Monday, September 24, 2007

The Theists Are Right For Once (Sort Of)

Let me be abundantly clear: Behaving morally is not the same thing as having a coherent moral system. PZ seems to be totally missing that point in his response to a Yale freshman; "atheists are amoral" may be a tired canard, but that's not the argument that's being put forward. Quoth the aforementioned froshling:

That's not to say that naturalists cannot behave morally, but merely that they can have no real and consistent reason for behaving morally. As this has been a long-standing and widespread objection to naturalism, it would seem only reasonable to expect atheists to devote careful attention to the question of morality.
Ey's not suggesting that atheism inevitably leads to wife-swapping and cannibalism, but rather that those atheists who lead moral lives do so without the benefit of a coherent moral system. I'll get to that argument in a second, but first I want to talk about PZ's response.

As a rebuttal to the fresh-person's argument PZ offers the following:

I was raised in a happy family, one that reinforced that conventionally 'good' behavior, and that rewarded appropriate social behavior. I lived with good role models who offered love without conditions, who taught by example rather than with fear or threats. I live now in a family and with a community of friends who do not demand obeisance to superstition in order to give respect. I am rewarded materially and emotionally for moral behavior.
Which is all well and good, but as a rational for moral behavior it hovers somewhere between 2 and 3 on the Kohlberg scale. I'm sure PZ is a much more sophisticated fellow, but for the most part his defense makes it sound like he behaves conventionally not because of strongly held beliefs, but rather because its the path of least resistance. I don't find that a particularly effective rebuttal.

Now, regarding the assertion that atheists can't have a real and consistent reason for behaving rationally: I agree that atheists need to spend more time considering the question, because atheistic systems of morality seem to be a pretty slippery subject. But, as I've said before, I do believe its possible for atheists to have self-consistent belief systems, its just not possible for them to justify preferring one system over another.

3 Comments:

Blogger sabeth said...

"they can have no real and consistent reason for behaving morally"

You accept this? I suggest that you read it again. I am an atheist and I have very real and consistent reasons for behaving morally (not that I can prove it to you). I very much doubt that I am the only atheist who could honestly make this claim.

So, in making that universal statement of 'no real and consistent reason' this theist, like so many theists before him, is proven wrong by the exception to his ridiculous categorical claim.

11:07 PM  
Blogger sabeth said...

"hovers somewhere between 2 and 3 on the Kohlberg scale"

Having read Pharyngula for a while, I'd rank PZ somewhere around 5 or 6.

Look at the scale again and you should realize that most religionists rank around 3 or 4 at best -- "you must be be a good little believer or you'll be punished with Eternal Damnation".

11:13 PM  
Blogger GG said...

sabeth -

I don't accept the assertion that atheists "can have no real and consistent reason for behaving morally"; I specifically said that I "believe its possible for atheists to have self-consistent belief systems". Where I believe the theists (or at least the theist in PZ's original post) are correct is in their assertion that atheists need to spend more time examining the foundations of atheistic systems of morality. I encourage you to read the previous post that I wrote on the subject discussing some of the difficulties inherent in non-theistic systems.

As far as PZ is concerned, he may very well be a 5 or a 6. I specifically allowed that he was probably more morally sophisticated than was apparent in his response. Nevertheless, that doesn't negate the fact that his response lacks the appearance of deep moral reasoning.

If you don't mind could you elaborate on your statement


I am an atheist and I have very real and consistent reasons for behaving morally (not that I can prove it to you).


What do you take as the basis for your moral system, and why do you believe that you can't prove that you follow such a system?

GG

9:43 PM  

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