Reader beefs at reader

April 19, 2016 • 1:00 pm

On my recent post, “Is there a ‘meaning to life’ for nonbelievers“?, there was some good discussion, but a goddie tried to interpolate him/herself into the discussion in response to the comments.

First, reader jblilie said this:

Posted April 12, 2016 at 10:08 am

I think I agree [with] all that you said.

The things I enjoy make my life meaningful to me. There is nothing else as far as I can see.

I fail to see how abasing one’s self before some overlord provides a “better” “meaning” to one’s life than the things you mentioned.

Maybe their meaning is: If I do these various rituals and abstain from X, Y, and Z, then I get to live forever after I die — and that’s the purpose in my life.

The odious Rick Warren gives the game away in the Title of his most famous book. They find a purpose in their life by boot licking their god. (“I found my Special Purpose!!!!” and “The new phone books are here!”)

And then the goddie, reader “ajmgw,” attempted to post this response, which I’m putting above the fold:

The question of meaning is valid, but must be understood in a different way. How can meaning come from a mindless process, no guidance just time and chance? In that kind of a world an atheist cannot give a justification for a difference between good and evil. If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years, who decides what is right and wrong? The atheist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality. In order to do so they unwittingly must borrow from the Christian Worldview. As Greg Bahnsen said, “Like a petulant child they sit on their father’s lap and they reach up and slap his face.” According to the atheistic worldview, right and wrong are the results of chemical processes in our brains, a by product of survival of the fittest inherited from our common ape-like ancestors. In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.

The response encapsulates basically every misconception about atheists and morality that exists. If you want to discuss what this reader said, go ahead; I’ve informed him/her that the responses will be on this page and in the comments, and I’ll allow him/her to address the comments if the person has something substantive to say.

But note that the commenter makes a sharp a distinction between “free will” and “chemical processes.” Ajmgw is clearly one of those who has a dualistic notion of free will. Maybe the compatibilist readers can educate the commenter on how that form of free will is simply wrong, and the REAL kind of free will—the one we want, the one worth having—is perfectly compatible with a morality reflecting chemical (and evolutionary) processes.

We’re pond scum! I prefer to think of us as Joni Mitchell described it in Woodstock:

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Of course stardust doesn’t give us morality, either. . .



182 thoughts on “Reader beefs at reader

    1. Whenever someone invokes “mere matter”, it only goes to show that they know bugger all about matter.

      It should be obvious that IF the naturalistic view of the world is true, that EVERYTHING you have ever imagined as being god breathed or otherwise amazing is, in fact, an extended property of matter. Beauty, morality, music, and love, and any sense of purpose you’ve ever felt. Every bit of it MUST be a part of chemistry. Some people seem to think that you can “know it all away” by learning these facts, but knowledge does not make beauty less beautiful, as much as the ignorant fear it does.

  1. I have a hard time getting past “must be understood in a different way”. Believers telling atheists how they must understand something is too weird for words.

      1. And yet you believe in one. Former President of the Biological Society of Strasbourg, Professor Louis Bounoure, expressed it, “Evolutionism is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless.”

        1. Umm. . . I’m letting you answer the questions about morality, but you are surely aware that the host of this site wrote a book giving the evidence for evolution. Although in fact evolution has been of some use in the progress of human welfare, it’s been of IMMENSE use in the progress of science, as it’s explained many observations that previous scientists could not understand (e.g., the fauna of oceanic islands). It’s just as useful in the progress of science as the evidence for the Big Bang has been.

          I’m sorry, but I let you have your say, and now you’re becoming an evolution denialist, in other words, someone who is ignorant, willfully or otherwise. And you quote one outlier scientist to deprecate an entire theory. So ajmgw, I bid you a fond farewell. We don’t need scientific ignoramuses on this site.

    1. Yes — weird, but also standard and inevitable behavior. Christianity, being a strictly authoritarian religion, prescribes such forms of thinking and communication.

  2. “…who decides what is right and wrong?”

    Well God must, obviously. Because morality can only come from a supernatural authority. And to know God’s stance on right and wrong, we’ll rely on desert prophets and their revelations.

    I could be a moral imbecile and I would still have an ethical head start on any monotheist.

    1. If God is not the standard for morality, then I assume you must believe man is. This makes it subjective. Is this what you believe?

      1. As someone recently commented on an article in the Guardian, God didn’t do anything about the holocaust, but was able to find the time to turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt.

        Not my idea of a standard for morality.

        1. Oh, that does make “god” a standard for morality. A horrible, vicious, vindictive and deeply insecure standard.

      2. Eh, you’re reifying the banal.

        Morality is nothing more nor less than an individual’s long-term best bet for prospering in a cooperative society.

        If you’re a typical Christian, you’ll instantly twist that into your own fantasies of everything perverted you yourself want to get away with but are afraid to do so because Big Brother is watching — murder, rape, theft, the works.

        But, in reality, such antisocial behavior weakens society as an whole whilst simultaneously turning the bulk of society against the reprobates. Maybe in some instances you can find some temporary gain, and there’re a few very scattered examples of those who got more than a temporary gain…but, overwhelmingly, the end result for everybody who seeks to tear down society is…well…disastrous. Especially when significant fractions of the population are misanthropic, as we see in such broken parts of the world as the Horn of Africa and much of the Middle East.

        But when people work together to build societies, and when the primary function of those societies is to empower the individual…when that happens, individuals and societies both flourish.

        You’ll notice that there’s no mention of anything so childish in any of this as the gods. What could any god possibly add to any of this? And if you really need some god to tell you that it’s not nice to hit your brother…well, far be it from me to take your delusions from you, but, if such is the case, you really owe it to yourself to grow up, already.




        1. Ben, you’ve opened my eyes! Of course, a christian without god will set out on a mad spree of rape, murder, genocide, the works! Maybe we atheists are foolish in hoping religion would vanish, since that will obviously set loose the hounds of hell!

          I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing the absurd and ignorant ideas theists have about morality. For my money the implications of the Euthyphro dilemma killed off christians’ ideas about morality and god, and centuries before Mary was raped by a magical spirit.

      3. The Bible is a most wobbly pedestal of morality, written as it is with so many contradictions that it allows anyone to interpret it in whatever way best suits his or her prejudices. Children playing a made up game in the park come up with more logical and consistent rules of behavior.

        1. “Children playing a made up game in the park come up with more logical and consistent rules of behavior.”

          Well of course they do. Because there’s a relatively small number of children involved, they’re contemporaneous, and the situation is far simpler than Life, The Universe and Everything.

          But that is a very good point. And if the Bible was truly inspired by one infallible entity, i.e. God, one would expect it to at least be consistent.


          1. Or perhaps come up with a better proof of his existence than a book of poetry and prose utterly indistinguishable from other literature of the time. You know, God could do something like show up to his birthday bash every once in awhile and maybe pull a Universe out of his ass once in awhile just to show he’s still got it.

      4. Of course morality is subjective.
        If you can show one example of a major moral position being stuck to in the bible I may reconsider.

        Our morality develops culturally, informed by our evolved characteristics that give rise to such things as conscience.
        That it is subjective is why it is still a big area of philosophical and general, discussion.

      5. Of course it’s subjective. What would give anyone the idea that morality is not subjective?

        It changes from place to place and time to time. The morality of our fairly recent ancestors would strike us as horrible, a little further back as barbaric. This evolution of morality is known to everyone and is patently obvious from even a casual reading of the Bible. No Christian or Jew today holds to the morality of Moses or of David, though many ludicrously claim to. Those men were pure barbarians by today’s standards.

        What makes todays standards better? Nothing except that most people prefer them and, in practice, they produce better outcomes by many measures (c.f. “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”). Also, they are the norm, enforced both by law and by a wide range of social sanctions. Abandon “today’s morality” at your peril.

        But there is no absolute morality. There probably is not even a consistent morality that any real human has ever embraced, because in practice morality is a blend of rules and intuitions, of innate biases and learned responses, and our innate feelings are themselves not consistent. Every moral system I’ve ever heard of runs afoul of contradictions at some point, or finds itself stuck with it’s own version of the Trolley Problem, some conundrum where the choice a formal morality dictates offends our subjective sense, or conversely.

        1. Well, I consider waste to be immoral. For example, it’s highly immoral to kill a ‘higher’ animal for no reason. It’s only acceptable if we need them for food (or if they’re suffering, or a dangerous nuisance).

          It logically follows that, having killed an animal, we *should* eat it, so as not to waste it. Otherwise we have killed it for nothing.

          Obviously, the same applies to people. If we have just killed somebody, the least we can do to respect their memory and honour their life which we have just taken, is to eat them, no?
          Whole civilisations have taken this to be a moral imperative. (Also the Catholic Church, which keeps eating Jesus).

          (Flanders and Swann said it quite well: )


          1. (Flanders and Swann said it quite well: )

            That is (as I guessed), “The Reluctant Cannibal,” a tale of a young cannibal who takes a moral stance against a dish of “roast leg of insurance salesman.”
            The concluding lines are apt :
            Flanders: I give up, I give up, you used to be a regular anthrophagi. If this crazy idealistic idea of yours was to catch on, I just dunno where we would all be. Just about ruin our entire internal economy. Fortunately, I suppose it’s catching on isn’t really very likely – why, you might just as well going around saying “Don’t fight people”, for example…
            Swann: Don’t fight people? Ha, ha! Don’t fight people?! Ha ha ha!
            Flanders:There, imagine? There, you see! All part of the same…
            Both:(laughing) … fantastical impossibility!
            Flanders:That’s the boy!

        2. “Of course it’s subjective. What would give anyone the idea that morality is not subjective? “

          Because the claim that morality is subjective isn’t as easy as pointing out people disagree (creationists, after all disagree with us about the age of the earth – does that make the age of the earth subjective?), and the claim that it’s subjective is actually harder to make coherent than you seem to presume. IMO.

          It’s like when Christians say “Well, if there was no God then WHAT REASON would I have not to just rape and steal? I could just be as selfish as I want.”

          But the problem is, once we are asking “what RRASON do I have for acting?” then we can’t ignore that the nature of reason is consistency, and only “works” insofar as we are appealing to underlying principles.
          In other words, once you say “If I desire your TV I ought to steal it” then you have, by the very universalizing nature of reason endorsed that behavior for someone else desiring your TV. But that goes against your interest of keeping your TV. If your reasons for acting derive from fulfilling your goals/interests/desires, then how does it make sense to endorse reasoning that also would lead to undermining your own interests?

          Even as an individual, you will have competing interests, competing “reasons to do things” – e.g. the classic “I want to eat that donut” gives you a reason to eat the donut” but “I want to lose weight” gives you a reason not to eat the donut. So you have to come up with some reasonable way of navigating apparently clashing goals, and identifying overarching principles by which you can decide which goals are paramount to follow: some organizing hierarchy of goals.

          The same problem will spring up when you enter a social environment with competing goal and aims. THOSE – the goals of other people now interlocked with yours – have to be coordinated somehow. And, again, the nature of reason says that if you start breaking consistency, special pleading for your own goals without good reason, then you are “objectively” wrong, failing to reason where someone else may be objectively more consistent and reasonable.

          So the person saying “I may as well just be totally selfish” will actually have quite a bit of trouble producing a coherent system of reasoning to support that selfishness.

          The claim that morality is just subjective seems to start falling upon the same rocks.
          If we ask “Why ought I take X action” and you say “There is no reason” then that arbitrariness is going to quickly spell problems for your case.

          But if you say “Well, there ARE reasons behind why one ought to take actions” THEN you are bound to a form of consistency and coherence that seems to go beyond mere opinion. Fallacies of reason are not made whole by saying “Well, it’s my opinion I’m right.”

          I happen to be swayed toward morality being objective, for these and other reasons. Not that I’m right, but I’ve yet to see the claim that morality is subjective actually get cashed out in a convincing manner either.

          1. I think I agree with you more than not. My response was written for the religious person, not as a philosophical answer.

            Religious people tend to present, and often think of, morality as a dichotomy. On the one side you can have a morality that is Platonic, it is absolute, unchanging, and for most religious people, knowable. On the other side there is only pure chaos. If your morality is not pinned on something absolute, unchanging, and knowable, then it is arbitrary and rule free. This is obviously rubbish, but it is popular rubbish. In this view, without the Platonic absolute morality, any rule you conjure up, laws you pass, etc., are little better than illusions, because you could always pass different laws… you could make killing a parent mandatory, for example, instead of proscribed.

            I read the religious person’s comment about “subjective morality” to be playing a common gotcha game. First they get the person to admit subjectivity. Then the religious person’s next move is to get the person to make an absolute statement (“torturing children is wrong”), and go Ah Ha! So you do believe in absolute morality after all! This is, of course, a false dichotomy, but it is how they think and this is the gotcha game they are playing. I embraced subjectivity in my response to thwart this game because it’s a silly game based on several wrong ideas.

            In principle there might be an objectively best morality, but we do not as yet know it (there might not be too, because some legitimate and conflicting goals may not be resolvable). That makes our moral actions, *in practice*, necessarily subjective.

            But they are not arbitrary, however. To say they are arbitrary is to say there is no way to order moral choices at all. I think no sane person could embrace such a view, though it is a very popular straw man. In between a full order of moral choices and complete randomization or moral choices is a partial order of moral choices. And that partial order can be objective within the bounds of our knowledge, but subjective outside those bounds.

            In no case does morality need to be absolute, Platonic, timeless, etc. There could, for example, be an alien species who is born with the burning desire to be killed by their own children, for example, and their morality would of course be different from ours. I would categorize that alien desire as a “subjective” input into the rational machinery of trying to determine an “objective” morality. Of course, one could think of it differently, as an objective factor, a known, that you plug in. But either sense is not what the religious person means when they say “objective”, which for them means absolute, timeless, etc., or “subjective”, which for them means arbitrary, functionally chaos.

          2. But if you say “Well, there ARE reasons behind why one ought to take actions” THEN you are bound to a form of consistency and coherence that seems to go beyond mere opinion

            “Subjective” /= “mere opinion.” Subjective evaluations can easily include all the reasoning and balancing of various interests, checks for internal logical consistency, etc… that you mention. That doesn’t mean all subjective judgments have these properties (or that objective judgments don’t have them). Just to say that you are not describing a different process from subjective judgment, rather you’re describing a subset of subjective judgments.

      6. Based on reports of God’s behavior in the bible, god is as immoral as it is possible to be, a petulant child who plays wicked games with his toys, as in the story of Job, or drowns them when they displease him. Anyone who gets their sense of morality from god would have to be pretty sick and twisted.

      7. Morality being subjective doesn’t demonstrate God. But it does give us a 2 for 1 deal in the Fallacy department…begging the question as well as the Argument From Consequences.

      8. I can’t speak for others, but for myself: yep. Note however that (IMO) “subjective” doesn’t imply either “without any rational foundation” or “all versions lead to equivalent outcomes.” Thus I think that morality is subjective, but we can certainly rack and stack them, deciding on which moral rules may be better based on criteria we want to achieve.

    1. Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s version is superior, IMO, though some might find it a bit bland. (I’m no musician.)

    2. I suppose I should point out that the carbon is more likely to be considerably more than a billion years old. 4.567 billion years is a fair approximation to the age of the earth, an of the solar system (constructing which took on the order of 0.1 billion years). The various extinct radioactive systems detected in early solar system materials (e.g. the 26-Al system, with a half life of under a million years) pushes the (putative) pre-solar neighbourhood supernova another handful of million years.
      Sorry. [PEDANT MODE : OFF]

      1. I’m grateful that Joni was the one who wrote the lyric, and not you (though I do appreciate the lesson.)

        1. [Shrug] Had my audiometry yesterday. About the 15th time, and no change to the audiogram. but this time, because it’s a State doctor, not a company doctor, the diagnosis took about 3 seconds : industrial deafness, we’ll fit you for hearing aids.
          Curious that. Off to the lawyers.

      2. In fairness to Joni, “billion year old carbon” is a perfectly acceptable linguistic, especially poetic, shorthand for, “billions of years old.” Plus, the order of magnitude is correct…what more precision does one need for this context?



        1. Wouldn’t 10 billion be closer?

          (It has to be synthesized in earlier generation stars, and then accrete into our solar system ~4.5 billion years ago.)

          But yes, poetic license 😉

          1. I think we can say that the carbon found in this solar system originates from the remains of several (a few to dozens) stars that died off somewhere between 4.5 billion to 10 billion years ago.

            If she said hydrogen instead, then we could say that it was about 13 billion years old!

          2. ’10 billion’ wouldn’t scan.

            But yes, poetic license as you say. (And who’s counting?)


            1. One my CEGEP physics instructors was a cosmologist by background, and he introduced us to “cosmologist’s percent error”. I.e., do a log to the base 10 first and then calculate the percent error. So 10^52 is “4%” off 10^50, for example.

              I think this helps 😉

              1. I like it! 🙂

                I usually say ‘to a first approximation’. (Anything is true, to a first approximation. You just have to be sufficiently approximate…)


              2. I was approaching it more from the angle that 4.5 billion and 6000 both round to 0 if the most granular value we can represent is 10^11. A floating point representation with the least significant bit being 10^11 would consider them equal. Finding many useful applications for precision this poor is another story…the immediate one that jumps to mind is pretending the Earth is 6000 years old.

              3. As I understand it, averaged out over the whole volume of the universe, there is less than one atom per cubic metre. Therefore the typical cubic metre is empty.

                So, to a first approximation, we don’t exist.



    3. It’s nice to learn of the other recorded versions of this song. I wasn’t even aware Joni was the author. For this old rocker, though, it’s nigh impossible to beat Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s version. Without knowing anything for certain, CSN&Y’s version seems to have Stephen Stills’ signature sound all over it. The man was a rock and roll genius.

        1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it seem as though he wasn’t. He is a rock and roll genius.

          1. I agree with you about Stills, and about CSN&Y. Those were the days.

            One of the things I hate most about looking like a total fogey (besides looking like a total fogey) is the way younger people assume we’re sweet, or at least, totally out-of-it, naive innocents. I wanna ask ’em, who the f*** do you think came up with Woodstock?

            Teach your children well…

    1. As is well known, even monkeys have a very strong sense of morality that we humans understand viscerally when we see them partake in it. A monkey will willingly share food that they have acquired with their troop mates, and the members of their group will share with them. There are perfectly good reasons for why this has evolved, and sticking god into it is an unnecessary variable.
      As a fellow monkey, I am good to others because it makes me feel good. And because now you will want to share some of that cracker with me.

  3. Justification for good comes from reason. Look up GFCI, ajmgw. Look up US-DOT load bearing regulations for bridges. Look up FDA and EPA regulations for food and water consumption. Faith fails where engineering controls succeed.

    I want my world and my children’s world to be as controlled by regulations that keep us all alive. You have it wrong: religion leaves everything to chance and mystery and capricious prayer. Science helps us control as much of the deterministic universe as possible…to our favor…our good.

  4. Oh — and:

    In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.

    “Free will” is a married bachelor, a self-contained incoherent oxymoron.

    And a red herring, for not only are the chemical processes yes really actually in control, but we are the chemical processes. If you want to know what it’s “like,” what the “qualia” is, of a self-referrentially aware biochemical computer…well, it’s exactly what you experience.

    If that doesn’t bake your noodle…and, more importantly, if that doesn’t strike you with a most profound sense of awe and wonder at just how amazing reality actually is…then you have no sense of poetry, no soul, and likely nothing that makes life worth living.



      1. I listened to that discussion, hoping that people as brilliant as Harris and Chalmers could give a good account of the purported “Hard Problem” of consciousness. I came away more convinced than ever that the Hard Problem is a nebulous, ill-defined “problem” being imported into the idea of consciousnesses. I never got from them what kind of explanation they were actually looking for, and they didn’t seem to know either. Which indicates the “problem” is ill-defined to begin with.

        1. I didn’t listen to all of it, but they seemed to be struggling. I’ve never quite figured out what the “hard problem” is either.

        2. Well the stock description of the problem is ‘how do neural signals become sensory experience?’ I.e., how does the brain do the translation from voltages and amperes into ‘I experience a sweet taste’ or ‘I experience red.’

          I’ve always thought that at least a partial response is simply to ask back “how else would it work?” For brain signal voltages to influence behavior at all, the animal must experience them; its kind of two ways of phrasing the same concept (‘I experience x’ and ‘I absorb the input signal associated with x and respond to it’).

          1. Yes. It should be obvious that a recursively self-aware system…well, is aware of itself. And that awareness has to take some form, which is another way of saying that it “feels like” something. What, exactly, it “feels like” is irrelevant; the important part is that there has to be some sort of something-or-other that it feels like — and, if not, that’s another way of saying that the system isn’t aware of itself.

            So, now that we’ve established that there’s got to be a “feels like,” pondering why it feels like this instead of that is akin to pondering why some eyes are blue and others are brown. You can move the question at that point into an evolutionary (or whatever) query…is there a selective advantage to this as opposed to that, or is it just an historical accident, or…? But vision itself means eyes (of some sort), and eyes (just like everything else) have to have a color to them, so there’s no point in being flabbergasted that eyes should have color at all.



          2. And that description already introduces the conjuring trick, as Dennett makes use of Wittgenstein to say. The neural signals *are* sensory experience.

            (Searle, otherwise a materialist, makes this mistake too.)

          3. My understanding of this also includes the issue of defining consciousness. The question of whether it is a matter of our conscious experience arising out of matter might be unsolved but I don’t think it’s a hard problem in that at this point the odds are extraordinarily low that there’s anything undiscovered at play in terms of building blocks.

            Where matters get sticky is defining when a thing is actually conscious. We all agree that a healthy, functioning adult is conscious while they’re awake and we can all agree that this consciousness holds going back to our childhood development. At some point the matter constituting “us” isn’t conscious. Can we draw a line in the sand? Barring a discovery of “something else” imparting consciousness on matter, the answer is likely no, but I suspect that Dennett’s idea about even machines having a very rudimentary kind of consciousness is probably true. Of course, demonstrating this is another story. You might even call it a hard problem. 😉

              1. “If it’s not actually on fire, it’s a software problem” – old tagline


            1. This to me seems a case of people overthinking the obvious.

              We all equate consciousness with self awareness. I don’t think that’s even remotely controversial.

              So, we first need to start with awareness before we can consider what awareness of the self means.

              And awareness…is really simple. If there’s a map of some sort, there’s awareness. A thermometer is aware of the temperature. It may be a very limited and fuzzy and imprecise and broad-brush type of awareness, but it’s awareness nonetheless. Indeed, watch young Richard Dawkins’s Newtonmass presentation on the evolution of the eye, and he makes the point eloquently, that even a simple on / off light / shadow apparatus can give an organism in an ocean enough awareness to know that a predator is overhead or tell day from night. Plants can be said to be aware of sunlight levels by way of their rates of photosynthesis.

              Richard’s wonderful presentation walks through ever-more-sophisticated eyes. If one assumes that the eyes are hooked up to comparably-more-sophisticated neural systems — starting, say, with a simple muscle contraction reflex at the one end and a predator’s stalking instincts at the other — then it’s not at all difficult to understand awareness as a continuous spectrum. As, again indeed, we all commonly understand, with the examples given of dementia eating away at awareness until little or nothing is left.

              A very important part of a social animal’s environment is the other animals around it. If you’re aware of your conspecifics to the point that you can predict their actions, you’re at a much better advantage than those who can’t. A very easy way to imagine this awareness is that, in your own brain, you have a copy of somebody else’s brain. A low-resolution, fuzzy, imprecise copy, to be sure…but, then again, our eyes are also fuzzy and imprecise. And neurology has demonstrated the existence of “mirror neurons” that do, indeed, fire in sympathy with perceptions of others.

              With all that in place, self-awareness simply becomes a matter of recursively turning that awareness on itself, like a pair of mirrors facing each other. Your mind has a fuzzy, imprecise copy of itself within it, with an even fuzzier, more imprecise copy of the copy within the copy’s copied copy. Your self has awareness of your self, which might in turn have awareness of the awareness of self.

              At this point, people often get hung up on qualia, why consciousness should “feel like” the way it does. But, of necessity, it’s got to “feel like” something or else there’s no awareness, so why get hung up on the particular implementation of the feeling? There might be interesting evolutionary (etc.) questions as to why this feeling arose rather than that one, but it’s of no more cosmic significance, ultimately, than eye color.




              1. I agree generally with all this. An alternative might be to imagine that some people are zombies – philosophical zombies. They carry on exactly like the rest of us, except that they have no sense of self at all. If asked, they could not understand what we mean by self awareness. They simply react to environmental inputs, and memories. They’re impossible to identify as zombies from their behavior. This then is an example of not being self aware and so not being conscious. The zombie is like a robot. But, of course that’s all hypothetical. It could be that zombies could not exist because, due to the nature of awareness and our evolutionary origins, we are inevitably bound to have our sense of self awareness.

              2. They simply react to environmental inputs, and memories.

                Problem is, that is awareness, including (via memories) awareness of self.

                That’s where the incoherence of the philosophical zombie comes from. It’s like asking for a geometrical figure that’s not a circle, but is instead a planar set of points equidistant from one other point. Such a “circular zombie” is no more coherent than the philosophical kind.




              3. Ben,

                I agree with your take on the consciousness “problem.”

                And the fact Harris and Chalmers actually brought up the philosophical zombie idea and gave that question-begging argument credence, further undermined the credibility of the “hard problem’ for me.

    1. Nicely put.
      A critical thing to grasp.
      It is what Dennett is getting at when talking about strange inversions of reasoning.

  5. The fellow claims we must borrow from the already bankrupt Christian worldview. Do the Hindus, Buddhists and so many members of other faiths defer to Christianity to order their lives.

    1. Yes, because they’re wrong, evil, and are going to burn in hell!
      Sorry, channelling the thoughts that go through the average head of the average goddian when confronted by that question, when not caring if the Politically Correct Police are watching.
      That’s goddian morality for you.

      1. I now understand. Thanks for the help.
        So all those Indians living and writing before the bible was even imagined had to wait for Christians so as to get a worldview.
        The things people write!

        1. There was actually a classification – Renaissance, I think – for “Noble Pagans” who were fine upstanding moral people who just happened to be born before Jeebus, and so strictly should go to hell and burn forever. If you remember your Dante, the guide Virgil was one such “Noble Pagan”.

            1. If SOME Xtians of unetc.
              Broad brusr are plentyh, fine brush. There ayre plent of undesirables either way.

  6. No forensic toolbox is complete without the “insult your interlocutors by comparing them to a petulant child” ploy.

  7. ajmjw, I’m disappointed. You claim the question of meaning is valid, but must be understood in a different way. Problem is, you never explained that different way. Instead you veered off into some misconceptions of atheism and freewill.
    Now that you’ve unburdened yourself of vitriol, hopefully you can come back and explain the proper way to understand meaning.
    You might even change some minds if you have a valid argument.

  8. The question of life’s meaning begins with the presupposition that life has a meaning. What evidence, dare I ask your interlocutor, is there that life has meaning? There is none that I know of. So the question, What is the meaning of life?, is a nonstarter.
    If we ask instead, Does life have meaning in some objective/essentialist way?, the answer is I don’t know but there is no reason to believe so. Believing that life has meaning is wishful thinking.
    After recovering from our disappointment resulting from these realizations, maybe we could find some general areas of agreement on the good life, e.g. live-and-let-live, the golden rule, etc…and live in an amenable social world of our choosing.

    1. Exactly.

      If you see a piece of paper that has a spot on it, the wrong first question would be “what is the purpose of the spot?” Also a wrong first question would be “what information is this spot trying to convey?” Another wrong first question would be “what moral stance does this spot have concerning homosexuality and/or abortion?”

      Theists don’t seem to understand how ridiculous their questions are.

    2. Exactly.

      If you see a piece of paper that has a spot on it, the wrong first question would be “what is the purpose of the spot?” Also a wrong first question would be “what information is this spot trying to convey?” Another wrong first question would be “what moral stance does this spot have concerning homosexuality and/or abortion?”

      Theists don’t seem to understand how ridiculous their questions are.

    3. I was working down the comments to try to find this point. Here it is.
      Once the question is asked, the vacuousness of the premises is exposed.

  9. Nearly everything in that comment by ajmgw is wrong. If I tried to respond to each thing, it would take several pages. But a good starting point would be this: atheism is not a worldview. For some reason, this is a common trope that apologists use, even though it’s completely wrong.

    Saying atheism is a worldview is like saying that not being a doctor is a profession. That’s why you can have atheist communists as well as libertarians. Atheism by itself doesn’t even get you to materialism. It just means no belief in gods.

    1. Atheism is a world view just as someone said, bald is a color. You cannot make something out of nothing.

    2. Atheism, true, is not a worldview, so it does not specify, predictably, how one views things. However, it does have a certain effect on one’s perspective. Belief in some god or gods implies that your choices and decisions will likely take on the shape of that deities list of proscriptions. One is then likely to follow a text and leaders within a church. Moving from that set of constraints to unbelief means, for one thing, there will be no such constraints. More actions are available without the encumbrance of faith. You are now talking about a free-range human as opposed to a caged member of a flock. At the least, such a state of freedom will influence the unbeliever to take actions based on criteria not imposed from outside. This should lead to a stronger sense of self as an independent agent – for good or ill. It doesn’t mean necessarily a good life, but it opens up more possibilities for improvement of customs and morays.

      1. Agreed!

        In a sense, atheism is the stripping away of a certain category of (limiting) worldviews. Once that clutter is gone, it is easier to consider other, hopefully more rational and evidence-based, alternatives.

    3. Raphael Lataster describes himself as a christian atheist. He was a christian but studying the “evidence” convinced him it was rubbish. I think he still does not believe in gods (or even a historical Jesus), but wishes there were gods. (I hope I’ve got that right.) I think he accepts the Richard Carrier view of Jesus.

    4. You’ll note that Socrates was given the Hemlock soda because of his “atheism”, specifically, his not believing in the gods of the Greek State. Whether he believed in other gods was not at issue.
      “Hemlock soda” … now there’s an idea. I wonder if the processing of making a soda (pH changes, etc) would inactivate the poison in the hemlock.

      1. As I recall–forgive me if I err, not having a copy of the ‘Apology’ at hand–Socrates was condemned for ‘corrupting the youth’ of Athens by teaching his denial of the divinity of the Olympian gods in favor of the Reality one god, or the ideal or the logos or the forms. His puppet-master, Plato, was so powerful a philosopher of theism that Christianity plagiarized his thought wholesale.

      2. Or you might be able to investigate whether or not the punishment was actually hemlock. Apparently there is some doubt – my ancient philosophy professor mentioned there’s some research that suggests that the symptoms described in Phaedo are wrong. On the other hand, Plato’s telling fiction in Phaedo anyway (and almost says so).

        As for inactivation, then, well, do enough chemical changes and you have something “not hemlock” from something “hemlock”. What would count as “the same”?

        1. My treatments would be less drastic than a … I’m having a senior moment … hypodermic … no, hypochondriac … no, hyperbolic … no.
          Oh for CC’s sake and by the 7 balls of the FSM. The idiots with the serial dilutions.
          “homeopathic” that’s the bunch of idiots.
          No, if I were going to try to make such a brew, I’d at least preserve the taste – to a spit-don’t-swallow comparison.

  10. Hmm, let’s see:

    Pretty sure my brain’s chemical processes can find the difference between [religious views] and [atheist perspective] and chose the correct behavior:

    i) molesting young children as a servant of god and providing children a safe & comforting home to grow up free of abuse.

    ii) restricting the use of condoms and using effective means to prevent the spread of HIV/aids.

    iii) prohibiting life saving blood transfusions and accessing medical care to treat illness & prevent death.

    iv) condoning slavery and ensuring every human is entitled to live a life of their own choosing.

    v) murder or jail for blaspheming a deity and eliminating an idea (in the guise of a magical figure) used to control thought & populations against their will.

    vi) bigotry or murder due to sexual orientation and providing equal rights for all people.

    There are many more examples where I could contrast the religious evil against atheist good. Worse, many of these stem from religious institutions compounding & increasing the level of harm inflicted.

    Exactly who has the moral ground in these all too current examples?

    1. Couple what you said about religious evil with the fact that most things that religions consider moral preceded those religions. They were borrowed.

  11. I have removed one letter from this sentence (it’s easy to spot which one) now it makes sense.
    “The theist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality in order to do so they unwittingly must borrow from the Christian worldview”

    1. Both a good one, and one that leads to (for the religious) uncomfortable questions. I like it!

  12. The words (good, evil, right, wrong) each represent a concept. Our minds can recognize similarities among the things of our experience which can then be mentally differentiated from all other things not sharing the similarity whereupon they can be integrated into a single mental unit. This mental unit is the concept.

    The instances subsumed under the concept named “good” do not share the essential similarity that allow other instances to be subsumed under the concept named “evil”. We could not form these concepts in the first place unless there were recognizable differences.

  13. If you want to see the latest on ‘free will’ check out the PBS series “The Brain” with David Eagleman. Pay close attention to the experiment where the subject says he “changed his mind” and decided to switch hands.

    1. I’m not sure what you’re saying with the “changed his mind” stuff, as I haven’t seen the show, but of course determinism can mandate that you “change your mind”! That says nothing about whether the laws of physics have mysteriously been suspended.

  14. You may not want to live in a universe in which there is no god and no absolute morality, but what does that have to do with anything? Either god exists or he doesn’t. Your preference in the matter is irrelevant.

    This is not the beautiful world I would create if it were up to me either, but here we are.

  15. “The atheist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality.”

    Oh for CC sake:

    “The mind is the set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory.[3][4]” [ ]

    “Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.[1] Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal.[2]” [ ]

    So morality is explicitly derived from sources other than religion. While the mind is precisely a product of the chemical processes that is us.

    That wasn’t too hard was it?

    But the main problem with ajmgw is his misconceptions about secular society and religion both. That can’t be amended by short comments, nor can ajmgw tell us something worthwhile. As Paul notes, when he/she gets over that, he/she could continue with making a feasible argument.

  16. “The question of meaning is valid, but must be understood in a different way.”

    Why? What is the basis of this assertion, and what is this different way you mention but don’t explain?

    “How can meaning come from a mindless process, no guidance just time and chance?”

    Why does your life have to be meaning other than that you personally give it? I could answer evolution and natural selection, in terms of giving us a purpose, eg. to pass on our genes, however I could just as easily ask “How can life come from mindless atoms, no guidance just time and chance?” to which the answer is physics, chemistry, and evolution.

    “In that kind of a world an atheist cannot give a justification for a difference between good and evil.”

    Are we talking concepts, actions, or people here? We usually talk about good and evil in terms of the degree of harm caused, which can be both subjectively and objectively determined in some cases.

    “If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years, who decides what is right and wrong?”

    Appeal to authority? Right and wrong is usually a combination of cultural and individual perspectives. I would challenge you to find an action that you consider ‘wrong’ that isn’t considered ‘right’ by some culture in certain situations. For example, we say murder or killing is wrong, yet a soldier killing other people in defense of their country is considered a noble action. Cannibalism is usually considered wrong, yet certain groups eat their dead relatives as a token of respect. I could also give examples for rape, etc. So a social group has ideas of what is right and wrong, but the individual or individual situations may make their own judgements. if everyone knew objectively what right and wrong was, we wouldn’t have terms like ‘amoral’, or need lawyers and judges to argue and decide whether what a defendant did was right or wrong.

    “The atheist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality.”

    Neither can you. Science is working on the mind issue, and it will be Science that figures out the answer. We do know that minds are a function of brains, and not some disembodied spirit. By manipulating the brain (eg. surgery, strokes, etc.) you can change people’s memories, personalities, etc. As for morality, you still don’t have a suitable answer to the problem of evil.

    “In order to do so they unwittingly must borrow from the Christian Worldview.”

    Give me a break! The Christian Worldview supports slavery, women as property, stoning adulterers, burning witches, killing disobedient children, etc. It is a very immoral worldview, and as society has evolved it has dragged the CW kicking and screaming into the Enlightenment.

    “As Greg Bahnsen said, “Like a petulant child they sit on their father’s lap and they reach up and slap his face.””

    Which is the more appropriate saying to respond with: “Like the pot calling the kettle black”, or “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”?

    “According to the atheistic worldview, right and wrong are the results of chemical processes in our brains, a by product of survival of the fittest inherited from our common ape-like ancestors.”

    Atheism doesn’t have a worldview. It is the lack of belief in a deity due to a complete lack of evidence that it/they exist. As I alluded to earlier, we have evolved ideas of fairness required for a social society to function, and added cultural values that are taught to members of that society. There is no objective right and wrong.

    “In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.”

    It depends on what you mean by free will, but in any case, “there is a reason for everything, and that reason is usually physics”. We are made up of atoms, so of course chemical processes are in control at a fundamental level. However there are also emergent properties as you become more complex. Either way, what difference does it make?

  17. The thing about morality is that it really isn’t rocket science. Just do your best not to do harm and don’t be an arsehole. Treat other people as you would like them to treat you. Religious types try to pretend that this stuff is far too difficult for us to work out for ourselves but it really isn’t. Life does occasionally throw up a really difficult moral dilemma but these are pretty rare and in any case, the religious are no better at resolving them than we are.

    Historically, when it came to slavery, racism or sexism, for example, the religious have consistently picked the wrong team. They have then quietly changed sides and now pretend that they were with the good guys all along. They are currently on the wrong team regarding gay rights and assisted dying. Once they have lost these arguments they will be changing sides again, but how much harm will they have done to real people’s lives in the meantime?

    1. Historically, when it came to slavery, racism or sexism, for example, the religious have consistently picked the wrong team.

      We have problems with the “wrong team,” since we have (it is alleged) no grounds for deciding “right” from “wrong”.
      The direction of religious choice is invariably (TTBOMK) in favour of supporting the in-group and discriminating against and undermining the out-group. The in-group being (from most restrictive to least restrictive, with parenthesised examples of their support) the high priesthood (better clothes, food and sex slaves than the rest) ; the priesthood (clothes and food in times of crisis, accommodation) ; the priest’s caste (better accommodation, in-group marriage) ; the priest’s gender (invariably (?) male, because women don’t have penises) ; the priest’s race (and that is only really a recent development ; the Greek and Roman pagans didn’t seem to be particularly racist, compared to post-Reformation Christians) or slave status (slave priests were relatively common in the past. But given a choice between being a slave-priest versus a slave in the silver mines of Laurion, you want the priest’s job.

    2. Memes change the Christian churches and not contrariwise. In the earlier part of the 19th century, the Methodist Episcopal Church required gender-segregated seating, as Muslims do now. Likewise, loud anathemas against dancing, alcohol, etc. These were strictly enforced (at least in the country districts), with prompt expulsion the cost of misbehavior. Today it’s denominational descendant, the United Methodist Church, would probably allow heavy petting in the pews if it meant an increase in Sunday morning attendance.

      Reminds me of an old joke told at Methodists’ expense. Seems an older couple were walking out of the sanctuary after services when the goodwife noticed something scandalous going on in a dark niche off to the side. A man and a woman were going at it passionately and were close to climax. The older woman was both fascinated and appalled: ‘Hiram, just look at what’s going on over there!’ To which her husband desultorily replied, ‘well, Gladys, at least they ain’t dancin’.’

  18. All the writer has done is make a number of assertions without explanation.

    There are some 30,000 Christian sects and over 2000 religions, all with differing interpretations, ethics and morals. The Christians haven’t created a set of concrete morals, they are all over the place. If we look at the Bible we see that God condones slavery, and Christians have to tie themselves into knots in order to excuse it. It allows selling ones daughter into sexual slavery.
    Christians pick and choose, either straight out ignoring the scriptures or through incredible gymnastics of interpretations they manage to ignore many of God’s laws but keep the ones they themselves like.

    Blind obedience to anyone, even God, is not morality. The writer hasn’t stated how there being a God gives humans morals. If you believe God just magiked it into us, do you have evidence? If you think those morals come from the Bible, have you read the horrors it condones? If you believe it’s based on reward or threat of punishment (hell), you have failed to give evidence for any such thing as a heaven or hell. Nor is doing something based on reward or punishment moral. It’s simply authoritarianism. If the one who makes the rules says to kill blonde girls, then under authoritarianism it is moral to kill blonde girls.
    Under mine system of ethics it is not. Under yours, slavery is fine. Not under mine. I use empathy and I make decisions based on the best outcome and least harm for humans and other conscience creatures.

    Take two children, one that is spanked for doing wrong, another that is taught empathy. When the authority figure is removed the child with empathy has a reason to continue acting moral. The one who was punished does not.

    Contrary to what the writer states, empathy (morals) is shown in other species including primates and ravens.

    The basis of my morality comes from empathy and wanting to live in a society that treats people well. We didn’t borrow morality from Christianity, secularism forced it on Christians. Christians think they have a monopoly on morality, but if Christianity is so moral, why did so many Christians torture people and burn people they called witches? Why do Christian priests rape children? Why did the church have the inquisition? Why did they sell indulgences? Why is the ten commandments so pathetic? I could make up a better set simply by adding “Don’t rape” and “Slavery is wrong”. Both rape and slavery is allowed in the Bible. In fact, God commands his soldiers to take the virgins for their own (and kill the rest). That’s called rape. And genocide.

    Hammurabi created laws long before the Jews came up with the ten commandments. Sorry, but laws and morality existed long before Christianity and existed without your God. After all, you can’t even show that there is a God. Perhaps you should prove God exists before telling everyone it’s responsible for morals in humans.

    1. It allows selling ones daughter into sexual slavery.

      If you recall the story of Lot, the godly man given a “Get out of Sodom FREE” card, it was also permissible – encouraged even – to GIVE away one’s daughterS. Of course, in modern capitalist society, giving anything away is an unconscionable sin. And, giving the benefit of the doubt to the godly man Lot, the morals of the men of Sodom may have been such that Lot was only giving away his daughters for anal rape, and they’d have been returned to him with intact hymens, for later sale. After all, Lot was considered a godly man.

  19. Joni Mitchell nails it, of course! Love those lines. I will reply to alphabet soup shortly.

    I think. Ceiling Cat preserve me from wasting more time on silly people!

  20. Meaning exists in a sentient brain or nowhere. Meaning is similar to sound in the old false conundrum about a tree falling in a forest. Certainly, waves are created in the atmosphere but sound occurs in sentient minds that receive the atmospheric vibrations. Circles and other patterns and “shapes” exist independently of human minds, but pi, the relation between diameter and circumference, as 3.141592…, is a meaning only in some brains. The circle knows nothing about this. “Shapes” AS shapes, do not exist until perceived by a sentient brain, not necessarily human. Morality, i.e., acting in ways beneficial to X, is an area in which humans can create meanings. Sam Harris has discussed “beneficial.” One way to look at “beneficial” is to weigh outcomes for an individual and for groups. You can’t exactly quantify these results, but one can easily say the series of Hitler’s decisions in the 1930’s & 40’s led to far more misery than satisfaction. Free will is a human delusion. Randomness–not chemistry–rules, in the sense of governing what goes on at various levels from molecules to human actions. Insofar as you feel in control, accept what comes your way and be kind.

    1. Sam Harris (and others) are working on a way to quantify “beneficial”. Much like before a working thermometer was invented, there was only a vague way to convey temperature between frozen water and boiling water. Even now, saying it is 40 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t tell you if it cold or warm, as that is personal opinion based on context (Alaska and Florida may had different opinions). But 40 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty much always 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

  21. “Like a petulant child they sit on their father’s lap and they reach up and slap his face.”

    Pascal Boyer, the French anthropologist, sees religious beliefs as an extension of the family onto the supernatural, non-evidential realm. I would agree but specify the Christian version is a particular kind, that is, of the authoritarian and patriarchal ilk. Yes, it is hard to imagine that some people think that approach is the only perspective despite the fact that so many kinds of familial associations abound both in history and at present.

    Maybe the child has a good reason to slap the face belonging to the person in whose lap they are sitting. Christianity has the most ignorant view of the family, as if the parents are always good and know what they are doing: if any child rejects parenting then it must be the child that is the problem. Now at least, in human families, no matter the injustices that are committed behind closed doors, the participants exist and could have access to justice unlike the divine rendition where you must submit and be happy to do so. Grovel with joy, please. And to an non-existent entity.

    The hypocrisy and inanity of Christianity is never-ending by providing non-solutions to non-problems. Some Christians are brainwashed while others have the kind of brain that can only embrace meaning if its foundation is regarded as absolute and unwavering despite the equivalent architectural foundations in terms of rigidity are known not to survive earthquakes. Crumble, Christianity, crumble.

  22. AJMGW says the Atheist cannot tell the difference between good and evil because we get no guidance. We get the best and most reliable guidance possible – our parents, most importantly and then our friends and the people we meet. Same place the believer gets his actually.

    If his understanding is that we cannot tell the difference then by legal definition we could never be convicted of a crime. We would all be mentally ill. So is this what his belief has really told him – we are insane. Where is the morality in this?

    1. There’s also the assumption there that good and evil are objective entities existing outside of humans or even life itself. No life? No good or evil. They only have meaning to us.

  23. I’d advise Ajmgw to open Google and start an image search of “Pond scum under microscope”. I think he should repent for his hubris of insulting these beautiful creatures.

  24. I will try to respond to the reply point by point.

    My first advice is to read a lot more, as widely and deeply as you can. Especially non-fiction, especially books on natural history, and especially Dr. Coyne’s excellent book WEIT. Travel. Educate yourself.

    I suggest that you think about the abundant data that show the more educated people are, the less likely they are to be religious believers.

    Whether you know it or not, you personally know plenty of atheists (and gay people). And they are not evil, depraved, or immoral.

    The question of meaning is valid, but must be understood in a different way.

    I object to inventing special meanings for plain English words. Especially if you refuse to clearly lay out those new definitions. Waving hands airily and saying, oh you just don’t understand won’t do. (I know theologians specialize in this kind of thing; but it doesn’t help explain anything.)

    In exactly what way must “meaning” be understood? What is needed beyond: That which makes life worth living? And atheists have those things, every bit as much as any theist does.

    It seems to me that the theist is claiming that atheists’ meaning isn’t valid. Who are you to make that claim? How can you possibly know what makes my life meaningful – or even worse to claim you know it better than I do?

    How can meaning come from a mindless process, no guidance just time and chance?

    Well, we’ve explained that pretty clearly. We’ve explained what gives our lives meaning. It isn’t the same set of things that gives your life meaning. So what?

    Let me be really clear here: When I die, that’s it, nothing more. My consciousness (which allows me to experience all I experience and therefore to have meaning in my life) will stop, forever. My pre-deceased relatives are not waiting for me. And that does not make me: Despair, want to kill myself, cause me to find no meaning in life (perhaps it does for you). I’ve never understood this fantasy of living forever. If anything, knowing it’ll all be over in far too few short years gives every minute of the life I have more meaning.

    Carpe diem and memento mori.

    In that kind of a world an atheist cannot give a justification for a difference between good and evil.

    Very easily: Do no harm. (This is the core of the “golden rule” which far predates Christianity.) I possess empathy. Causing harm to others causes me pain. Primates and other animals, especially mammals exhibit empathy towards their fellows and even other species. I see no reason to doubt that I have empathy due to evolving as a social ape.

    If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years, who decides what is right and wrong?

    We do. See above. We always have. And religion, sometimes at least (though usually lagging), reflects the morality of the society in which it grows up. I suggest you review the history of the moral pronouncements of religion through time and see how they have tracked the moral zeitgeist (though often lagging as noted).

    The atheist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality. In order to do so they unwittingly must borrow from the Christian Worldview.

    Morality: See above. Mind: I assume you mean human consciousness. If you observe other animals, it’s pretty easy to discern a gradient of consciousness. True self-awareness is certainly something that is not yet fully understood by science (but we’re working on it). However, I see no reason to believe that my mind arises from the electrical and chemical changes in the cells of my brain and that it does so because it was favored by Natural Selection amongst my ancestors.

    I strongly recommend that you observe very closely where your own thoughts come from. The arise in your mind with no bidding on your part. They simply appear. They are appearing from processes in your brain cells that are below the level of your

    The perfect coincidence of the brain and the mind are most easily seen when parts of the brain become damaged. I suggest the books by the late Dr. Oliver Sacks, especially The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

    I personally watched my father’s mind, his personality, really all that we loved and appreciated about him – the “real him” — slowly evaporate as the physical process of dementia slowly destroyed his brain.

    As Greg Bahnsen said, “Like a petulant child they sit on their father’s lap and they reach up and slap his face.”

    My father is dead. I need no permanent parent to coddle or direct me. I have put away the childish things.

    [Who is Greg Bahnsen; and why would I care what he says?]

    According to the atheistic worldview, right and wrong are the results of chemical processes in our brains, a by product of survival of the fittest inherited from our common ape-like ancestors. In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.

    Yes, as outlined above.

    And yes, free will (as generally understood by theists and most others) does not exist. So what?

    … Apologies for length …

    1. Whoopsie!

      However, I see no reason NOT to believe that my mind arises from the electrical and chemical changes in the cells of my brain and that it does so because it was favored by Natural Selection amongst my ancestors.

      1. Sorry to hear about your dad. My little sisters watched the same thing happen to their father, my stepfather, over a decade as they grew up.
        My childhood was pretty chaotic, but when I think about what they went through, watching the father they only half-knew slowly lose himself in his own mind, my heart breaks. It is as close to evil as a disease can get and if we can eradicate it it’ll be a truly titanic step forward for our species.

      2. I’m sorry about your Dad. Way too many of us have experienced the loss of loved ones’ minds and personalities in exactly this way before their bodies decay also. May science quickly find solutions to this painful loss.

        1. Of course, it’s pretty devastating to watch someone’s body go before their mind, too, as you often see with many types of cancer. That kind of “locked in” situation would be, to me, completely unbearable.

          1. Having watched both, strongly I question the often heard wish that, “my mind will still be there when I go.”

            The suffering that those who are “all there” go through at the end can be terrible.

            If you can’t remember the suffering, is it even real in some sense?

            I have come to the (provisional) conclusion that I would rather not “be there” at the end. Which I suppose is good; because given my family history, I’m very likely to end up with dementia similar to my Dad’s. Luckily very late in life!

            1. Agree with you two, but it’s still a choice of two awful situations. Perhaps it’s a matter of what is easiest on the family vs. what is easiest on the die-ee.

              That my mother was mostly sentient throughout her long, inexorable slide into congestive heart failure let her put us at ease because she was still the ultimate care-giver, denying any needs of her own; though they were as obvious as could be.

      3. Thanks all for the kind words about my Dad.

        He was quite elderly when he died. He had a long, interesting, and active life: Military service (very intense), two long-term fulfilling jobs, many hobbies, including travel, painting/drawing, photography, wide and large reading, music, a family he enjoyed very much. A very full and long life with a good 18 years of retirement before the dementia kicked in. A life well lived.

        So, though I was was sad when he passed, we had actually said goodbye to him already, as the “real him” had slipped away. We all got to see him right up to the night he passed, in hospice care.

        A great deal to feel good about. I could say honestly, “he had a fine run.”

        Especially since: Memento mori.

        1. My father died similarly, after a long decline during which we gradually lost the “real” him. My mom’s decline and death was also long and slow although not accompanied with dementia, so the “real” her was around until the last day or two.

          In both cases we, the surviving family, were lucky to be unencumbered by religious bullshit. They lived their lives. We live ours still. We, too, shall exit in due time (or undue!). I trust that whatever grief does accompany my own demise is free of the useless burden that faith instills in so many survivors.

          1. Well said. Sorry to hear about your parents; but glad it went as well as can be expected.

            I’ve specified in my will and AD: Cremation, hospice care (no extreme measures), and no funeral: They are to have a party! Luckily, we will be living (I hope I make it!) in a state where both assisted suicide and recreational MJ are legal!

      4. Also sorry to hear about your dad. My dad, on the other hand, has become increasingly religious as he’s aged (my mother too). As a Catholic Deacon, he now devotes significant time to Church matters. I realize that much of the work he does is good. He visits the poor and does outreach work with them, but it’s something that can be done sans the overhead of religious dogma and the time spent praying and going to Church, which essentially accomplishes nothing.

        From my perspective, I have to deal with the fact that this commitment takes away any time he has to see his children or grandchildren (visits are perhaps annually and further limited by his Church commitments when we do go). ajmgw may be right that people like my father derive meaning from all of this. It says nothing about the actual existence of the deity they imagine drives them to do this stuff. Unfortunately, that perspective entails an eternal period of bliss (for which there is no evidence) where he can make up for lost time with all of us. This is key. These beliefs are harmless right up to the point where the bump into reality and subtract meaningful time from a finite existence in exchange for an imagined eternity. Religion really does poison everything, even the meaning it claims to convey.

        1. “These beliefs are harmless right up to the point where they bump into reality and subtract meaningful time from a finite existence in exchange for an imagined eternity.”

          Excellent point.

        2. Well said. Sorry to hear about your Dad.

          My Dad was always religious (in a generally liberal, Lutheran, US Middle-western sort of way; but very committed). In the end years, he still said some goddy stuff; but it, like everything else was fading out.

          My Mom is much less religious. She’s slowly quitting going to church — though I’m sure she’ll never give it up altogether. I think she sincerely believes the Xian dogma, though she never speaks to any of us (kids, grand kids) about it anymore. Her continuing belief is more or less the only reason I am not open with my family about our atheism. (There are many other reasons in the US to be cautious about being open about atheism.)

          She is not impervious to new information. She’s from the US south and always harbored the same nostalgia and fantasies about the “Old South”, pre-Civil War, as most have seen cliched in TV and movies. But I convinced her to read James McPherson’s (superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning) one-volume history of the US Civil War, The Battle Cray of Freedom (highest recommendation from me).

          After reading it she more or less said, “well the South really were shits before the Civil War, weren’t they?” I was amazed.

          1. Your mom’s waning religiosity as she ages is, I would think, an outlier. As you can imagine, I can relate to your hesitation in revealing my atheism to them. The best possible scenario I can imagine is endless debates over arguments for God, but their emotional commitment makes me think that isn’t likely.

    2. My first advice is to read a lot more, as widely and deeply as you can.

      In the voice of the religious, “HERETIC! Burn the HERETIC!
      Repeat ad nauseam, loudly enough to stop the sheeple from hearing the dissenting opinion(s).

  25. “If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years, who decides what is right and wrong?”

    As pond scum varied and diversified over time, it turned out that those sorts of pond scum which happened to be so constituted as to cooperate more readily with similar pond scum proliferated rather better than less social pond scum. Variants of rather cooperative pond scum which even cooperated with ever more different varieties of pond scum turned out to do really well. Some of those cooperative pond scum variations ended up with brains capable of understanding the process and improving on it.
    “In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.” Exactly. And since this process has given me and many others long and satisfying lives, I’m not going to complain about it.

    1. Well said.

      This is the old ‘humans are just/simply whatever…’ refusal to look at what we actually are – sentient beings with personal histories, members of a species with a biological history, living in a variety of relationships in societies with cultural histories.

      It’s obvious that other species have natural ways of regulating relationships but somehow, according to theism, it is impossible for humans to regulate social relationships without gods and the evidence that the majority of humans do so with either the wrong god or no god is invisible to many believers.

  26. Reminded me of this, from Bob Dylan:

    While one who sings with his tongue on fire
    Gargles in the rat race choir
    Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
    Cares not to come up any higher
    But rather get you down in the hole
    That he’s in

    But I mean no harm nor put fault
    On anyone that lives in a vault
    But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

  27. ajmgw: ” If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years…”

    Guess what? That’s exactly what we are, so deal with it.

    1. He can’t. He thinks that because he’s pond scum, he can’t think and act for himself.
      Poor, subjugated pond scum.

  28. “According to the atheistic worldview, right and wrong are the results of chemical processes in our brains, a by product of survival of the fittest inherited from our common ape-like ancestors.”

    Another theist unsatisfied by the merely real.

    But I never understood why believing in god gives life meaning. If your life is given meaning by something that itself has no reason for its existence (god, if such a being exists, has no reason for its existence) doesn’t that – by proxy – mean that theists’ lives are just as meaningless as atheists’ lives? They’ve just pushed the goalpost back one peg.

    1. I’ve never understood it either, not even when I was a believer, for exactly the reason you say.

  29. Theists seem to ignore the fact that their ultimate authority on purpose and morality somehow manages to change his mind on almost everything over time.

    It used to be okay to kill people for all kinds of things — witchcraft, merely saying the name jehovah without being the high priest, homosexuality, because god told you to.

    Now, however, you can’t do that, because it’s a crime.

    You used to be able to have slaves.

    Now, however, you can’t.

    You used to be able to kill your own children for being sassy. Not only able to, but you were commanded to do it!

    Now, however, you can’t.

    You used to be able to get divorced whenever you want. Then jesus said you can’t.

    Now, however, you can.

    I could go on, but you get the point. Clearly their god changes morality, so why the big deal with humans evolving morality?

    1. You used to be able to get divorced whenever you want. Then jesus said you can’t.

      Actually (and disregarding the profound doubts over whether this Jeebus socialist hippie dude ever actually existed), was that actually said? I may be having a brain fade, but wasn’t the bit about “let no man put asunder” from the Book of Common Prayer, not the BuyBull?

  30. How can meaning come from a mindless process, no guidance just time and chance?

    Where does ‘god’ get its meaning and mind from? All that has happened is that puzzled humans have added another layer of insulation between their ignorance (ignorance as a lack of knowledge, not an insult) and the surrounding world.

    1. The old dilemma: If a god just dictates morality, it’s neither moral nor absolute. If the god just delivers an absolute morality disconnected from him he just knows better than us, it’s not coming from him but only through him and we should be able to deduct it without him. He’s neither necessary for morality nor proven by it.

  31. Pretend you’re God.

    Come up with a list of rules for your people.

    Does it look like Leviticus? Congratulations, you’re evil.

    Do you think it improves Leviticus? Congratulations, you’re more moral than God.

    (you can pretend it’s 3000 years ago if you want to add ‘context’. Leviticus was still evil 3000 years ago)

  32. I also go with Joni Mitchell.

    Her song “Woodstock” was the last poem discussed in Camille Paglia’s “Break, Blow, Burn” discussing some 50-odd classic poems in English starting with sonnets of Shakespeare and John Donne.

    (And she has a really interesting analysis of the differences between the JM version and the Crosby, Stills, and Nash version.)

  33. Someone named “anonymous” (in my mailbox) said “Commenters are required to be ignorant about religion.”

    A more profoundly uninformed comment could not be made.

  34. Religion is a lazy awkward tool to understanding life and the cosmos and I can say that in full confidence in the 21st century, science is closing in on the fiction that is religion.
    Ajmgw you need chemical and neuronal reconfiguring you are so out of date. This world is dynamic and in a constant state of flux, the handbrake of religion cannot and will not cope.
    Your investment here on this planet for somewhere fictional after death is not for an atheist for we have arrived at this point by understanding fundamentally what life is and it is not static, as in religion. This is for all the reason stated above by commentators, our host and others who have dissected the fallacy of religion.
    It is also why we hold this time here and now with family and friends, our interests and professions, the shared environment with fellow creatures as a one off adventure and passage of discovery and awe. Whatever it brings, sorrow, joy, fear, hard work, pleasure these things are human but not exclusive as we now know that other fellow animal travellers show some of these acute responses in life.
    All these points of course are not just privy to atheist but are based on reality not myths or the supernatural.

    You have forgotten, neglected or simply cannot come to grips that you ARE a hairless ape? smart, granted but our lowly origins betray us as not so special.
    Without oxygen you/we are as dead as any rat, mole, monkey, great ape or any other mammalian creatures you care to name.

    Live your life as a fool to religion but we cannot stop to wait while you think about catching up. Religion is corrupt as in stalled and morally dysfunctional.
    Science is how to catch up and have a richer life on this planet.

  35. “I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning. but I know that something in it has meaning, and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on it.”

    — Camus

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