Does Religion or Atheism Offer A Better Route To Unselfishness?

Rusty - February 6, 2007

In a post at Mormon Stories I was having a conversation in which an atheist suggested that “…religion inclines people toward having a more selfish perspective…[because] it’s all about earning the right to get into ‘heaven’” Then he asserted that atheists are focussed on how to make this world a better place for ourselves, our children and others less fortunate. Aside from the fact that the first reason he mentioned for being less selfish was to make this world a better place for himself, my feeling was that the Gospel is ALL ABOUT service/sacrifice for others and by so doing I will become a better person. Then the argument was made that because I recognize that I can become a better person through being selfless, that is somehow selfish. Then the comments were shut down. Hrmph.

I should have known that one of the classic blunders is to never get into an argument about morality with an atheist (along with getting into a land war in Asia and making a bet with a Sicilian when death is on the line). I guess my feeling is that if you’re becoming unselfish, whether through atheism or religion, great! I’m not too worried about which one is more efficient at doing so (even though I have my opinion), as long as it’s happening is what’s important.

77 Comments

  1. [Edited] Rational argument is useless.

    Comment by Bret — February 6, 2007 @ 12:45 am

  2. I agree with your point, however.

    Comment by Bret — February 6, 2007 @ 12:45 am

  3. Russ, you make my case for me. Look at your post. Your focus is on you. Your end result is what it does for you. It’s all about you. You you you! Helping others is just a means to to achieve an result for you! If that’s not fundamentally selfish then I don’t know what is. I’m not faulting you I’m faulting the “moral” system that inclines you the think that way.

    By the way, you have a trackback from MormonStories to here. That’s how I got here.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 4:17 am

  4. Jeff,
    If you don’t believe in accountability beyond this life for what how we treat each other here, how can it possibly matter what motivates people to serve others? It’s the outcome that matters, not the motivation. If I do good because I believe that after 20 years of being perfectly good 20 pounds of gold will show up under my pillow, hey, at least I’ve done a bunch of good. Sounds like your motivation is to set yourself up as morally superior to theists, which is just annoying. (Yes, it’s annoying when religious people do it, too).

    Anyways, the Christian ideal is to serve without thought of reward of any kind. It’s true that we believe that serving without thought of reward, besides being best for those with whom we share this world, is the best, happiest way to live for us. But that doesn’t mean that everything that Christians do for others is with a selfish motivation. If they’re living up to the ideal (which, let’s face it, nobody ever does very well), what is on their mind is what’s best for others. It’s just plain silly to impugn the motives of people who are doing good. What’s the point?

    Furthermore, there is no evidence and no reason to believe that atheists as a group are more or less selfless than any other group of people. What they don’t have is a formal belief system specifically designed to encourage them to give of themselves for the benefit of others.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 6:08 am

  5. Tom said: “If you don’t believe in accountability beyond this life for what how we treat each other here, how can it possibly matter what motivates people to serve others? It’s the outcome that matters, not the motivation.”

    What’s the motivateion? I guess you could call it, love, compassion, you know, silly stuff like that.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 6:20 am

  6. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I agree that love and compassion are great motivating forces.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 7:00 am

  7. Tom, we seem to have a disconnect here. You seem to imply in your last statement that love and compassion are just part of something else; as if they’re just to means to an end. To me, love, compassion, and empathy motivated by nothing more than a concern and love for others ARE the end. It’s life in its noblest form.

    I don’t want to come off as some kind of authority or as someone who is perfect. I’m just trying to explain how my point of view has changed as my views on the concept of God have changed. I have nothing to promote, no new religion to sell, nothing that I feel I need to convince you or others about….except: I only want Mormons to quit misjudging people who leave the Church and people who you choose to call atheists. That label offends me. In company where people insist on calling me and others like me, atheist (especially in a pejorative way) they’ll have to accept my label for them: magical thinker. Russ can probably explain what I mean by that.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 7:44 am

  8. People, there is no need to guess or resort to anecdotal arguments about this question. There is real research about this question, most recently by Arthur Brooks, who published his work in a book called Who Really Care?

    The short answer: While there are always exceptions, religious people as a group are much more generous that non-religious people. Not only do they donate more money to charity, including non-religious charities, they are more willing to volunteer their time, give blood, and even stop to help a stranger fix a tire.

    Jeff, if ridding your life of religion has made you a better person, I’m happy for you. But the most recent available data show that you are the exception.

    Comment by Mark IV — February 6, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  9. Empirical evidence has noted that religious people are more giving of their time, their money, and their means than non-religious people. A whole book was recently published on this. I can not seem to recll the name however. Anyone have it, off hand?

    Comment by Matt W. — February 6, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  10. Oops, should have refreshed before I commented, thanks Mark IV!

    Comment by Matt W. — February 6, 2007 @ 7:58 am

  11. “Jeff, if ridding your life of religion has made you a better person, I’m happy for you.”
    ——————————————

    You’re missing my point. It’s not about making myself a better person! That’s not it at all.

    I give up.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:01 am

  12. It’s also not about a game where points are being scored. Or about who does what better.

    Like I said I give up.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  13. Doing things unselfishly for others makes you feel good. Therefore being unselfish is selfish. It’s one of the great paradoxes of life.

    Comment by Susan M — February 6, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  14. Tom, we seem to have a disconnect here. You seem to imply in your last statement that love and compassion are just part of something else; as if they’re just to means to an end. To me, love, compassion, and empathy motivated by nothing more than a concern and love for others ARE the end. It’s life in its noblest form.

    Love and compassion are means to an end: the end of making the lives of others happier. Love and compassion as feelings only have value when they are put to use for the benefit of others. Indeed, unless one gives of oneself for the benefit of others, one cannot claim to have love and compassion. I’m guessing we’re probably on the same page here.

    I only want Mormons to quit misjudging people who leave the Church and people who you choose to call atheists.

    I’m with you. I didn’t know that you didn’t self-identify as an atheist. To me, it’s not a pejorative term, it’s a descriptive term like believer, non-believer, religioius, and irreligious. I apologize for any offense.

    I’m not going to stop claiming that living religion can help people develop love and compassion, though. I don’t know you so I can’t say if you do this or not, but I find that often former believers are super-sensitive to affirmations of the value of the Church and the good that it does in people’s lives and in the world. They sometimes see these affirmations as implying that people who believe differently are not as good or valuable. So I would ask that in return for Mormons not negatively judging classes of people, which is, by the way, a tenet of our religion, that you do your best to give us the benefit of the doubt and not conclude that our affirmations of the good of the Church constitute judgmentalism.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 8:15 am

  15. I am a faithful, active Mormon. But Jeff has a point that should not get lost in a silly quarrel over whose team is better. If you believe that ones motives for their actions matter, (and contrary to one of the assertions made above, the scriptures are quite clear that they matter a great deal), there is a certain tension created by a belief that one’s eternal destiny is a function of one’s behavior in this life. One who is moral because of a fear of punishment or a desire for reward is not as moral as one who is moral simply because because it is right.

    That does not mean that religious people cannot be moral. They certainly can be and often are. It does not mean that atheists are more moral than believers. But I do believe that this tension is real. There may in fact be good emprical evidence that believers are more generous with their time and money. However, to the extent that the charity of a believer in matters such as tithing, for example, is motivated by a desire to avoid being burnt as stubble, it should not count as charitable. It is fire insurance.

    Comment by Gary — February 6, 2007 @ 8:19 am

  16. “Doing things unselfishly for others makes you feel good.”
    ———————————————–

    You’re still not getting it. Doing something for others makes them feel good. Period. End of story. No paradox. It’s for them, not for me done out of love for them, not gain for me.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  17. Empirical Evidence:

    Look at the comments above. Empirical evidence shows that religion tends to turn people into selfish, judgemental people who’s bottom line concern is them self. The lone “non-magical thinker” here is the one advocating a higher standard.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:32 am

  18. Gary, I’m sorry. I over looked you. Thankd for you comments.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:36 am

  19. Well, if you want to get all technical about it, doing things for others does not always make them feel good.

    Comment by Susan M — February 6, 2007 @ 8:43 am

  20. “Well, if you want to get all technical about it, doing things for others does not always make them feel good.”
    —————————————

    Depends on your motive. If you’re trying to help them fill a need that they have then, unless you screw up real bad, it sure seems like it should.

    If on the other hand, if you’re doing it to make YOU feel good and they can see through that, then yeah, that’s probably going to just make them angry.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  21. Jeff, I thought you gave up?

    Just kidding, seriously, this whole conversation reminds me of a talk by Dallin H. Oaks which analyzes our motivations for doing things.

    I don’t pay tithing for me, I don’t go to church for me, and I am not good for me.

    I think a lot of Christian Charity is rooted in love of the Lord, and our desire to make him happy.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 6, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  22. I’m sorry, I just think this whole conversation is pretty silly. Sure, in an ideal world, people should do good out of completely selfless motives. And people should receive service from others with gratitude and a warm heart. But the real world is messier than that.

    Let’s say everytime you did something selfless to serve someone else, it made you really depressed. Would you still do it?

    As for the atheist vs believer thing, most of the atheists I’ve known have been very Christlike people. Generous, caring, and kind.

    BTW, I like the label magical thinker.

    Comment by Susan M — February 6, 2007 @ 8:53 am

  23. Thanks for your comments Susan. I have to wonder about this one though:

    “Let’s say everytime you did something selfless to serve someone else, it made you really depressed. Would you still do it?”

    I’m trying to reach in my mind for a real example of that. I’m coming up short. ;)

    I don’t know if I’d call it a silly conversation. I’d call it pretty much a waste of time, but not silly. I think it’s an important issue…at least to me and people like me… because I’m tired of being the brunt of so many religious people’s disrpespect when they have imagined in their heads that they somehow live a higher standard than others, when “empirical data” (see above comments) shows otherwise.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  24. “I think a lot of Christian Charity is rooted in love of the Lord, and our desire to make him happy.”

    Still not getting it Matt. It’s about a love for the one you’re doing it for.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:09 am

  25. Yeah Susan. I mean, when the magic is gone…

    Just kinda sucks doesn’t it?

    For the record, while I’d like people to do good for good’s sake, I’ll settle for them doing it for 5 bucks.

    Comment by Seth R. — February 6, 2007 @ 9:12 am

  26. I just mean that doing good DOES feel good. And people *are* motivated selfishly (to a certain extent). If doing good felt bad, I doubt many people would do it.

    Comment by Susan M — February 6, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  27. Jeff, we believe a love of the Lord IS a love for our fellow man. They’re intertwined.

    Comment by Susan M — February 6, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  28. @ Susan “Let’s say every time you did something selfless to serve someone else, it made you really depressed. Would you still do it?”

    That’s funny you mention that – I was having the same debate with my wife. I don’t ever feel the ‘warm fuzzies’ – the payoff for religious service. So do I do selfless service? Sometimes, but not often. Unfortunately, peer pressure had been a large driving point in my youth in terms of church attendance, service etc.

    But arguing over who is more penitent, righteous, or selfless, seems to be a moot point and is ultimately self defeating.

    Comment by Chad — February 6, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  29. Tom said: “I only want Mormons to quit misjudging people who leave the Church and people who you choose to call atheists. I’m with you. I didn’t know that you didn’t self-identify as an atheist. To me, it’s not a pejorative term, it’s a descriptive term like believer, non-believer, religioius, and irreligious. I apologize for any offense.”

    Sorry Tom, I missed the above. Thanks for the comments. The reason the label offends me is for two reasons:

    - in our culture that label most often used in a venomous way, as if an atheist is on the same level as a child molester.
    - but mostly, I don’t like being labeled something that is relative to what someone else chooses to believe. You choose to believe in theism, I do not. Don’t define me with by your belief. That’s why I’ve started using the magical thinker label for people who call me an atheist. You’re a magical thinker and that leaves me as simply someone who is not. If you must label me then call me a naturalist. That defines me relative to what I believe.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  30. Especially if your motive is for the benefit of others, its going to feel good. ITS CAUSE AND EFFECT. Its part of the human experience. Is it our job ot fight those wonderful feelings? And then in the future, is it humanly possible to forget about those good feelings?

    What if we do unselfish good for others everyday? SHould we go through out the day saying, “…don’t feel good about this, don’t feel good about this, don’t feel good about this…” The question was asked before but I’ll ask it again. If doing good made you very ill, would you be as frequent in your do gooding?

    This is the christian doctrine:
    Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

    Often we talk about what christians do and what we really mean is so-called christians who live their own version of what christ taught. We shouldn’t make the same mistake about so called -atheists either.

    Comment by cj douglass — February 6, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  31. Hello all,
    I want to offer my thoughts.

    One of my favorite sayings is, “If you love God for what He can do for you then you really only love yourself.” True religion is about an interpersonal relationship with God (“personal” can be quibbled with). The analogies that religious folks tend to use are associated with Father and Son or Husband and Wife. Does a husband love his wife because of the sex, because of the housework, the conversation, …. In the ideal, the answer is absolutely not. The marital relationship is about a love that is self-giving and not selfish. A mature Father and Son relationship (which the CoJCoLDS advocates with greater clarity than any other Christian structure BTW) is actually the same type of self-giving love.

    Surely as LDS we have heard that it is the attitude of the giver that exalts and not the mere act of giving. It is import in my opinion to remember that occasionally act precedes attitude, but the truth is that it is about the heart and not the act. This aligns well with statement I mentioned above, “If you love God for what He can do for you then you really only love yourself.” I am not proclaiming perfection or ever virtue of myself. I on occasion find myself looking to the goal rather than just loving. I pray however, that I may become smaller in my life and God may become bigger.

    I hope that that LDS on this thread do not consider the above extraordinary. It is my opinion that such touchy feely thoughts as I have attempted to express above are less regularly offered because we focus so much on debate and evidence.

    Now, Jeff, if you think the above thoughts are extraordinary, I think you are at least somewhat mistaken. There are many LDS who “get it.” They know and live the above truths (whereas I merely know them).

    On to some less squishy things.
    I am quite convinced that Nietzsche and others are correct when they suggest that the LOGICAL conclusion of a naturalistic atheism is nihilism. I am truly thankful that so few atheists consistently apply their naturalistic worldview and become nihilists, but it seems to me that this is the logical end result. If there is no external morality, then the reasonable thing is to behave in a way that maximizes your happiness. While societies with laws are certainly derivable by reasoned atheism (though historically there may be no examples of this actually occurring), individual compliance simply must be about “getting caught.”
    Lest anyone object, let me say that atheists for the most part are not immoral psychopaths. There are two reasons for this. First, reasoned atheism does not produce immoral psychopaths. Such is not the nature of humans nor the consistent result of the recognition of nihilism. Second, since it seems to me that few atheists have achieved nihilism and all atheists live in societies with mores developed among theistic assumptions, most atheists walk similarly to their theistic brothers and sisters.

    Also, the atheist who argues that only an atheist can truly be a non-selfish giver should look at the results that have been mentioned on this thread. Other results include the research of William Gaston (Political Scientist from University of Maryland) and Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks. Brooks is notable because he reached precisely the conclusion he didn’t expect. Conservatives who seem to be against all sorts of government welfare programs are much more giving with time and money than liberals (granted that Conservative vs. Liberal is not quite the same as religious vs. atheist, but there are points of contact and Brooks acknowledges these).

    My conclusion from my previous foray into this line of investigation are as follows.
    Religious folks give more time and money than non-religious folks.
    The highest ideals of religious giving (which are met or approached by many) have nothing to do with worldly or post-worldly reward.
    While some atheists do give there are certainly a vast array of reasons for this, including worldly reward and the imprints of a religious society (or past life).
    And the most consistent conclusion for the person who truly embraces atheistic naturalism is that there is no reason for purely unselfish giving.

    This last one is important (though usually contested). The religious person is (and I believe has real ability) to transform themselves until they have truly selfless love for God and others. When this love is achieved, they give solely out of love and not for any benefit they may or may not accrue. The atheist is certainly not incapable of self-giving love, but within their worldview it seems there is no reason to develop this.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — February 6, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  32. Susan said: “Jeff, we believe a love of the Lord IS a love for our fellow man. They’re intertwined.”

    Please explain how.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:26 am

  33. Jeff, I go to Church for the Lord, I pay tithing for the Lord, I am good for the Lord. I am doing it for the Lord. So I love the one I am doing it for. It’s that whole Mosiah 2 concept of when you are in the service of your fellow man, you are serving God. I’d say it is a foundational element of our Culture.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 6, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  34. Jeff,
    A sincere question: Is not belonging to a community of “post” mormons a reaction to what others believe?

    I don’t like being labeled something that is relative to what someone else chooses to believe.

    Comment by cj douglass — February 6, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  35. Tome said: “And the most consistent conclusion for the person who truly embraces atheistic naturalism is that there is no reason for purely unselfish giving.”
    ————————————————–
    Sorry Tom, I’m just not seeing it that way. And forgive me but I think you indict yourself with the following and add to the emperical data:

    “…there is no reason for purely unselfish giving.”

    Love, concern, compassion are the reasons. A desire to relieve human suffer are the reasons.

    I said in an early post, when Susan said that this coversation is silly, that I didn’t think it was silly but I did think it is a waste of time. I need to get back to work. I’ll try to check in later.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  36. I just want to clarify that I don’t believe that motives don’t matter. I just don’t see how they matter to a naturalist. Especially if the greatest good is human happiness (is it, Jeff?), then it doesn’t matter how it is brought about, as long as the ultimate effect is increased happiness. In fact, from that perspective isn’t a belief system that causes happiness in both the giver and the receiver of service better than one that causes happiness only in the receiver. If human happiness is the greatest good, then why complain that someone giving service gains happiness from it?

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  37. “A sincere question: Is not belonging to a community of “post” mormons a reaction to what others believe?
    I don’t like being labeled something that is relative to what someone else chooses to believe.”
    ———————————————-

    I’m back again after noticing the above. So use me. :)

    Yes Douglass, I agree with you, but that label is one of necessity. It’s adopted in attempt to keep Mormons from pasting me and my friends with another pejorative label (also viewed on the level of child molester within the Mormon community) that you all seem to like to use so freely: anti-Mormon.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  38. Uh….don’t “use me”, sue me. ;)

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 9:41 am

  39. Uh, Jeff if you could say, “some Mormons” or “some parts of the Mormon community” it make you look a little less hypocritical. After all, these things you’ve mentioned are certainly not taught openly by any authority but the personal views that some individuals have who happen to be Mormon. I’ve read many a Mormon blog, for example, that advocate not labeling every “post” mormon an anti-mormon and even a heart felt and sympathetic obituary for one of the church’s greatest antagonizers(Mr. Tanner).

    Comment by cj douglass — February 6, 2007 @ 10:01 am

  40. Jeff,
    I suppose that you are trying to indict me for saying, “…there is no reason for purely unselfish giving.” Of course I said this about atheism here is the complete quote, “And the most consistent conclusion for the person who truly embraces atheistic naturalism is that there is no reason for purely unselfish giving.”

    The reason this is true for the atheist and untrue for the theist is because true love for the theist is a beyond naturalistic explanation. In a theistic world we are not merely the evolved bio-chemical reactions that comprise human thought and feelings. In an atheistic world there is no reason to suppose (Ockham’s razor would preclude) that your, “Love, concern, compassion” are more than selfish things or evolutionary advantages developments. Once your, “love, concern, and compassion” are boiled down to their underlying components, they are radically different than what a theist would say “love, concern, and compassion” must be for them to really be self-giving.

    Interestingly enough this is quite similar to your argument against the theist. The difference is that Gary and I have explained why desire for reward while present is not the ideal. I invite you to explain the evolutionary development of “love” in a way that it is more than either selfishness or chemicals. I am unsure if I can be convinced if it is more than selfish under a naturalistic evolutionary paradigm, but I do not think I can be convinced that it is more than chemicals even if you get that far.

    And again, I want to offer that this does not mean that Atheists are immoral or evil. Many (probably most) Atheists do love in the truest sense of the word love, but it is because love is a theistic principle that is true for the world, atheist and theist alike. The atheist worldview can suppress this truth by attempting to embrace a system that cannot explain the existence of this truth, but the Atheist is still a child of God and thus still exists in a world of real love.

    I offered you earlier some things of Antony Flew’s conversion from Atheism because you asked about it. That was one of the less interesting reasons for theism. A more interesting of the reasons why Atheism does not make it come from Van Til. Ultimately “Atheism presupposes theism.” The reason you can love and reason is because theism is true and we are not merely evolved beings.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — February 6, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  41. Wow, post at 2:00 in the morning, get to work and there’s a whole conversation to catch up on.

    Jeff,
    Welcome! I apologize for using the label atheist. Like Tom I don’t see it as a perjorative term, rather just as a shorthand indicator (I believe in God so I’m a theist, you don’t believe in God so you’re an a-theist).

    And FWIW, I don’t think you are a child molester so please don’t label everyone who uses the term “atheist” as such.

    Comment by Rusty — February 6, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  42. I’m guessing it’s clear that Tom and TOm are different people. Not that I’d mind TOm’s posts being attributed to me—he’s more articulate than I am—but we are different people, in case anyone’s confused.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  43. “Like Tom I don’t see it as a perjorative term, rather just as a shorthand indicator (I believe in God so I’m a theist, you don’t believe in God so you’re an a-theist).”

    So, then since I consider myself a rational thinker then may I refer to you with the shorthand, ir-rational thinker? ;)

    Just trying to make my point.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  44. Russ, thanks for editing the first comment. It was a bit disrespectful.

    Progress!!

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  45. I want to say that I know we all use disrespectful language at times. It’s not right when I do it either.

    Today I’ve been discouraged with how much of an uphill battle it is to fight for the right to be equally respected while being a non-believer in a Mormon community. To have the Mormon Stories discussion shut down is the basis for the discouragement I’m feeling right now, and I’ve been taking it our on you all (when I use that I mean it like ya’ll). It really hurts when I feel I have to fight for the right within my own family to be respected. It hurts to see my friends have to deal with that on a regular basis. It just ain’t right.

    Just having a bad day folks. Russ’ edit is a bright spot.

    I know. Waa waa waaa!

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 11:46 am

  46. In respone to 41 above:

    You are missing the point Rusty. How many times does Jeff have to point out that he rejects the term “atheist” because it’s a pejorative term and defines him on your terms, on religious terms? Why don’t you respect his wish to be described as a “non-magical-thinker” or the affirmative term: Naturalist?

    One reason I reject the term atheist is because Buddhists are atheists! Yet they are magical-thinkers or supernaturalists. I’m not a Buddhist, a Mormon, or magical thinker. Hence, Naturalist is the more appropriate term. But I suspect you prefer the more perjorative term atheist as a form of name calling. Need I remind you that you’re an atheist in the eyes of ancient Rome? I suspect you don’t accept being called an atheist by someone who still believes in Zeus.

    In regards to the comment above that Philosophical Naturalism leads to Nihilism you seem to be attributing one form of nontheism to all nontheists. That would be like some one saying that since some FLDS practice polygamy then all Mormons must be practicing polygamy. Are Buddhists Nihilsits? You are ignoring Humanism. Have you ever been to a pro-Humanism web site? Have you ever studied Humanism? Since most naturalists and non-magical-thinkers are humanists you seem to be misrepresenting the beliefs of the nonreligious.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  47. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. (Albert Einstein) “Religion and Science”, New York Times Magazine, 9 November 1930

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  48. Thanks Bill! Another bright spot!

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  49. I thought I sent a post earlier but it’s not showing up, hopefully it wasn’t erased. Here it is again, I saved most of it onto mic.word:

    A response to 43 above:

    You are missing the point Rusty. How many times does Jeff have to point out that he rejects the term atheist because it’s a pejorative term? Why don’t you respect his wish to be described as a “non-magical-thinker” or the affirmative term, Naturalist? Here are my own reasons for rejecting the term atheist that I’m sure Jeff will agree with:

    1. I reject the term atheist because Buddhists are atheists! Yet they are magical-thinkers or supernaturalists. That’s really it in a nutshell. If the term atheist can describe a magical-thinking-Buddhist then it doesn’t define me very well as a philosophical naturalist or non-magical-thinker.
    2. Atheism also suffers from a double meaning, i.e. it includes those who make the statement “there is no god” and those who just “lack belief in a god.” This causes semantic confusion.
    3. The term atheist is a pejorative term equivalent to child molester in our culture.
    4. It is a term that defines the naturalist on religious terms.

    Christians were called atheists by the Romans yet for some reason I don’t think Christians would accept that label today. In regards to the comment above that Naturalism leads to Nihilism that would be like someone saying that since FLDS practice polygamy then all Mormons must be polygamists. You seem to be ignoring Humanism. Have you ever been to a pro-Humanism web site? Have you ever studied Humanism? Since most naturalists and non-magical-thinkers are humanists you seem to be misrepresenting the beliefs of the nonreligious.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  50. I meant that to be more of a response to 41 above

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  51. This is to go along with comment 46 above:

    Secular Morality versus Religion:

    The secular definition of morality: seeking to avoid and diminish unnecessary harm while seeking to improve and enhance the health, happiness, and overall well being of humanity.

    The religious definition of morality: whatever my deity (or his holy men) commands is right, whether its rape, murder, or killing babies (as described in the holy books); might makes right.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  52. Since Nietzsche was mentioned in this thread I thought I would share this:

    Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challenged the foundations of traditional morality and Christianity. He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Central to Nietzsche’s philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines which drain life’s energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first “existentialist” philosophers, Nietzsche has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries. – Stanford philosophy encyclopedia.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  53. Holy crap folks, I used the term atheist BEFORE I understood Jeff’s reasons for rejecting it. My #43 explanation is only an explanation for why I did it in the first place, not why I will continue to use it (which I won’t). Yes, I understand now. Got it. Makes sense. Great. Okay.

    Jeff,
    Sorry you’re having a bum day, man. That sucks you have to fight for respect within your own family. It surely can’t be easy. I try to imagine if I had my belief system in a family (trying to avoid labels) with similar beliefs as you and I would probably feel similar.

    Comment by Rusty — February 6, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  54. w. Kempton: The secular definition of morality: seeking to avoid and diminish unnecessary harm while seeking to improve and enhance the health, happiness, and overall well being of humanity.

    The religious definition of morality: whatever my deity (or his holy men) commands is right, whether its rape, murder, or killing babies (as described in the holy books); might makes right.

    Wow, what a simplistic view. Suffice it to say that as a religious person I don’t agree with your definition of religious morality.

    A. Einstein: A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

    Why does it have to be either/or? What’s wrong with further incentivizing moral behavior? Sure, religion isn’t necessary for moral behavior but it can, and does in many instances, help.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  55. Thanks Tom. Great name BTW.

    I totally missed the request to be a naturalist rather than an atheist. I will respect that request for as long as my feeble memory can remember that those here wish to be naturalists not atheists. I do not disagree that atheist has some negative connotations within today’s society so I can see how that might be a point of contention. Sorry.

    WKempton said:
    In regards to the comment above that Naturalism leads to Nihilism that would be like someone saying that since FLDS practice polygamy then all Mormons must be polygamists. You seem to be ignoring Humanism. Have you ever been to a pro-Humanism web site? Have you ever studied Humanism? Since most naturalists and non-magical-thinkers are humanists you seem to be misrepresenting the beliefs of the nonreligious.

    TOm:
    I have studied Humanism only a very little. To me there are a number of things that fall under the humanist umbrella.
    1. Theistic Humanism might be classified as a belief that there is in fact a god, but that much of ones morality will be derived from the ideas associated with the benefit of the human race as a whole.
    2. Extra-naturalistic (more than naturalist) Humanism: The human race as a whole is connected and activities that benefiting the human race as a whole move forward this mystical communion of humans.
    3. Naturalistic Humanism: Society should act in a way that benefits the human race as a whole. Thus certain moral rules and actions present themselves and are followed by those who embrace this beliefs structure.

    It seems to me that #3 is what you are after. I do not understand how #3 commands respect from any individual in a purely naturalistic world. If humans are the current highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, why should individual humans act in a way that “benefits the human race as a whole.” Again, clearly, societies can form based on Naturalistic Humanism, but will a purely naturalistic view of the universe LOGICALLY command alignment with humanist principles. I do not see how such commitments can be commanded accept through societal controls. Thus societal morality is defined, but individual behavior is logically governed by societal response to actions not by underlying moral concerns.

    I must admit that I am not an expert on Humanism (nor on Nietzsche), but this is how I see Nietzsche’s thoughts and how the relate to Humanism.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — February 6, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  56. Tom,

    In response to 53 above:

    As a former Mormon I can understand why you would protest my definition of religious morality as simplistic, and maybe it is, but the fact is that most religious people will do whatever they believe their deity (or his holy men) commands them to do. Is it moral for men in their 40s to have sex with girls in their teens? If the Mormon prophets say it’s moral it’s moral in the Mormon mindset. If your god says to kill babies (as described in the holy books), might makes right, and so you obey. It may be simplistic but that is what religious morality entails from my point of view.

    And now a response to number 54:

    In your response here Tom#2 you seem to reject evolution and yet many Mormons fully embrace evolution. Second, you asked two questions:

    1. Why should individual humans act in a way that “benefits the human race as a whole?
    2. Will a purely naturalistic view of the universe LOGICALLY command alignment with humanist principles?
    3. You then answer number 2 with your comment, “I do not see how such commitments can be commanded accept through societal controls. Thus societal morality is defined, but individual behavior is logically governed by societal response to actions not by underlying moral concerns.” This is why we have laws like polygamy and sex with minors being illegal Tom.

    In response to number 1 the answer is simple, out of compassion. Why does the fireman risk his life to save someone from a burning building? It’s his job? Perhaps, but I think it is more about compassion. Why do people give to charity, and help the poor and the needy? Yes some do it for religious reasons to avoid Hell or get a reward in heaven, or to selfishly gain so-called “blessings,” but the humanist does it out of compassion.

    Dan Barker gives an excellent summary of secular morality without an appeal to any god(s) and answers your question above about why should the humanist cares about humanity? Barker throws around the word atheist a lot, but in the context of this thread, please understand that by quoting him I am not also endorsing his use of the term atheist (to each his own).

    Barker begins his essay with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, “If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? . . Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.’ There is of course more virtue in an atheist who abhors the beating of children and the taking of virgins as war booty than a religionist who praises a book that sanctions such immorality.” Barker then explains that:

    “Morality is simply the avoidance of unnecessary harm. Since harm is natural, its avoidance is a material exercise. Organisms suffer as they bump into their environment, and as rational animals, we humans have some choice about how this happens. If we minimize pain and enhance the quality of life, we are moral. If we don’t, we are immoral or amoral, depending on our intentions. To be moral, atheists [I would add here all non-magical thinkers] have access to the simple tools of reason and kindness. There is no Cosmic Code Book directing our actions. Of course, relative to humanity, certain general actions can be deemed almost uniformly right or wrong. Without the Ten Commandments, would it never have dawned on the human race that there is a problem with killing? The prohibitions against homicide and theft existed millennia before the Israelites claimed the copyright. The way to be moral is to learn what causes harm and how to avoid it. This means investigating nature–especially human nature: who we are, what we need, where we live, how we function, and why we behave the way we do. (This gives an objective basis to morality, even though the values themselves are not objective things.) Why should I treat my neighbor nicely? Because we are all connected. We are part of the same species, genetically linked. Since I value myself and my species, and the other species to whom we are related, I recognize that when someone is hurting, my natural family is suffering. By nature, those of us who are mentally healthy recoil from pain and wish to see it ended. This is not the Golden Rule. Confucius, 500 years before Christianity, phrased the principle best when he said, ‘Don’t do to others what you would not have them do to you.’ Although this is still not a fully adequate principle for ethics, it is much better than ‘Do unto others” because it identifies the avoidance of harm as the key to morality…” (Source: How Can an Atheist Be Moral? For Goodness Sake By Dan Barker).

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  57. Unfortunately w. Kempton,

    The power that God chooses to excercise is mostly persuasive.

    There’s a bit of “because I said so” going on in there. But not as much as you’re thinking I’d wager. Certainly not enough to make “because I said so” the foundational rationale for Christian morality (although some Christians admittedly do a good job of acting as if it was).

    Comment by Seth R. — February 6, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  58. Seth,

    I think what you said is said by Islamic terroists too “The power that God chooses to excercise is mostly persuasive.” Regarding the “because I said so” comments, I don’t understand what you mean?

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  59. w. Kempton: As a former Mormon I can understand why you would protest my definition of religious morality as simplistic, and maybe it is, but the fact is that most religious people will do whatever they believe their deity (or his holy men) commands them to do. Is it moral for men in their 40s to have sex with girls in their teens? If the Mormon prophets say it’s moral it’s moral in the Mormon mindset. If your god says to kill babies (as described in the holy books), might makes right, and so you obey. It may be simplistic but that is what religious morality entails from my point of view.

    The way you talk, I would have a hard time believing you ever met one Mormon in real life if you didn’t tell me you used to be one. Your broad-brush characterization is wholly unfair and uncharitable and betrays more than just a little prejudice. Save that stuff for the RFM boards.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  60. Tom,

    I just talked to my step mom who is a true believing Mormon last week, I visit my parents to have Sunday dinner with them regularly. We have a good relationship and just agree to disagree on many issues. During a discussion recently she stated her oppinion that since it is possible that gay marriage may one day be legalized that polygamy would likely be made legal. She had no problem with polygamy if the church leaders said it was OK. So are my comments really a “characterization” of Mormons? Regarding the baby killing I apologize if that offends you, but have you read the Old Testament? You should join me in protesting such immorality as killing babies. Last time I checked the O.T. was LDS doctrine. And I was a temple attending Mormon yes, served a mission too. I don’t mean to offend I am just showing that humanistic morality is more rational than religious morality.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  61. I’m aware of what’s in the Old Testament. There are important truths in it. But acknowledging such doesn’t mean that one believes that killing babies is ever OK. You’re taking the most extreme position conceivable and imputing that to “most Mormons.”

    I am just showing that humanistic morality is more rational than religious morality.

    Morality is morality. Some of us have moral sensibilities that are informed by relgious belief and some of us have moral sensibilities that aren’t. You may be able to tease out potentially troubling implications in various religious beliefs, but you know as well as I do that most people, be they religious or irreligious, behave in a responsible, moral fashion. Your whole point seems to be to set yourself up as morally superior to religious believers. As I mentioned in my first comment, I find this annoying. Really, what’s the point?

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  62. I apologize if that offends you

    w.Kempton,
    Dude, apologizing that someone else gets offended isn’t an apology. I learned this almost immediately after getting married.

    Comment by Rusty — February 6, 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  63. LOL Rusty! Me too!

    Comment by Mark IV — February 6, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  64. I’m glad you recognize that killing babies isn’t OK. But scriptures like 1 Samuel 15 clearly state that Jehovah, which in Mormon doctrine is Jesus, ordered the killing of babies. Is that the most extreme position? no, it is the norm, for I can share a huge list of other such barbarity found in LDS scripture. I am not imputing this to “most Mormons” but to Mormonism. Many Mormons are above these teachings in their holy books.

    I agree that most people, be they religious or irreligious, behave in a responsible, moral fashion; and that is because we have morally advanced since the days of the O.T. I don’t think I am morally superior (or more compassionate or charitable etc) than anyone, heck, you may be by some definition more ethical or moral than I am, I don’t know you, so who knows. I’m not perfect but if you endorse scriptures that promote baby killing then in my humble opinion your sense of morality is bankrupt.

    My point is that we are both human beings and we should derive moral principles from compassion, our shared reality, and rationality. I say let’s come together as humans and not divide each other by dogma. Morality is above and beyond religion. I leave you with a quote to ponder:

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999, US physicist

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  65. response to 61,

    That’s funny, maybe if I were married I would have learned that lesson, lol.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  66. Most of this will be in response to post #55.
    I did neglect to add that I think there is much theistic humanism within Mormonism. This IMO is a product of two things. First, we see extraordinary potential within humans and the human race. We are to become divine. As such we are neither totally depraved nor irrelevant to God our Father. Second, we believe that God guides our thoughts through revelation, but not through arbitrary divine command revelation (or at least seldom) rather through “study it out in your mind” revelation.

    Before I respond to a few specific points I want to respond to “sex with teenagers,” “kill babies,” and “polygamy.” These are obviously intended to represent the pitfalls of divine command morality. Throughout history, I believe that religion, Christianity, and Mormonism can hold their own against secularism, non-Christianity, and non-Mormonism when it comes to the absence or presence of a proclivity to do things that are amoral regardless of how one defines morality. Such discussions always seem to be quite subjective to me. I am unconvinced that it is impossible for Polygamy, including younger wives, to be moral. I will however readily acknowledge there was immoral behavior within the church associated with Polygamy. All that being said, I think the argument from history and evidence is inconclusive. As such I have focused more on foundational arguments for morality, love, and as this thread specifically discusses altruism.

    WKempton:
    In your response here Tom#2 you seem to reject evolution and yet many Mormons fully embrace evolution. Second, you asked two questions:

    TOm:
    I certainly did not intend to reject evolution. I believe in macro and micro evolution generally. What I rejected is a 100% naturalistic view of the world. There is much more to the human than the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder that started within a chemical soup. I do not think a 100% naturalistic view of the world can explain many things that I think are quite evident/important to the world. Among these are reason, love, and free will.

    WKempton:
    You then answer number 2 with your comment, “I do not see how such commitments can be commanded accept through societal controls. Thus societal morality is defined, but individual behavior is logically governed by societal response to actions not by underlying moral concerns.” This is why we have laws like polygamy and sex with minors being illegal Tom.

    TOm:
    Of course the above statement was me speaking of the naturalistic worldview. And yes, within the naturalistic worldview societal controls MAY develop to preclude things like polygamy and sex with minors. My point is that if the individual finds himself on a dessert island with 3 minors, and death is imminent (no future and no return to society and its controls) there is no underlying reason such a person (if they believe their greatest happiness will be achieved in this way) should refrain from sex with multiple minors. Likewise one should desire to live in a society where nobody steals from you, but if you can steal from someone else without any negative repercussions (either legal or social) then stealing is the logical choice if you believe your happiness will be enhanced.

    Also, I emphasized “MAY” because there have been cultures in which humanist proclivities seem to have approved of polygamy and sex with those who are fertile.

    WKempton:
    In response to number 1 the answer is simple, out of compassion. Why does the fireman risk his life to save someone from a burning building? It’s his job? Perhaps, but I think it is more about compassion. Why do people give to charity, and help the poor and the needy?

    TOm:
    Love and compassion exist in this world because the reality of this life is that the naturalistic assumptions offered by naturalists are not true. Since even the naturalist lives in a world that is not explained by naturalism, there is love and compassion. I am not asking for case studies. I will repeat to you my invitation to Jeff (in a post you responded to).

    “I invite you to explain the evolutionary development of “love” in a way that it is more than either selfishness or chemicals. I am unsure if I can be convinced it is more than selfish under a naturalistic evolutionary paradigm, but I do not think I can be convinced that it is more than chemicals even if you get that far.”

    It is my position that if the naturalistic paradigm cannot account for “love and compassion” then the naturalist who possesses “love and compassion” is not evidence that the naturalist paradigm is correct. Instead the naturalist who possesses “love and compassion” is evidence that the naturalist paradigm is incorrect. Which is of course is one of the things that I believe is true.

    WKempton:
    Yes some do it for religious reasons to avoid Hell or get a reward in heaven, or to selfishly gain so-called “blessings,” but the humanist does it out of compassion.

    TOm:
    Those who “do it” (behave in a way that you would suggest evidences love and compassion within the naturalist) out of a desire to avoid Hell or get a reward in heaven do in fact not behaving a way this is at its core loving or compassionate. However, as a number of folks and I have said earlier in this thread, Mormonism specifically and Christianity generally, teaches that we are to love in the truest sense of the word rather than for our own gain. Within a theistic paradigm such love is possible. I am suggesting that within a naturalistic paradigm it is not.

    I read your Jefferson and Barker material. Again, I fail to see how the OTHER human who is merely the highest rung on an evolutionary ladder is to command the chemical processes within our brain. The human that is ME desires to live within a society where OTHERS are compelled to behave in a certain way and as such I will conform to such compulsion in order to be part of this society. But such conforming and such societal rules are not selfless morals. It seems to me that there is no principle upon which selfless morals can be built. It will all be about maximizing individual happiness.

    As I have reflected upon this thread, I would like to concede this point. The secularist who loves selflessly exists and is more moral than the religionist who appears to love because he/she desires reward.

    I think the data shows that Christians/LDS behave in loving ways more frequently than do secularists.
    I do not believe we have any reason to suppose that there is a higher percentage of selfless lovers among Christian/LDS than among naturalists. Naturalists have many reasons beyond selfless love to behave in loving ways too.
    I think the naturalistic worldview is incapable of explaining the existence of selfless love.
    And I think the Christian/Mormon is called to behave in loving ways for the selfless love reasons not for reward and many achieve such exalted behavior/motivation.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — February 6, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  67. #60: “Your whole point seems to be to set yourself up as morally superior…”
    ________________________

    Ah!! Now you know what if feels like living in a Mormon community.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  68. “Dude, apologizing that someone else gets offended isn’t an apology. I learned this almost immediately after getting married.”
    .
    .
    .
    That’s funny, maybe if I were married I would have learned that lesson, lol.
    ___________________________

    It’s also kind of funny, don’t you think, that Mormons would be offended by something that’s in a book they carry to church with them evry Sunday. LOL!

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  69. Again, if you want to have respectful discussion with members of the Church don’t be disrespectful and mocking. It does not engender respect.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  70. Sorry. I was just irritated by the laughing at w.Kempton.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  71. Nobody was laughing at him, Jeff. They were laughing at the fact that our wives won’t put up with our ”apologies” that they get offended. Your comment wasn’t meant to be funny, it was a poke, the nature of which is exactly what you are opposed to at the beginning of this thread.

    Comment by Rusty — February 6, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  72. Ah. My mistake. I’m not following the thread very close this afternoon. I just did a quick perusal and jumped to a conclusion. Sorry again.

    Comment by Jeff Ricks — February 6, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  73. Steven Weinberg’s comment is just plain silly. I can give you any number of examples to the contrary, from Nazi excesses and Lenin’s communist revolution, to school busing, relocation of Navaho children to “educated” families and, actually, any large law firm in the country.

    I’m sure if you thought about it for a moment, you could come up with better examples.

    People don’t need religion to be misguided. They do just fine on their own.

    Comment by Seth R. — February 6, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  74. Response to # 65:

    Tom, your analogy of being stuck on a beach with several minors was interesting. Is that a fantasy of yours? I’m totally joking and you may have a point depending on how old the minors are and how long you’re on the island. For you may just think you are stranded and then a boat pulls up and the dad of the eleven year old you are with isn’t too happy! But I see your point to a degree if they are “of age,” and regarding stealing I return you to Dan Barker’s comments above regarding morality being basically avoiding “unnecessary” harm.

    Humanists do not endorse polygamous sex with those who are fertile Tom; you need to use a different term to speak of other cultures.

    Tom, you wrote “Love and compassion exist in this world because the reality of this life is that the naturalistic assumptions offered by naturalists are not true. Since even the naturalist lives in a world that is not explained by naturalism, there is love and compassion.”

    HUH??? That’s a circular argument if I ever read one. My head is spinning, stop it Tom ;)

    Tom: “I invite you to explain the evolutionary development of ‘love’ in a way that it is more than either selfishness or chemicals?”

    I’m not a neuroscientist Tom but I am studying such things everyday. You have the burden of proof to prove that “loving feelings” aren’t a product of the brain but is some abstract thing from heaven. I actually saw an episode of the science channel that addressed this subject. Check it out if you can, I don’t recall the title of the episode though. If Love somehow proves Mormonism does pedophilia prove Mormonism too. You can’t have it both ways Tom! Where did the tendency toward pedophilia come from Tom? Your whole argument about love is circular and is based on a misunderstanding of love as some mystical thing, when love is a verb. It is what you do to show love in a natural world.

    Tom: “Mormonism specifically and Christianity generally, teaches that we are to love in the truest sense of the word rather than for our own gain. Within a theistic paradigm such love is possible. I am suggesting that within a naturalistic paradigm it is not.”

    Wow, it’s as if you just ignored or didn’t understand everything Jeff said above in this thread. It also ignores everything I said, but that’s OK you’re entitled to your opinion. I can understand why Jeff gave up trying to be understood above. Let me ask you Tom is killing babies loving in the truest sense of the word? If you endorse LDS scripture like 1 Sam. 15 you have to say yes. Your question about selfless love reminds me of Sam Harris’s critique of a book by Francis Collins. Sam Harris writes:

    “While the mere sighting of a waterfall appears to have been sufficient to answer all important questions of theology for Collins, he imagines himself to be in possession of further evidence attesting to the divinity of Jesus, the omnipotence of God and the divine origin of the Bible. The most compelling of these data, in his view, is the fact that human beings have a sense of right and wrong. Collins follows [C.S.] Lewis here, as faithfully as if he were on a leash, and declares that the ‘moral law’ is so inscrutable a thing as to admit of only a supernatural explanation. According to Collins, the moral law applies exclusively to human beings:
    Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species’ behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness.

    One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such ‘dramatic contrast.’ How badly must human beings behave to put this ‘sense of universal rightness’ in doubt? And just how widespread must ‘glimmerings’ of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution? Collins’ case for the supernatural origin of morality rests on the further assertion that there can be no evolutionary explanation for genuine altruism. Because self-sacrifice cannot increase the likelihood that an individual creature will survive and reproduce, truly self-sacrificing behavior stands as a primordial rejoinder to any biological account of morality. In Collins’ view, therefore, the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God. (Here, Collins performs a risible sprint past ideas in biology like ‘kin selection’ that plausibly explain altruism and self-sacrifice in evolutionary terms.) A moment’s thought reveals, however, that if we were to accept this neutered biology, almost everything about us would be bathed in the warm glow of religious mystery. Forget morality—how did nature select for the ability to write sonnets, solder circuit boards or swing a golf club? Clearly, such abilities could never be the product of evolution. Might they have been placed in us by God? Smoking cigarettes isn’t a healthy habit and is unlikely to offer an adaptive advantage—and there were no cigarettes in the Paleolithic—but this habit is very widespread and compelling. Is God, by any chance, a tobacco farmer? Collins can’t seem to see that human morality and selfless love may be derivative of more basic biological and psychological traits, which were themselves products of evolution. It is hard to interpret this oversight in light of his scientific training. If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning” Source: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060815_sam_harris_language_ignorance/

    I am about to sign off and go visit some family but this morality debate was interesting. The bottom line is that:

    You cannot appeal to your holy texts as the source of love and morality when they endorse killing babies and taking virgins as war booty etc.

    Until you address that honestly you are as O’Reilly says, merely “spinning.”

    What we can agree on is that, as you put it,:

    “As I have reflected upon this thread, I would like to concede this point. The secularist who loves selflessly exists and is more moral than the religionist who appears to love because he/she desires reward.”

    I will add that as humanism entered Mormonism it became more moral than other Fundamentalist churches. After all, Mormons reject Hell-fire-torture and Exclusive Salvation. Joseph Smith seemed to evolve beyond the slave morality of Christian dogma, and taught sex is good, and created the doctrine of becoming super-gods, which is similar to Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman (or Overman).

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  75. Response to 72.

    OK I made the mistake of reading this post before signing off. This is it then I am gone. Hitler was a Catholic and invoked Christ! He may have got this from Martin Luther who was an anti-Semite. Just look into it if you don’t believe me. The communist parties that acted immorally weren’t HUMANISTIC by definition and they did not “avoid unnecessary harm.” We can start pointing out who’s side has a bigger body count, but that missess the point, and I think we all will agree that more people have died in the name of god than by any other means. Hopefully another freethinker will join in on this blog and explain things further. I gotta go.

    Comment by w.Kempton — February 6, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  76. “freethinker”

    Nonsense. What a condescending jerk.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

  77. Yeah, it’s probably time to close comments on this one.

    Comment by Rusty — February 6, 2007 @ 5:17 pm