17 January 2018

Videos of the day -- prominent atheists on religion

Richard Dawkins on the Ten Commandments:

Sam Harris on some basic problems with Christianity:

Dawkins answers questions from Redditors:

The Sam Harris book sounds like a must-read for the moral-philosopher types.  And apparently Dawkins agrees with me about what is the greatest question science still needs to resolve -- what consciousness is and how it evolved.


Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

Infidel753, I realize that this is a fairly long comment so you may not want to post all of it. But I have very strong views about Dawkins' and Harris' views, especially the extreme negative determinism of Harris:
1. Richard Dawkins is an incredibly good science writer. His long history of evolution, The Ancestor's Tale, is probably one of the best 5 books in biology in the last 50 years. I'm still amazed every time I think of it. Many of his criticisms about the wrongs of religion are true, such as Original Sin, that infants are born in "sin." However, he mostly only focuses on conservative religion. I don't recall him dealing with the sort of positive religion which founded Oxfam, Amnesty International, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, etc.

2. In contrast, Sam Harris is a strange contradiction. His first 2 books were incisive, well-written, and thought-provoking, but then he went off the deep end. In this video, Harris makes very strong points against Craig's Christianity, especially his central point that Christianity is a religion of "human sacrifice." Harris points out that Craig's god is "evil" because it causes millions of deaths, BUT Harris himself thinks that all humans are determined "puppets" who only do and say what is forced on to them. Harris criticizes Craig for a lack of "moral accountability" and for a "double standard" BUT Harris's own views are that no human has a choice, none at all. For instance, listen to his bizarre "Tumors All the Way Down" podcast and the one where he interviews Jerry Coyne. Harris holds very anti-humanistic views, claims that all humans have deterministic "tumors" like the infamous murderer in Texas who allegedly killed because of a tumor.

Harris claims that Craig's views are "morally reprehensible." HOWEVER, according to Harris, every human, including Craig have no choice, none at all. Indeed, according to Harris, I'm not actually writing this after thinking, again, about his views. No, this body is being forced to do this, and even if the universe came again, a "trillion" times "I" (an illusion according to Harris) would be forced to do exactly the same. Also, read Harris' anti-Daniel Dennett article, "The Marionette's Lament," and, of course, his book, Free Will, showing puppet strings.

Dennett has some very good criticisms to make about Harris' extreme determinism. See https://samharris.org/reflections-on-free-will/ Dennett makes a humorous suggestion that since Harris doesn't think we humans can ever be responsible, he ought to take his name off of his books:-) Obviously, Harris then shouldn't claim credit for having written them.

What's weird about this is Harris' extreme determinism is almost exactly the same as conservative Christianity's extreme determinism. He just substitutes the cosmos for god.

As the old cliche goes: two opposing views doesn't mean one is right and the other, wrong. Both may be wrong.

For a much more positive, hopeful, humanistic view against religion, and for ethics and for moral responsibility, check out The Humanist Manifesto III.

17 January, 2018 08:31  
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17 January, 2018 11:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Daniel: Dawkins may have covered so-called "positive religion" in The God Delusion -- it's a while since I read it. This video was just about the Ten Commandments, not about every single aspect of the problem.

Harris's video isn't consistent with believing in determinism, and his book which Dawkins mentions -- attempting to put morality on an objective scientific foundation -- isn't either. If humans were deterministic and had no free will, morality would not exist, since no human would be truly responsible for his actions. Lots of people claim to believe in determinism for whatever reason, but their actual actions and views show that they really don't. So I don't really much care if Harris has claimed a belief in determinism at some point. It's what he says here that's of value.

(I don't think Christianity is deterministic either, for the same reason. Also, most Christian sects -- I know there are a few exceptions -- believe humans have free will and can, at least, decide whether to accept Jesus or not.)

17 January, 2018 13:49  
Blogger Ryan said...

Infidel and Daniel,

What does free will mean to you? Obviously, we all perceive choices and feel like we make them, but the desires and beliefs that guide our decisions are themselves the results of prior causes.

I can't really understand the concept of free will. The idea that we have some power that transcends the laws of nature, i.e. defies causality, seems mystical. But even beyond that, it's not at all clear how this force would behave. When, why, and how does it activate? On what basis, if not prior causes or randomness, does it act? Can you provide any reasons to believe that people do act in defiance of prior causes?

I don't agree that morality does not exist in the absence of such a force because the sort of responsibility you're talking about is not essential to all definitions of morality. Without it, we can still identify desirable and undesirable behaviors, use praise/reward and condemnation/punishment to modify some of the desires and beliefs that produce those behaviors, recognize when that is not possible (e.g. crimes committed by the mentally incompetent) and act accordingly, etc.

Also, it is my understanding that Dawkins also believes that free will is an illusion, albeit a necessary or desirable one for us. And Dennett's take on free will (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joCOWaaTj4A ) isn't very satisfying, as user "K railroads" explains in the comments. I still have not heard a satisfactory naturalistic take on free will.

20 January, 2018 10:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ryan: I essentially responded to that question in the comment above yours and here, in this excerpt and comment:

".....despite recent advances in brain science, our own time's understanding of how consciousness, thought, and associated mental phenomena actually work is sketchy at best. Jumping to the conclusion that free will must be an illusion, because our current knowledge cannot account for it, is an understandable error.....The video didn't mention determinism or Harris's (or Christianity's) alleged belief in determinism. If it had, I wouldn't have chosen that one to post. In all honesty I can hardly imagine anything more boring than arguing about determinism. It's Harris's moral critique of Christianity that interests me."

20 January, 2018 11:32  

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