Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Muddle of Materialist Morality

The physicist Steven Weinberg is probably most famous for saying

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.

I've pointed out that the utter cluelessness of that statement coming from someone from the branch of science that has done as much as any to give the world nuclear and other weapons,  Many of those physicists avowed atheists working in an area of human scholarship, science, which has enabled us to do massively more evil through its real efficacy to multiply our potency while it undermines moral restraint.

Weinberg was one of the participants in a gathering of elite atheists in October of last year under the headline "Moving Naturalism Forward".    The participants were a number of elite scientists and scholars, including a number of the big names in atheism,  Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Sean Carroll....   Some of the big thinkers of atheism.   If any group was capable of "moving 'naturalism' - you can safely read 'atheism' - forward, it would seem to be these folks.

Apropos of Weinberg's most famous saying, something that anyone arguing with atheists will certainly encounter, one of the sessions of discussions dealt with "Morality".   It begins with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein asserting an evo-psy basis for morality, pretty much the one that has been fashionable among atheists for some time now.  It's an attempt to make science do what science can't do, to come up with a scientific reason that we should behave morally, generously, kindly, through natural selection.  Something which I hold is an obviously impossible task due to natural selection being based in self-interest and which has required that generosity, kindness and any other expression of moral behavior be tortuously redefined to make them into a covert form of selfishness.  The absurdity reaches a basic level in Dawkins' "gene selfishness" which turns "altruism" into a pantomime of morality in service to selfish molecules.

As an aside, it's remarkable how in rejecting the alleged tyranny of the idea of an almighty God, an idea atheists often assert to be degrading to human dignity, end up asserting an absolute totalitarian rule by molecules and atoms, demoting human beings to being their unconscious, robotic servants.

In the past I've pointed out that materialism isn't capable of generating or sustaining morality that isn't vulnerable to even the most unsophisticated level of debunkery that atheism generally practices.  As an example of that, Goldstein's up to date, evo-psy based, fortress of materially based morality doesn't last more than ten minutes as the second speaker demolishes it.   That second speaker is Mr. "Bad Religion" himself, Steven Weinberg.   Weinberg does exactly what I said any atheist could do if they chose, assert that there is nothing real about any moral concept that is presented to them.  Their materialism has freed them to be as selfish as they want to be.  Weinberg asserts that his "moral preference" prefers the comfort of his family to the happiness of starving people elsewhere.   His response to Goldstein is most interesting because he points out that his thinking not only dispelled traditional morality but also the utilitarianism that he'd previously adopted.  As utilitarianism has been one of the most popular atheist-materialist imitations of morality, it is telling how that enormous intellectual effort is susceptible to the most unsophisticated rejection.

I don't think you'll find much else of use in the chatter, which I will address more of later, but you can see how this group of great atheist thinkers is unlikely to do much to lessen the depravity of human societies and governments.   Atheism can't generate a morality that it doesn't wash away in its basic methods and practices.   In the end, an atheist "morality" will always be no more reliable than doing what people figure they can get away with doing, most often, what they want to do, at most.   There is nothing in atheism that will compel most people to act generously, in a kindly way, ... against their selfish interest.  In order to have a decent society many, probably a large majority of people have to be far less selfish than can be effected through any of these materialistic cover jobs.

To listen, click on the link below

Moving Naturalism Forward: Day 2, Morning, 1st Session


  1. Weinberg's comments make me think of insights available from sociology and anthropology (two branches of science) and, picking up on your post about the Boston bombing below, the event that make Emmanuel Levinas consider the nature of the Self and the Other. He said he saw a child fall in traffic, before an oncoming car. An adult, wholly unrelated to the child, snatched it from danger. Levinas found himself wondering why, and what it had to to with "human nature" and matters of ethics and morality (which are two different topics, properly understood. IMHO.).

    I doubt Weinberg knows anything about sociology or anthropology, or has even heard of Reinhold Niebuhr (who wrote some very good works on questions of ethics and morality) or is brother, Richard (ditto; even better than Reinie's work, actually), or, for that matter, Levinas (a Jew, not a Christian by birth or upbringing).

    In fact, I doubt Weinberg knows much at all, outside his own area of scientific expertise. I've met MD's like that; people with very advanced and technical training who think that gives them knowledge of all things, without all the effort even Faustus had to go through. A well educated person from the Enligthenment would eat people like Weinberg for breakfast.

    Socrates would pick his teeth with Weinberg's bones. As is so common, he clearly considers that which he is wholly ignorant of to be wholly irrelevant.

  2. ...that gives them knowledge of all things

    Orac wasn't there. Oh, wait, it was bad of me to say that.

    It might be the predominant trait of atheists that they believe their ideology gives them super powers making merely knowing what they're talking about unnecessary. And they don't have to be physicists to believe that, oh, wait, make that to "know" that. Quite amazingly ignorant blog atheists assert stuff like that all the time.

    I'd like to ask someone like Weinberg or Sean Carroll to define soteriology cold and see what they said.

    None of those people sitting at that table had the competence to discuss the topic as the most humble and uncredentialed person who ran towards the blast the other day or the person who saved the child from in front of the car.