Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Muddle of Materialist Morality A rerun on a day when I'm feeling rundown.

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.

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

 Note: I'm finding that dealing with my mother's death far, far harder than I would have expected.  I don't feel up to writing something new just now.


  1. I have a couple of non-specific thoughts: the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas set to work on the question of morality when he saw a stranger save a young child from traffic. The child was in the way of a car, the stranger altruistically saved the child. Why, Levinas wondered? He went on to work on the issue in his philosophy.

    Then there's the struggle with morality conducted by Jean Paul Sartre, who understood that relieving humanity of God made humanity more, not less, responsible for the consequences of human actions.

    They took the issue seriously, in other words. They didn't deal in vague and groundless generalizations like Goldstein or Weinberg. I've no doubt neither G nor W would countenance such wild assumptions in their own fields, but in the field of morality and religion, well, you don't need to know anything because both topics are stupid! (That, at least, is Dawkins' position. I've seen supporters of Dawkins deny that on-line, but they are deluding themselves).

    I'm sure Goldstein and Weinberg take themselves seriously, but no one who studies these subjects, from monks and nuns to philosophers, takes them seriously; or gives them much regard at all.

  2. Adding: "Weinberg asserts that his "moral preference" prefers the comfort of his family to the happiness of starving people elsewhere."

    Of course, if the world functioned that way, his family would have very little comfort at all. And probably a much shorter life expectancy, and I don't mean from disease.