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10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On
December 16, 2007 4:45 PM   Subscribe

10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On. "Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick."
posted by Avenger50 (243 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
it isn't a good sign that this only went up to 5, is it?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:49 PM on December 16, 2007 [7 favorites]


I believe that Christians and Atheists must agree on one thing in order for there to be true understanding:

There are no such things as BBQ Buffalo wings. If you have wings which are flavored with BBQ sauce, instead of Buffalo wing sauce, then what you have are BBQ wings. Serving them with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks does not change this.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 4:50 PM on December 16, 2007 [44 favorites]


Bowls should be deeper, not shallow. Shallow bowls are an affront to all that is good and right.
posted by waraw at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2007


I dunno about outright celebration, but I definitely felt good the day I heard that Arafat died. I certainly didn't mourn the son of a bitch.

Nor was I particularly bothered when Saddam met his noose. And I won't feel bad when Castro finally bites the big one. And we're better off without Falwell.

A celebration certainly would be tacky, but I don't subscribe to the idea that "every man's death diminishes me."

(I only saw five things on the list, by the way. Was there supposed to be a second page to that article?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


10 things we can agree upon. First: 5 things are not 10. Read that 9 more times.
posted by nola at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg, everyone knows buffalos don't have wings.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 PM on December 16, 2007


There are no such things as BBQ Buffalo wings.

who cares? the vast herds of buffalo that once roamed the american plains have now almost been driven to extinction because crowds of picky pigs like you demanded that restaurants kill them all for their wings

you ever seen a buffalo with wings? have you? have you? you bastards ate them all

i rest my case
posted by pyramid termite at 5:07 PM on December 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


Cracked should stick to not being funny by accident, not on purpose.
posted by dhammond at 5:07 PM on December 16, 2007


Animal flesh is delicious.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yes. Yes it is.
posted by jonmc at 5:10 PM on December 16, 2007


The atheism isn't the point. The way of reaching it is. It's about thinking critically, rationally, and using proper evidence. Any atheist spouting there stuff for bad reasons is worse than anyone who reaches a religious conclusion by actually thinking about it.

Therefore the whole thing this article is based on is a ludicrously false dichotomy.
posted by edd at 5:10 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


It was worth skimming for the chuckle at Buddha Eats People.
posted by rottytooth at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2007


especially when the animal's been pumped up with steroids so you can have extra helpings
posted by pyramid termite at 5:12 PM on December 16, 2007


The Beatles collectively are better than the Beatles individually.
posted by ColdChef at 5:14 PM on December 16, 2007 [5 favorites]


Buddha Eats People

if he eats people in buffalo, does he have to use buffalo sauce to cook them?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:14 PM on December 16, 2007


it isn't a good sign that this only went up to 5, is it?

#6: Never link to cracked.com
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:15 PM on December 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


The 21st century's lack of distinction between an artist and a studio-produced "artist."
posted by kozad at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2007


I would like a thick-cut, prime rib eye steak, salted and peppered, and seared on cast iron. I would thank the animal for dying for my sins, and then have such a delightful meal.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2007


Six through ten.
posted by Avenger50 at 5:18 PM on December 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


#7: never give a herd of flying buffalo exlax
posted by pyramid termite at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2007


"Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick."

Typical atheist thinking. How could an essentially random decision like this create something as extraordinarily complex as an Internet dick? No, the existence of such beings plainly points to the influence of an intelligent dick, and possibly even a Supreme Dick, though in order to stay on the right side of statutes we emphasize that the latter speculation was not supported by any federal or municipal funding source.
posted by escabeche at 5:22 PM on December 16, 2007


LOL"."ISTS
posted by Artw at 5:23 PM on December 16, 2007


One thing Christians, Atheists, Jews, Muslims and Noneoftheabovians can agree with:
The only good thing Cracked Magazine ever did when it was a dead-tree publication was to give Don Martin a job after he left MAD. It is highly unlikely that it will ever come close to that kind of good-thinginess online. "SHKLIZZORTCH"
posted by wendell at 5:24 PM on December 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


blop
posted by mistersquid at 5:25 PM on December 16, 2007


#8: never tell an alligator "bite my snatch"
posted by pyramid termite at 5:27 PM on December 16, 2007


MUSLIMS AND JEWS AGREE THAT ICE CREAM IS YUMMY...DEVELOPING...
posted by dhammond at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2007


escabeche: I'll start worrying about the giant, invisible flying dick in the sky once we prove we can take care of the real, tangible dicks here on earth. How are we to justify our dickiness to the supernatural cocks of the beyond if we can't be dicks to each other in this world? I'm going to regret this comment, but I'm hitting "post" anyway.
posted by phooky at 5:30 PM on December 16, 2007


oh oh
posted by pyramid termite at 5:31 PM on December 16, 2007


The only good thing Cracked Magazine ever did when it was a dead-tree publication was to give Don Martin a job after he left MAD.

John Severin, too.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:31 PM on December 16, 2007


Amy: Oh no, someone you know must have died!
Bender: I hope it was one of my enemies, those guys suck!
posted by clevershark at 5:34 PM on December 16, 2007


mmmm - bacon ice cream with maple syrup
posted by pyramid termite at 5:35 PM on December 16, 2007


The atheism isn't the point. The way of reaching it is. It's about thinking critically, rationally, and using proper evidence.

You seem to have confused atheism with skepticism.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:36 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


So, in sum: Mind your own business.
posted by maxwelton at 5:37 PM on December 16, 2007


if he eats people in buffalo, does he have to use buffalo sauce to cook them?

Nah. He could roast them and eat them sliced on kimmelweck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2007


the vast herds of buffalo that once roamed the american plains

They are bison, not buffalo. Bad atheist, no blue cheese dressing.
posted by dw at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think we're only about one step removed "good people are good" and "we have opinions about God."

Thanks, Cracked, for your piercing insight.
posted by Weebot at 5:42 PM on December 16, 2007


The thought of bacon ice cream makes my stomach turn. Even if I knew I would really like it I can't ever see myself eating it; and I love bacon, I love it so much.
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:42 PM on December 16, 2007


I don't care what you say, my Anita Bryant is dead party is gonna be AWESOME.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:45 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


They are bison, not buffalo.

e e cummings could have never written a good poem about bison bill

Bad atheist, no blue cheese dressing.

that's bleu cheese, you vulgarian
posted by pyramid termite at 5:45 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't care what you say, my Anita Bryant is dead party is gonna be AWESOME.

I bought a round of drinks for the bar I was in when I found out Lee "OhgodohgodI'msosorrynowthatI'mdyingforgiveme" Atwater bit the big one, and I did pull a big sloppy grin the day the Great Scumbag Ron Old Ray Gun shuffled off to Buffalo. So, does that make me a dick?

Guess so.
posted by John of Michigan at 5:51 PM on December 16, 2007


"It's about thinking critically, rationally, and using proper evidence."

That's exactly how I got to Catholicism. What a coincidence!
posted by oddman at 5:51 PM on December 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


that's bleu cheese, you vulgarian

Just because that atheist O'Hair and her commie friends at the ACLU got the Surpreme Court to rule that "bleu" is acceptable does not mean that I will ever accept this blasphemy.

Honestly, are you true American, or are you surrendermonkey? Pick one freekin' language and stick with it.
posted by dw at 5:52 PM on December 16, 2007


Very meh.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:52 PM on December 16, 2007


Also, the B in Buffalo has to be capitalized. And no ranch dressing, for crying out loud.
posted by dw at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2007


My Christian friend is here preaching to my kids while they eat dinner. He and I agreed that this fpp sucks ass.
posted by docpops at 5:56 PM on December 16, 2007


Automatic deletion of all FPPs linking to Cracked seems like a reasonabale measure, possibly coupled with an autoban.
posted by Artw at 5:59 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


You Christians, if the transmission in your Camaro explodes, are you going to use prayer to reconstruct it? No, you'll call a mechanic.

Sure, but try to find a competent mechanic, Mr. Atheist.
That's where prayer comes in.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:59 PM on December 16, 2007


b1tr0t: You seem to have confused atheism with skepticism.

I don't really see how you could be a skeptic and still be religious, since skepticism and faith are mutually incompatible. Maybe you could sneak in deism or buddhism or something, I suppose.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:03 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Just because that atheist O'Hair and her commie friends at the ACLU got the Surpreme Court to rule that "bleu" is acceptable does not mean that I will ever accept this blasphemy.

i suppose you sing hymns from the book of *common* prayer, too, you ruffian - if cardinal o'connor hadn't tried to bribe them with a sack of potatoes, they might have been persuaded to allow the free market to decide "blue" cheese was to be only laughed at and ridiculed instead of BANNED

Honestly, are you true American, or are you surrendermonkey?

i'll have you know that my ancestors were the second to come over, after the mayflower - no sense risking OUR lives on such a dangerous venture when the pilgrims were so cheap and easily expendable

Pick one freekin' language and stick with it.

you've confused language with muffled grunting - you probably like nachos better anyway, you barbarian
posted by pyramid termite at 6:04 PM on December 16, 2007


Well I didn't ask Jesus to die for my sins, I'm actually quite comfortable with my sin level.

If you want to go and die for people's sins Jesus, then do so for a subscriber only audience.

Oh, and "every man's death diminishes me" ? How do we measure this diminishing?


That's all.
posted by mattoxic at 6:05 PM on December 16, 2007


That was better than I expected it to be.

But will someone please tell me why this is supposed to be funny?
posted by roll truck roll at 6:08 PM on December 16, 2007


FROM THE HOME OFFICE IN SIOUX CITY IOWA!

Top Ten Things Christians and Aetheists Can (And Might Just) Agree On.

10. Willem DaFoe's teeth are not as straight as the Green Goblin's.
9. Humans are smarter than dolphins and monkeys, but not by much.
8. The sky is blue, excepting for those times when it is not, like night for example.
7. Cleanliness is next to impossible.
6. Religion and politics should be avoided in favor of sports statistics and Monty Python references.
5. The pope seriously needs fashion tips and a full makeover.
4. Christians and Aetheists don't have to agree on anything, so long as there's beer and wine.
3. Denis Leary isn't really all that funny anymore. In fact he's always been kinda creepy.
2. There is a pagoda.

And the number one Thing Christians and Aetheists Can (And Might Just) Agree On.

1. It's helpful to teach children how to count to at least ten.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:08 PM on December 16, 2007 [6 favorites]


BTW that was made w/o looking at the original link. How'd I do? Did I get close?
posted by ZachsMind at 6:09 PM on December 16, 2007


roll truck roll, that screencap is from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:13 PM on December 16, 2007


But will someone please tell me why this is supposed to be funny?

It's a sort of play on words on a meme referenced here. It comes from 4chan I think.
posted by clevershark at 6:14 PM on December 16, 2007


Basically, the things Christians need to agree with Atheists about are the things completely unconnected with their identities as Christians. The things backed up by "evidence," "sense," and "reality."
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:19 PM on December 16, 2007


Roll truck roll, the "get in the car" part would be funnier if you've personally ever been to one of those wildlife parks where people drive around in their cars and have a pretend safari, and sometimes the animals are so docile and friendly that they come right up to the windows of the car cuz humans are always stupidly feeding them. And even though you're not supposed to, sometimes idiots even get out of the car for photo opportunites with giraffes and hippos, but then a lion shows up and you're like OH MY GAWD IT'S A LION GET IN THE CAR! ...but I'm not sure how many people have personally had that kind of experience. I can tell you though, a moment like that will help you find God. Or a coronary. Or a front row seat to a maneater's digestive tract.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:20 PM on December 16, 2007


This was great.

Half a cheer for the agnostics!
posted by washburn at 6:20 PM on December 16, 2007


#9: coke and mentos do not make a good mouthwash
posted by pyramid termite at 6:21 PM on December 16, 2007


Sonic Meat Machine: "things backed up by 'evidence,' 'sense,' and 'reality'."

and 'booze.'
posted by ZachsMind at 6:21 PM on December 16, 2007


#11 agnostics are such pussies.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:22 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


And a cheer and a half for pussies!
posted by washburn at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2007


The article is flawed (the completely absent linkage to the last 5 being the worst mistake), but there's some good stuff in it and I think it deserved a lot better than the response above. This kind of thing is why I don't bother recommending that people come to this site - because the first thing they see might be one of these.
posted by teleskiving at 6:24 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh my god! I love those religious tracts from chick.com. They are so hilarious. This one is one of my favorites. "I HATE you...and your cookies!" Really, who hates cookies?
posted by laminarial at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2007


"who hates cookies?"

#12 If in fact there is a 'God', s/he/it is (or rather would be) a big fan of snickerdoodles.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:36 PM on December 16, 2007


#10 buffalo really can fly
posted by pyramid termite at 6:36 PM on December 16, 2007


Zachsmind: I know I'm being petty and terrible*, but please: "atheists". It's just "theists" with to "a" stuck on the front.


* ...but I'm having a shit day, so whatever
posted by pompomtom at 6:38 PM on December 16, 2007


My humor might be lower-brow than most Mefites, but I was delighted to discover that Cracked is only half bad. That puts it steps above most things online. It's funny a lot , it's interesting usually and even the suckage shows that they are trying.

For what it's worth, they oversimplify a lot. That's not exactly going to reconcile atheists and believers, but hey, at least they're trying.
posted by BeReasonable at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2007


PomPomTom, with all due respect, please don't push your belief structure on me. I have always believed and I will go to my grave believing that "aetheist" is spelled with an extra E and you will not be able to pry that extra E from my coooooolld deeeaaaaad haaaaandsss!

[insert cheers here]

Have I chatised your inability to properly capitalize your own name? No, I have not. Please respect my beliefs. Thank you.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:47 PM on December 16, 2007


#13 It is always happy hour somewhere.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:51 PM on December 16, 2007


Two words: clam sherbet.

Ding.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2007


As Sonny grew up, he loved hurting people. Everyone was afraid of him.

Ahahahaha! laminarial, thank you for pointing that one out. Sonny is my new profile pic.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:56 PM on December 16, 2007


Two words: clam sherbet.

Ding.


i'll see your clam sherbet and raise you some horse meat flavored ice cream - that would be RAW horsemeat by the way
posted by pyramid termite at 7:01 PM on December 16, 2007


I don't know about Jesus being a lion but I do know that he was a Capricorn who looked like Kris Kristofferson (and maybe William Defoe).
posted by Sailormom at 7:24 PM on December 16, 2007


i suppose you sing hymns from the book of *common* prayer, too, you ruffian - if cardinal o'connor hadn't tried to bribe them with a sack of potatoes, they might have been persuaded to allow the free market to decide "blue" cheese was to be only laughed at and ridiculed instead of BANNED

"Bleu" had to be banned. It was leading impressionable children to drinking, sex, and ordering wine by appellation rather than by varietal.

i'll have you know that my ancestors were the second to come over, after the mayflower - no sense risking OUR lives on such a dangerous venture when the pilgrims were so cheap and easily expendable

My ancestors met your ilk at the boat. Yeah, we had 400 years of losing, but now we're sucking the money out of your parents' pockets with our hypnotic slot machines and shows by washed-up 1980s power rock bands. Soon, when the mind control ray is engaged, we will destroy your monuments to your dead European civilization. Know that well as you are enslaved and made to recarve Mount Rushmore into the likeness of 1980s hair metal band Stryper.

you've confused language with muffled grunting - you probably like nachos better anyway, you barbarian

MUFFLED GRUNTING??? THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS, YOU NOSE-BREATHER!!!!
posted by dw at 7:36 PM on December 16, 2007


I thought this article was very perceptive.
posted by randyripoff at 7:43 PM on December 16, 2007


I really want some buffalo wings now.
posted by puke & cry at 7:44 PM on December 16, 2007


That was a pretty good, thoughtful article right up until he started listing things.
posted by yhbc at 8:07 PM on December 16, 2007


"I don't really see how you could be a skeptic and still be religious, since skepticism and faith are mutually incompatible."

Well, being a skeptic is incompatible with any set of beliefs that include knowledge claims. This includes religion, but also science and just about any other field of inquiry.

Now, if you meant that you can't start from a position of skepticism and end up with a set of religious beliefs, I'll just point out that you are quite obviously wrong. (Descartes being the easiest counter example, but by no means the only one.)
posted by oddman at 8:12 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh my god! I love those religious tracts from chick.com. They are so hilarious. This one is one of my favorites. "I HATE you...and your cookies!" Really, who hates cookies?

I went to Chick.com expecting something vastly different than I got.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:20 PM on December 16, 2007


I'm a bit skeptical about Courtney Love.
posted by maxwelton at 8:21 PM on December 16, 2007


Something that atheists and Christians should agree on? Well, that some people claim to be both.
posted by No Robots at 8:21 PM on December 16, 2007


Well, being a skeptic is incompatible with any set of beliefs that include knowledge claims. This includes religion, but also science and just about any other field of inquiry.

The kind of knowledge claims that science makes are not even a little like the kind of knowledge claims that religion makes, and that is precisely why skeptics are so pleased with science and so hostile to religion.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:22 PM on December 16, 2007


I celebrate that Stalin is dead.
posted by tkchrist at 8:34 PM on December 16, 2007


I celebrate that Stalin is dead.

Now there's something that every person can agree on!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:36 PM on December 16, 2007


Thanks. I've been trying to remember the name of the "No, little buddy, I wasn't wrong -- you were wrong!" Chick tract for about five years. (It's Somebody Goofed.)
posted by stammer at 8:49 PM on December 16, 2007


Okay, cracked.com is a light-weight site, so I should probably lighten up about the horrifically poor reasoning used in several of the arguments. Besides, if I go into any detail about why the reasoning was sub-part, one of the mods here will probably just wipe my "screed," as has happened in the past on other topics.

But as a life-long atheist from an atheist family, I'm happy to agree on these points, even if the reasoning behind them is wrong. Peace is worth the effort.
posted by bshock at 9:15 PM on December 16, 2007


I hate it when religious people think atheists can't be humanists. How does finding value in the world require believing in something outside it?

One of the many things I find alien and wrong in most religions is their rejection of the world in favor some "higher" plane or being (heaven, god, the spiritual, what-have-you).

How exactly is that supposed to heighten your appreciation of the moral and aesthetic stakes of being alive day to day?
posted by AtDuskGreg at 12:49 AM on December 17, 2007


So, does anyone here like pancakes?
posted by lostburner at 1:23 AM on December 17, 2007


I don't remember ever having seen a more spectacular display of point-missing. Coming soon: "Ten logical fallacies that everyone listing ten things that Christians and atheists can (and must) agree on will commit".
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 1:37 AM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reading this article, it looks like Cracked.com is now popular enough to go the South Park route and decide that their method of humor is to take a multi-sided argument and declare in 2,000 words or so that everyone's wrong. Except them, because they're so hip.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:45 AM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick."

That's why I didn't buy Superman #75.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:48 AM on December 17, 2007


Shitty article, written by someone who has no understanding of atheism.

The continuing refrain "heh, see you stoopid atheists, there's no morality without the Christian god!!!" was just tiresome.

And, he lost me at point 1. No one has ever done terrible things in the name of atheism. I'm sure that technically one *could* do terrible things in the name of atheism, but who has?

Stalin didn't say "hey, let's go out and kill a bunch of people to further the cause of atheism". Mao didn't say "I've got a great plan folks, since there is no god let's kill a lot of people". Etc. You can argue that their atheism led them to do terrible things, I'll disagree completely but that at least would be an honest argument, but they didn't do terrible things in the name of atheism.

Except for number 1, his bold points aren't terrible, though they're not really all that great either. But he loses everything in the explanatory text.
Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.

No, wait. Don't go away.
Too late jackass, I just did go away. Typical obnoxious theist thinking. As I mentioned above, the constant false claim that morality requires the supernatural is no end of annoying, and also displays a massive ignorance on the part of the idiot making that claim.
Just because some Christians reject the science on evolution, doesn't mean they reject all science.
And this too, I find annoying. Yes, it does mean they reject all science. Science isn't a buffet, you don't get to pick and choose.

The whole point of science is that its a system for analyzing observations and producing generalized theories from those observations. If you accept that the system works then you pretty much have to accept its results. You don't get to say "well, I accept the system, and boy do I ever accept the theory of universal gravitation, but for reasons too complex to go into I don't accept biology". Or, rather, you can say that, but it really *means* "I'm rejecting the scientific system and only accepting some theories on the basis that through unknown means a system I think is flawed accidentally got a few things right".

So, yeah, if you reject evolution you are saying, in effect "science is BS, and I reject its basis".

And that's fine, no one ever said you had to accept science as a workable system. But don't lie. Don't say "yeah, science is great, all except for the parts where it produced truths that disagree with my dogma", becuase if you do you are flat out lying. Say what you mean "science is a non-working system that, by pure luck, has occasionally produced workable results, but the unflexable dogma of my faith is vastly superior in every way".

And his point 9. Good point in the big bold text, not bad explanatory text down to the picture of the wet kitten, but after that he goes off the rails. He's *STILL* riffing on the idiot "hurr hurr, you stoopid atheists can't be moral 'cuz you don't have GOD!" crap, and with every iteration of that line of nonsense he's sounding more and more ignorant and more and more fanatic.
t's like all my friends are with me on the beach, looking out at the ocean. Half of them look at the water and say:

"This is Oceanis, the living Blue God! He is sacred!"

While the other half say,

"Here is a convenient place to dump our sewage."

The truth has to be somewhere in between.

Right?
Wrong.

It is perfectly frickin possible to look at the ocean, reject the idea that it is a deity, and at the same time have perfectly reasonable, logical, reasons for not seeing it as nothing but a convenient sewage dumping ground.

The truth is not halfway between two radically divergant points of view, and I really can't think of any time it has been.

I mean, let's apply his line of "reasoning" to, for example, the idea of slavery:

A: "Blacks are subhuman, decendants of Ham, and thus only suited for a life of servitude to whites"

B: "Blacks are people, just like everyone else"

The truth has to be somewhere in between, right Mr. Cracked writer? No? Then stop using that kind of idiocy when it comes to other questions.

I do, however, have one point on which I think all people, atheist and theist alike, can agree:

Craked writers should stick to sophomoric humor and stop trying to be serious about stuff they've obviously never studied, and have no understanding of in the slightest
posted by sotonohito at 3:57 AM on December 17, 2007 [14 favorites]


'You seem to have confused atheism with skepticism.'
No. But I can see why you think I might have done that.

On rereading the article it isn't quite that bad, except that the pictures are so distracting it's way to easy to get the wrong idea of it.
posted by edd at 4:57 AM on December 17, 2007


If you want impressive, you should have seen the herd of M Bison which roamed the great plains, kicking all the asses before it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:57 AM on December 17, 2007


#11: You think you're athy? Athiests are athier than all of you fuckers, so show some respect!
posted by Drop Daedalus at 5:13 AM on December 17, 2007


Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.

I interpret this to mean that morality eventually reduces to some basic axioms that have to be taken for granted one way or another, not that morality requires the supernatural. It's a point about the limits of rationality.
posted by teleskiving at 5:56 AM on December 17, 2007


Oh, and I should add "Christians and atheists"? As if that's the only two choices? As if HIndus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Shintoists, Pantheists, Pegans (both neo- and paleo-), etc simply don't exist.

Yup, you knew from the title alone that David Wong was a know nothing twit.
posted by sotonohito at 5:58 AM on December 17, 2007


Shoulda previewed.

teleskiving Its still an incorrect assertion. As you say, its ultimately based in the idea that morality cannot be produced through rationality, and that's an idea that many philosophers, including theistic philosophers, have long discarded. Try Immanuel Kant, for example. A deeply devout man who posited, and had some good arguments for, a reason based system of morality.

I'll go further: No religion has yet presented a *system* of morality. They all present nothing more or less than laundry lists of forbidden or mandatory actions, and offer absolutely no guidence when it comes to things not mentioned in their laundry lists.

Obviously people have looked at the lists and tried to invent a system of morality using the lists as guideposts, but that tends not to work very well. See the cloning issue as an example.

Morality is, indeed based on axioms, but several systems have been invented which produce axioms that do have rational backing.
posted by sotonohito at 6:05 AM on December 17, 2007


So, does anyone here like pancakes?

I am anti-pancake and believe everyone who says they like pancakes is deceiving themselves.
posted by rottytooth at 6:14 AM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


(apologies for the poor grammar)
posted by rottytooth at 6:15 AM on December 17, 2007


teleskiving Its still an incorrect assertion.

I think that's debatable. I'll admit to not having read much philosophy, and I'll not be surprised if Kant or others have had a pretty good go at trying to create a moral framework that eliminates all subjectivity, but I will be amazed if there is any formulation that doesn't have serious flaws. A lot of people think they can prove God exists as well, that doesn't mean the question is closed.
posted by teleskiving at 6:16 AM on December 17, 2007


I'll admit to not having read much philosophy, and I'll not be surprised if Kant or others have had a pretty good go at trying to create a moral framework that eliminates all subjectivity, but I will be amazed if there is any formulation that doesn't have serious flaws.

Given that theistic morality is pure, unfiltered subjectivism, I'm not sure what the problem is.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:40 AM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Given that theistic morality is pure, unfiltered subjectivism, I'm not sure what the problem is.

A lot of people seem to be treating this article as an argument that atheism is no better than theism, and I think that's a mischaracterization. The argument is that whatever differences exist between the two sides are not sufficient to justify bigotry, which doesn't get problems solved anyway.
posted by teleskiving at 7:14 AM on December 17, 2007


who hates cookies?

Hillary Clinton
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 7:37 AM on December 17, 2007


I think that's debatable. I'll admit to not having read much philosophy

Do you see the problem here?
consider,
"I don't think that cars run on internal combustion. I'll admit to not knowing much about auto mechanics."

The fact is, that various philosophers have come up with a ratioal basis for morality.
Kant
Kurt Baier
Hobbes
Mill
posted by anansi at 7:54 AM on December 17, 2007


or, uh. . ."rational
posted by anansi at 7:55 AM on December 17, 2007


Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.

This is really false... Ultimately, as Sartre put it, “If a voice speaks to me, it is still I myself who must decide whether the voice is or is not that of an angel. If I regard a certain course of action as good, it is only I who choose to say that it is good and not bad. There is nothing to show that I am Abraham....”

So even if you think there is an absolute morality, it's still always you that is interpreting what exactly is the absolute law. Kant tried to make a case for pure practical reason being able to determine this, but to suggest everyone lives by a true Kantian morality is utterly ridiculous (it's a very strict morality).

The article was well intentioned but full of errors. Still, I wish atheists in general would recognize the philosophical complications of being atheist, like Sartre & Hume did - it does leave us groundless, in an absurd world, not in a fully rational, explicable, scientifically summed-up world. I mean, I do get a little irritated that mythologies like jack chick christianity get held up as the "other option", but as the author of the piece said, that doesn't mean you have to exaggerate your side and claim that we know everything. Basically I just try to brush off the fact that people take symbolic stories literally and get back to the real philosophical problems of whether there is a source to the existence of the universe etc.
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on December 17, 2007


Do you see the problem here?
consider,
"I don't think that cars run on internal combustion. I'll admit to not knowing much about auto mechanics."


I actually don't know much about auto mechanics, but if someone tells me that their car breaks the second law of thermodynamics I can identify that as an extraordinary claim which is almost certainly bullshit. You can't do math without axioms. If someone tells me that they can build an ethical system out of pure reason, I'm going to take a lot of persuading that it's even worth working through the argument.
posted by teleskiving at 8:45 AM on December 17, 2007


If someone tells me that they can build an ethical system out of pure reason, I'm going to take a lot of persuading that it's even worth working through the argument.

You're entitled to your opinion. But recognize it as what it is, an opinion based on very little information. Ethical systems have been constructed out of reason. Your belief or disbelief does not change this fact.
posted by anansi at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2007


Ethical systems have been constructed out of reason.

How is this different to saying "The existence of God has been proven, Thomas Aquinas did it" ? The fact that claims have been made, doesn't mean that the claims are true.

Promise me that one of the theories you've named above contains absolutely no starting assumptions at all, and I'll happily read it.
posted by teleskiving at 9:33 AM on December 17, 2007


What amazes me is I've just scanned this entire thread and no one's bothered to mention the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Whoops! There, I just done it. I'm a bad person!
posted by ZachsMind at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2007


Strangely, some philosophers have tried to construct universal moral rules based on how what we believe is moral, but they needed simplistic tests like the "crying baby" most recently reviled and lampooned on this very website.

They simplify the question so they can get consistent answers and ask the question across scores of cultures to find out what moral principals are universal.
posted by Megafly at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2007


"I celebrate that Stalin is dead."

I dunno, the last March 5 party of yours I went to, it seemed Prokofiev and Dean Stockton were the prime attractions.

"They all present nothing more or less than laundry lists of forbidden or mandatory actions, and offer absolutely no guidence when it comes to things not mentioned in their laundry lists."

This is such unmitigated bullshit that I wonder if you've ever looked at any religious philosophy at all. I mean, fucking Christ, there are REAMS of texts about applying the generalized philosophy of Jesus to specific problems, and have been for thousands of years.

"Stalin didn't say "hey, let's go out and kill a bunch of people to further the cause of atheism". Mao didn't say "I've got a great plan folks, since there is no god let's kill a lot of people". Etc. You can argue that their atheism led them to do terrible things, I'll disagree completely but that at least would be an honest argument, but they didn't do terrible things in the name of atheism."

The argument is that the lack of God led them to exalt a secular ideology that killed millions. While it is a specious argument, and one that is at its center circular, you're misrepresenting the discussion perniciously.

"Too late jackass, I just did go away. Typical obnoxious theist thinking. As I mentioned above, the constant false claim that morality requires the supernatural is no end of annoying, and also displays a massive ignorance on the part of the idiot making that claim."

God, you're being an ass. What he's arguing is that there isn't a practical distinction between most secular conceptions of abstracts such as justice or love from that of the religious conceptions. While I can think of plenty of edge cases (enough to make it a fairly empty argument), he's right. It's just like saying that the Western conception of the individual held by most atheists is heavily indebted to the Protestant reformation, or that discussions of politics in the West are greatly shaped by religious philosophers. That doesn't tell you a lot about any given philosophy or current idea, but it is true, and understanding that gives a better window into the evolution of our conception of rights and justice and politics.

"And this too, I find annoying. Yes, it does mean they reject all science. Science isn't a buffet, you don't get to pick and choose."

Yes, you do. You know what? Not all science is equal, not all science is equally rigorous, not all science exists on the same plane. I find many of the arguments advanced by evolutionary psychologists fundamentally unconvincing. I reject arguments that posit predictions about social behavior based on weak evidence. I can still employ the scientific method and reject swaths of research. Further, you can still live in the world and not be sold on certain parts of science. It means you're inconsistent, but I have yet to meet someone with an entirely consistent belief system.

"Wrong.

It is perfectly frickin possible to look at the ocean, reject the idea that it is a deity, and at the same time have perfectly reasonable, logical, reasons for not seeing it as nothing but a convenient sewage dumping ground."

Are you literate? That's exactly what he was getting at—that it's possible to agree on things despite different starting assumptions.

Ugh. Enough of this for now, I have work to do.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


How is this different to saying "The existence of God has been proven, Thomas Aquinas did it" ? The fact that claims have been made, doesn't mean that the claims are true.

Promise me that one of the theories you've named above contains absolutely no starting assumptions at all, and I'll happily read it.


I'm not sure if you really don't understand what I'm saying, or if you are being deliberately obtuse.

There is no claim of proof in anything I've said. I have stated that various philosophers have constructed moral philosophies out of rationality. That's it. To imply that something should have no assumptions is to accept solipsism. In that case why are you even arguing? You are the only one who actually exists.

The fact that you reject even investigating the few philosophers that I and others have listed shows that you are not truly interested in dialogue. You are too busy going, "la lal la I can't hear you!" with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears. This does not make for a productive debate. You've already reached your conclusion.
posted by anansi at 11:54 AM on December 17, 2007


"The kind of knowledge claims that science makes are not even a little like the kind of knowledge claims that religion makes"

To be honest, I'm having a hard time parsing what a "kind of knowledge claim" might be. How do you separate knowledge into kinds? Do you mean a priori vs. a posteriori? Those are two different kinds of grounds for a claim, not two kinds of claims.

Furthermore, unless you are just assuming that some kinds of evidence are immune to skepticism, radical skepticism pretty much makes mincemeat out of almost all knowledge claims (Descartes noticed one or two exceptions).
posted by oddman at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2007


klang Yes, there are reams of efforts to produce a workable moral system from the lists of the Bible. But all of those are rather separate from the ABSOLUTE MORALITY that people claim exists in the Bible? Why? Because they were invented by people.

But the Bible just says "thou shall not", it never explains why. Same with all the other holy books I've seen. They say "do this, don't do that" and leave it to beings without the claim of infalibility to do the heavy work of building a coherent system.

"The argument is that the lack of God led them to exalt a secular ideology that killed millions. While it is a specious argument, and one that is at its center circular, you're misrepresenting the discussion perniciously."

Re: Stalin, Mao, etc. I don't think I'm misrepresenting anything. If someone claimed, for example, that Christianity inspired people to kill in the name of their religion, they'd mean people who actually killed with the specific intent of promoting or otherwise benefitting Christianity.

He wrote, in big bold letters: "You Can Do Terrible Things in the Name of Either One" And I agree, you *can*, but no one has yet done terrible things specifically to promote atheism.

If we want to get into his weasel BS in the small letters, then yes, he claims, as you point out, that he *means* the belief system can be corrupted to produce terrible results.

Except he's still missing it. Atheism isn't a belief system. There is, really, no such thing as atheism, there are merely individual atheists. Atheism simply means a lack of belief in a divine being, that's *IT*. It isn't a belief, it isn't a philosophy, it is just one tiny very specific lack of belief. To claim that atheism was behind the evils of Mao or Stalin is as absurd as claiming that drinking coffee, or not chewing gum, or smoking a particular brand of cigarettes were behind those evils.

Wong wants to present atheism as "Atheism", a belief system with a capitol "A", and it isn't.

"God, you're being an ass. What he's arguing is that there isn't a practical distinction between most secular conceptions of abstracts such as justice or love from that of the religious conceptions."

I'm being an ass? He's the one who just said I can't be moral because I don't believe in his sky fairy, and I'm being an ass?

He wrote:
Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.
And again, I say he's demonstrating both the arrogance and ignorance typical of theists who try to discuss atheism.

If, as he so falsely claims, I lived as if the absolute morality of Jehova were true, I'd be stoning adulterers, homosexuals, and children who disobey their parents. However, since I don't live that way, I don't.

Yes, as you observe, there is a huge overlap between theisticially produced morals and laws and secular reasoning to morality. That isn't what he said though, he's tying morality to theism, and that's not only BS, its BS with a dangerous agenda. Note that he doesn't write:

"Religionists, even if you reject the idea of rationality completely and claim to live according only to the blind dogma of ancient books, you still live as if the absolute morality of logic were true."

Look at what he wrote. Atheism results in only "the cold logic of the physical sciences" which apparently can't, from his POV, produce moral behavior beause we still have to look to the magic sky fairy for morality. And in the following paragraphs shows the absurdity of what he thinks atheist thought looks like. He doesn't just imply that atheists can't have any sense of moral behavior, he says it explicitly. Go back and read the parts between "No, wait. Don't go away." and the "JESUS CHRIST ITS A LION" picture, and tell me he isn't outright saying that atheists are a bunch of dufuses who must be coaxed into accepting that they believe in morality.

Again, your statement that "huh, there's a lot of overlap between the morality espoused by atheists and that of theists" is a reasonable statement and I'll agree, with the reservation that the differences are still well worth dicussing since the theists are wrong in those differences. But that isn't what Wong is saying.

"Are you literate? That's exactly what he was getting at—that it's possible to agree on things despite different starting assumptions."

I could ask the same of you: Are you literate? Look at what he wants to present as the atheist POV of the ocean: "Here is a convenient place to dump our sewage."

Yup, that's the atheist POV. Since they don't believe in the supernatural their existence is cold, meaningless, and sees the ocean as nothing but a giant sewage dump.

The fact that there are non-mystic reasons to treat the ocean as something other than a sewage dump is the polar opposate of what he said.

He wrote: "The truth has to be somewhere in between." The meaning: To treat the ocean as something other than a sewage dump you must move towards the supernatural.

Again, you are being quite kind to him and putting much nicer stuff into his mouth than he actually said. You say "it's possible to agree on things despite different starting assumptions", and I'll agree completely. But that isn't what he said. He said, with his "in between" comment, that only by getting into mysticism can atheists ever be anything but cold thugs.

I stand by my conclusion: ignorant twits who write for Cracked should stick to sophomoric humor. I'll add that his Gamer's Manefesto was pretty good. But the man needs to learn something about atheism before he shoots his mouth off, becuase he sounds like exactly what he is: a self satisfied know nothing with a mad on against atheism.
posted by sotonohito at 12:49 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Tony Snow: ‘The Second War In This Country’ Is ‘The War On God’
posted by homunculus at 12:58 PM on December 17, 2007


Are we intent on having a stupid atheism arguments round up here then? If so then in some terrible way Cracked andit's awful articles have won...
posted by Artw at 1:10 PM on December 17, 2007


"But the Bible just says "thou shall not", it never explains why."

This is so amazingly ignorant that I can't believe you've actually given any amount of study to the Bible or theology. Not only is it absolutely wrong when it comes to the New Testament, it's wrong when applied to the Old Testament.

Seriously, if this is the best you can do, you should exempt yourself from any serious discussion about God, because you're incapable of doing it seriously.

"He wrote, in big bold letters: "You Can Do Terrible Things in the Name of Either One" And I agree, you *can*, but no one has yet done terrible things specifically to promote atheism."

Mao's cultural revolution. The continuing oppression of Christians (and other religions) in China. Purges in Russia. Khmer Rouge attacks on the religious. There's actually a fairly large number of people who have been killed specifically for their faith by atheists in order to promote atheism. By denying this, I'm not sure whether you're ignorant or a liar, but those seem to be the only two choices.

"To claim that atheism was behind the evils of Mao or Stalin is as absurd as claiming that drinking coffee, or not chewing gum, or smoking a particular brand of cigarettes were behind those evils."

Bullshit. What is incorrect is to assert that those people would have been less evil with God than without, not that atheism didn't factor into their decisions or that it had a more profound effect that chewing gum. Which you would know if you weren't a disingenuous idiot.

"If, as he so falsely claims, I lived as if the absolute morality of Jehova were true, I'd be stoning adulterers, homosexuals, and children who disobey their parents. However, since I don't live that way, I don't."

Can you argue without straw men to beat on? Or is your position so weak that acknowledging that the system of justice that both secular and religious people adhere to in the West is profoundly influenced by the thought of the religious, and that religious people may have more nuanced views of theology than the moron version you posit, would destroy your ability to bloviate? I mean, you read the part where the author talked about not exaggerating the claims of the other side, right? You're not totally illiterate, right?

"He doesn't just imply that atheists can't have any sense of moral behavior, he says it explicitly."

RONG. What he says is that atheists DO have a sense of moral behavior that largely corresponds to those with faith. STOP GETTING YOUR STUPID ON MY METAFILTER.

"I could ask the same of you: Are you literate? Look at what he wants to present as the atheist POV of the ocean: "Here is a convenient place to dump our sewage.""

RONG! That is not the "atheist" view, it's an intentional straw man extreme to show that the reality lies between "Sacred because of divinity" and "Profane without divinity." Only a moron would think that accurately represents his view of atheism, especially given the larger context of the article.

"He wrote: "The truth has to be somewhere in between." The meaning: To treat the ocean as something other than a sewage dump you must move towards the supernatural."

RONG! The truth being somewhere in-between would mean that argument over the ocean is orthogonal to the discussion of the supernatural.

"I stand by my conclusion: ignorant twits who write for Cracked should stick to sophomoric humor. I'll add that his Gamer's Manefesto was pretty good. But the man needs to learn something about atheism before he shoots his mouth off, becuase he sounds like exactly what he is: a self satisfied know nothing with a mad on against atheism."

And I stand by my conclusion—you know so little about theism or logic that you should be shocked with a collar any time you offer an opinion on either.
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Clearly you guys WANT Cracked to win.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm pro-terrorist.
posted by klangklangston at 1:37 PM on December 17, 2007


There is no claim of proof in anything I've said.

anansi, this started off from me saying this:

I interpret this to mean that morality eventually reduces to some basic axioms that have to be taken for granted one way or another, not that morality requires the supernatural. It's a point about the limits of rationality.

And this was answered by the following (from sotonohito):

Its still an incorrect assertion.

To which I replied:

I think that's debatable. I'll admit to not having read much philosophy...


It seems to me you were so keen to jump on my professed lack of reading that you didn't notice that all I was doing was expressing doubt about a strong statement that was presented as fact. If you're not claiming proof, then you agree with me that the issue is in fact debatable.
posted by teleskiving at 1:57 PM on December 17, 2007


... and stop trying to be serious about stuff they've obviously never studied, and have no understanding of in the slightest

What a trite, pompous thing to say.
posted by lodurr at 2:01 PM on December 17, 2007


Theres one thing I wanna know:
Whats so funny ‘bout peace love & understanding?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:39 PM on December 17, 2007


teleskiving, maybe it would help if you think of "rationality" as "consistency". The idea behind Kant's system is basically that rationality is morality. It's different from philosophies which use a "small r" rationalism to work out which option is better, the more utilitarian types of philosophies which are concerned with consequences and goals. Kant thinks that an action, in order to be moral, must not negate itself, and that actions like cheating on a test or telling a lie are instrinsically irrational in that they go against the supposed aims of the acts they are meant to be achieving. He tries to provide a practical rule to test this by suggesting that we consider whether it would work if "everyone always did" the act - if you're going to cheat on a test, consider whether it would make sense if everyone always cheated on tests. The point being, the whole act of taking a test would be made moot if everyone always cheated. This gets some people confused that it's just a form of the "golden rule" (would you like it if other people did it?) when really it is trying to get at the structure of the behavior itself. If everyone always killed people, then no one would be alive to be able to kill anyone - it's self negating, hence, irrational.

Obviously there are problems with this system, and you can join the endless debates about that if you like, but thought i'd give you the basic idea.

I have to agree that the article is completely wrong about morality. I just finished teaching a semester of ethics at a catholic college; I covered 7 philosophers over the semester. 2 of them, Plato and Kant, can be said to have absolute moralities, though Plato basically says we can never quite look directly at the sun anyway, so only Kant really has an absolute morality we can definitely access, and his does not need any sort of god (in fact, though religious folks like it now, it was considered blasphemous when it was first printed). And most of the catholic-raised kids liked Mill best - good ol' common sense utilitarianism. A fair number were pretty responsive to existentialism. That's serious relativism (it's just people call it relativism when they don't like it, when it crosses a line, but tolerance or liberalism when it doesn't - but where's the line? another relative judgment...) People just don't think that much about the source of their moral beliefs. But that doesn't mean the source is God!
posted by mdn at 3:15 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


11th thing Theists and Atheists can (and should) agree on - most people prefer to quibble over the rules of how to be compassionate and forms of expression of those rules rather than acting upon or embodying the precepts of whatever ethos that asserts compassion, understanding and morality.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:31 PM on December 17, 2007


klangklangston, as long as Atheists are not 'naturally' Marxist Communists (a bunch of them are Libertarian Objectivists, and a lot more reject both extremes), then Marxist Communists != Atheists and the trope of associating the crimes of Mao/Stalin/Pol Pot with Atheism is like calling the old Czars of Russia "Orthodox Christian Despots".

True Atheism is simply Disbelief, and there is no set of Beliefs "we atheists" have in common. When the Old Commies built their All-Powerful Empires, they ceased being Atheists and de facto created a Communist Religion (remember the old "Cults of Personality"?) as abhorrent to True Non-Believers as any other Religious Mythology. Current example: North Korea, the hardest-core Communists left where you are expected to worship the father/son Kims as Gods; DON'T lump them in with Atheist Americans.

The Big Name Spokes-Atheists are also sliding down the slippery slope toward an Atheist Religion because, just as you can't prove a negative, you can't define yourself purely on what you are NOT, and when you get into the mental heavy lifting, it doesn't sell books.

And in my own Disbelief, I have more in common with the 'Believers' who reject or simply distrust Organized Religion than with the preachers of any Atheist Doctrine. Talk about an Oxymoron.
posted by wendell at 3:32 PM on December 17, 2007


#11. Never do an FPP if it made the front page of Fark in the previous 24 hours.

Of course, on the other hand, the Metafilter comments were much better. However, as a rule, I never read Fark threads after the second appearance of ha-ha man, The first appearance of a Lolcat or the first invocation of Godwin.
posted by Mcable at 3:52 PM on December 17, 2007


Why are all you philosopher groupies trying to judge a Cracked article by academic standards?

For that matter, why are you trying to apply basically a priori philosophical ideas to an evolved creature in an evolved society?
posted by lodurr at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2007


lodurr wins for use of the term a priori.
posted by wendell at 4:11 PM on December 17, 2007


Ok. I'm going to turn my rhetoric down a bit.

The article as I read it, oozed with contempt and condesention for atheism. Wong, from my POV, wrote, on the surface a "can't we all just get along" pean, while under that presenting an anti-atheist screed.

I'm mostly basing this on his writing about morality in a tone indicating that it was his position that atheists reject the concept and must be cajoled into accepting that, surprise, they are moral.

As far as specifics go, I think you're overstating the importance of repressing religion in Mao's killings. Pol Pot and Stalin, so far as I'm aware, never claimed that they were acting to surpress religion, but rather acted as they did out of a political ideology that was completely independent from the question of the existence of deities. That they were personally atheist is undeniable, of course, but my point is that their atheism appears to have been incidental in their actions, rather than central to them. However, in the interests of being less of an asshole than I normally am, I'll concede that Wong's heading was simply poorly written.

I am not an expert on either Stalin's Russia, or Pol Pot's Cambodia, so if you have links indicating that either of them was, in fact, largely interested in promoting, or benefitting, atheism, I'd be interested and completely retract my objection.

And, of course, from the beginning I've acknowledged that both theists and atheists can be monsters.

As far as the Bible, lists, and morality, are concerned, we appear to have been reading different Bibles. The Old Testament, particularly, lacks explanations for its prohibitions, unless you count "it is an abomination" as an explanation. Jesus did, yes, often discuss the why behind his teachings, but still didn't present a complete system of morality the way, for example, Kant did.

Take one of my favorite passages, Matthew 25:31-45. Its not only beautiful language [1], but the sentiment is one I wholeheartedly endorse. But, it isn't explanatory beyond "doing good things for others is like doing them to Jesus", it still doesn't explan why action A is good and action B is bad.

Or the Sermon on the Mount, again it expresses some good rules for living, has a better message than all the nastyness in Leviticus, but nowhere does the Bible set out to explain how its possible to determine the morality of a completely new and previously unknown situation.

Later Christian scholars have, using the Bible as a basis, done just that. But their words don't have that Absolute Morality that Wong speaks of, because they aren't (from the Christian POV) God's words. This, I hasten to point out, is not a slam against Christianity. I'm not aware of any text which is claimed to be divinely inspired that does this.

As far as Wong's "The truth has to be somewhere in between", I don't see how you can conclude that he means the truth is orthognal to the polar positions offered. The language seems, quite clearly, to imply that there is a specturm between the positions and that the correct view is somewhere along that spectrum, not somewhere well away from either position.

My atheist view is that reality *is* profane without divinity. Of course I'm using "profane" here in the sense of "not sacred or concerned with religion", not in the sense of "debased, blasphmous, corrupt, etc". Which is why I object so vehemently to implications and assertions that a non-theistic worldview automatically means corrupt, debased, etc. That absent the idea of gods life is meaningless, the universe cold, and life not worth living.

Wong, throughout his entire article impled all of the above. That to be an atheist was to have no morality, to view theft as naught but a moderately interesting aberation from purely arbitrary norms, and to view both one's self and other humans as nothing but meat. Its a common attitude among theists, Perhaps I'm so sensitized to that attitude I'm seeing it where it doesn't exist, but I don't think so.

As I said at the beginning, Wong appears to have set out with the intent of asking us to get along, but ultimately was unable to successfully hide his contempt and lothing for atheists.

[1] I'd argue that the poetry of the KJV is the primary reason I prefer it to the NIV, no doubt the NIV is a better translation, but it just doesn't roll fluidly off the tongue.

lodurr wrote "What a trite, pompous thing to say."

Well, possibly pompous, but I dispute trite. I'll admit I get pompous sometimes; along with my horrible abuse of commas being pompous my cross to bear in this life.
posted by sotonohito at 4:46 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


this link is awesome i haven't read a magazine article this bad since jfk jr. decided to go from the mass-produced hand-made kayak industry into publishing

looking forward to us weekly's take on tractatus logico-philosophicus
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:07 PM on December 17, 2007


This just came to me.

"Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick."

Then. What about somebody YOU agree with? That must be okay in this Bizarro World.

Because... uhhhhh... what IS Easter then?
posted by tkchrist at 5:07 PM on December 17, 2007


"The kind of knowledge claims that science makes are not even a little like the kind of knowledge claims that religion makes"

To be honest, I'm having a hard time parsing what a "kind of knowledge claim" might be. How do you separate knowledge into kinds? Do you mean a priori vs. a posteriori? Those are two different kinds of grounds for a claim, not two kinds of claims.

Furthermore, unless you are just assuming that some kinds of evidence are immune to skepticism, radical skepticism pretty much makes mincemeat out of almost all knowledge claims (Descartes noticed one or two exceptions).


The knowledge claims made by science are tentative and completely subject to change as soon as evidence demands it. Science never claims absolutely to know something; the strongest statement that science makes is "This theory best explains all the existent data." Knowledge claims made by religions are not based upon evidence but are the product of "divine revelation"; they are inherently appeals to authority. Science and religion are not the same kind of thing and they are not engaged in even vaguely similar epistemological activities.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:21 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Also, Descartes was a shitty philosopher whose only insight of any use or note whatsoever was the hypothetical Master Deceiver. If he'd just got that couple of paragraphs and written them down and published them, we would as a species be losing nothing whatsoever of any value.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:22 PM on December 17, 2007


Shitty may be going a bit far. After all, Descartes made Western philosophy interesting again after a long slumber, which is definitely valuable. But yeah, I wouldn't use him as a model for how to prove religion to skeptics.

Also, don't forget Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia put the smackdown on him with the whole dualism / pineal gland thing.
posted by rottytooth at 7:03 PM on December 17, 2007


I want someone to prove to me that Marxist Communism and Libertarian Objectivism aren't actually themselves religions. Sure as hell seems like it.
posted by Artw at 7:43 PM on December 17, 2007


ZachsMind: You'd be surprised how far I'd go for an extra E.
posted by pompomtom at 9:24 PM on December 17, 2007


tkchrist wrote "Because... uhhhhh... what IS Easter then?"

Easter is the day Jesus came back from the dead, not the day he died. Good Friday is when he died. Which is why you'll often hear fundies call Easter "Ressurection Day" in an effort to emphisize its Christian religious meaning and separate it from the whole Easter Bunny deal.
posted by sotonohito at 4:15 AM on December 18, 2007


As for Descartes, I think "shitty" sums it up pretty well, actually. He had a good starting point: "what can we *really* know", he realized it was possible the whole of what we percieve as reality could be nothing but a hoax perpetuated by an evil genius (and this was back before people realized it was even theoretically possible to simulate reality by direct brain stimulation).

But then I swear he scared himself, because after that his logic fails miserably.

The entire "well, perfection doesn't exist in this world, but I've got the idea of perfection which means something must be perfect, and that something must be a god, and a perfect god wouldn't let me be fooled so reality really is what it seems to be" is just bad reasoning.

So, yeah, Descartes: had a good idea for a two dimensional coordinate system, had a good start on an interesting line of philosophic reasoning and screwed it up because he was scared of where his reasoing lead him.
posted by sotonohito at 4:21 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's a curious assumption going on in that Cracked article, and among some of the theists on this thread. It's one I've noticed before, and it's always seemed strange to me -- it's the concept that religion predates morality, which is implicit in the assumption that morality is derived, in some way, from religion.

It's always jarring to me when someone talks as if that is obviously the case, because it always seemed to me far more likely that morality predates religion. Religious morality always struck me as an attempt to explain morality - a morality myth, if you will, in the same way that religions have creation myths or afterlife myths.

Admittedly, once religions are in place, they both affect and are affected by the mores of the time. So I don't think people who say we owe some of our morality to religious history are crazy, although I think we owe just as much or more to philosophical history, and to cultural evolution.

This does, of course, lead to the question - so where does morality, ultimately, come from? Which isn't, to me, a very interesting question, actually. Most likely some combination of the survival and reproductive instincts, a capacity for empathy, and the necessity of cooperative social action, I'd guess.

But it also leads to the (to me) more interesting question, which to be fair I think has been implicitly asked by the theists on this thread and ignored a bit unfairly by the atheists - once you come to the conclusion that things only have value because you happen to have assigned them value, then why keep doing it? If, ultimately, you believe that your life, the lives of others, your society, your environment, your universe, have no value except what has been assigned to them based on instincts you can overcome and social evolution you can ignore, both of which have similar arbitrary values, then why not overcome and ignore? What is your basis for continuing to assign value to things?

The answer to this has never, I must say, led me to religion, or at least to religion in the sense that it is usually meant, i.e. some kind of formal or informal cosmogeny. In terms of an answer to this question, religion seems more like a cop-out than an answer - take the responsibility for these value judgments out of your own hands and put them in the hands of some external force. I'm sure there are many excellent reasons for people to have religions, but as far as bases for moralities go, it just seems like dodging the question.

But most rationalist philosophy also does not answer this question very well. Talking about social good and non-self-negating actions and the like still makes the assumption that social good etc. etc. already have value. Starting with that assumption still dodges the question (although there's a lot of interesting stuff in philosophy if you do start with that assumption.)

Frankly, my answer has always been completely irrational, but not religious, and I'm perfectly happy with that. I have decided to give a positive value to assigning value to things (if you like, I've decided that having a morality is moral) because I like it. In other words, I've decided to value it because ... I value doing so. *Shrug* Not everything has an answer.

In fact, the idea of morality kind of amazes me. Little blobs of meat on a speck of dirt whizzing around a ball of gas have decided that the meat and the dirt and the gas have value and meaning. They argue about which bits have more value and why, and make up stories to try to explain why they think they have value, and explore to find out more about all of it, and make up terms for the different types of values, and turn something ultimately meaningless into something terribly meaningful and important, at least to themselves.

That's phenomenal. Even if I only think so because, irrationally, I like to.
posted by kyrademon at 4:51 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


(And yes, I do realize that Existentialism does look at a lot of these issues, which is why I have always rather liked Existentialism.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:56 AM on December 18, 2007


kyrademon I've always maintained that social good has value because it benefits the individual. Ultimately morality is quite selfish. Without a society I can't have the stuff I like: computers, net connections, food, etc. Absent society we're reduced to hunter-gatherer level at best, which isn't what I'd call a good life.

Other non-theisitic moral philosophies have other basis, but I've always found that enlightened self interest works well for me.
posted by sotonohito at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2007


You can't save science by arguing that it makes no knowledge claims. You are saying that science is better than religion because it never even tries to attain knowledge, where as religion tries but (might) fail. Way to go. And I'm better than most NBA players because I've never lost an NBA game.

Descartes was easily one of the greatest philosophers ever. He made some errors, but is Newton a bad scientist because he thought space was substantial? Hardly. The mind/body problem is only a problem under certain conceptions of causation. Causation is extremely problematic in itself. So, I wouldn't be putting to much faith in arguments rooted in a particular model.
posted by oddman at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2007


They really should teach science in America.
posted by Artw at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2007


kyrademon, I've kept quiet in this discussion since I know that if I let my fingers start typing, i would get caught up in klang's vicious attacks on sononohito (klang, must you insult the person when discussing the topic?). I'm finishing my Master's thesis in Ethical Philosophy and so I have a strong background in this discussion. What I'm still thinking about is how morality must have developed over time as societies formed. Think about it...if person A doesnt care about other people and person B does care, over time those who cared about others banded together for the concern of others and outlived/survived person(s) A. In essence, I'm beginning to think morality has evolved in a Darwinian sense. After all, there are no morals if you are not around other people. We require others in order to have moral actions. For societies (both hunter-gatherer and agrarian) to flourish, the people within them must agree to look out for one another. The most fundamental morality, a concern for the value of life, would have to be in place for people to help each other out, especially in primitive societies.

I'm still thinking and researching this through. Alphonso Lingis has a bit to say on this topic. But for klang and others who believe there is no morality without god, I'd ask you what kind of person you'd be if we could show that there is no God? Would you dispense with morality? And if so, what does that say about the person you are? Or what does that say about the fragility of your understanding of right and wrong? Morality has been shown to exist before any Judeo-Christian account. People existed before the Bible (lest you agree to the literal Eden account) and had concrete moral systems...though flawed. There may be no a priori morality (I'm not sure there IS one) but Christianity doesn't hold the title of Supreme Moral Arbitrator.
posted by Dantien at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2007


sotonhito and Dantien --

Yes, absolutely. But to me, where morality comes from (enlightened self-interest, social cooperation, etc.) seems fairly obvious. What I was trying to get at is -- once we've reached the point where we know that, then on what basis do we continue to believe that enlightened self-interest and society *themselves* have value?

In other words - my morality, let's say for the sake of argument, is derived from enlightened self-interest. I can overcome that if I want (for example, by committing suicide.) Why do I continue to believe my life has value?

Ultimately, I think, because I *feel* like it has value. It is deeply hard-wired into me to *want* to survive, to be happy and prosper, to get along with others, and to do things I think are worthwhile. But that's an emotion - it does *not* have a rational basis. And I'm perfectly content with that.

That is to say, my life does not actually have an objective value. Nor does anyone else's. Nor, for that matter, does anything else. I have assigned them a value, because it pleases me emotionally to do so. A very complex and beautiful system of morality can of course be rationally and evolutionarily derived from that initial emotional decision.

And, yeah, I do not see the need for an intelligent external force to have given me that original drive. Evolution alone seems quite sufficient; instincts for self-interest and cooperation are powerful advantages for survival.
posted by kyrademon at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dantien: What I'm still thinking about is how morality must have developed over time as societies formed.

Do you assume morality does not predate human society? Or are you including animal societies?
posted by lodurr at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2007


sotonohito: Absent society we're reduced to hunter-gatherer level at best....

Absent society, we are solitary and without language (since language is inherently social). That's a bit lower than "hunter-gatherer level".

It seems quite clear to me, and has for a number of years, that post facto rationalizations about morality lead us to the false conclusion that we "created" it, somehow -- rather than it creating us. As it created many other social species.
posted by lodurr at 1:40 PM on December 18, 2007


lodurr, I dont know yet. Morality, for humans, probably existed the first time a woman had a child. The need to protect the child and raise it well indicates an understanding of the needs of the "other". This is probably a primitive morality (not a system of precepts, axioms, etc.) that wasnt consciously argued.

Animals with morality? I think there is room to mine that for info. Of course, it would mean that animals probably have duties, which im not sure they do.
posted by Dantien at 2:25 PM on December 18, 2007


...duties...

How do you define "duties"? Is that a formal term with a specific meaning, or do you use a standard definition?

So many terms that we use are heavily rooted in our own perspective as beings possessed of (or by?) a self-aware consciousness. "Duties" could easily be one of those. I'm surprised to find that the dictionary.com definition of "duties" doesn't require conscious choice or act of will, just the idea of ethics or morality.

Many animals perform what we could call "duties". Examples range from complex social omnivores like chimpanzees, to less sophisticated but still pretty complex animals like meerkats, to wolves, to crows and other corvids, all the way down the scale to ants and bees. It's most obvious and easiest ot relate to in "higher" organisms like chimps or crows -- I find it so myself -- but I do have to wonder what the actual difference is between the social duties observable in a meerkat colony and those observable in a beehive.
posted by lodurr at 2:44 PM on December 18, 2007


lodurr You're doubtless correct, and in fact that's essentially my own thinking. My comment was not intended to suggest that humans developed morality independent of biology.

Like Dawkins and numerous others have said getting along socially is often a survival trait. Look at koala bears for the counterexample: they're too individualistic, and its contributing to their downfall (along with their absurdly restricted diet).

So, yeah, I'd agree completely that we've got a built in predisposition for social behavior and that in turn leads to morality. And, like all of our genetic predispositions they can be ignored if we try hard enough. But humans are remarkably pacific compared to many other mammals.

I will however, dispute your claim that animals have morality. Morality, I'd argue, is a rational outgrowth of social instincts, no language = no reason = no abstract thought = no morality. Not that I'm suggesting that animals are immoral, rather that they are amoral. They don't have brains developed enough to be moral, or immoral.

For example, if a meerkat kills his fellows by not alerting them to predators I think it is more correct to classify that behavior as the result of a mutation, or a defect in brain development, or some such, rather than saying "ah, this meerkat is immoral". Humans, with our capacity for abstract thought can be moral even if mutation or some other circumstance causes the "get along socially" parts of our genes to fail, doubtless such an individual would have a more difficult time of things, but he could still *choose* moral action even without genetic prodding, just as a human with the full genetic "get along" component can choose to be immoral. A meerkat doesn't have the ability to do that.

Many primates, possibly dolphins, and maybe elephants, animals on the cusp of sapience, are likely developing the ability to be moral (and immoral).

And, of course, part of it appears to be a matter of exposure to language, abstract thought, etc. Studies of infants raised by animals, or rescued from abuse involving extreme isolation, indicate that if they aren't rescued early enough [1] they never do develop the capacity for language, abstract thought, etc. Which has some interesting implications when it comes to species on the cusp of sapience.

Its been demonstrated that apes and chimps are capable of learning language if, like humans, they are exposed to it from infancy onward. I'd argue that this suggests there is a difference between Koko and a random member of her species chosen from the wild. Namely that Koko can be moral (or immoral), while the random ape can't be either.

Which is why I've always maintained that our social evolution is at least as important as our biological evolution.

kyrademon wrote "That is to say, my life does not actually have an objective value. Nor does anyone else's. Nor, for that matter, does anything else."

Agree completely. Value and meaning are purely subjective, and are assigned by us as thinking beings. I'd argue that ability is what really makes us thinking beings. Which is why people with the "what is the meaning of life" type question always puzzle me, there isn't, from my POV anyway, some outside force giving life meaning, you either make it meaningful yourself or it will be meaningless.

However, I do disagree with your conclusion that it is irrational to see value in the continued existence of yourself. Yes, self-preservation is built in by our genes, and yes we can (and do) override that. But I fail to see how that particularly makes a desire to survive non-rational.

Yes, it does mean that the only real point of certainty we have is that we're evolved to have a desire to survive. So? Why isn't that a rational starting point for things?

[1] And, "early enough" appears to vary significantly from individual to individual.
posted by sotonohito at 2:54 PM on December 18, 2007


sononohito, i usually agree with you fully but be careful on the language thing. You say animals have no language, therefore no reason, etc etc. but they DO have language, just not one we understand. And in fact, there have been numerous documented cases of animals acting morally toward others (and other species!).

I was just saying that, for me, the jury is out on whether due to animals having morality, they may or may not have Kantian duties to behave ethically.
posted by Dantien at 3:09 PM on December 18, 2007


sotonhito --

I don't see how it is a rational starting point, in the sense that I am using the word rational (essentially, derived from a process of logical reasoning).

Everything that follows to support my desire to survive can be derived on a rational basis from that initial starting point, but my desire to survive itself is derived from instinct, not a reasoning process.

Any chain of reasoning which attempts to define why my surviving is somehow "better" in some sense than my not surviving inevitably comes down to the fact that I feel like my life or its effects have value. Since it doesn't have objective value, really, that's an emotion or instinct, not a logical conclusion.
posted by kyrademon at 3:33 PM on December 18, 2007


"The idea behind Kant's system is basically that rationality is morality … so only Kant really has an absolute morality we can definitely access, and his does not need any sort of god (in fact, though religious folks like it now, it was considered blasphemous when it was first printed)"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Kant justify that by positing the possibility of reward in the noumenal afterlife? He demands universal rationality in life, but argues that morality cannot be justified purely by rationality—it requires a transcendent ideation, correct? And he ultimately argues that without God, the moral laws are empty. It's been about eight to ten years since I dealt with Kant directly, but I'm pretty sure that he's no less religious than Rousseau.

"klangklangston, as long as Atheists are not 'naturally' Marxist Communists (a bunch of them are Libertarian Objectivists, and a lot more reject both extremes), then Marxist Communists != Atheists and the trope of associating the crimes of Mao/Stalin/Pol Pot with Atheism is like calling the old Czars of Russia "Orthodox Christian Despots"."

No, of course not. No one is naturally a Marxist Communist (or Leninist or Stalinist or Maoist). However, Mao and Stalin both explicitly targeted religious communities, with Mao much more active, because they were competitive power structures. I'd argue that religious wars very rarely have very much to do with religion past rhetorical concerns, but I'd also argue that "atheist" attacks on the religious were roughly equivalent.

But the bullshit about the number of bodies stacked up by religion is much more pernicious than the "But what about Mao" response.

"As far as the Bible, lists, and morality, are concerned, we appear to have been reading different Bibles. The Old Testament, particularly, lacks explanations for its prohibitions, unless you count "it is an abomination" as an explanation. Jesus did, yes, often discuss the why behind his teachings, but still didn't present a complete system of morality the way, for example, Kant did."

Yes, I believe we have been. The rationale behind EVERY law in the Pentateuch is that the Jewish people will prosper if they follow these laws, through the beneficence of God. And, given that there exists a large body of scholarly work and discussion of the Jewish scriptures, and it is reasonable to assume (given that there are often discernible multiple authors) that there has always been discussion given to these laws, the vast majority of the laws have fairly obvious practical applications that would have been well explicated by the priestly caste. Kosher laws are a pretty decent food safety model for the technology and culture, and most of the other laws involve disputes over property rights. Understanding this as a political document of pre-modern utilitarianism makes sense, even if the laws no longer do. And given that God, as presumed through the Bible, wants us to succeed and be happy, the laws exist to further that, something that's more apparent when you avoid the King James.

From that proposition, that God wants us to be happy and that the best way to do so is by following His laws, nearly any situation can be adequately approximated.

I am not saying that the laws given in the Bible ARE the best way to live, or even that they still have a tremendous amount of relevance, but given that the entire known history of those laws contains disputations and discussions (and the general shift of relative tolerance and enforcement), claiming that they're simply invented and have no practical basis is fairly silly. Further, arguing that there's no justification at all in the Bible is incredibly ignorant, as the general narrative returns to rewards for following the laws and punishments for ignoring them again and again.

"But, it isn't explanatory beyond "doing good things for others is like doing them to Jesus", it still doesn't explan why action A is good and action B is bad."

Um… Because all of the NT is based on 1) Loving God, and 2) Loving humanity (neighbors). From that starting point, all of the parables start, which are broad situations that can be used to arrive at a "love-based" solution to any problem (given the cultural assumptions of Jesus' society). Why should you love your neighbor? Well, if you start with the proposition of faith in God, it's because God loves everyone, and therefore you should return God's love.

It's pretty much the inverse formulation of Hobbes' arguments for external authority.

"As for Descartes, I think "shitty" sums it up pretty well, actually. He had a good starting point: "what can we *really* know", he realized it was possible the whole of what we percieve as reality could be nothing but a hoax perpetuated by an evil genius (and this was back before people realized it was even theoretically possible to simulate reality by direct brain stimulation)."

No, "shitty" doesn't sum it up. He did a lot of fairly heavy lifting regarding the limits of knowledge, even if his conclusions have been knocked down in future years. It's kind of like dismissing Watt as a shitty engineer because his steam engine isn't all that great anymore.

"There's a curious assumption going on in that Cracked article, and among some of the theists on this thread. It's one I've noticed before, and it's always seemed strange to me -- it's the concept that religion predates morality, which is implicit in the assumption that morality is derived, in some way, from religion."

What theists? This is yet another thread full of the MeFi atheist dudgeon, and no one in this thread has argued that religion predates morality (and I don't remember that from the article). I'll certainly argue, however, that modern Western morality is predated by religion, but that's such an uncontroversial assertion that only an idiot would question it.

"But for klang and others who believe there is no morality without god, I'd ask you what kind of person you'd be if we could show that there is no God? Would you dispense with morality? And if so, what does that say about the person you are? Or what does that say about the fragility of your understanding of right and wrong? Morality has been shown to exist before any Judeo-Christian account. People existed before the Bible (lest you agree to the literal Eden account) and had concrete moral systems...though flawed. There may be no a priori morality (I'm not sure there IS one) but Christianity doesn't hold the title of Supreme Moral Arbitrator."

The reason I insult so is that I'm confronted with things like this, rhetoric so moronic that I wonder if Descartes' invisible demon is tormenting me. Do I believe there is no morality without God? No. I do not believe that faith in God has a measurable effect on morality. I do believe these two things, and when you next comment, I hope you'll read them again before saying anything so stupid:

1) I believe that the vast majority of people who believe in God and people who do not believe in God act practically the same in everyday society.

2) I believe that a substantial amount of the accepted Western morality has been shaped by Christianity (and Christian philosophy), and that both atheists and theists in the West act within that context.

With the first goes the general belief that while many people claim to be of faith, they don't really practice it fully. I also believe, generally, that most atheists hew to a morality that can function socially, and are likely to act with what could be considered consistent with religious virtue—I think that atheists are generally honest, generally trustworthy, generally polite, at least to the extent that religious folks are.

With the second one goes the fact that ideas that have had an immeasurable effect on how we conceive of morality and society have had roots in the work of Christian scholars, and scholars who were explicitly Christian in their reasoning. For example, Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes all used Christian doctrine to support their political philosophy. The very idea of natural rights from Locke is not just explicitly Christian, but specifically Protestant. Hobbes' idea of a covenant is directly pulled from the Bible, and it forms the core of his Leviathan. Rousseau's "General Will" can arguably only be properly understood as a God force that mirrors the reward/punishment scheme of the Old Testament.

For two of them (Rousseau and Locke), I regard that theistic center as ultimately unfortunate and undermining (Hobbes is just kinda crazy, and I'll admit that I don't really understand his theological conclusions at the end of Leviathan).

Ugh. That's long. Let's see if it even lets me post it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:46 PM on December 18, 2007


"Its been demonstrated that apes and chimps are capable of learning language if, like humans, they are exposed to it from infancy onward. I'd argue that this suggests there is a difference between Koko and a random member of her species chosen from the wild. Namely that Koko can be moral (or immoral), while the random ape can't be either."

Actually, no. It's been proven that Koko could imitate language, but most linguists do not believe that she actually employed language. It's an area of heavy debate within linguistics, but most linguists believe that concepts such as displacement (where language is used regarding concepts not immediately present) and abstraction, distinguish human language from anything yet observed in animals, including Koko.
posted by klangklangston at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2007


"And in fact, there have been numerous documented cases of animals acting morally toward others (and other species!). "

No. First, I'm skeptical of the claim of "numerous documented cases." Second, there are numerous documented cases of animals acting altruistically or cooperatively, but saying "moral" is flat wrong and is totally subjective.
posted by klangklangston at 4:57 PM on December 18, 2007


klangklangston, I was not, actually, referring to you with my statement that some theists seem to believe that religion predates morality. I don't really feel like going back over this thread and finding the particular posts I was referring to, but as for the linked article, I thought it was implicit in the "atheists live as if there was an omnipotent being watching them section, even if they don't believe it" idea. No particular dudgeon here.

However, there are surely quite a number of theists who believe that morality comes from god, and that therefore god is necessary for morality. I didn't think that could really be taken as a misrepresentation of their views, nor was I trying to be pissy about it. I've just always found the notion strange, that's all.
posted by kyrademon at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2007


(In terms of animal morality, I don't think we really know. And it depends on our definition of morality. The debate in this case seems to be leaning towards morality being a conscious decision to act according to a set of principles, whether defined or relatively incoherent, when presented with multiple options. Higher social animals such as primates and dolphins clearly do act as if some decisions are "better", so the question is whether they do so consciously or out of a complicated set of instincts. Personally I think people who claim that animals clearly don't make these kinds of decisions are underestimating the complexity of their minds, and people who claim that they clearly do are underestimating the power of instinct, including in humanity. I'd say the jury is still out, which is frankly one of the main reasons I try to avoid eating anything with a well-developed nervous system.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:08 PM on December 18, 2007


klangklangston, that was a much better way to argue your point than before, and i thank you for clarifying. But calling people "idiots" or "stupid" undermines your obvious intellect. I suggest, no matter how frustrated you are by comments, that you focus on the argument and not the arguer. I assume you dont mean to be mean, but nonetheless you are "Poisoning the Well".
posted by Dantien at 5:35 PM on December 18, 2007


klang Re: the Bible and systems of morality.

We appear to have been talking past one another. I don't think I ever claimed that there was no reason for the Biblical laws, if anything I wrote implied that I appologize for sloppy writing, becuase it wasn't my intent to imply that.

My point is simply that the Bible does not present a *system* for determining right from wrong, nor particularly explain why thing A is good and thing B is bad. Saying "because God will punish you for doing thing B" is hardly an explanation. That doesn't mean the laws are bad, or groundless, or anything else. It just means you can't find a passage in the Bible explaining how to determine if some completely new situation is moral, immoral, or morally neutral.

That's all I'm saying when I cirticize the Bible (and most other holy texts) for containing nothing but laundry lists of do's and don'ts. The validity, utility, or anything else, of the prohibited or mandated actions is irrelevant to the absence of a system of morality.

As far as Descartes goes, I won't deny his contributions, but his conclusion is hardly bad only in light of modern thinking. It reeks of fear, illogic, and a failure to truly think things through. He realized that there is no way to be truly certain that we aren't decieved, and seems to have been so frightened by this lack of certainty that he utterly abandoned logic in order to achieve false certainty. Compare the utter clarity of his first point: "I think, therefore I am", to his conclusion and tell me that his conclusion isn't horribly flawed even to 17th century thinking. He starts by trying to abandon everything but reason, including even his own perceptions of the world, and ends with a mish-mash of fuzzy nonsense.

Which doesn't make his other contributions to human knowledge any less valuable. For the Cartesian coordinate system alone he deserves a place among the giants. But neither should we let those other contributions blind us to the complete failure of his biggest philosophic idea.

Watt's steam engine was the best he could do with the data and technology available. I argue that Descarte's conclusion on the possible false nature of reality was not the best that could be done at the time. He had a strong beginning, and that's worth something.

As for your two points, I agree with them completely and unreservedly. But neither is what Wong actually said, you can argue that's what he wanted to say and you may even be correct, but his sneering disdain for atheism prevented him from saying so clearly.

As for Koko, I will not dispute your claims because I'm not qualified to do so. The full extent of my knowledge of the matter is the book Koko's Kitten and various non-technical news articles. However, if you'll allow me to insert the word "possibly" into my statement, I will stand by it. If Koko is capiable of abstract reasoning then I'd argue that she can, and indeed must, be moral or immoral, while if we accept that a random member of her species is not capiable of abstract reasoning than I'd argue that it is impossible for that individual ape to be anything but amoral. Which is apparently where I find myself in disagreement with Dantien.
posted by sotonohito at 5:39 PM on December 18, 2007


as for animals, a simple Googling would show many many cases of animals helping drowning kids, waking families during a fire, etc. This isn't even a case of seeing eye dogs or the like. I cant really believe you'd argue against evidence that animals have saved humans of their own free will....the documentation of such occurrences are more numerous than even I knew!
posted by Dantien at 5:39 PM on December 18, 2007


Kyra— Regarding morality from God, I skimmed the thread again and don't see anyone making that claim. I apologize if I'm wrong. Further, if the article states that atheists and theists both act the same, then doesn't it follow that atheists are acting the same as they would if they believed in God? I think that a lot of the rancor here comes from trying to make this fairly banal essay on Cracked into something much more contentious than it is, arguably because it's fairly empty otherwise.

"In terms of animal morality, I don't think we really know. And it depends on our definition of morality."

Yeah, and I believe that's the crux of it—it's our definition, which is inherently subjective, applied to "aliens."

But I'm a vegetarian for a handful of reasons, the two most salient here being that a) I don't have to eat meat, and b) I believe that animals understand pain, and I don't have to cause that pain, so I try not to.

"I suggest, no matter how frustrated you are by comments, that you focus on the argument and not the arguer."

What frustrates me is that a) you ascribed radically wrong beliefs to me based on what appears to be an amazingly inobservant reading, and b) you ignored sotonohito's well-poisoning because you agree with his point of view. Then, instead of apologizing for that misstatement, you get mealy-mouthed about how what I'm doing is bad too.

I don't mean to be mean, I mean to be brusque. And I feel being brusque is entirely justified with people who have not performed the simple courtesy of reading what I am writing and not ascribing invented beliefs to me, especially within the context of discussions of religion on Metafilter, where the Dawkins and Hitchens reign and a vehement proportion of the atheist brigade is openly antagonistic.
posted by klangklangston at 5:50 PM on December 18, 2007


I'm not saying animals are moral or can reason or anything! I'm saying that dismissing animals as lacking an understanding of morality because we can't communicate with them is making assumptions, incorrectly I assert, about a number of things, including the necessity of language in ethical thought. I suggest we not bog down this conversation by guessing what Koko does or does not think.
posted by Dantien at 5:53 PM on December 18, 2007


Buddy, I singled you out and not sononohito since I assumed he was responding to your INITIAL comments about stupidity against him. I guess it seemed like you started it. I did not read you "inobservant"ly (again, thanks for making assumptions about me), just thought you were attacking him and not his argument. Sorry it got you so riled up.

Truthfully, I probably agree with you as much as I agree with him. Sononohito was right, you both are saying much the same things.
posted by Dantien at 5:57 PM on December 18, 2007


Oh, an my apologies Sotonohito. I've been typing your alias wrong thusfar. Moshiwake arimasen!
posted by Dantien at 6:03 PM on December 18, 2007


(And yes, I do realize that Existentialism does look at a lot of these issues, which is why I have always rather liked Existentialism.)

Existentialism does this neat thing where it tries to have atheism and free will, it's so cute!

You can't save science by arguing that it makes no knowledge claims. You are saying that science is better than religion because it never even tries to attain knowledge, where as religion tries but (might) fail. Way to go. And I'm better than most NBA players because I've never lost an NBA game.

The thing is that as Descartes noticed, there's no way to have knowledge of the "objective" reality- for all we know, our every perception is being corrupted. So we can't view knowledge as knowledge of reality- for after all, we can't perceive it, and if we can't perceive it, it may as well not exist. The world that appears to us, however, is stable, consistent, and seemingly universal; we can investigate it and get reproducible results. These results are the knowledge claims that science is making; they are subject to change based upon new information. Religion, on the other hand, is simply a set of guesses, not to put too fine a point on it. Some of the guesses are about things that we can't verify, so who cares about them? Other of the guesses are about things we can verify- and falsify- and they are almost universally laughably wrong about things that a "God" ought to know- the Bible's insistence that bats are a kind of bird is a classic example.

Descartes was easily one of the greatest philosophers ever. He made some errors, but is Newton a bad scientist because he thought space was substantial? Hardly. The mind/body problem is only a problem under certain conceptions of causation. Causation is extremely problematic in itself. So, I wouldn't be putting to much faith in arguments rooted in a particular model.

Your inability to comprehend causality is perhaps as much a diagnosis as a symptom.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:59 PM on December 18, 2007


So, let's see. There is indeed no way to have knowledge of the world beyond the veil of ideas, if you think that knowledge needs to be grounded exclusively in perception. Of course, this wouldn't rule out knowledge gained a priori. Nor would it necessarily rule knowledge of mathematics (even if math is not a priori, it might not be based on the perception of the external world). So by your own admission science is not making knowledge claims about the world. It simply can't. It merely offers guesses based on our ever so flawed perceptions. (I'm just accepting your veil-of-ideas claim to point out a problem in your own stance. I don't necessarily endorse it.) Thus, on your account, science isn't any better than religion, both are precluded from having knowledge.

Also, did you really just try to slam me for my inability to comprehend causation? Seriously? You think causation is all that easy a thing to comprehend? Tell me. Do you prefer counterfactual causation, probabilistic causation, process theory, Humeanism, nomological necessity, or something else all-together? Do you think causation is purely efficient or should we allow teleological causes to exist? How about formal and material causes? If not, why not? Assuming you believe in them, what is the ontological status of the causal laws? Does anything regulate them? Are they are part of our world or are they Platonic? etc.

You think my inability to comprehend causality is some kind of flaw. If it is, at least I've got almost the whole of western intellectual history standing with me.
posted by oddman at 9:22 PM on December 18, 2007


Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Kant justify that by positing the possibility of reward in the noumenal afterlife? He demands universal rationality in life, but argues that morality cannot be justified purely by rationality—it requires a transcendent ideation, correct? And he ultimately argues that without God, the moral laws are empty. It's been about eight to ten years since I dealt with Kant directly, but I'm pretty sure that he's no less religious than Rousseau.

? That is the weirdest misunderstanding of Kant I've ever heard. The "noumenal afterlife"? No, his whole idea is that morality is purely rational. And there is no "afterlife" - the "noumenal" in Kant is difficult to fully understand, and can be interpreted a few different ways, but it certainly cannot be understood as separate from the world we're in now. It's the cause of the phenomenal world, and the source of our rationality as well, because he believes the entire world is fundamentally rational. He claims we have an obligation to be rational, but one thing he never fully satisfies for some people is why we should feel obligated to be rational (this is why some people feel he's too reliant on "duty"). But there is certainly no reward.

He was religious so there are some references to God in some of the books (there are at least 3 main texts which are treatises on morality), but it's not argued as part of the basic theory. (and in the Critique of Pure Reason he shows that whether there is or isn't a god can't be proven) The basic theory is just that we are rational creatures, and hence, we should be rational in our actions, i.e., moral, because if we really understand what "rational" means, it includes morality.

To say, no, it's more rational to dick people over to get what you want is to reject his definition of rationality: as Hume said, that's not really rationality, it's just a different kind of emotion - self interest over other interest, or whatever. But in that case, it's not the rationality that makes the decision, it's the various passions. As Hume said, "it is not against reason to prefer to the destruction of the entire world to the scratching of my finger" (well, he probably said "Tis" - I'm not gonna look up the exact quote right now :)). Kant's point here, going against Hume, is that reason is deeper than the comparison of two scenarios. So he's agreeing to the initial point Hume made, that reason isn't the ultimate source of the so-called morality of "enlightened self-interest" or whatever, but Kant was unhappy with that, and wanted their to be a rational necessity for morality, basically.

He wanted to prove that morality is not just what we want, rationalized, but we can logically determine whether something is morally right or not, and once we do, we have a moral duty as rational creatures to live according to that law. He talks about wanting to prove that morality isn't just a "phantom of the brain" - he wants to show that it's true in the way that laws of nature are true, and when we fail to meet them, we are not just making different choices, but acting against the fundamental structure of a rational mind. We're being irrational - not in a, well, you coulda made more money if you did this, way, but in a fundamental, universal way of inconsistency. The only reward he talked about was the feeling of the knowledge of the moral law - the famous quote is "two things fill me with wonder, the starry night above and the moral law within"...

I could go on about this for a while, obviously, and I feel kinda silly getting into it here, since the basics are unfamiliar to most people & I have always felt like boiled down versions of stuff are a little dumb, but, yeah... there is definitely no "noumenal afterlife" for Kant. You could read The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals for more details - it's very short - but it's also always possible to read stuff from the 18th century the wrong way so I dunno if it would make things clearer. But I can't imagine how you'd get rewards and afterlifes! The common misreading is just that it's basically the golden rule, and the common focus that I think is a little overstated at the detriment of properly understanding the rationality part is that we have a duty to the rational law, so people just jump to morality=duty, the end, without investigating what that duty is. (his ethics is generally categorized as "deontological ethics" which means "duty-based ethics", but the important thing is that it's a duty to be rational, not a duty to some random authority - the authority is your own rationality.)

yikes, this is way too long, especially since I'm not even a Kantian. But mostly because it's an annoying random lecture in the middle of a thread... Sorry. I was just surprised by the comment and wrote a buncha stuff, and now that it's all written...
posted by mdn at 10:24 PM on December 18, 2007


So, let's see. There is indeed no way to have knowledge of the world beyond the veil of ideas, if you think that knowledge needs to be grounded exclusively in perception.

Given that we have no other source of information, I should say so.

Of course, this wouldn't rule out knowledge gained a priori.

There is no such thing as a priori knowledge.

Nor would it necessarily rule knowledge of mathematics (even if math is not a priori, it might not be based on the perception of the external world).

If you like.

So by your own admission science is not making knowledge claims about the world. It simply can't. It merely offers guesses based on our ever so flawed perceptions.

I'm saying that we need to redefine knowledge claims from "knowledge about objective reality" to "knowledge about the reality of appearances", as no other knowledge is possible- or even useful or meaningful. As to the flaws in our perceptions, they are not nearly so powerful as you desperately want them to be.

Thus, on your account, science isn't any better than religion, both are precluded from having knowledge.

Science is very, very good about generating knowledge about the reality of appearances. Religion fails at it constantly and is incapable of self-correcting. You keep insisting on trying to find knowledge of some objective reality, and I am unclear as to why- perhaps you enjoy futility?

Also, did you really just try to slam me for my inability to comprehend causation? Seriously? You think causation is all that easy a thing to comprehend? Tell me...

Do you really think that Googling up a list of theories about causation will distract me from your rejection of cause and effect? Even rationalists have to accept cause and effect.

Man, it's hilarious to see non-empiricists talk. It's like listening to a child lecture you on politics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:30 PM on December 18, 2007


? That is the weirdest misunderstanding of Kant I've ever heard. The "noumenal afterlife"? No, his whole idea is that morality is purely rational. And there is no "afterlife" - the "noumenal" in Kant is difficult to fully understand, and can be interpreted a few different ways, but it certainly cannot be understood as separate from the world we're in now.

Hey, his use of the noumenal to dodge the question of moral luck is hilarious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 PM on December 18, 2007


ok, on further reflection I did a search and there was one reference in a book, but I will just point out that I've read the main books of Kant's without having come across this, and I don't really know what it means, so I don't think it's worth considering important to his theory of morality. The noumenal is a complicated philosophical territory, so if he's talking about the possibility of a purely rational post-phenomenal existence of some kind it's not gonna be like "72 virgins in heaven" or something. I would have to read the specific passages to really understand why he thought it was useful. More important, I've never heard a contemporary Kantian bring up anything like that, but they still claim to have a working theory of rational ethical philosophy

It's not my thing to start with, but to reduce Kant to just another religious guy because of some exploration of weird ideas is unfair though. In plenty of ways he's the most christian of the main philosophies of ethics that get popularly taught, but it's usually only the philosophy people who think that (because it's absolute, has some cosmic source, morality is inherent to the universe). There's no notion of "be good, god's watching, you'll get punished" or "god has to prescribe the moral law" or anything, though.
posted by mdn at 11:29 PM on December 18, 2007


pope_guilty: Existentialism does this neat thing where it tries to have atheism and free will, it's so cute!

Some mefites do this cute thing where they dismiss whole schools of thought with a superficial snark and no arguments. It's just darling!
posted by lodurr at 2:45 AM on December 19, 2007


Many primates, possibly dolphins, and maybe elephants, animals on the cusp of sapience, are likely developing the ability to be moral (and immoral).

I'm not arguing, and would not, that the "morality" evidenced in humans is the same as that evidenced in, say, ant society. For one thing, ants (or ant socieities) (and as far as we know) are not self-reflective. Nor are meerkats. For another, there's a question of relevant units -- that is, it probably doesn't make sense to talk about "morality" with regard to the behaviors of a single ant, whereas it can make perfect sense with regard to a single human. And because our sense of morality is "understood" consciously, we are free to embellish it with any number of rationalizations. "God says it should be this way." "My ancestors are watching me." "People won't like me if I'm not nice." "Society will collapse if I don't give back the overage on my change."

It's the origin that I'm interested in. If we assume that morality, like other human characteristics, is an evolved behavior, we can also assume that it wasn't something somebody sat in a cave and reasoned out. There may be microeconomic (for lack of a better term) foundations to it, but as far as I'm concerned it's crucial to bear in mind that evolution is not a process that produces ideal results, only situationally optimal results.
posted by lodurr at 2:54 AM on December 19, 2007


klang wrote "Further, if the article states that atheists and theists both act the same, then doesn't it follow that atheists are acting the same as they would if they believed in God?"

And there we go again. That claim, that statement, that sentiment, is what infuriated me about the Cracked article. As I noted earlier, Wong didn't write "Religionists, even if you reject the idea of rationality completely and claim to live according only to the blind dogma of ancient books, you still live as if the absolute morality of logic were true." That's just a mirror paraphrase of the end of his condesending lecture on morality to atheists.

The assumption behind both his writing, and your quote above, is that morality does come from a deity, that morality is inherently religious, etc. Otherwise you would have written "...acting the same as they would if they believed in God, and Christians are acting the same as they would if they didn't?" But you, and Wong, didn't write that. Instead you both wrote passages strongly implying that a belief in Jehova, even if its just subconsious and rejected by evil rebellion on the part of atheists, is necessary to morality. And that's what put me into a rage originally, and still pisses me off now.
posted by sotonohito at 3:44 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some mefites do this cute thing where they dismiss whole schools of thought with a superficial snark and no arguments. It's just darling!

Oh, c'mon, existentialism is a silly philosophy. It's like:

Empiricists: "Check out this cool machine we built using empiricism and reason!"
Existentialists: "That'll never work, reality is irrational and random!"
Empiricists: "Er, no, it isn't. Watch." *turns on machine*
Existentialists: "That doesn't really work, you know. It can't because there's no order to reality."
Empiricists: *continues working on machine, ignores Existentialists*
Existentialists: *goes off to cut and pretend that the Enlightenment didn't happen*
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:23 AM on December 19, 2007


Pope Guilty, I apologize I didn't realize you are an Idealist. I'm a Realist, given the wide gulf between our metaphysical positions we really are just talking past each other on the epistemic issues. (Although I will remark that many people will claim that they sense God. Thus even on an empirical-idealist (either Kantian or Berkeleyan) model there would be room for religious knowledge.)

I certainly did not have to Google for the various causal theories. Thanks for assuming that I have no idea what I'm talking about. Further, I find it interesting that you have shifted the discussion to the acceptance of cause and effect from understanding cause and effect. I certainly accept cause and effect I just don't understand the underlying metaphysics well enough to use causation as a part of an argument (and, I believe, neither do you). The original point that I made is that you can't legitimately use causation as a problem for Descartes unless you understand how causation works. This is because on certain common understandings of causation (e.g. counterfactual causation) Descartes's story is perfectly understandable.

Do you think you could address the last two statements without an ad hominem or a change of topic?
posted by oddman at 6:29 AM on December 19, 2007


Pope Guilty, I apologize I didn't realize you are an Idealist. I'm a Realist, given the wide gulf between our metaphysical positions we really are just talking past each other on the epistemic issues.

I know you're a Realist, that's why I'm making fun of you. It's as dead and discredited a position as Atomism, and it's to the shame of philosophy departments everywhere that Realists can find work. Realism... I mean, what can you say? Descartes demonstrated the jaw-dropping uselessness of Realism in Meditations on First Philosophy, even if he did pretty much fail at everything past that point.

Although I will remark that many people will claim that they sense God. Thus even on an empirical-idealist (either Kantian or Berkeleyan) model there would be room for religious knowledge.

Neither Kant nor Berkley produced much of any use, IMO; I prefer Mill. Also, only in the most facile, shallow reading of empiricism where every perception is uncritically accepted. Hint: No empiricist advocates that.

Thanks for assuming that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Don't worry, I make that assumption about every rationalist. It was no problem at all.

I certainly accept cause and effect I just don't understand the underlying metaphysics well enough to use causation as a part of an argument (and, I believe, neither do you).

Your endorsement of Descartes indicates a hostility toward cause and effect, unless you'd like to argue that it's a priori. (Also: LOL a priori knowledge. It's the best attempt to dodge the implications of one's viewpoint since the noumenal realm.

I certainly accept cause and effect I just don't understand the underlying metaphysics well enough to use causation as a part of an argument (and, I believe, neither do you).

I'm not arguing that causation is really a problem with Descartes, though I do believe that rationalism entails an outright rejection of causality (of course, I'm of the opinion that rationalism entails an outright rejection of any search for knowledge whatsoever, so hey). My problem with Descartes is that nothing whatsoever beyond "something exists" can be derived from his universal skepticism. Everything that he believes he has derived from it is wishful thinking and logical fallacy upon logical fallacy, and therefore of no more value than a bent nail.

Do you think you could address the last two statements without an ad hominem or a change of topic?

I can address them, of course, but I'm still going to laugh at your silly ideas.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 AM on December 19, 2007


Well, you clearly have such an astute understanding of philosophy that my own pails in comparison. Your mature and pensive answers were truly enlightening. Thanks for taking the time to rain wisdom down on those of us too dense and stupid to agree with you. My only regret is that your devastatingly clear and eloquent dismissal of Descartes wasn't available 300 years ago. Just think of all the great minds who have wasted their time thinking about Descartes's philosophy. They could have been doing something really great instead. I mean just think of what Leibniz could have accomplished if he hadn't made the mistake of being a rationalist.

(You do realize that in a single internet thread you dismissed, rather off-handedly, two philosophers, Descartes and Kant, that would probably be on just about every short list of the greatest thinkers in western civilization. This should give you pause.)
posted by oddman at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2007


So, Pope_Guilty, I guess it doesn't bother you that you've apparently no idea what existentialists actually think. After all, you've trotted out a simultaneously bizarre and hackneyed cliche straw-man existentialist -- you might as well have had your 'existentialist' character cry out "Reality is illusion! We are all imaginary! I do not exist!"

Was it because actually saying something accurate was too much work? Or was the cliche just funnier?
posted by lodurr at 10:10 AM on December 19, 2007


oddman, you know, I have to agree with you about one thing, but on another point, both Descartes and Kant were pretty deluded characters, AFAICS. Descartes "proof" of God is an embarrassment, and while I won't quarrel with his scientific contributions, philosophically he pales by comparison to some of his contemporaries. E.g., la Mettrie. And Kant -- well, let's just say the guy spent his whole life without travelling more than about 40 clicks from home, and yet was regarded as one of the foremost german-language travel writers of his day. That's some serious ivory-towerism.
posted by lodurr at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2007


"He was religious so there are some references to God in some of the books (there are at least 3 main texts which are treatises on morality), but it's not argued as part of the basic theory. (and in the Critique of Pure Reason he shows that whether there is or isn't a god can't be proven) The basic theory is just that we are rational creatures, and hence, we should be rational in our actions, i.e., moral, because if we really understand what "rational" means, it includes morality."

Well, lemme preface this with the fact that I'm not a Kantian either, and that my Kant was all read in relation to political theory, so I could have gotten some weird sidelong ideas, but in briefly skimming the Wikipedia article on Practical Reason (I know, I know, it's terrible and if I was at home I'd actually have the text to cite), it seems that in the second chapter of his dialectic, he argues that practical reason demands God etc. as part of reason.

I don't necessarily agree with him, and I would say that on the whole, he definitely emphasizes that his morality is to be rationally consistent above all else. I just remembered that from having to read him long ago.

"It's not my thing to start with, but to reduce Kant to just another religious guy because of some exploration of weird ideas is unfair though. In plenty of ways he's the most christian of the main philosophies of ethics that get popularly taught, but it's usually only the philosophy people who think that (because it's absolute, has some cosmic source, morality is inherent to the universe). There's no notion of "be good, god's watching, you'll get punished" or "god has to prescribe the moral law" or anything, though."

I wasn't trying to reduce him to just another religious guy, though I take at least a modicum of umbrage at the thought that being another religious guy is something one is reduced to. What I was trying to get at was that while I believe he regarded his ethical philosophy as absolute and rational while it still contained, to my memory, some irrational elements (like the idea that practical reason required a noumenal union with God, etc.). I am totally willing to yield on the point, however.

"There is no such thing as a priori knowledge."

Babies know to suckle.

"Existentialism does this neat thing where it tries to have atheism and free will, it's so cute!"

Determinists do this neat thing where they live their lives as if they have free will, it's so cute.

Plus, the sort of bullshit you're spouting went out with Popper.

"The assumption behind both his writing, and your quote above, is that morality does come from a deity, that morality is inherently religious, etc. Otherwise you would have written "...acting the same as they would if they believed in God, and Christians are acting the same as they would if they didn't?" But you, and Wong, didn't write that. Instead you both wrote passages strongly implying that a belief in Jehova, even if its just subconsious and rejected by evil rebellion on the part of atheists, is necessary to morality. And that's what put me into a rage originally, and still pisses me off now."

And that's the bullshit assumption at the crux of the issue—Wong was writing that portion to appeal to Christians, not to atheists, and thus he pointed to the similarity of atheists to Christians. It is your own bias that presumes insult; for me, the statement that most Christians act in a way that is consistent with a lack of belief in God is functionally equivalent, and I have no problem with it being phrased that way.

But instead, you ascribe to me a belief I do not hold, and then attempt to pillory me for it. When I clarify, you again assume that your precious atheist pride has been insulted instead of thinking for the one, brief moment that would save you from tubthumping your offended feelings.

So fuck your rage—learn to read more carefully. Nothing I wrote implies the need for God or Jehova or anything else. It implies that to appeal to Christians, you should point out that folks they consider alien are functionally the same.
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on December 19, 2007


"There is no such thing as a priori knowledge."

Babies know to suckle.


Nitfilter: I'd argue that probably doesn't fit in with what Kant mean by a priori. At least, not from a current perspective. Not that I really want to get into that, but my argument (if I stuck around to make it, which I probably won't) would be that a priori to Kant probably meant that it proceeded from some first principle. Babies knowing how to suckle is a really kind of different order of thing altogether. (Dammit, I'm making the argument...I really have to go...)
posted by lodurr at 10:22 AM on December 19, 2007


Lodurr—

Yeah, I know. Didn't Kant argue that space and time were the a prioris?
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 AM on December 19, 2007


(ps— The suckling thing was from critiques of Locke.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 AM on December 19, 2007


My only regret is that your devastatingly clear and eloquent dismissal of Descartes wasn't available 300 years ago. Just think of all the great minds who have wasted their time thinking about Descartes's philosophy. They could have been doing something really great instead. I mean just think of what Leibniz could have accomplished if he hadn't made the mistake of being a rationalist.

There's really no excuse for anyone born after John Locke to give even half a damn what Descartes says. And Leibniz? Seriously?

(You do realize that in a single internet thread you dismissed, rather off-handedly, two philosophers, Descartes and Kant, that would probably be on just about every short list of the greatest thinkers in western civilization. This should give you pause.)

Refutations of pretty much everything either of them wrote have been floating around for hundreds of years. I am not alone in rejecting them.

Was it because actually saying something accurate was too much work? Or was the cliche just funnier?

Funnier, duh.

Babies know to suckle.

Babies don't "know" anything. It's a purely instinctual response, which is not what a priori knowledge is.

Determinists do this neat thing where they live their lives as if they have free will, it's so cute.

People who believe in free will often have difficulty understanding the implications of determinism, so don't feel bad, it doesn't make you stupid.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:31 PM on December 19, 2007


"People who believe in free will often have difficulty understanding the implications of determinism, so don't feel bad, it doesn't make you stupid."

It's OK. I know you're not really as amazingly stupid as that retort makes you sound—it's the inevitable outcome of the universe for you to type that.

But I'm going to carry on living my illusory life like you're a retard.
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on December 19, 2007


it seems that in the second chapter of his dialectic, he argues that practical reason demands God etc

Right, that actually does ring a bell, though I haven't read the 2nd critique in a while. It doesn't come up in the Groundwork. But still, that's the other way around - that our morality is evidence of God, not that God demands or is authority of our morality.

Pope Guilty, one thing I think separates philosophies well is looking at how they address time. Empiricism often doesn't really try to work that one out, so it just isn't a very robust philosophy. Existentialism may not be satisfying to you, but at least they see what the difficulties are. But who are you thinking of with that imagined exchange? The notion of absurdity doesn't mean anything like "machines won't work..." - though of course I shouldn't pretend to have an expertise on this either... But Sartre's notion of absurdity was about the idea that consciousness is the only thing that extends through time; he suggested everything else disappears, essentially - when you really think of it, 1985 is only "real" insofar as we have memories of it or evidence of it, but to say that something that no longer exists "used to exist" is only to talk about our minds - there is no reality to it beyond our mental notion of it. We can imagine some sort of a meta-universe where all time exists, so we can travel back & forth through it, etc, but we certainly don't have empirical knowledge of that.

Remember existentialism isn't by definition atheistic (kierkegaard was existentialist); it's just based on being thrown into the world and recognizing your limitations but still taking responsibility for what you make of your experience. Free will, shmee will - doesn't matter, it's not about technicalities - it's "existence before essence" - you have to create meaning. And whether there's "actually" a god, or "actually" free will doesn't really matter: the whole point of existentialism is that you have to embrace the fact that it's still you that chooses to believe in god, it's still you that chooses not to believe in free will.

Sartre would just call determinism another way to live in "bad faith" - avoid responsibility for the decisions you make by claiming "it's not really me, just my brain", as if your brain isn't really you, or not the part of you that counts - well then, how did you just tell me you don't believe in free will? if that part of the brain counts enough to proclaim its own demise, then that's the part I'm dealing with when I say "you". If you are stuck in some Being John Malkovich style prison watching an external alter-ego rule your body, that's one thing, but there is some "free will" most of us are talking to; and if you're like most of us and feel like you're free then as far as existentialism goes, deal with it. Take seriously what that means.
posted by mdn at 8:43 PM on December 19, 2007


Pope Guilty, one thing I think separates philosophies well is looking at how they address time. Empiricism often doesn't really try to work that one out, so it just isn't a very robust philosophy.

And that's part of why I like empiricism- it addresses what we can know instead of spending its time creating huge structures of ideas chained upon ideas, the metaphysical constellations that have earned philosophy its reputation for being removed from reality. Empiricism doesn't address time? Who cares? At least it's not making shit up about time.

But who are you thinking of with that imagined exchange?

I'm just parodying the idea that reality is irrational and absurd.

But Sartre's notion of absurdity was about the idea that consciousness is the only thing that extends through time; he suggested everything else disappears, essentially - when you really think of it, 1985 is only "real" insofar as we have memories of it or evidence of it, but to say that something that no longer exists "used to exist" is only to talk about our minds - there is no reality to it beyond our mental notion of it.

Consciousness does not extend indefinitely; eventually, we all die.

Remember existentialism isn't by definition atheistic (kierkegaard was existentialist); it's just based on being thrown into the world and recognizing your limitations but still taking responsibility for what you make of your experience. Free will, shmee will - doesn't matter, it's not about technicalities - it's "existence before essence" - you have to create meaning.

And I'm fine with the idea of creating meaning- I absolutely deny that human beings can have any knowledge of meaning that isn't human created. It's the whole "Hey, we really don't have any good reasons to believe in free will, and the fields of psychology and neurology seem to adequately explain human activity without resorting to the essentially supernatural conceit of free will, but..." I find the idea of responsibility, when combined with the lack of a reason to believe in free will, to be monstrous; for this reason, existentialism looks like a blend of the inane and abhorrent to me.


And whether there's "actually" a god, or "actually" free will doesn't really matter: the whole point of existentialism is that you have to embrace the fact that it's still you that chooses to believe in god, it's still you that chooses not to believe in free will.

And yet it refuses to give any reason why we should believe that one chooses or does not choose to believe so. It looks from here like a desperate wish to believe that you're making choices, so desperate that the evidence that you aren't must be ignored.

Sartre would just call determinism another way to live in "bad faith" - avoid responsibility for the decisions you make by claiming "it's not really me, just my brain", as if your brain isn't really you, or not the part of you that counts - well then, how did you just tell me you don't believe in free will?

I don't even know how to start addressing the silliness inherent in this statement. Sartre's concept of bad faith looks to me to be just as wretched and disgusting as the insistence of the authors of The Secret that the victims of the Darfur genocide are responsible for their being raped and murdered. Sure, I'm telling you that there's no reason to believe in free will- but recent research indicates that my brain made up its mind to tell you that before I became aware of that.

if that part of the brain counts enough to proclaim its own demise, then that's the part I'm dealing with when I say "you".

Indeed, but that doesn't make it the supernatural entity that you demand it be.

If you are stuck in some Being John Malkovich style prison watching an external alter-ego rule your body, that's one thing, but there is some "free will" most of us are talking to; and if you're like most of us and feel like you're free then as far as existentialism goes, deal with it. Take seriously what that means.

No, there is an illusion of free will, and refusing to differentiate between illusion and reality is base, irresponsible, and contemptible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:44 PM on December 19, 2007


"No, there is an illusion of free will, and refusing to differentiate between illusion and reality is base, irresponsible, and contemptible."

Bullshit. Prove that there's no free will.

Not the "recent research indicates," not an appeal to outside authority ("Well, d'Holbach says"), but a proof of the negative of free will, a proof that free will is not true.

Determinism is just as flawed as arguments for free will (prime mover criticism, probability, etc.). If neither determinism nor free will can be effectively argued to exist to the negation of the other (aside from tautological assertion), then asserting your position with that vehemence is both immature and idiotic.

Every argument for determinism can only prove it positively if there is a theoretical infinite knowledge, something that by definition cannot be demonstrated (unless we allow for God, a proposition that finds little experimental support). Otherwise, you're at "determinism is probable."

So stop pretending that you've solved one of the intractable philosophical puzzles before you got to grad school, OK? All you can say is that you believe determinism makes the most sense of the possible metaphysical explanations you've seen.

I'm not even going to bother knocking down your ad hoc responses to mdn; they're hoarier than you have any right to.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 PM on December 19, 2007


You make the supernatural claim, burden of proof goes to you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:37 PM on December 19, 2007


Pope_Guilty: Funnier, duh.

Ah. Well, then. Should we just write off anything you say going forward as "going for the laugh"? It would make a lot of the stuff you're saying down toward the end of this thread easier to make sense of. Though for future reference, parody is usually more effective if it's somewhat close to what the object of parody actually does or says.

People who believe in free will often have difficulty understanding the implications of determinism...

People who believe in determinism usually have difficulty understanding the implications of determinism, with regard to the interactions of determinism, consciousness and "free will." You appear to be one of them. OTOH, someone recently quoted Sartre on this matter -- pointing out that if even if we don't possess the platonic form of "free will", we still understand ourselves to be making choices as though we did. And that indeed, we have to function as though we did. As a rule, determinists seem usually to completely misses that psychological reality in favor of an irrelevant fetish. On the matter of free will, determinists are often a bit like quantum physicists who try to walk through walls because they're 99.99...% empty space.
posted by lodurr at 3:12 AM on December 20, 2007


Bullshit. Prove that there's no free will.

You've got a point, but I don't think that's the most effective counter. Especially when you've got soemthing like "there is an illusion of free will, and refusing to differentiate between illusion and reality is base, irresponsible, and contemptible" to play with.

I mean, Pope_Guilty is turning belief in free will into a moral failing -- that is, failure to believe that all our beliefs are pre-determined is 'base, irrresponsible, and contemptable.' So, in his view, apparently it's 'irresponsible' to hold the (pre-determined) belief that you might have some relevant level of free will...

Bit of a logic puzzle, there, don't you think? Maybe he's just going for the laugh again, parodying the position of determinism.
posted by lodurr at 3:18 AM on December 20, 2007


pointing out that if even if we don't possess the platonic form of "free will", we still understand ourselves to be making choices as though we did. And that indeed, we have to function as though we did. As a rule, determinists seem usually to completely misses that psychological reality in favor of an irrelevant fetish.

We don't, though. Both libertarians and determinists experience the illusion of free will, but what separates us is that we do not, upon discovering evidence that it is an illusion, insist on holding tightly to it like a child's stuffed animal. As I've mentioned, recent research indicates that our brains decide to take actions before our consciousness becomes aware of any intention to act, and combined with the fact that neurology and psychology become more capable of describing the causes of our actions every day, we have a very strong set of reasons not to believe in free will. If we don't believe in free will, we need to readjust our thinking and our society to accommodate this new understanding of humanity. Pretending that we're all free leads to atrocities.

I mean, Pope_Guilty is turning belief in free will into a moral failing -- that is, failure to believe that all our beliefs are pre-determined is 'base, irrresponsible, and contemptable.' So, in his view, apparently it's 'irresponsible' to hold the (pre-determined) belief that you might have some relevant level of free will...

Woah, there. If you've got an actual argument for free will, let's hear it. The "arguments" that have been aired in this thread are nothing but fantasies about freedom, on the order of "Not having free will scares me!" And yes, if you believe in free will and don't provide any reason to believe in it, then you're an asshole because of what free will implies. If we are, in fact, free to choose and therefore responsible for our choices (and even then, the limits of the human mind interfere with the fantasy of absolute responsibility that Sartre and his followers masturbate so furiously over), then proclaiming everyone to be free and absolutely responsible is simply descriptive. If we are not free- and given the essentially supernatural nature of free will, I believe that the burden of proof lies on the libertarian- then proclaiming freedom and responsibility makes you a monster who blames people for things they cannot control.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:14 AM on December 20, 2007


"You make the supernatural claim, burden of proof goes to you."

Wrong. I've claimed no supernatural proof against determinism; determinism rests on being beyond our knowledge. Learn to read claims before spouting your nonsense.

"I've mentioned, recent research indicates that our brains decide to take actions before our consciousness becomes aware of any intention to act, and combined with the fact that neurology and psychology become more capable of describing the causes of our actions every day, we have a very strong set of reasons not to believe in free will."

Wrong. First off, placing that level of moral certainty on unsettled science is moronic. Second, that science can never be definitively settled, only proven most likely out of tested experiments. Third, the research that supports that conclusion is far from compelling, assuming that you're not a determinist zealot.

"Pretending that we're all free leads to atrocities."

No more than pretending that our actions are predetermined leads to atrocities.

I realize that you're a philosophy student with a new toy, but you're out of your depth.

"then proclaiming freedom and responsibility makes you a monster who blames people for things they cannot control."

Given that free will does not require any substantive positive proof, especially "supernatural," which you keep throwing about like an ape with a tire, you're just another shirker scared by what free will entails, seeking to cleave to your automatic mother. All the argument for agency requires is an absence of proof for determinism. As determinism's proof requires the infinite knowledge of the universe, you'd think that you'd be more careful about deriding the "supernatural." Or is it not supernatural when it's your religion?

This is just reinforcing my view that hard incompatibalists are fools first and assholes second.
posted by klangklangston at 8:26 AM on December 20, 2007


No, there is an illusion of free will, and refusing to differentiate between illusion and reality is base, irresponsible, and contemptible.

What is the difference between an "illusion" of free will and "real" free will? Free will is just an active consciousness responding to the things around it. What is an illusion of consciousness? You are your brain. If your brain makes choices before you are aware of it, that just means that you made a choice before the travel of information provided the fully conscious picture. That doesn't mean it's not you making this choice.

Eh, I'm not going to get into this argument again, and I don't think it's really worth getting into the rest of it either. I don't think philosophers "make shit up", but of course there are plenty of people who think it's not worth trying to understand larger pictures, and that's fine. But to claim that empiricists have everything right, and everyone else is just talking nonsense is short-sighted.
posted by mdn at 8:29 AM on December 20, 2007


Wrong. I've claimed no supernatural proof against determinism; determinism rests on being beyond our knowledge. Learn to read claims before spouting your nonsense.

Free will is an inherently supernatural claim.

Wrong. First off, placing that level of moral certainty on unsettled science is moronic. Second, that science can never be definitively settled, only proven most likely out of tested experiments. Third, the research that supports that conclusion is far from compelling, assuming that you're not a determinist zealot.

All of those things are irrelevant. Science only shows us what's most likely, yes, but that has proven to be useful in understanding reality.

No more than pretending that our actions are predetermined leads to atrocities.

The belief in freedom makes punishment acceptable; it makes horrible things possible because suddenly people are "responsible" for their actions. Determinism permits us to examine why people act like they do, and respond accordingly.

I realize that you're a philosophy student with a new toy, but you're out of your depth.

Just graduated, and took metaphysics over a year ago, but hey, enjoy that.

Given that free will does not require any substantive positive proof, especially "supernatural," which you keep throwing about like an ape with a tire, you're just another shirker scared by what free will entails, seeking to cleave to your automatic mother.

Free will absolutely does require positive proof of supernatural activity. If there is no supernatural activity, all that is is particles interacting according to physical laws. You need to demonstrate that something happens to cause matter to become capable of choice. All you're doing is seeking excuses to punish and hurt people.

This is just reinforcing my view that hard incompatibalists are fools first and assholes second.

And this is just reinforcing my view that libertarians are bullies looking for an excuse to hurt people and make it their fault.

What is the difference between an "illusion" of free will and "real" free will?

One of them is blame-creating.

Free will is just an active consciousness responding to the things around it.

In the most shallow, unreflective sense, sure. On the other hand, no.

What is an illusion of consciousness? You are your brain. If your brain makes choices before you are aware of it, that just means that you made a choice before the travel of information provided the fully conscious picture. That doesn't mean it's not you making this choice.

Either prove that there is something supernatural or stop invoking choice as though it were somehow divorced from causality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:52 PM on December 20, 2007


"Either prove that there is something supernatural or stop invoking choice as though it were somehow divorced from causality."

Dude, you can't even prove causality conclusively. Anything past hard solipsism rests on unfounded assumptions.

And you're the one assuming perfect knowledge is possible, which determinism requires. Which is supernatural. You're just mad because the Goddies got there first.
posted by klangklangston at 2:14 PM on December 20, 2007


"All of those things are irrelevant. Science only shows us what's most likely, yes, but that has proven to be useful in understanding reality."

And let's go back to this—how is the fact that the "evidence" you cited not being credible irrelevant to your claim of that evidence? I mean, for such an extreme position as you're carving out, you'd think that you'd at least want to be honest about what you can prove and what you can't, and the simple fact is that you can't prove determinism, and that the evidence you've thrown up (I assume you were referencing the wrist movement studies) has serious methodological problems that obviate it from being definitive.
posted by klangklangston at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2007


Free will absolutely does require positive proof of supernatural activity. If there is no supernatural activity, all that is is particles interacting according to physical laws. You need to demonstrate that something happens to cause matter to become capable of choice. All you're doing is seeking excuses to punish and hurt people.

yeah, well by this description there's no such thing as consciousness either. You can call the parts we don't understand very well "supernatural" if you like, but it doesn't make them disappear. On top of which, please stop pretending we understand "matter" to start with. Matter is energy in motion. Motion is time. "matter" is just a name we give to shit so we can ignore how freakin impossible it is to explain.

One of them is blame-creating.

hey, it's just the illusion of blame. Just try to enjoy the illusion - but invest in it a little. It's more interesting that way.

Seriously, you're making a decision here based on your dislike of an outcome. You don't want to take responsibility for actions, so you choose not to believe in free will. But it's utterly unfounded and ill-thought out. Mechanical physics is not even the primary method of understanding the workings of the universe these days anyway - are you stuck in the 17th century?

Free will is just an active consciousness responding to the things around it.

In the most shallow, unreflective sense, sure. On the other hand, no.


well, I stand corrected.
I don't like the term "free will" as it is too extreme - I believe in self-motivated animals, and I think we're motivated by multiple factors, and that we are the bodies that do the activity, whether by instinct, emotion, idea or something else. Some of it is chemical, some of it is conscious, some of it is physics. Call that "free will" or not, again, it doesn't matter - the point is still that we experience the world faced with choices and responsibilities, and we can face those by falling into the streams that Someone Else has set up, going along with the trends or the zeitgeist or what the leaders suggest, and shrug our shoulders since we don't have control anyway, or we can step up & try to really understand who we are, "illusory" or not.
posted by mdn at 2:59 PM on December 20, 2007


Woah, there. If you've got an actual argument for free will, let's hear it.

So, are you saying that you're not behaving like a quantum physicist who tries to walk through walls? That you're not contradicting yourself by placing a moral valuation on beliefs that are not consciously determined? That you're not expecting people to make conscious, non-free-will decisions about how to act.

I'm confused, Pope_Guilty. I have to suppose you are to.
posted by lodurr at 3:16 PM on December 20, 2007


That's an excellent point, lodurr. If someone truly believes that nothing is anyone's fault, they should be pretty fucking beatific in their interactions.
posted by klangklangston at 3:42 PM on December 20, 2007


they should be...

...Yeeaa, except "he can't help it" - nothing he does is his choice to start with :)
No need to consider, reflect, or make an effort since it's all pre-ordained anyway.
posted by mdn at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2007


That's actually my biggest beef with the "God's Will" contingent of the religious—that total abrogation of any choice, but only when it's convenient.
posted by klangklangston at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2007


heh - it always amuses me when the same kind of cutting "logic" people use to "disprove" god is used to "disprove" free will and consciousness and essentially, what we think we experience

how's life in that rabbit hole, anyway?

disclaimer - some would say i had no choice but to type this - some would say others have no choice but to disagree with this - some would even say there is no one to make the choice and no choice to make

i'm late, i'm late, i'm late ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on December 20, 2007


Well, pyramid termite, I firmly believe that Shimmer is both a dessert topping and a floor wax. IOW, whether I have "free will" or not, I don't really have an alternative to behaving as though I do. And that's my (very casual) understanding of Camus' and Sartre's position on the matter, fwiw.
posted by lodurr at 8:04 AM on December 21, 2007


I gave up on this party days ago, and so, apparently has everyone else, but just to put this in ...

Pope Guilty has has asserted that the human brain follows natural physical laws, which is of course true. He has stated that all actions are therefore deterministic, unless a supernatural agency is somehow involved. Which is ridiculous, because it de facto makes the assertion that all natural physical laws are deterministic, which a century or so of science has spent gradually demonstrating isn't necessarily true.

For large-scale physical interactions, of course, determinism is pretty darn reliable, just as Newtonian physics work just fine at the speeds we're used to seeing things move. But that doesn't mean we can ignore relativity when we're looking at galaxies, nor does it mean we can ignore nondeterministic effects when figuring out why particular nerve impulses cause particular neurons to fire.

Look up the implications of Bell's inequality on the concept of realism. Look up recent research into observer effects. Heck, just take a look at any reputable book about quantum mechanics. The universe is not a giant clockwork. Physical laws don't behave that way. Which means neither does you brain.

Does this mean that free will necessarily exists? Of course not. But if you claim that science "proves" that it does not exist, and that it therefore requires a supernatural force of some kind, you are clinging the a nineteenth-century model of the universe which has been soundly discredited. You might as well be calling the rest of us fools for not believing in phlogiston.

And on a totally different note, unrelated to what I have said thus far, and as a few others have essentially pointed out ... determinism is a silly belief to hold. Or rather, claim to hold, since it's impossible to live by, and pointless to attempt to. You dislike - er, sorry, you are required by the laws of the universe to dislike - people who are required by the laws of the universe to disbelieve in free will, because they are required by the laws of the universe to blame others for their actions. If that's the case, why should you care? Well, I guess because you are required by the laws of the universe to care, which means your "opinion" about it would be totally meaningless, or at least I am required by the laws of the universe to think so ... Frankly, as long as you continue to argue your cause as if arguing matters, you aren't going to win any converts, if you catch my drift ...

And what a shallow, meaningless, utterly useless perspective on things anyway. In my limited understanding of science, I have not discovered a mechanism which fully accounts for my own conscious will either, but I do not have the hubris to declare that since I do not fully understand it, it does not exist!
posted by kyrademon at 3:59 AM on December 23, 2007


(PS - please take a good hard look at why you have divided the world into the innocent blamed, who had no choice but to perform their actions, and the blamers, who do, apparently, have a choice as to whether or not they can cast blame.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:18 AM on December 23, 2007


The universe is not a giant clockwork.

Even if it were, the scale of the clockwork would be sufficiently vast as to render it un-knowable.

From my perspective, you don't even need to ask whether determinism is true. If it is, it is still irrelevant to our existence.
posted by lodurr at 7:46 AM on December 23, 2007


Does this mean that free will necessarily exists? Of course not. But if you claim that science "proves" that it does not exist, and that it therefore requires a supernatural force of some kind, you are clinging the a nineteenth-century model of the universe which has been soundly discredited. You might as well be calling the rest of us fools for not believing in phlogiston.

I'm not saying that science proves that free will doesn't exist. I'm saying that, given what science has uncovered, we have no reason to believe in it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:56 AM on December 24, 2007


I'm saying that, given what science has uncovered, we have no reason to believe in it.

This is just flat wrong. Given what science has uncovered, not even basic material objects behave deterministically. Add conscious thought to that mix and there is utterly no reason to believe that our futures are mechanically controlled by Newtonian cause & effect. It's just an attempt to escape freedom & responsiblity.
posted by mdn at 11:17 AM on December 24, 2007


It's just an attempt to escape freedom & responsiblity.

mdn, do you really think that the only way someone would reach the conclusion that the universe is deterministic is for them to have some kind of underhanded or selfish motivation? Do you think that people who arrived at that conclusion automatically try to justify their every action by saying, "The universe is deterministic, I have no free will"?

You also mix different issues together - on one hand you say that it's simply impossible for the universe to be deterministic, on the other hand you say that it wouldn't matter even if it was because it's "still you" making decisions. Although they're certainly related, the question of whether the universe is deterministic and the question of how someone should live their life or think about responsibility in the face of that are separate issues.
posted by XMLicious at 1:03 PM on December 24, 2007


do you really think that the only way someone would reach the conclusion that the universe is deterministic is for them to have some kind of underhanded or selfish motivation?

Well, that was probably a bit too flippant. But I kind of do think that too many determinists fall into that way of thinking because on some level it relieves them of what existentialists call our "anguish"... It is a deep and complete responsibility, not control or power, but a burden to face the consequences of what you choose to do, especially when we have such limited knowledge that we always make terrible choices at least some of the time. So it does seem like being able to shrug off some of that to a kind of, it's not me, it's my genes/ it's my chemicals/ it's my electrons / none of that is really me, is a way to evade the sense that what we do affects what happens in the world.

on one hand you say that it's simply impossible for the universe to be deterministic, on the other hand you say that it wouldn't matter even if it was because it's "still you" making decisions. Although they're certainly related, the question of whether the universe is deterministic and the question of how someone should live their life or think about responsibility in the face of that are separate issues.

Yeah, but as I think I made clear, there's a hierarchy here. First off, even by the strictest physical laws, even we go by modern physics, determinism is out anyway. So there's no game to start with. But fine, let's say physics will get over that one out eventually, disprove contemporary weirdo physics and get back to some kind of straight mechanical universe (no reason to think that, except that you like it that way, of course). Even so we still would have to deal with consciousness, which is a whole 'nother level. On that level, there is no difference between an "illusion" of free will and free will. You have "free will" insofar as you have intentionality, which you have insofar as you have an active consciousness.
posted by mdn at 2:49 PM on December 24, 2007


First off, even by the strictest physical laws, even we go by modern physics, determinism is out anyway. So there's no game to start with.

You've said things like that before and I didn't challenge it at the time because it seemed tangential, but now I will challenge it: what part of modern physics do you think specifies non-determined mechanisms in nature? Are you talking about things like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle? Because as far as my understanding of it goes quantum uncertainty does not necessitate that the related quantum phenomena be non-deterministic.

...and get back to some kind of straight mechanical universe...

I don't get why you're associating Newtonian mechanics with determinism. You know things like relativity and chaos science are deterministic, right?

To pull a page from your book ;^) I'll pre-argue both cases in that the universe being deterministic and human behavior being deterministic aren't the same thing. Even if some quantum-scale phenomena were proved to be uncaused or non-determined that would be entirely compatible with human choices being completely deterministic.

On that level, there is no difference between an "illusion" of free will and free will. You have "free will" insofar as you have intentionality, which you have insofar as you have an active consciousness.

So even in a deterministic universe in which your every action has been preordained since the beginning of time, you would call that "free will"... because you have a consciousness? I still just don't get the connection you're making between those things. What would not be free will for you?

From what you've laid out it seems like you'd say that even in the case of a puppet under the complete control of a puppetmaster, as long as the puppet had a consciousness, didn't believe he was a puppet, and kept saying to himself "I meant to do that!" each time he was made to dance on the strings, you'd say he had free will.

---

Re: the existential angst thing, in insisting that there is something like free will you also get yourself out of a rather intractable knot, the conundrum of how to live your life and what to think and believe if human life and decision is pre-determined.
posted by XMLicious at 7:16 PM on December 24, 2007


XMLicious, a "deterministic universe in which your every action has been preordained since the beginning of time" would look no different to us than a universe in which we ordain our own actions. Ergo, from our perspective, we have as much free will in a perfectly deterministic universe as we have in a non-deterministic universe.

Put another way: The kind of "depth determinism" that you and others seem to be retreating to -- "everything is determined amen" -- really has no bearing on human existence. You'd have to be God for it to make a difference.
posted by lodurr at 5:29 AM on December 26, 2007


what part of modern physics do you think specifies non-determined mechanisms in nature? Are you talking about things like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle? Because as far as my understanding of it goes quantum uncertainty does not necessitate that the related quantum phenomena be non-deterministic.

You don't have to go with Heisenberg - it's not impossible that we shall discover a way to return to determinism (discussed here), but at present the main interpretations of quantum physics all imply indeterminism... You can claim that it's so small that it doesn't really matter or something, but I really think that's avoiding the main point. The fact is that the science does not require determinism. There is, as far as we understand, definitely room for randomness and indeterminacy in the universe. So to hold on to the idea that free will is impossible because x must cause y is to misunderstand cause & effect as they are currently interpreted. When we get into the details, it turns out not be as simple as we thought. The relation of x and y is not as absolute and linear as we'd been thinking.

So even in a deterministic universe in which your every action has been preordained since the beginning of time, you would call that "free will"... because you have a consciousness? I still just don't get the connection you're making between those things. What would not be free will for you?

What would not be free will would be if someone were restraining me. But the notion that something has happened before it has happened, that it is "ordained to happen", seems a pointless doubling over of a concept. We could never be certain that anything was pre-ordained, and it never feels as if it's pre-ordained, so in what sense is it? It would only be a true for a god, someone who could see all time, and then they would not see our individual movements but the whole unity of all existence, and who's to say that our consciousnesses wouldn't contribute to that anyway... if a god could see all time at once, then the unity of time kind of fucks with the idea of freedom a little bit, but not to the point where you are not the cause of your own destiny - just to the point where you have one definite destiny instead of infinite possibilities.

I've said before I think the argument over free will is a bit silly. I believe in arguments over other things - subconscious desires, cultural influences, all the psychological complications - but at the heart of it I think we're still self-moving animals, and insofar as we're capable of reflecting, we are free to make choices.

Re: the existential angst thing, in insisting that there is something like free will you also get yourself out of a rather intractable knot, the conundrum of how to live your life and what to think and believe if human life and decision is pre-determined.

How is there any question over what one should do when everything is predetermined anyway, though? Whatever you do is what you were going to do anyway, so there is by definition no wrong way to turn. How can you have questions over how to live your life when your life is not really yours to live but just something you're along for the ride on?
I do not think you have to be a conscious embracer of determinism to think this way, of course - it's the standard approach to life. Go with the flow.
posted by mdn at 8:17 AM on December 26, 2007


lodurr : Ergo, from our perspective, we have as much free will in a perfectly deterministic universe as we have in a non-deterministic universe.

Unless of course one's definition of free will has something to do with constraints upon the will. I might as well say that because the two cases are indistinguishable to humans we're just as constrained and unfree because even if we're self-determining we can't tell.

mdn : The fact is that the science does not require determinism.

I have not been saying that. You're the one who has been saying "science proves I'm right." Science does not require non-determinism either, which is what you have been repeatedly claiming and mocking those of us advancing determinism as Newtonian or pseudo-scientific or something.

You wanna talk about avoiding the point, all you can come up with is "interpretations of quantum mechanics assume indeterminacy"!?! That's your justification for claiming "science says I'm right and you're wrong"? Weak, dude, weak.

The reason why the Copenhagen interpretation and ensemble interpretation and others assume indeterminacy isn't because they think there's positive proof of it, it's Occam's Razor, because determinacy is unnecessary for quantum mechanics to be coherent or workable or useful.

The relation of x and y is not as absolute and linear as we'd been thinking.

What the heck are you talking about? You're yet again setting up straw men and trying to rope me and others into this "we". What specific arguments are you debunking as linear?

Like I said, shit like chaos science is deterministic. Totally non-linear dawn-of-the-21st-century shit. Your position is not the progressive enlightened brilliance of the New Man or something, it's no more modern or asserted by science than mine is.

What would not be free will would be if someone were restraining me.

So it would take a person for your will to be non-free? Your will and actions might be just as constrained by inanimate causes, but because the causes of constraint aren't anthropomorphic that makes you free? Doesn't that seem like a silly definition of free will to you? To me it looks like you're simply redefining free will so that you can pronounce your position inarguably true.

How can you have questions over how to live your life when your life is not really yours to live but just something you're along for the ride on?

Funny how people can have those questions, base entire religions on them (e.g. Calvinism), and go through all kinds of mental acrobatics to avoid facing the notion. I think that you're again offhandedly calling something impossible that is resplendently and manifoldly possible.

I've said before I think the argument over free will is a bit silly . . . I believe in arguments over other things

That's the substance that's behind all the stuff you're saying? That's why you make so little sense, because you're writing page after page on a topic you don't give a crap about?

If you really don't care cut out the hand-waving, the clumsy conjuring of science, the denigration of other people's ideas as pseudo-science, and the moral superiority of condemning determinism as some device for avoiding responsibility, Mr. Go-with-the-flow Science-is-my-personal-shoehorn.

"We can't be certain I'm right, so I'm right." Give me a break.
posted by XMLicious at 1:01 PM on December 27, 2007


"I have not been saying that. You're the one who has been saying "science proves I'm right." Science does not require non-determinism either, which is what you have been repeatedly claiming and mocking those of us advancing determinism as Newtonian or pseudo-scientific or something."

Wrong. Our current understanding of science does require a non-deterministic view, even beyond the indeterminism implied by probablistic models. The behavior of a single proton through a double slit cannot be explained by deterministic models.

"You wanna talk about avoiding the point, all you can come up with is "interpretations of quantum mechanics assume indeterminacy"!?! That's your justification for claiming "science says I'm right and you're wrong"? Weak, dude, weak."

Probably because she doesn't want to wade into complex arguments from physics for someone who doesn't seem likely to understand them, and who seems petulant about that lack of comprehension.

"Like I said, shit like chaos science is deterministic. Totally non-linear dawn-of-the-21st-century shit. Your position is not the progressive enlightened brilliance of the New Man or something, it's no more modern or asserted by science than mine is."

Now you're really out of your depth. You're the only one who has mentioned chaos theory here, and no one is arguing that it isn't deterministic. So how about you stop trying to wave your science dick around and admit that you don't know what she's talking about because you're ignorant, not because she's wrong.

"So it would take a person for your will to be non-free? Your will and actions might be just as constrained by inanimate causes, but because the causes of constraint aren't anthropomorphic that makes you free? Doesn't that seem like a silly definition of free will to you? To me it looks like you're simply redefining free will so that you can pronounce your position inarguably true."

Um. She's pretty obviously throwing out an uncontroversial position for moderate existentialism—that it would not be free will if someone is constraining her. She does not say that having an animate restraint is a necessary condition for the lack of free will. Learn to read (and your complaints would have more weight if you bothered to address her elaborations right below that line, instead of trying to cherry pick).

As for the rest of your comment, it was just petty attacks on something that seems beyond you. She's not putting forth a dissertation proving free will exists, and everything you're raising has been dealt with again and again throughout history.
posted by klangklangston at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2007


Unless of course one's definition of free will has something to do with constraints upon the will. I might as well say that because the two cases are indistinguishable to humans we're just as constrained and unfree because even if we're self-determining we can't tell.

Or unless one takes account of what the experience of having free will would be like. Namely, that it would not differ between deterministic and a non-deterministic scenarios. From which it follows that the kind of "free will" that's negated by this broad logical determinism is more or less irrelevant to our existence.

Which makes this whole discussion kind of pointless, except in terms of counting coup.
posted by lodurr at 5:14 PM on December 27, 2007


klangklangston : Our current understanding of science does require a non-deterministic view,

mdn has mentioned the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics. If I'm just a "Wrong!" know-nothing about science, give me a citation of a theoretician dismissing the Bohm interpretation simply because it's deterministic.

And note that there's also a difference between "indeterminate" in the sense of uncertainty pairs not having a value before the waveform collapse and acausal non-determinacy as we're discussing here.

You're the only one who has mentioned chaos theory here, and no one is arguing that it isn't deterministic.

Except that mdn across multiple threads about determinism repeatedly implies that a deterministic universe is a Newtonian or mechanistic one. I'll be kinder than you, I won't say you're out of your depth, but you're not following the conversation.

In fact I'll say that you're well able to understand what I'm saying, you're just being an ass. If you think I'm the one being dismissive and mdn is taking other viewpoints seriously you're simply choosing not to read. Yeah, I let frustration show through in my last post but that's the end product of patiently putting up with various crummy argument for a while to finally hear "And oh, this just isn't a very important topic anyways."
posted by XMLicious at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2007


lodurr : Or unless one takes account of what the experience of having free will would be like.

Well anything that humans can't directly experience is irrelevant, you're certainly right. Any discussion of things humans can't directly experience is just counting coup.

(What!?!)
posted by XMLicious at 5:32 PM on December 27, 2007


So, XMLicious, explain to me how your experience of the world would differ between deterministic and non-deterministic realities.
posted by lodurr at 5:58 PM on December 27, 2007


The experience wouldn't differ. That's half the damn point, that there's no way to tell whether what we imagine to be our most free and independent thoughts and actions are as externally determined as what we would regard as compulsion and slavery.

You're not really saying that the only things worth discussing are things we can directly experience, are you?
posted by XMLicious at 6:07 PM on December 27, 2007


"mdn has mentioned the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics. If I'm just a "Wrong!" know-nothing about science, give me a citation of a theoretician dismissing the Bohm interpretation simply because it's deterministic."

Bohm's not dismissed because it's deterministic. Bohm's dismissed because it involves the postulation of hidden variables, which is inconsistent with the consensus understanding of quantum physics (see Bell's inequality theorem).

"I'll be kinder than you, I won't say you're out of your depth, but you're not following the conversation."

You're correct—I haven't followed mdn around the site, looking into her arguments. That does not mean that you're not out of your depth.

"In fact I'll say that you're well able to understand what I'm saying, you're just being an ass. If you think I'm the one being dismissive and mdn is taking other viewpoints seriously you're simply choosing not to read. Yeah, I let frustration show through in my last post but that's the end product of patiently putting up with various crummy argument for a while to finally hear "And oh, this just isn't a very important topic anyways.""

Oh, bullshit. She's giving blog comment justification with the assumption that people are already familiar enough with the basic arguments that she doesn't need to knock out formal proofs from a priori. She's also saying that this isn't the primary avenue of her study. Her arguments aren't particularly crummy if you know what she's talking about, but I can understand her reluctance to hold your hand while you act the ass.
posted by klangklangston at 6:16 PM on December 27, 2007


Okay, since you're positioning me as the ignoramus - you're saying that the Bohm interpretation is considered disproven? Obviously it's not the most current or popular theory but my understanding was that the Bell's inequality tests in the seventies and eighties only conflict with local hidden variables.

I've looked pretty hard at connections between determinism and quantum stuff, both during university physics and since then, and I've never come across clear evidence of it being more than the simplest assumption to go forward with. Quantum physics isn't my field either, and maybe I'm an ignoramus, but I don't think it provides the rock-solid grounding to the non-causal-determinism that you guys are putting forward. I'm certainly not going to give up as easily as you seem to expect me to.

Can you at least grant me that dismissing a deterministic universe as equivalent to centuries-old science is pejorative and an empty rhetorical tactic when at least most of modern science is entirely compatible with it?
posted by XMLicious at 6:58 PM on December 27, 2007


You're not really saying that the only things worth discussing are things we can directly experience, are you?

Certainly not. There are many things that are relevant to us that we cannot directly experience. Let us discuss those things. The existence, or not, of a broad logical "free will" does not seem to me to be one of them.

The idea of "free will", on the other hand, is certainly very powerful, as is the idea of "determinism." I'm much more interested in why people are so obsessed with this alleged dichotomy, than with whether it might correspond (by accident, it seems to me most likely) with some actual broad logical "free will."
posted by lodurr at 11:07 AM on December 28, 2007


My guess would be that it's the same reason that people get obsessed with political and corporeal freedom, freedom of the press, free thought, et cetera... but perhaps you find those things mundane and uninteresting as well, lodurr. The question "Am I really free or do I just think I'm free?" gets examined again and again in politics, literature, film, philosophy... if you want to analyze its nature and motivation you've got many more sources than people arguing about determinism. Go nuts.
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2007


By all means, explore those issues, XMLicious. I explore them too, and gladly. They're relevant to our existence.

But it's not at all clear that their relationship to academic philosophical ideas about broad logical free will are anything but imputed.

In fact, it's not at all clear that academic philosophy has any bearing on the world that we can access through science -- or that it really has any fundamentally more sound footing than religion.
posted by lodurr at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2007


I tend to approach free will in much the same way I approach Descarte's idea of the evil genius.

Basically, I think Descartes was right, up to the whole "perfection" bit. The only thing that I can be utterly, completely, 100%, absolutely, CERTAIN of is that I exist. However, given that truth, there really isn't much choice but to operate on the assumption that what I percieve is real, I mean what else am I going to do curl up in a fetal ball? I'm open to the possibility that what I think is real is really just a hoax, but I don't let it bother me, if I ever find evidence of fakery that's one thing but until then I'll behave as if its real.

I mention this because it has bearing on my attitude towards the entire free will question. Yes, its possible that everything from the moment of the Big Bang is foreordained, that free will is merely an illusion and we're in a universe where there are no possibilities. Same as its possible what I see around me is a hoax perpetuated by an evil genius.

But functionally it doesn't make any difference at all. I *think* I have free will, in that I think about things, chose my actions, etc. If that's merely an illusion, if its really just purely mechanistic from the instant of the Big Bang onward, I think it'd suck, but it really doesn't change how I live my life. We have to act as if we had free will regardless of whether it exists or not, just as we have to act as if the universe is real, regardless of whether it is or not.

Because otherwise we have to completely abandon all responsibility for anything. "Sorry I shot that guy officer, but I have no free will so it isn't my fault, right?" That isn't going to get you much of anywhere.
posted by sotonohito at 3:44 PM on December 29, 2007


lodurr: In fact, it's not at all clear that academic philosophy has any bearing on the world that we can access through science -- or that it really has any fundamentally more sound footing than religion.

Well philosophy certainly doesn't have the same kind of bearing on the world as science, in that it explores right and wrong, meaning, value, and truths other than empirical truths that are the realm of science.

And if you're talking about analyzing things empirically, philosophy isn't going to have a more sound footing than religion. Though if you closely examine the footings of things you'll probably find that the footing of science is Empiricism, which is a kind of academic philosophy, and you're in a bind in general.

But fortunately philosophy helps somewhat there too in that it's postulated that since a system can't prove it's own foundations even the foundations of a rational philosophy can't be rational themselves.

sotonohito, all of the things you say are true, except that the possible reactions to lack of free will are to either ignore it or curl up in a ball. Like I pointed out Calvinism is an entire religion founded on the proposition that there's no free will (at least in terms of damnation and sin and responsibility, I don't recall if it was entirely deterministic) so I think that there are a wide variety of reactions to it other than refusing to deal with it.

Though one possible reaction that may be unavoidable is "life is not fair." This makes it seem especially humorous to me that some people, who in other contexts will enthusiastically shout at the top of their lungs "LIFE IS NOT FAIR!", when it comes to free will and determinism will strenuously and stubbornly argue that science itself proves they have free will.

Another example of this kind of question is whether the superstructure of the universe is closed, open, or flat. Scientists recently concluded it's flat, which means that the entirety of human civilization and even its ruins will eventually perish in entropy. But I'm not going to curl up in a ball or refuse to think about it or stop reading about or discussing cosmology. I think that at this point in history we've proved that people don't live their lives simply because they think that their souls or legacy is eternal or because they have free will.

I kept looking for somewhere to bring up my favorite quote about determinism but no luck so I'll just say it. It's from BlackAdder: "Like private parts to the gods are we, they play with us for sport."

One last thing: if you ever shoot someone the insanity defense, in which you assert that killing an innocent person isn't a result of your will, actually can get you somewhere.
posted by XMLicious at 3:59 PM on December 31, 2007


"There's really no excuse for anyone born after John Locke to give even half a damn what Descartes says. And Leibniz? Seriously?"

People who have taken Descartes seriously after Locke: Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Barry Stroud, Bertrand Russell, Margaret Wilson, Donald Davidson, Merleau-Ponty, etc.

Do you really think that all of these philosophers have no excuse for giving "half a damn" about Descartes's views?

And, yes, Leibniz. Seriously. The man was unquestionably a genius and polymath. If you really can't appreciate his contributions to philosophy, science, and math, then your education was seriously deficient.
posted by oddman at 8:06 PM on December 31, 2007


To get back to the "science disproves determinism" thing, if the certainty that some part of science requires non-determinism is coming from quantum physics, all of my efforts to investigate that have come up with naught. Yes the Copenhagen and other interpretations assume indeterminacy but I'm pretty sure that's just because they wouldn't have any basis upon which to theorize a deterministic mechanism that would produce the experimental results that quantum mechanics does, not because doing so would be impossible. I don't think that the Bohm interpretation is considered disproven, not by the Bell's Inequality tests or otherwise.

I also think that the Bell's Inequality stuff is more focused on proving that quantum physics is not equivalent to classical physics rather than examining determinism in general. And those two things - non-equivalence-to-classical-physics and non-determinism - are not the same thing.

And as I noted above one of the things that makes this question difficult to pursue (in English, at least, I wonder if it's easier in German or something) is because by "undetermined" or "indeterminate" sometimes some physicists seem to mean "at this point in the experiment physical property x does not have a value" (where x is momentum or something) as opposed to "the value of physical property x is uncaused or only partially caused".

I'm certainly open to the possibility that I'm wrong on any of these points but I'd prefer citations of specific places where I'm actually going wrong rather than broad accusations of being an out-of-my-depth ignoramus.
posted by XMLicious at 9:48 PM on December 31, 2007


I know next to nothing about QM, but at last weeks Eastern APA conference there was a very interesting lecture on the Bohm interpretation. In essence the message was that the common arguments against the Bohm interpretation are founded on misinterpretations or out right fabrications.
posted by oddman at 5:39 AM on January 1, 2008


That's interesting. That would be the American Philosophical Association, right?

If I recall correctly the Bohm interpretation is also basically targeted at achieving some degree of equivalence with classical physics more than anything. I agree with the basic sentiment against it, that it's overwrought and rather mind-candyish the way string theory is, positing vast cathedral-like cosmic structure which we haven't the slightest experimental glimpse of.

But I think its value is in that it's so radically different from the more mainstream interpretations and still is completely compatible with the experimental results we do have. It goes to emphasize the "shut up and calculate" confounding of physics at what reality the quantum stuff could possibly actually represent, so that even minds like Einstein said "Uh, well this all works, but I have no idea what the hell it means."

It's both funny and humbling to think that it was almost a hundred years ago that physics became clueless as to what's going on here and started creeping ahead experimentally with so much less theory to guide it than it'd had in the past.

It just occurred to me that statistics and probability is something that drives many students nuts studying it, but on the other hand it's almost like a device for keeping physicists from going insane. It's like Heisenberg and the others were heroically erecting a statistical barrier to prevent the unknown unreality of quantum mechanics from seeping out and rendering all of physics into an unintelligible cacophany of puzzle pieces that don't fit together. Like earplugs for scientists trapped in a quantum bell tower. Near the end of the twenties during the "quantum crisis" when the evidence became overwhelming some of them actually started to get suicidal, supposedly. WWII must have seemed positively apocalyptic coming on the heels of that in Europe.
posted by XMLicious at 7:23 PM on January 1, 2008


Yeah the American Philosophical Association is right. In fact, it was Sheldon Goldstein who gave the talk.
posted by oddman at 11:54 AM on January 3, 2008


In reading more about this I've come across a good Scientific American article on the Benjamin Libet decisions-are-made-before-we're-conscious-of-it stuff:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=neuroscience-and-the-law

And I've also found that a good shorthand for the specific meaning of "determinism" we're using is Laplace's Demon.
posted by XMLicious at 4:41 AM on January 4, 2008


"Do you really think that all of these philosophers have no excuse for giving "half a damn" about Descartes's views?"

Thread? Beans. Beans? Thread.

It is possible one of you may exist, but one can never be too careful.

I'd like one with everything.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2008


Could we get it right, please? It's "Make me one with everything."

Reminds me of something my dad used to say. He told me that when he was in school, he was never much of an athelete, but he was always a big athletic supporter. [rimshot /]

I used to re-tell that as 'My dad was never much of a jock, but he was always a big jock strap.' [thump /]

And as long as I'm telling bad jokes: Jesus Christand Moses are golfing....
posted by lodurr at 1:40 PM on January 7, 2008


wow - ok, sorry, away for the holidays.
I like Bohm, though I understand he's not mainstream. He also did not consider his theory to result in determinism, though he doesn't really go into it deeply. Basically relies on metaphysical infinity as I understand it.

But my initial response there was just that I thought the argument for determinism was based around natural law requiring it, since experience does not suggest it. It's only when cause and effect are understood to essentially lay out the necessity of the universe that even the actions of human beings are seen as part of the physically determined world. But as I said, it turns out that cause and effect are not that simple to begin with, and anyway, even if they were for the physical world, the mental world could be understood as its own kind of cause - consciousness may be another "force in the universe" so to speak, that can have an impact on physical things.

ANyway. I doubt anyone's even around for this thread anymore, but I was taking "free will", insofar as it is experienced, as the default position, and determinism as a proof that material, mechanical physics denies its possibility - that science concludes that the human experience must be essentially an illusion. It seems to me science doesn't know enough about what it's talking about to make this kind of claim yet, and that it is fairly meaningless to say it's an "illusion" when it's a state of mind to begin with.
posted by mdn at 8:17 PM on January 10, 2008


That's interesting, mdn. Is it your understanding that the Bohmian interpretation results in QM replicating classical mechanics, at least under some conditions? That was my impression but I've never tried to make certain of it.

It seems to me science doesn't know enough about what it's talking about to make this kind of claim yet,

I would entirely agree, my point is that saying "QM rules out determinism" is no more an appropriate attribution to science than "science requires determinism" is.

And I'm still not really understanding your assertions of the relationship between free will and consciousness, unless they involve defining free will as a compatibilist notion. We can continue talking about that, or not, whatever you feel like.
posted by XMLicious at 9:41 AM on January 11, 2008


"Do you really think that all of these philosophers have no excuse for giving "half a damn" about Descartes's views?"

cowboys do - they can't stay up late to discuss philosophy, they have to get up early and feed their horses

and NO cowboy in his right mind is going to put descartes before the horse
posted by pyramid termite at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Damn right. Put the fuckin' saddle on 'im. Don't need no fuckin' cart.
posted by lodurr at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2008


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