Is your trust in science based on faith or based on science?

What I mean is this: how much do you actually know about the science most atheists parrot? Most atheists know as little science as most Christians know as little theology. Just as a Christian trusts his priest to tell him what he believes, an atheist trusts scientists with a Ph.D. tacked to their name to tell them what they believe. But how many times have the scientists turned out to be wrong? I only ask this because it seems this is central to the problem that most atheists have. They are repulsed by the phrase “believe” – they are addicted instead to the phrase “know”. But honestly, do you really know, or are you just believing what you’re told? I would like to remind you that in the 1970′s the scientists of the day were seriously concerned that we were about to enter an ice age, and less than 30 years later they are now convinced Earth is about to turn into a desert.

Unless you’ve observed something yourself, or observed and interpreted the evidence yourself and drew your own conclusions, you are just as guilty as faith as any religious person.

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@Professor Robert,

I think it's odd that you are apparently a science professor and yet do not understand something as basic as the biological evolution of morality.  I was looking for something to provide for you to read and understand the subject.  I didn't want to find something too complicated for you to understand, nor did I want to merely throw a wiki link out there (although wiki has a fairly simple entry on the subject - just Google " wiki Evolution of Morality").

In the end, from the many thousands of relevant pages, I pulled up a nice simple paper by Douglas Allchin, entitled "The Evolution of Morality".  Nevertheless, having seen you reject references to authors that you may not feel have suitable credentials, I am also offering you a selection of scholarly papers on the same matter, so you can pick out a paper from someone you deem "suitable".  There appear to be some 282,000 relevant papers on that link, so I'm sure you will find one that you can understand.

It is certainly an interesting subject, and I am delighted to be able to introduce you to it in this way.  Happy learning :)

That's all you mean by that Golden Rule claim?  That there's mild evolutionary pressure toward cooperation in packs/tribes in higher order animals?  Of course there is.

There's also rape.  Lots and lots of rape.  And violent competition for mates.  Plenty of that, too.  Rape is a great way to spread genetic material.  It's strongly selected for in most environments.  Violence does OK, too.

As individuals and a species, we violate the Golden Rule all the time, especially when we're dealing with people we identify as being outside our pack/tribe.   Just look at any middle school playground.    That doesn't suggest that a more universal Golden Rule is an evolutionary product.

I am not a Biologist, @Strega, though I do read fairly widely.  I've been aware of efforts to try to explain altruism (a different, lesser claim than what you made above) through evolutionary processes, game theory, etc.  It's not my field, but as an outside reader I'd say for the moment it's mostly speculative, and tends to originate in a certain scientific fringe that has an ideological interest in the question.  Not the best recipe for good science.

The obvious answer to me is that it is wrong because the pursuit of sexual or personal gratification does not justify the immense harm caused to children during such sexual molestation.

Why not?  People make choices that cause harm to themselves or others all the time in the pursuit of pleasure.   Are they wrong to do so?  Why?

You and I live in first world nations that monopolize resources and consumption in a manner that arguably leads to profound poverty in some/many places.   The effects of poverty on children in the long term are arguably every bit as devastating as rape, if not moreso.

Does it always result in harm?  What if we were to bring it out of the closet, so it isn't as psychologically abnormal and stressful?   A society where it is accepted as an ordinary form of mentoring by youth and parents?   If that were the case, so that long term harm were minimized and social and personal/economic benefits for the child were larger, would that make it OK?

I'm not being argumentative, I'm really interested.   I have a sense for how I make ethical decisions of this sort.  How do you?

Did I call it? NAMBLA!

Actually, I was thinking in terms of ancient Greece.  I agree NAMBLA is mostly a canard, though the priest @Suzanne keeps bringing up was apparently actually involved with that group when it existed.

They want to change the law, so they can legally start fucking younger boys!

And I get criticized for loving the taste of ice-cold vodka in the morning!

Why not?  People make choices that cause harm to themselves or others all the time in the pursuit of pleasure. 

How did you get from a very specific context to the broadest possible context?

It has never, in my lifetime, been acceptable the way my nation exploits others. I have always voted against exploitive industry and practices, and I often abstain from certain purchases, or pay a premium on almost everything I buy to try and support ethical options to the best of my ability. But we are talking about a problem which exists at the level of my government, other nations' governments, multimillion and multibillion dollar industries, and billions of people. Whether it is okay or not, I am largely impotent in the face of it despite my intentions and efforts to mitigate harm.

But what we're talking about here is much simpler: DON'T. STICK. YOUR. PENIS. INTO. CHILDREN. (or molest them by any means, really).

Does it always result in harm?

Firing a gun while aiming at someone's head does not always cause harm. Sometimes you miss. Yet the potential risk is consistent and great enough that we can categorically rule it out as safe behaviour. Hypothetical outliers where there is no harm don't redeem the act.

If, hypothetically, there was no harm associated with an act, then there would be no problem with that act, but that just isn't a realistic scenario in the case of child molestation. There are physical and emotional risks as well as the risk of exploitation. This is (and was) true regardless of social acceptance and parental approval.

I feel genuinely bad for pedophiles in that I do not think anyone would choose a compulsion which is that destructive to themselves and others, but society has a stronger obligation to safeguard the rights and security of children than it does to worry about adults getting their jollies. Of all the grey area issues concerning child welfare, this is one of the least grey.

were minimized and social and personal/economic benefits for the child were larger

You're a hair away from prostitution. while I am not judgmental of prostitution, we're talking about children.

I have a sense for how I make ethical decisions of this sort.

From the way you talk in this thread, it sounds more like you push relativism as a means of conveniently weighing wrongs on a convenient scale. While I am not a moral absolutist, I am still capable of weighing a specific case on its own intrinsic merits and faults.

You are always very thoughtful and well-reasoned, @Kris.  I appreciate your willingness to engage in the discussion, and be genuinely reflective.

I think that saying something is "wrong" is at some level a moral absolutist argument, don't you think?  It implies pretty clearly that you intend your version of morality should apply not just to yourself, but to others.

Do you think that's OK, to make judgments in that way?  To "impose your morality" on others, so to speak?  If so, why?

What exactly are the "intrinsic merits and faults" that you are weighing, and how do you do that weighing?

In ancient Greece, pederasty was a socially normative "mentoring" relationship with adolescent boys.  We really don't have any hard data on whether or how much it harmed those children; like most human endeavors there was probably both harm and benefit.   Our modern data on harm comes solely from cultures where sexual relationships of any sort with children is strongly taboo, so that the only men pursuing it are those who are willing to be criminals.   That really doesn't provide sufficient data to make any sort of objective decision about a different culture and population.  Certainly not to conclude that an entire cultural practice in a relatively successful culture was "wrong."

Are you willing to state that to be the case regardless?  If so, why?

I think that saying something is "wrong" is at some level a moral absolutist argument, don't you think?

No, it's an arguable position. That said, it is not an arbitrary position.

It implies pretty clearly that you intend your version of morality should apply not just to yourself, but to others.

Not necessarily. My version of morality could apply to others, but that doesn't mean it has to. People can entertain my arguments or reject them, but they have to reason things out for themselves.

If I turn to the law or to force to prohibit or promote a certain type of behaviour, I am not trying to enforce morality; I am fighting to create the sort of world I want to live in. This may result in conflict with others who see things differently than I do. If I happen to get my way, it does not infer moral superiority. It just means that I got my way. 'My way' is defined by my moral convictions, not personal desire to assert myself over others.

Wrong isn't strictly a matter of morality, mind you. We walk a road which forks in two. It's not wrong to take the left path. It's not wrong to take the right path. If, however, you say you want to get to the grocery store, one path is much more efficient than the other. One path is the right path to the grocery store and the other is wrong. Even if the wrong path eventually meanders to the grocery store, we wouldn't generally consider it the right path unless you modify your goal: I want to take a long meandering path to the grocery store.

What exactly are the "intrinsic merits and faults" that you are weighing, and how do you do that weighing?

There are some factors which are fairly objective. Exceptions may exist where harm did not occur, but the activity is embedded with certain risks:

  • A child's body is not suited for penetrative sex, especially by the anatomy of grown men or other objects or body parts of a similar size.
  • Where pregnancy becomes a risk, a child is not well-equipped to deal with pregnancy
  • A child is not competent to assess the risks of sexually transmitted infections. 
  • A child has a greatly diminished capacity to consent to sexual intercourse and has marginal ability to physically repel unwanted sexual attention. 
  • In light of the last point, the activity places the welfare of the child secondary to personal gratification, creating potential for knowingly or unknowingly causing harm in a needless scenario. 'Needless' is a relative term, but until one can justify a need to interact sexually interact with children which matches or outstrips the child's welfare.

We really don't have any hard data on whether or how much it harmed those children [in ancient Greece].

Then why bring it up? You can speculate all you like, but if there is no path to move forward from that speculation, it's just a fun pastime, not an argument. I don't care if the ancient Greeks were wrong. We can safely assume they are all long dead now. I doubt we are going to learn a great deal from what we don't know and cannot study in any depth about them.

No, it's an arguable position.

Ah.  OK, thanks.  I understand I think.  We may be using slightly different definitions of "moral absolutist".

'My way' is defined by my moral convictions, not personal desire to assert myself over others.

I had you up to this point.  I will agree that law is different than morality; it's an oblique construct.   It's more about defining/organizing efficient societal norms.  "Creating" the legal/societal world we live in, as you say.  

I didn't understand when you said passing a law (affecting others) means you got your way, and your way is defined by your moral convictions.  That to me is imposing your moral convictions on others.  Can you explain that some more?

I agree we use "wrong" in a variety of contexts, and also with varying levels of implied contingency.  The long route to the grocery store may be "wrong", with the implied contingency that you want the most time efficient rather than the more scenic route.   The issue in terms of morality would seem to be at what point do we advocate or intervene in the choices of others?  We wouldn't in the case of a choice about the route to the store; we would intervene, perhaps with violent force if necessary, if someone chose to rape a child.   That's the point when we are asserting that our morality is objectively true in some way.  It justifies interfering with the freedom of others.

There are some factors which are fairly objective.

These seem more problematic, though perhaps you're encompassing that with the "fairly."

From a medical perspective, anal penetrative sex is something that even adult bodies are not suited for.  Are you also making an argument about gay male sex here?   The bigger issue is that there are many types of molestation that don't involve penetration.  To my knowledge, whether it was the ancient Greeks or the deviant modern priests, penetration was by no measure universal.  I'm not even sure it applied in the majority of cases.  So we're still left with the question of whether fondling, groping, and all that other stuff is OK or not.

Children who are capable of becoming pregnant are, generally speaking, perfectly well equipped biologically to deal with pregnancy.  If a child is not mentally/socially prepared, then is that the society's fault? 

That same objection would seem to apply to your other points as well.  In aboriginal peoples, kids are perfectly capable of assessing risks, making choices, and all the rest.  Bar Mitzvahs and other rights of passage into adulthood at age 12 were the norm for humanity into the industrial age.  Many of our great-grandparents got married at ages that would be considered "children" now (and many of our middle school aged children are experimenting on their own without the benefit of adult guidance).

In short, those "objective" notions seem really very culturally subjective. 

Then why bring it up? You can speculate all you like, but if there is no path to move forward from that speculation, it's just a fun pastime, not an argument.

Because it's an example of a cultural norm not contaminated by Judeo-Christendom.  Our own notion in Western culture that this behavior is "wrong" is the product of the spread of a particular religious tradition.   While we cannot make claims about individual Greek children, widespread long-term damage to children should have macro effects on Greek society, and there seems to be no evidence of that.  Ancient Greece was, by most measures of "civilization", very prosperous.

So it's an example of a culture where no one began by assuming this is "wrong" for religious reasons, and where there's no evidence of harm.   It serves therefore as an example of a possible society if we remove "Sky God" ways of thinking.

" Most atheists know as little science as most Christians know as little theology."

What G fails to get is that many people are atheist because of what they know of religion, which is often more than most religious types, not necessarily because of what they know about science. There are scientist of every religious belief that go to a church/mosque/synagogue/etc. every day and bend both beliefs to make them fit, so religion and science are not mutually exclusive. As an atheist I don't believe science is a religion, but if it were I bet they would have one hell of a service.

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