Dawkins on abortion and Downs

August 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

, the atheist writer, has claimed it is “immoral” to allow unborn babies with Down’s syndrome to live.

The professor posted a message on Twitter saying would-be parents who learn their child has the condition have an ethical responsibility to “abort it and try again”.

His comments were dismissed by charities and prompted fury online from opponents but he insisted his stance was “very civilised” because foetuses do not have “human feelings”.

It’s an incredibly tough decision for any potential parents. Unhelpful to label whatever decision they make as immoral.

He claimed that the important question in the abortion debate is not “is it ‘human’?” but “can it suffer?” and insisted that people have no right to object to abortion if they eat meat.

I’m pro-choice but I don’t accept that analogy.

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197 Responses to “Dawkins on abortion and Downs”

  1. Zebulon (124 comments) says:

    evil man

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 15 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. oldpark (378 comments) says:

    It always seems to me the ones who want abortions,have already been born.

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  3. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    Whatever valid insights Dawkins offers from his undoubted area of expertise, evolutionary biology,

    1. on this matter he has about as much right to have his opinion respected as a plumber, electrician or a little old lady teaching Sunday School, and

    2. he is just as much of a zealot as those he continually criticises.

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  4. EAD (1,316 comments) says:

    Clickbait

    I’m a Christian so I tend to regard Dawkins as a moron.

    At least though he is consistent in attacking ALL religions. Unlike some of our liberal minded friends, multiculturalists and political elite who sing the praises of the religion of peace yet offer indifference or even scorn for the religions that gave us the gift of civilization and the culture that gave us the freedoms we still mostly enjoy.

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  5. Odakyu-sen (749 comments) says:

    The decision is for the parents alone to make.

    I personally believe that in the perfect world, we die before our children, who look after themselves as independent adults, raising children of their own (and so on, into the future).

    I would have grave reservations about bringing a child into this world with the knowledge that they would never be able to grow to become an independent adult.

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  6. Bill Ted (93 comments) says:

    You nailed it Zebulon. One of my best mates has a down syndrome brother. He is a legend. Loves life. Loves his family. Dawkins sickens me every time he opens his mouth and tries to present himself as intellectually superior to everyone else. He must live an incredibly empty life.

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  7. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ Odakyu-sen

    I would have grave reservations about bringing a child into this world with the knowledge that they would never be able to grow to become an independent adult.

    But as I am sure you are aware, Dawkins is not saying that. He is saying it is evil if the parents don’t abort.

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  8. TheContrarian (1,091 comments) says:

    I’m an atheist and can’t stand Dawkins

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  9. polemic (460 comments) says:

    Odakyu-sen –
    You would hardly say Dawkins is an independent adult………….

    anyway Dawkins will meet his maker sooner or later but he may find it is too late to change his mind then…..

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  10. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    I think this is a far more complex question than Dawkins is making it. He is suggesting that Downs children (and adults) suffer, but I don’t believe that’s true. Downs people are often very very happy.

    Where I think it’s more complex is that probably if we had a downs pregnancy, we would have chosen to abort (very hypothetical I know). We have friends who are quite religious, and in that same situation chose not to abort. I understand their choice and support them in it. But with the health system and government support we have, that means they’re choosing that (other) taxpayers will contribute a substantial amount of money to help them with their choice. I know it’s not a financial decision, but it seems perverse to me that they can make a personal choice that has such a large cost to the taxpayer.

    Ultimately though, this is a small percentage of the money the govt spends on a lot of different things, and probably an area that I have less objection to than many others. The impact of attempting to change this anomaly would be very high – how would you distinguish between people who knew and failed to abort, v’s people who didn’t know (didn’t get the test maybe?). Where do you draw the line between a conscious choice someone made, v’s bad luck that they experienced that the government as a whole insures against. Do we say that people who have children late in life (and therefore have an increased chance of downs) have “chosen” to create cost? As always, it’s very complex.

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  11. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    @polemic: any of us might “meet our maker” at any time. But given how many religions there are, how will it turn out if you chose the wrong one? What if Islam is right? What if the Buddhists are right? How would you look standing there at the pearly gates with Buddha sitting behind them going “sorry, wrong choice buddy”?

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  12. edhunter (552 comments) says:

    The notion that it’s a parents right to decide the what they have & how many they have is fine until they they require my taxes to pay for their rights to bring them into this world.
    If the technology is there to determine early in a pregnancy deformities or abnormalities it’s the humane thing to end the pregnancy.

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  13. Ashley Schaeffer (513 comments) says:

    If Dawkins had any real brains, he would know that trying to argue any complex position via a twitter post is self-defeating.

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  14. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ PaulL

    I know it’s not a financial decision, but it seems perverse to me that they can make a personal choice that has such a large cost to the taxpayer.

    I’m well aware that is a favourite tactic of religious and moral conservatives to argue the “slippery slope”. Nevertheless, in this case, I can’t see how it isn’t.

    If relieving financial burden really is a valid moral consideration, where does it stop? Foetuses that are likely to be blind, deaf and dumb? Helen Keller, anyone? Or what about female to avoid the crippling financial burden of (the loathesome but nonetheless entrenched practice of) dowry, which is already creating massive demographic problems in IndIa. And why stop at the unborn?

    Call me simplistic, but it seems to me that if you foraske a doctrine of “created in the imgae of God”, or even a non-religious equivalent such as “human life is of supreme worth”, and instead justify human existence on the basis of utility…you must inevitably end up with Nazi eugenics, dissembling and denials to the contrary.

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  15. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Godwin. Didn’t think it would take too long.

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  16. rangitoto (249 comments) says:

    “But given how many religions there are, how will it turn out if you chose the wrong one? What if Islam is right? What if the Buddhists are right? How would you look standing there at the pearly gates with Buddha sitting behind them going “sorry, wrong choice buddy”?”

    Or the real god only likes infidels.

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  17. Odakyu-sen (749 comments) says:

    Polemic & Kimbo

    I don’t care for Dawkins.

    I don’t like people telling me what to do, but I am aware of the burden our actions can place on the taxpayer.

    Then again, compared with some of the nasty crims that cost the taxpayer megabucks and wreck the lives of the people around them, how bad can a Down’s child be?

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  18. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    How would you look standing there at the pearly gates with Buddha sitting behind them going “sorry, wrong choice buddy”?

    Theological segue: Doesn’t Buddhism teach that choosing/desiring is humanity’s essential problem?

    Just saying…

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  19. Redbaiter (9,603 comments) says:

    “I’m pro-choice’

    FFS….!!

    Whose choice?

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  20. Nigel Kearney (1,049 comments) says:

    If the foetus is in the womb but capable of surviving outside, it cannot suddenly acquire these “human feelings” by a mere change in location. So this is equally an argument for infanticide. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dawkins is fine with that too, but for most of us an argument that makes infanticide a moral obligation is clearly unsound.

    Edhunter, the rights of parents don’t change just because a majority of voters have chosen to elect governments that passed laws taking your money for some purpose that may or may not be justified.

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  21. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    Godwin. Didn’t think it would take too long.

    Well, considering that Western Civilisation recoiled in horror and rejected eugenics after 1945 in the light of what was done, you could argue Dawkins is the one who invoked Godwin!

    I mean, come on, he’s not arguing for something like the mass production of Volkswagen, or a system of motorways!

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  22. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    @ PaulL,

    I think the point is that Dawkins would seek to deny you choice by labelling you immoral.

    The man himself is amoral and has no right to judge anyone.

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  23. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    ‘Godwin’ is pretty much limited to saying “that’s just like the Nazis”, which is what you said. I don’t think Dawkins’s call is anything much to do with eugenics, as I understand that term.

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  24. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    @ hunter,

    Would it be OK for me to elect not to have my taxes used to care for you, should some catastrophe befall you?

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  25. Ashley Schaeffer (513 comments) says:

    As far as I can tell, Dawkins hasn’t actually articulated exactly why he thinks it is immoral not to a abort a baby with Down Syndrome. I would like to understand his argument. Is it because he believes that they are in some way suffering in life, or that they are a burden on the health system?

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  26. yankdownunder (36 comments) says:

    Dawkins seems to make the same mistake that many make, there IS a difference between human and other life.

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  27. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ milkenmild

    Nope, I don’t think Godwin’s applied in the first instance, as your appreciation is simplistic: –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

    “…It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread…Godwin’s law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Nazis – often referred to as “playing the Hitler card”. The law and its corollaries would not apply to… eugenics,…if that was the explicit topic of conversation, since a Nazi comparison in those circumstances may be appropriate, in effect committing the fallacist’s fallacy.”

    So you learn something new every day!

    So that last bit seems to imply it was you, not me who committed the fell into Godwin’s.

    Just saying…

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  28. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Well, I would argue that Dawkins’s point was nothing to do with eugenics anyway. The leap from abortion to eugenics to Nazis seems eminently Godwinable to me.

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  29. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ mikenmild

    Well, I would argue that Dawkins’s point was nothing to do with eugenics anyway.

    OK – then go for it. Let’s see you make the case, bearing in mind that the Nazi eugenic programme was premised on the basis of, amongst other things

    1. Ending suffering both personally (the disabled suffer) and corportately (genetic disabilities can be passed on), and

    2. There is an unjust utilitarian and financial burden to caring for the disabled, which should be removed at every practicable opportunity

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  30. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Eugenics is only related to the second part of your first premise. I’m not sure whether the Nazis had the second premise in mind with their programme

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  31. Fletch (6,492 comments) says:

    To be fair, I can see why people invoke Godwin’s Law. World War II was pretty much black and white (unlike some of the wars that have come after) and no one can say the Nazis were not evil. It is a clear point in history that people can use as an example of great evil with which events of today can be compared.

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  32. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Sure Fletch, but Godwin’s law is about inappropriate use of the Nazi analogy. As in, “making cyclists wear helmets is just like the Nazis”.

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  33. big bruv (14,148 comments) says:

    This thread is hilarious. I have even seen people calling Dawkins a moron because he is not a sky fairy follower.

    So let’s get this straight. A man with an IQ slightly less than the National Debt of the USA, a man of Science, a man who probably knows scripture better than most sky fairy followers is a ‘moron’ because he refuses to believe in something that has no proof at all of existing now, or in the past.

    Oh….and on the issue of Downs Syndrome children, I agree with Dawkins.

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  34. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ milkenmild

    I’m not sure whether the Nazis had the second premise in mind with their programme

    Trust this dispels your doubt: –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_eugenics

    “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too.”

    and the following

    http://books.google.co.nz/books?hl=en&lr=&id=gqLDEKVk2nMC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=nazi+euthanasia+and+eugenics&ots=IyVSu1cr5J&sig=pXb1Oj3cdnNn2yWtrHvYPq180XM#v=onepage&q=nazi%20euthanasia%20and%20eugenics&f=false

    would seem to corroborate the premise that they understood there was a moral imperative to end the personal suffering of the disabled.

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  35. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    I’ve always understood eugenics to be about selective breeding to bring about (imaginary) desirable characteristics in a population. What Dawkins was arguing for was not eugenics.

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  36. Fletch (6,492 comments) says:

    mm, I think eugenics is also about breeding out the undesirables? – the sicker, feebler, dependent, and (in the case of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood) the black. I think the Nazis had something similar in mind with the Jews, blacks etc. They wanted their blonde, blue-eyed race of supermen or Übermensch.

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  37. iMP (2,422 comments) says:

    Dawkins is right, but let’s not be so narrowminded…compulsory abortions for children who MIGHT be crippled, suffer from depression, not be tall enough, end up being old and infirm (and therefore a burden), various races we might not like…gee, where shall we stop?

    Dawkins, evolutionary fascism.

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  38. Harriet (5,131 comments) says:

    Downs Syndrome children are the happiest kids that you will ever see. No care in the world.

    So what if they can’t ‘fully’ look after themselves. Look at NZ’s average voters – fucking socialists!

    It’s Dawkins who is the sad fuck.

    And Bigot Bruv.

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  39. edhunter (552 comments) says:

    @ Mandk

    I’d hope my wishes would be listened to if a catastrophe did befall me. If my quality of life was compromised to the extent that I needed government assistance for the rest of it please feel free to pull the plug & donate my organs to people to whom their quality of life will be greatly improved.

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  40. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ bb

    So let’s get this straight. A man with an IQ slightly less than the National Debt of the USA, a man of Science, a man who probably knows scripture better than most sky fairy followers is a ‘moron’ because he refuses to believe in something that has no proof at all of existing now, or in the past.

    OK, I’ll bite, but just for a while.

    No. Dawkins’ atheist beliefs are irrelevant. He is a moron because he thinks that what will develop into full humanity must be aborted because of the supposedly supreme value of alleviating suffering. I don’t disagree (as most people would – sky fairy believers or not) that ending suffering is a noble intent, but it is not the only one that a sound moral position must take into account. And even if it were…

    How much suffering?

    Who decides?

    What about the ability to mitigate and minimise suffering, both now and in the future?

    What about the real experiences of joy and sadness and anger and boredom…and all the other realities of human existence that Downs and other disabled people and their familes experience?

    All of us in some way are “disabled”. There is no such thing in practical existence as a “norm”. Like Malcolm Fraser said, “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. However, some don’t even want to give it a chance.

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  41. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    Dawkins’ advice is “abort it and try again”. If parents make an informed choice to terminate a pregnancy that is highly likely to result in a severely disabled child and instead have a child who will be healthy and happy, then that seems to me to be a moral thing to do.

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  42. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Dawkins is not arguing on evolutionary grounds, iMP.

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  43. Fletch (6,492 comments) says:

    Downs Syndrome children are the happiest kids that you will ever see. No care in the world.

    Indeed. I remember reading about a family whose mother brought a Down’s baby into the world. She said it brought such a joy into the family. So much so that she adopted another one.

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  44. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    I have no problem with someone choosing to terminate a pregnancy because of a genetic condition like Downs Syndrome. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call someone who chose not to terminate the pregnancy “immoral”. Not so sure what I think about other conditions like Tay-Sachs – probably still not “immoral”

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  45. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Dawkins is an atheist. In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life – life is a happy cosmic accident with no intrinsic value of its own. So Dawkins is absolutely consistent in saying, very rationally, that if a foetus is damaged in some way then abortion is a rational choice.

    That may be unappealing to many – in fact to nearly all. But Dawkins is being consistent with his set of beliefs.

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  46. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    I think that’s a sensible middle course, SGA.

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  47. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @milkenmild

    I’ve always understood eugenics to be about selective breeding to bring about (imaginary) desirable characteristics in a population. What Dawkins was arguing for was not eugenics.

    No, I think you are rationalising. Weeding out the undesireable was also how you supposedly got a better type of humanity.

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  48. TheContrarian (1,091 comments) says:

    “In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life – life is a happy cosmic accident with no intrinsic value of its own”

    Bullshit

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  49. Fletch (6,492 comments) says:

    Dawkins’ advice is “abort it and try again”.

    See, that’s just it. Some people think that being pregnant and giving birth is like having a batch of cookies in the oven that can always be thrown out and another batch made. The only problem with that is that each life is unique. You will NEVER have another baby that is exactly like the life you abort. Families with more than one child know this – siblings are different from one another – no two are exactly alike. Even twins have different personalities.

    Once that life is aborted and gone, there will never be another life like it.

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  50. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    # virtualmark

    “In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life”. Crap. Complete and utter crap. Atheists, well at least me, see life as being beautiful and something to be preserved. We just don’t need an imaginary sky fairy to tell us this, we can work it out for ourselves.

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  51. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    The Contrarian, georgebolwing,

    Mount the rational argument why there is sanctity of life in atheism. Remember, there is no God, there is no afterlife, there is no absolute set of rights or wrongs, life just evolved from some simple chemicals in a soup and it’s all a case of nature red in tooth and claw. That is absolutely what Dawkins himself would say.

    You might think your life is precious, and the lives of others around you. But that is not a part of atheism. If you think it is you have a muddled view of what atheism is and means.

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  52. Harriet (5,131 comments) says:

    Downs is mostly attributed to older women giving birth.

    Nowdays due to contraception this should be less likely to happen than in the past.

    Except…….

    Women now delay their fertility for ‘social reasons’ – whatever that is. And the result is that they will increase their chances of having a downs syndrome child…….

    …..a homocidal act if the truth be known as the law with regards to abortion has changed – but the science behind it never has – and abortion was under the homocide laws.

    Women who delay their fertility, and then go on to kill because of imperfections in the child, are themselves mentaly impaired. Or homocidal.

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  53. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ milkenmild

    Dawkins is not arguing on evolutionary grounds, iMP.

    …then at the risk of repeating myself, what expertsie, other than the fact he is “an intelligent man” does he bring to the table in this matter?

    An appeal to Dawkins as an authority seems weak, as many other intelligient atheist evolutionist no doubt disagree with him.

    Mind you, that doesn’t seem to have stopped big bruv genuflecting and submitting to the dogma of what appears to be his secular Pope!

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  54. cha (4,081 comments) says:

    mm, I think eugenics is also about breeding out the undesirables? – the sicker, feebler, dependent, and (in the case of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood) the black. I think the Nazis had something similar in mind with the Jews, blacks etc. They wanted their blonde, blue-eyed race of supermen or Übermensch.

    Amongst others.

    http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

    http://eugenicsarchive.ca/

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2148793.stm

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-gave-birth-control-to-ethiopian-jews-without-their-consent-8468800.html

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  55. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    Fletch: yes, each unfertilized ova is a unique collection of cells that, if fertilized, might develop into a unique person. Likewise, each sperm might be unique.

    But most ova never become a person, they are expelled as part of the menstrual cycle.

    Likewise, many fertilized ova don’t come to term, due to a variety of causes that lead to spontaneous miscarriage.

    Science is allowing us to slightly increase the number of fertilized ova that don’t come to term.

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  56. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    @virutalmark

    Dawkins was not arguing that abortion is a rational choice, he was arguing that it is a moral imperative in this particular case.

    That is why his views are repugnant.

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  57. kowtow (8,763 comments) says:

    Paul L says……

    ‘How would you look standing there at the pearly gates with Buddha sitting behind them going “sorry, wrong choice buddy”?

    That’s easy. With the Buddhists they keep sending you back till you get it right!

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  58. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ TheContrarian

    “In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life – life is a happy cosmic accident with no intrinsic value of its own”

    Bullshit

    I’m a Christian, but I agree – with the assesment of “bullshit”, that is!

    What could maybe be argued is that atheism lacks a inexorably logical starting point for the belief in the sanctiy of life. But as hardly anything has an inexorably logical starting point, and you can still construct a valid and logical system of morality on the basis of perceived probabilities, then in practical terms it is irrelevant.

    And anyway, morality is more about what people DO.

    IMHO…

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  59. Fletch (6,492 comments) says:

    georgebowling, yes but that is the natural way of things. For one, no one considers an unfertilized egg to be a life. Life happens at conception when the egg and sperm meet. Sometimes this doesn’t work out, but this is in accordance with nature and this isn’t wrong or sinful.

    We’re talking about the purposeful taking of a growing life due to human interference: life would have kept on developing and growing until birth.

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  60. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    @virtualmark: your conclusions don’t follow from your premises. Atheism doesn’t look to a deity to determine sanctity of life, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t privilege sentience. And, frankly, most religions aren’t much chop on the sanctity of life either, they were pretty happy through most of history to kill people they didn’t agree with – in fact most religions still exhort their followers to do so (if you read the books rather than just listen to the preachers – most of whom no longer believe literally in those passages).

    @Fletch: trying again obviously doesn’t mean getting the same child, that would be the point in that you didn’t want a Downs child. But if someone is going to have one child, then the existence of the Downs child precludes the existence of the other. Why does one unborn child have preferential treatment over another, other than an accident of timing? Your argument seems to be that the unborn child at 2 months has precedence over the unborn child that hasn’t been conceived yet. There is no particular rational reason for that preference, other than if you believe that sentience begins at conception. If we characterise this as a choice where there are two unborn children – the one with Downs that we currently have conceived, or the one that we’ll conceive in 3 months time if we abort this one, then surely we are entitled to choose which one we’d prefer? The reality is that this is exactly the choice that many parents make. It’s not an easy choice, but they do it. I don’t condemn them for that choice, whichever way they choose to go.

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  61. edhunter (552 comments) says:

    To quote the late great Bill Hicks
    Did you know that when a guy comes, he comes 200 million sperm? And you’re trying to tell me that your child is special because one out of 200 million — that load! we’re talking one load! — connected. Gee, what are the fucking odds? 200 million; you know what that means? I have wiped civilizations off my chest with a gray gym sock. That is special. Entire nations have flaked and crusted in the hair around my navel! That is special. And I want you to remember that, you two egg-carrying beings out there, with that holier-than-thou “we have the gift of life” attitude. I’ve tossed universes…in my underpants…while napping! Boom! A milky way shoots into my jockey shorts, “Aaaah, what’s for fucking breakfast?”

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  62. UrbanNeocolonialist (309 comments) says:

    The Chinese have started a Eugenics program (no joke), they are currently sequencing the genomes of a few thousand geniuses to identify genes that are highly correlated with genius IQ’s (it is well established that IQ is predominantly genetic, Nurture is small influence). Their plan is to use this information to start (in the near future) selecting embryos for implantation that have greater chance of having high IQ, similar to movie Gattaca.

    So within 10-20 years we are likely to reach point where average Chinese person born has IQ of perhaps 130 or higher (top 2% now), with a huge number above that as their bell curve is shifted to right. As a culture they will be impossible for average western countries to compete with for business, technology or innovation.

    So what will the West and all the religious people do in response? Doom your children to be their toilet cleaners? Or institute the same approaches to Eugenics so that they can at least compete on a vaguely level playing field? Is it only the poor kids of the religious who will end up as the structurally unemployable/toilet cleaners?

    And why would anyone under those circumstances make a choice to bring a massively disadvantaged physically or mentally crippled child into the world? To always be at best little more than a human shaped pet.

    As the Chinese are already doing this the choice in this debate has been unilaterally taken from us, only those that hate their children will not follow suit.

    And as I pointed out yesterday, choosing to keep a Downs fetus after screening (which can be done at about 10 weeks with DNA tests) costs society around $1million more than a normal kid. Equivalent to about 10-20 years of some tax payer’s total productive output. It is a massively selfish choice to spend someone else’s life like that (and for that reason immoral). The cost of such a decision should be borne entirely by the person making it.

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  63. Liam Hehir (147 comments) says:

    I’m not a believer in atheism, but I do appreciate that Richard Dawkins takes his atheism seriously enough to occassionaly pursue it to its logical ends. It strikes as ironic that many of his follow believers are quick to congratulate themselves for not holding onto a belief in a transcendent moral order, but are seldom quite brave enough to squarely face all the implications of that – i.e. that there is no objective basis for morality, that human life lacks intrinsic meaning and that the universe is absurd.

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  64. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Once that life is aborted and gone, there will never be another life like it.

    Do you know how many spontaneous abortions and other forms of miscarriage happen every day, Fletch? It’s not a number I have at my fingerprints, but it’s certainly a big one. They’re all unique, and they all come under the heading of Gee That’s Too Bad.

    Women who delay their fertility, and then go on to kill because of imperfections in the child, are themselves mentaly impaired. Or homocidal.

    They want to kill homos? I don’t get the connection. Anyway, it’s at least good to know that Dawkins has never come up with anything anywhere near as mentally fucked-up-like-a-garbage-can as that.

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  65. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    @Fletch (@11:49am): your argument is based in religion. I don’t disagree with your right to believe, but I do disagree with your right to impose your religious beliefs on others. Your statement makes that clear – you say that it would be a sin to abort, but that if it happens naturally it isn’t a sin. That’s a religious argument. Someone who wasn’t religious would potentially say that before the end of the first trimester there is a reasonable proportion of spontaneous miscarriage, many for birth defect reasons. Adding a small number of intelligently chosen abortions to that number, particularly where those are replaced by those same people conceiving another child, is not necessarily a moral problem.

    I understand that there’s no point in engaging with someone whose beliefs come from religion, as they are not open to change. On that basis I’ll just note that your belief in this area is not based on logic or science, but on religion.

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  66. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    PaulL,

    Partly. My few sentences on Dawkin’s position inevitably summarise several hundred years of atheistic philosophy from the likes of Dawkins, Russell, Descartes, Voltaire, Nietzsche etc etc etc. But I’m certain what I wrote is accurate nonetheless.

    At its simplest atheism just says “there is no God”. Fine, but take that starting point and try and develop consistent rational answers to the following 3 questions:
    1. Where did we come from?
    2. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life?
    3. How should we relate to the people around us? What is our moral code?

    I contend that those are the 3 most fundamental questions every human being needs to consider.

    You will find that atheism actually can’t answer question 1, and has very bleak and dark answers to questions 2 and 3. Sufficiently dark that Nietzsche literally went mad. And certainly sufficiently dark that the answers to question 2 would certainly lead Dawkins to say “Abort the damaged foetus and try again”.

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  67. Andrei (2,668 comments) says:

    The Chinese have started a Eugenics program (no joke), they are currently sequencing the genomes of a few thousand geniuses to identify genes that are highly correlated with genius IQ’s (it is well established that IQ is predominantly genetic, Nurture is small influence). Their plan is to use this information to start (in the near future) selecting embryos for implantation that have greater chance of having high IQ, similar to movie Gattaca.

    Such things always have a booby trap that dooms them to failure

    Very similar was an American Sperm Bank which only supplied sperm from Nobel Prize winners – in theory to produce exceptionally bright children, which it did but it also produced a lot of autistic kids

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  68. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    virtualmark
    Atheism has nothing to say about No 1 – the quest for origins is a scientific one completely independent from any thinking about the existence or otherwise of gods. No 2 – who says life has to have a purpose? Life is what happens, not what is intended. No 3: the idea that we rely on supernatural beliefs to tell us how to live our lives seems, to me, risible.

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  69. Harriet (5,131 comments) says:

    Psycho…….

    ……the science behind abortion hasn’t changed. Only the law has.

    If you delay your fertility and increase the odds of conceiving a downs syndrome child, and you go on to abort that child -[where you already knew the possible consequences of delay]- then it can be argued that you maybe homicidal. Or selfish, careless, reckless, hopeless, ……..

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  70. TheContrarian (1,091 comments) says:

    “You might think your life is precious, and the lives of others around you. But that is not a part of atheism.”

    Atheism is lacking belief in god/s. That is it. Life is a wonderful thing and people should be cherished – and believing that is not at odds with atheism in the fucking slightest

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  71. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    Mount the rational argument why there is sanctity of life in atheism. Remember, there is no God, there is no afterlife, there is no absolute set of rights or wrongs, life just evolved from some simple chemicals in a soup and it’s all a case of nature red in tooth and claw. That is absolutely what Dawkins himself would say.

    As stated, I’m a Christian, but I think what you ask is eminently do-able: –

    Life, as experienced, is the greatest and most complex thing we can be sure of. More to the point, human life, especially our own, is the one thing we have direct control of. We understand by observation it is connected and contingent upon the Universe, and more particularly the world and localised environment in which we live. Therefore, as

    1. it is the most complex thing we are sure of

    2. we have volitional control of our actions

    we must strive to work in a way that upholds that compelxity within the framework of the Universe as it exists.

    Nature may be “red in tooth and claw” at points, but it also provides patterns of nurture and care, such as the instinctive care of a mammal’s mother for its offspring. We are hard-wired to care for our environment, care for our young, and care for one another.

    Also, we know from the make up of the Universe that there is “sense” and we can perceive it, even if if is not always readily apparent. For example, 1+1 = 2. Therefore there are logical abstractions. Therefore, we are entitled to draw logically valid abstractions such as justice and mercy to find the best way to fulfill the imperative that human existence provides us with.

    ………
    Probably lots of logical holes in that. But then logic actually plays a very small part in people’s moral decision-making anyway.

    Don’t believe me? From a pragmatic point of view I can be very confident that the atheists around here are far less likely to take my life than…the very zealous theists that make up the constituency of ISIS. I know who I want as my immediate neighbours!

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  72. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    TheContrarian, mikenmild,

    This is a cut-and-paste from a post I made here several years ago, but it’s just as applicable to this post here on Dawkin’s view on abortion …

    1. There is no God.

    (This is the starting assertion for atheism. If you want to take a strict interpretation of atheism – as I’ve seen Chthoniid adopt before – then this is the start and the end of atheism. But the reality is that everyone has a belief system (a set of values) and what we’re talking about is the rational set of atheistic values. So I’ll take this starting point and elaborate it for the “new atheism”, which is the term most today give for the combination of atheism and secular rationalism and humanism popularized by Dawkins, Hitchens etc).

    2. So we cannot have been “created” by “God”.
    3. Instead we, and all the other life on earth, have evolved through a Darwinian process that is totally independent of any “God” or supernatural influence. This evolution was a process of chance and probability on a gigantic scale, and we are the fortunate result.

    (Steps 1 to 3 shouldn’t be controversial to any atheists surely? But here’s where it begins to get hard …)

    4. Because there is no God there is no method or principle for all humanity to agree on a universal moral code. Certainly, each of us will have an independent moral code, which defines right and wrong and good and evil for us individually. We may even find other like-minded people who have similar values. But there is no universal absolute moral code that attempts to set out right and wrong for us all collectively. And there is no mechanism for enforcing an absolute moral code even if it were to exist. There is no lawgiver, there is no judge … there is only each of us acting individually.

    (If you can successfully argue that step 4 is wrong then you are a greater philosopher than Nietsche, Russell, Camus etc etc. You should give up your day job, take up a tenured professorship at the university of your choice, and make millions on the after-dinner circuit. Really.)

    5. Because we are each just the product of evolutionary random chance there is no sacredness or nobility to life.

    (There is no value to any life, human or animal. There is no tragedy when someone dies. There is no tragedy when we ourselves die. It is just Darwinian processes taking their natural course. This is scientific rationalism at its most cold. Note that religion does attribute a sanctity to life. According to, say, Christianity, God created each individual, is interested in each individual, and wishes to have a relationship with them.)

    6. Because there is no “God” and no nobility to life then there is also no real meaning to life.

    (So the only rational goal of life then is to get through it as pleasurably as possible.)

    7. And because there is no “God” and no universal moral code there are no effective limits to the steps you take to live out your goals, apart perhaps from fear of retribution from others.

    (Yes, some Chthoniid will argue about non-religious basis for altruism. Except they’re very weak, found in a limited range of settings, and the consistent behavior through the whole of human experience has demonstrated that they don’t apply in practice).

    The logic flow I’ve outlined above is terribly contracted vs a full exposition, and I’ll happily expand on any of these steps if you like. But the fundamental truth is that the combination of steps 4, 5 and 7 leads to totalitarianism and the combination of steps 4, 5 and 6 lead to materialism and hedonism. These are the rational outflows of atheism. And atheism is all about being rational right?

    I acknowledge that you are probably all very nice people who I would enjoy drinking a beer with. And I am quite happy if you say that you believe in atheism and don’t believe in Christianity – I am not trying to convert you to anything. But there is nothing “nice” about atheism. If there is no God then it ultimately quickly boils down to the law of the jungle. You may be very fine individuals with lovely manners, but those lovely manners are not rational behavior for atheists.

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  73. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    @virtualmark.

    My answers to your questions (which i freely admit might not be in accordance with what some other scholars have said is constitutes atheism) are:

    1. Where did we come from? I don’t really know. The Big Bang theory offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, but not all of them. But this doesn’t bother me.
    2. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? There isn’t any “purpose” to life, because no-one created life. This doesn’t bother me.
    3. How should we relate to the people around us? What is our moral code? “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

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  74. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    There’s quite a leap from step 3 to step 4…

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  75. UrbanNeocolonialist (309 comments) says:

    All Theists and Atheists have their articles of faith, things they choose as a basis for decision making without any rational justification. Most atheists I know choose variants of hedonic utilitarianism as their article of faith – maximising enjoyment/satisfaction of themselves and other humans (and so satisfying our evolutionarily developed social and altruistic impulses) – which leads to supporting social structures that provide comfort and security for themselves and others.

    Which makes most Atheists pretty decent people and good neighbours. In particular they don’t have crazy articles of faith that involve imperatives to go around persecuting or killing people or forcing behaviours on those who don’t believe in their brand of skyfairy.

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  76. TheContrarian (1,091 comments) says:

    “If there is no God then it ultimately quickly boils down to the law of the jungle.”

    Bullshit – civilized systems of law have sprung up completely independent of religion and belief in god/s.

    “Because we are each just the product of evolutionary random chance there is no sacredness or nobility to life.”

    Bullshit. You don’t need a god/s to believe that life should be spared, protected, nurtured and loved.

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  77. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    And step 4 is indeed in itself quite wrong…

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  78. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild,

    There’s quite a leap from step 3 to step 4…

    Actually no. The 3 questions I outlined in my post at 11:58 are the most fundamental questions philosophy and theology attempt to answer. Step 4 is absolutely addressed at “question 3″. It’s one of the absolute first questions you should ask of any philosophy/religion.

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  79. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild,

    And step 4 is indeed in itself quite wrong…

    Read what I said underneath step 4. If you can come up with an atheistic answer to step 4 you would be the greatest philosopher that ever lived.

    In practice nearly all “atheists” have never ever attempted to think rationally through the implications of atheism. As I said at 11:58, atheism can indeed answer some of the big questions about life. But the answers aren’t pretty.

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  80. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    TheContrarian,

    Bullshit – civilized systems of law have sprung up completely independent of religion and belief in god/s.

    Name one.

    Bullshit. You don’t need a god/s to believe that life should be spared, protected, nurtured and loved.

    Actually you do. If you want to get all evolutionary and Darwinian then no life is sacred. Every life is just another evolutionary roll-of-the-dice that gets its chance to see if it can successfully pass on its genes.

    Dawkins himself said “Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense.”

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  81. goldnkiwi (1,531 comments) says:

    Fine as a philosophical argument but …..

    Biology is strange, modern medicine interferes with natures plan as it is, saving ‘lives’.

    At what acceptable level do we intervene? When someone nature made infertile wants to have a child?

    In the bad old days I would probably only have had one child, medical intervention means I have had more.

    Where does the line get drawn?

    What if a woman only had one chance to have a pregnancy? If they had cancer for example and that one pregnancy was ‘flawed’ according to Dawkin, Should she be denied that one chance?

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  82. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    virtualmark at 12:12 pm

    I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to do all your comments justice. As a general point, you overstress “individuality”. Humans developed as a social animal, both biologically and culturally. Dysfunctional individuals and dysfunctional “groups” do not flourish for very long.
    Evolution is a lot more than “random chance” – there is a filter called natural selection continuously at work on individuals and groups.

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  83. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    virtualmark
    You’ve attempted to argue that ‘because there is no God there is no method or principle for all humanity to agree on a universal moral code’. That is no a logical conclusion from premise 3. Firstly, there is no need for humanity to agree on universal morals. Morals are a distinct feature that vary considerably from culture to culture. We may be moving towards a universal moral code as cultures grow closer together, but there is no religious basis to this.
    Also, whose universal moral code are you going to adopt? Can I suggest that you might be attempting to accord universal status to one particular religion?

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  84. thedavincimode (6,872 comments) says:

    FFS….!!

    Whose choice?

    Precisely. I can understand the seductiveness of the pro-abortion arguments that rely on value judgements concerning the expected quality of life of unborn children – I used to buy into them myself. But even those arguments don’t even get you within a bull’s roar of the line in the case of Down’s kids whose parents, from my causal observations, wouldn’t trade them for quids.

    A human life is a human life full stop. It doesn’t start at some nano second in time beyond conception. It starts at conception and that is what the abortion argument should be focussing on. There is no credibility in asserting that at point “x” in the pregnancy the foetus magically ceases to be some piece of red meat as was described here by some flea yesterday. It remains a defenceless human life until such time as it is of sufficient age and mental capacity to be able to make informed judgements for itself.

    If you want to mount a credible argument in favour of abortion you cannot avoid confronting that reality and the need for your argument to find some genuine ethical basis to end a human life that is defenceless and has committed no wrong.

    You can’t, as this faux intellectual has done, assert a positive ethical obligation to abort a foetus, simply on the basis that we are a species of meat eaters and the child might be perceived as a bit of an inconvenience. This is what is meant to distinguish us from our ancestors in the trees, although looking around the world we live in, that distinction is not always readily apparent. In fact, the irony is that offspring in the animal world often seem to receive far better treatment in their immediate social groups than those in the human world.

    If you want to argue on the basis of severe medical or mental impairment, then you also need to be able to justify taking human life simply on the basis of your perceptions of the quality of the child’s life when in fact you have absolutely no knowledge of the quality of life that child will experience if it is fed, clothed and nurtured. When you support the taking of human life in such circumstances, you need to acknowledge that it is you who are ultimately sitting in judgement- not the lawmakers, the doctors or the parent(s); just as you are when you support the death penalty.

    And if you support the taking of human life just because you had a dud root and don’t want the grief and aggravation arising from the consequences, then you need to confront the prospect that you are just an arsehole who might feel more at home living with the Kahuis or the Glassies.

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  85. ciaron (1,441 comments) says:

    TheContrarian (1,077 comments) says:

    August 22nd, 2014 at 11:34 am

    “In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life – life is a happy cosmic accident with no intrinsic value of its own”

    Bullshit

    but this is what Dawkins really believes… “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

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  86. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    georgebolwing,

    1. Where did we come from? I don’t really know. The Big Bang theory offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, but not all of them. But this doesn’t bother me.

    The Big Bang theory doesn’t actually tell us where we came from. It just pushes the question of origins back to an earlier point in time.

    What it does say is that everything in the entire universe – every single atom – was once in a single point in space. And then it blew up.

    But where did all those atoms come from?

    2. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? There isn’t any “purpose” to life, because no-one created life. This doesn’t bother me.

    Really? Well live it up buddy. Wine, women and song. Better to burn out than to fade away.

    3. How should we relate to the people around us? What is our moral code? “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

    Naive. In some countries we love our neighbour. In other countries they eat their neighbour. Which of those is right or wrong?

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  87. Griff (8,192 comments) says:

    We live within a network of other animals
    Humans are just a more complex social animal.
    In order to do so we have a cultural frame work we live within.
    The frame work to operate we have evolved forms of government
    Laws. concepts such as Justice, Social good, Democracy, Capitalism, Exist outside of the religious sphere .
    They dont need “god” to be invoked. You dont need “god” to see the imperative of participating in civil society.

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  88. kowtow (8,763 comments) says:

    The protestant work ethic is a pillar of capitalism.Capitalism does not exist outside of a christian context.Indeed western civilisation is based on a Christian framework…….till Muslim immigration outstrips us.

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  89. James Stephenson (2,225 comments) says:

    I’m not sure about Godwin, but Dawkins seems perilously close to invoking some form of Poe’s law. He really is starting to turn into a parody of himself.

    Well done to those other atheists with the energy to argue with god-bothering nonsensicality, I really CBA.

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  90. eszett (2,430 comments) says:

    t doesn’t start at some nano second in time beyond conception. It starts at conception and that is what the abortion argument should be focussing on

    I agree, your argument revolves around this, but it is merely an opinion that you state. Just stating that this is so is not very helpful. Can you support this by some evidence?

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  91. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild,

    Firstly, there is no need for humanity to agree on universal morals. Morals are a distinct feature that vary considerably from culture to culture. We may be moving towards a universal moral code as cultures grow closer together, but there is no religious basis to this.

    You’re conflating several things together in a way that doesn’t address my question.

    All societies need a shared moral code. Effectively, a shared basis for saying “this is good, that is evil, this is acceptable, that is not”.

    Religion is able to say “Here are the values you must live by, and here are the consequences if you don’t live by them”. With Christianity – since New Zealand is nominally a Christian country – the values are set out in the New Testament, and the supposed consequences of not living by them is that God will judge you and apparently you’ll spend eternity in hell. Who knows.

    Because you had an objective moral code, backed up by a moral lawgiver (and judge), and applied consistently and equally across everyone then it was practical to base a society on them.

    Secularism doesn’t have that objective moral code, it can only have a subjective individualistic moral code. You have your set of morals. Stalin has his set of morals. There is no external moral lawgiver and judge – just each individual unanswerable to any deity. Over time the people with the strongest might and the most ruthless set of morals inevitably take control. The logical outcome is totalitarianism. That and hedonism.

    In practice most “atheists” and “humanists” are actually syncretists. They’ve synthesized a belief system which combines the moral code derived from religion with the “There are no gods” from atheism. That’s what we have here in the West today. A moral code which we all understand and subscribe to, but philosophically could not have developed without a deity, and with its most central aspect – the judge jury & executioner part – neutered.

    But it’s intellectually lazy and philosophically dishonest.

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  92. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    Matthew 19:24

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  93. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    ‘New Zealand is nominally a Christian country’ – only if you adopt Ugly Truth’s insanity that we share the religion of our head of state. NZ is a secular country.
    All moral codes are subjective. When you claim that religion provided a moral code you are inverting what actually happened. Religions emerged to buttress the moral codes developed by communities.
    And isn’t Christianity itself a syncretic religion?

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  94. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    Again, I don’t claim to be a student of philosophy, but this statement by James Brabazon, in his biography of Albert Schweitzer, which has no mention of a god in it, does seem to provide a good starting point:

    “Reverence for Life says that the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass—and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.”

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  95. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    Bullshit – civilized systems of law have sprung up completely independent of religion and belief in god/s.

    Name one.

    You didn’t ask me, but even though the Greeks and Romans believed in deities, their moral systems were constructed on independent philospohical principles. The two (theology, or more particularly myths, and ethics) had no real interaction.

    Judaism was one of the first to link belief/trust in God with ethics, particularly in the Decalogue. But even then, Judaism doesn’t argue that because God exists, that is the basis for moriality. Instead, it is because God has acted in history that creates a moral imperative for Israel: –

    “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2)

    (therefore)“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

    Whether Yahweh is the ONLY God is irrelavent for the morality of the Torah. What is important for the ethics contained therein is that that Yahweh is the only God Israel has to deal with. So the morality given is not some philosophical abstraction (which you argue is only possible if there is a God). Instead, the ethics reflect a personal relationship between one God, and his unique people.

    It was only the fusing of Aristotelian phlosophy with Medieval Catholicism via Aquinas that causes some Christians to argue atheists don’t have a basis for morality. IMHO.

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  96. stephieboy (3,397 comments) says:

    Richaed Dawkins and his shallow and intolerant materialist philosophies wants to take us down the road of Aldous Huxley’s factory farms as depicted in his Brave New World.,

    “One egg, one embryo, one adult—normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.”

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  97. eszett (2,430 comments) says:

    but this is what Dawkins really believes…“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

    It merely means that question of what is the “meaning” of life has no answer.

    It does not mean that he thinks that there is no value to life.

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  98. Scott (1,817 comments) says:

    Virtual Mark – you make really good points and well argued.
    As for me I would say that “by their fruit you shall know them”. For example we know that when civilisations became Christian they stopped aborting their unbabies, leaving their born babies out in the field to die of exposure, killing and eating their enemies and knocking off their elderly and infirm.

    With the public rise of atheism we are returning to the bad old days of abortion, euthanasia and I imagine infanticide at some point. We Christians believe that we are created in the image of God. This is a right and true belief. And it should be reflected in the laws of the nation once again.

    I am proud that Christians are the ones who care for the down syndrome’s children, for the least and the lost. The atheists have no answer because they have no values and they have rejected the knowledge of God.

    How Dawkins can talk about the ethical thing to do is beyond me given his evolutionary worldview.

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  99. Mark (1,491 comments) says:

    Dawkins struggling for publicity again. Who really cares what this man thinks?

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  100. UrbanNeocolonialist (309 comments) says:

    Andrei: “Such things always have a booby trap that dooms them to failure

    Very similar was an American Sperm Bank which only supplied sperm from Nobel Prize winners – in theory to produce exceptionally bright children, which it did but it also produced a lot of autistic kids”

    You are right that Autistic spectrum disorders are often associated with higher intelligence (there is higher incidence of them in San Fransisco Bay Area of California where the smartest technologists of the world accumulate). But natural conception is simple rolling of the dice, using genetic screening means those dice are heavily loaded. Taking a few cells from an embryo and sequencing them allows you to also screen for some diseases and also gene combinations associated with Autism.

    Eugenics is almost certainly coming to our world in near future.

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  101. Scott (1,817 comments) says:

    Kimbo – in my opinion if you say that you are a Christian please argue as a Christian. On life-and-death matters like this how about arguing from a Christian point of view?

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  102. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    I’m guessing that for Kimbo, being a Christian does not mean he has surrendered his powers of reason.

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  103. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    but even though the Greeks and Romans believed in deities, their moral systems were constructed on independent philosophical principles

    Really? Do you believe that if you and I had a magic DeLorean and could travel back to ancient Greece and Rome that they would tell us their society and values and morals weren’t based on their Gods?

    But even then, Judaism doesn’t argue that because God exists, that is the basis for morality.

    Really? You do remember the 10 commandments right? And pretty much the whole of Leviticus and Deuteronomy? The bits where God passes down a set of moral laws and says “Live like this”? Sure, it’s legalistic and quite bizarre (at least to us). But it’s the core of Judaism.

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  104. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    @Scott.

    “The atheists have no answer because they have no values and they have rejected the knowledge of God.”

    I find it deeply offensive to my (atheist) values to be told that I have no values. What I don’t have is values given to me by a deity. I managed to come up with my values by reading and thinking and talking to other people. It’s harder work than saying “I behave this way because god told me to”. I behave the way I do because I think it is the right way to behave.

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  105. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Scott,

    I acknowledge where you’re coming from. But personally I kind of agree with Dawkins. What he says is pretty cold. But if I were in the situation he describes I think I would go for the abort-and-try-again option.

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  106. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ Scott

    Kimbo – in my opinion if you say that you are a Christian please argue as a Christian. On life-and-death matters like this how about arguing from a Christian point of view?

    I believe I have.

    All truth is God’s.

    I’ve pointed out why I think Dawkins’ opinions on this matter are deficient – he has no specialist expertise to say what is right or wrong in the matter of aborting Down’s Syndrome children. I’ve also claerly argued that his views are indeed a slippery slope to something far worse. Perhaps you should read a bit more carefully before you start issuing instructions.

    However, I’ve also affirmed the truth that atheists can, and do have a valid philosophical basis for constructing a moral system. I didn’t say I necessarily agreed with that system. However, I think it is Christians ethics to show when someone, even those whose views you disagree with, are the targets of false witness. You may have heaed of that. Check out no. 9 of the 10 Commandments.

    Finally, I find it interesting, and rather chilling that you confuse Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxis (orthodox practice) with adopting a particular rhetorical stance within the context of a public debate. How about you check out the plank of your own ideological zeal that is seeking to restrain how other adults go about in a free discourse of ideas before picking out any of my splinters…

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  107. jawnbc (93 comments) says:

    Dawkins is as objectionable as the most strident of religionists. Either he doesn’t understand secular pluralism or he doesn’t like it. Either way his conributes are quickly being eroded by his obsession with being “right.”

    Like a lot of Irish families, Downs was a part of life growing up (change of life pregnancies often). There were lots of families like ours (my Dad’s youngest sister had Downs) and really what awesome people they were. Very human though; not saints. The main dilemma about Brenda was concerns about her outliving her parents (which they were told would not happen when she was born). She died in her mid 50s a few years before her Mum—which was both heartbreaking for her and a relief. The alternative would’ve been to put her in care after a lifetime being embedded in an extended clan.

    Today kids with Downs get better educations and most have great quality of life, including paid work. Most of the things that might’ve killed them a generation ago are treatable.

    Utimately, it’s the parents’ choice. But I wouldn’t even test for Down’s. I would for some condition that would render the child having no quality of life or a lifetime of chronic pain.

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  108. big bruv (14,148 comments) says:

    “Dawkins is an atheist. In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life”

    A blatant lie. One often pushed by followers of the sky fairy.

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  109. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Religion is able to say “Here are the values you must live by, and here are the consequences if you don’t live by them”.

    So are fascism and communism – it isn’t a good thing. You’ve started out from a false premise: that religion offers a universal moral code. The premise is false even at first glance, because religions are created by humans, reflect human diversity and most definitely do not offer a universal moral code. In short, your point that atheism doesn’t provide a universal moral code applies equally to religious belief – it’s impossible to get all Christians to agree on what their god’s moral code is, let alone all religious believers.

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  110. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark August 22nd, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    But even then, Judaism doesn’t argue that because God exists, that is the basis for morality.

    Really? You do remember the 10 commandments right? And pretty much the whole of Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

    Read my post again. Carefully. And quote everything I said, instead of quoting my words selectively, and in effect, committing the sin of false witness, thank you very much.

    Really? Do you believe that if you and I had a magic DeLorean and could travel back to ancient Greece and Rome that they would tell us their society and values and morals weren’t based on their Gods?

    And now you are committing the logical error of flippantly begging the question.

    Now, seeing that you lecture others about being “intellectually lazy and philosophically dishonest”, I think you latest post simply confirms that just because one has a belief in God, it doesn’t make your philosophical reasoning, nor the manner in which you dialgoue necessarily particularly moral.

    So maybe, just maybe you have provided a good pragmatic test case that a belief in God is not the indispensible safeguard to good moral reasoning and action.

    Just a suggestion…

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  111. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    @ BB,

    “This thread is hilarious. I have even seen people calling Dawkins a moron because he is not a sky fairy follower.”

    ‘The fool says in his heart….’

    “So let’s get this straight. A man with an IQ slightly less than the National Debt of the USA, a man of Science,”

    So what? Despite Mike’s conveniant attempt to claim otherwise, the issue of the Nazi’s is appropriate. So remember the Nazi’s had scientists with high IQ’s who thought doing horrific evil was rational.

    In and of itself having a high IQ and being a scientist does not make anyone moral, it does not automatically make a person a good person.

    “a man who probably knows scripture better than most sky fairy followers”

    He really doesn’t. As many Christian theologians have pointed out, not the least scientist and fellow high IQ holder Alistair Mcgrath, Dawkins does not know either the Bible or basic Christian teaching very well at all.

    “is a ‘moron’ because he refuses to believe in something that has no proof at all of existing now, or in the past.”

    I suggest Dawkin’s is very happy to believe things with no proof. His argument here is instructive. What proof does he have that people with Down’s syndrome are suffering and would rather be dead?

    “Oh….and on the issue of Downs Syndrome children, I agree with Dawkins.”

    Murder is wrong. There is no moral OR rational reason to kill people with Down’s Syndrome. None.

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  112. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    virtualmark at 12:54 pm

    Really? You do remember the 10 commandments right? And pretty much the whole of Leviticus and Deuteronomy? The bits where God passes down a set of moral laws and says “Live like this”? Sure, it’s legalistic and quite bizarre (at least to us). But it’s the core of Judaism.

    So what was the case before the 10 commandments? People could just go around randomly killing members of the tribe with no one raising an eyebrow? “Gosh, Jacob, I wish we had a law against that”. Do you think that non-jewish tribes of the time were in a continual state of random killings, theft, whatever?

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  113. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “Dawkins is an atheist. In atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life”

    This is true. If life is a mere accident, then it has no inherent value. This is why the most honest and vocal atheists are alkways advocating the killing of human life in one way or another.

    It is why the atheists who ran the Soviet Union had no compunction killing millions.

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  114. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    @ big bruv

    As far as I understand it, atheists reject the notion of sanctity (the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly).

    Logically, therefore, they cannot argue for the sanctity of life.

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  115. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    You really didn’t read any of Kimbo’s arguments, did you Shawn?

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  116. TheContrarian (1,091 comments) says:

    “Name one.”
    The code of Hammurabi set out laws of conduct much like we have today and it predates Christianity. It wasn’t based on any religion at all.

    “Actually you do.”
    No actually you don’t. Because caring for ones own predates, and does not require, any belief system and the same behaviours have been with us since before any of the modern religions. Religions change – humans caring for one and other had remained constant.

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  117. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    George Bowling 12:55 “I find it deeply offensive to my (atheist) values to be told that I have no values. What I don’t have is values given to me by a deity. I managed to come up with my values by reading and thinking and talking to other people. It’s harder work than saying “I behave this way because god told me to”. I behave the way I do because I think it is the right way to behave.”

    What are these “values” you keep talking about? How do you measure them? What is their molecular structure?

    You are a sack of meat composed of carbon and other goobly stuff, with an electrical charge.

    What is this “right way to behave” you’ve figured out all by yourself? Who decides “right”?

    If you decide, then why are you more “right” than a muslim who thinks it is “right” to cut off your head, or a Nazi who thinks it is “right” to gas Jews?

    Are your “values” and your notion of “right” not merely your preferences, your opinion, and therefore no more valid than anyone else’s?

    There is no “value” in a pile of atoms or a sack of meat.

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  118. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    @ georgebowling

    “I find it deeply offensive to my (atheist) values to be told that I have no values.”

    Values are not the issue so much as what values. If a value says I should care for the weakest members of society, that is, to me, a good value. If a value says it is ok kill children on the basis that they are of no use to society, that is a bad value. It is the quality of values from atheists that I question.

    “I managed to come up with my values by reading and thinking and talking to other people.”

    That is how I became a Christian.

    “It’s harder work than saying “I behave this way because god told me to”.”

    Not necessarily, but more importantly, that does not truly describe how Christians arrive at their values.

    “I behave the way I do because I think it is the right way to behave.”

    So do people who do bad things.

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  119. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ TheContrarian

    The code of Hammurabi set out laws of conduct much like we have today and it predates Christianity. It wasn’t based on any religion at all.

    Quite right, although it sprang out of a millieu that was obviously religious/belived in deities. Just like the Greeks and Romans. But as per the point I made before, which virtualmark managed to misconstrue (surprise, surprise), just because you believe in deities, doesn’t mean that will inevtiably and/or inexorably shape any moral code you produce.

    Also, interestingly, the Law Code of Hammurabi is reflected in points (both in language and in details – sometimes in the form of direct and probably deliberate contradictions) as a source for the Law Codes within the Torah.

    Which is hardly surprising because they were both produced within the same millieu – although (take note of what I am and am not saying, virtualmark) there were aspects of Mosiac faith and law/morality which were unique within the Ancient Near East.

    And surprise, surprise, what, according to the Torah is the most serious personal and national sin that Israel must avoid? You would think, by the way some are arguing here that is must be atheism. But it isn’t. Instead it is idolatry. But aren’t idolaters theists?! Answer: Yup!

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  120. chiz (1,164 comments) says:

    virtualmark:

    Because there is no God there is no method or principle for all humanity to agree on a universal moral code.

    And even if there is a God there is no method or principle for all of humanity to agree on a universal moral code. We see that practically – many christians or muslims who disagree with each other about what their scriptures say on this or that issue. But we also see it theologically – no one has an explanation for how the existence of a God leads to an objective morality. The most common argument – that things are moral if God says they are – was debunked by Plato and theologians have never been able to un-debunk it, or produce any other explanation for the supposed link between God and morality. They’ve tried plenty of times and some think they have done it, but nothing has won widespread acceptance.

    Because we are each just the product of evolutionary random chance there is no sacredness or nobility to life.

    Maybe not in the objective sense. But life clearly had subjective value and since we understand that others also experience pain and pleasure just as we do we can accept that life has subjective value for others.

    And because there is no “God” and no universal moral code there are no effective limits to the steps you take to live out your goals, apart perhaps from fear of retribution from others.

    Ah, the old saw that atheists should be selfish. This argument takes no account of the work by political scientists showing that altruism is sometimes the rational strategy. It takes no account of the fact that many people have a conscience – we can learn that causing subjective harm to others is sometimes wrong, just as it would be if someone did it to us. It also takes no account of the fact that most people have a sense of empathy – we can suffer when others do, or feel joy when others do.

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  121. chiz (1,164 comments) says:

    ShawnLH:

    This is true. If life is a mere accident, then it has no inherent value.

    Life has subjective value to us. We feel pleasure and pain. We can generalise from our own experience and conclude that others also feel pleasure and pain and that their lives have value to them. Therefore all lives have value.

    This is why the most honest and vocal atheists are alkways advocating the killing of human life in one way or another.

    Only the most naive atheist would say this, especially if they are driven by some sort of ideology like communism thats functioning as an ersatz religion.

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  122. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Psycho Milt,

    So are fascism and communism – it isn’t a good thing. You’ve started out from a false premise: that religion offers a universal moral code. The premise is false even at first glance, because religions are created by humans, reflect human diversity and most definitely do not offer a universal moral code. In short, your point that atheism doesn’t provide a universal moral code applies equally to religious belief – it’s impossible to get all Christians to agree on what their god’s moral code is, let alone all religious believers.

    Sorry, that’s a big buggers muddle of an argument.

    First, start with the fundamental truth that all societies (ie all big groups) need some shared basis for “good” and “bad”. They need a universal moral code.

    Second, the reality is that any universal moral law needs a lawgiver, a judge and threat of punishment – or it simply doesn’t work.

    Then, now we can talk about fascism, communism, religion etc.

    Fascism and communism aren’t strictly belief systems as such – strictly speaking they’re ways to manage the societies’ resources. But sure, in order to make them work then in practice you need to … adjust (I could say pervert) … the moral law to harness everyone in the society in the “right” direction. Trying to keep the argument pragmatic, both fascism and communism as we’ve seen them are forms of totalitarianism. In totalitarianistic societies the moral law is pretty much whatever the person at the top says they are. The dictator becomes the lawgiver, judge and wields the threat of punishment. Now you’d hope this person would be altruistic (the “benevolent dictator”) but history says altruism is a bit like unicorn poos … we’d all like to see it but for every Age of Aquarius dreamer I can show you the Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment etc etc etc.

    Theology puts the moral law, the lawgiver, the judge and the punishment on “God”. You can substitute “sky fairy” if you wish, I won’t get upset. Nearly every theology has a pretty benevolent “God”. And theology is bloody good at getting the law, lawgiver, judge, punishment etc all internally consistent and sensible.

    “But” point number 1. This is where I’d distinguish between theology and religion. For me the distinction is “theology” is the true belief as recorded on the page, while “religion” is what you see when (very flawed) people try to interpret … and many times twist and pervert … the theology. Happens with every theology. The Islamic State is to Muslims as the Spanish Inquisition was to Christians … a perversion that you can’t sensibly relate back to the core principles of the underlying theology.

    “But” point number 2. A truly atheistic society would inevitably become totalitarian. There is nothing benevolent about atheism. As someone said earlier on this page atheism is indifferent. And that indifference just leaves a vacuum for the person with the most ruthless morals to take control.

    “But” point number 3. The reason “atheists” today think an atheistic Western society works is because they’ve grown up soaking in a society based on a religious moral law. Our worldview of what’s “good” and “evil” has been shaped by Christian beliefs that have been the basis for our society and laws for 2,000 years. My experience is it must be almost impossible for atheists to step aside from that imbued moral code and think about how they could try to replicate it starting with “There is no God”.

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  123. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “Life has subjective value to us.”

    It’s the subjective aspect that worries me.

    “Only the most naive atheist would say this,”

    There seem to be a lot of them then, because (and yes I know there are exceptions) when it comes to the issue of abortion on KB atheists are often the most enthusiastic.

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  124. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    TheContrarian,

    “Name one.”
    The code of Hammurabi set out laws of conduct much like we have today and it predates Christianity. It wasn’t based on any religion at all.

    As I said to Kimbo earlier, do you really think you and I could deLorean ourselves back to the Sumerians and Babylonians and they would tell us their society, values and morals weren’t based on their Gods?

    “Actually you do.”
    No actually you don’t. Because caring for ones own predates, and does not require, any belief system and the same behaviours have been with us since before any of the modern religions. Religions change – humans caring for one and other had remained constant.

    What I would say is that in a purely rational evolutionary “there is no God” world then it is rational for humans (all animals in fact) to nurture their young until the age their offspring can in turn have their own offspring. Once you’ve seen your genes passed on and in turn passed on again then your usefulness to evolution is over.

    What I would also say is that theology would say that the fact that we seem to intrinsically treasure the people around us (love, in other words) is an echo of God in us – that we were all created by God in his image and have some of God’s attributes. Love is not rational. It isn’t needed for evolution. Theology would say “precisely”.

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  125. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Chiz – “Only the most naive atheist would say this, especially if they are driven by some sort of ideology like communism thats functioning as an ersatz religion.”

    So what drives Dawkins to say this? Or Sam Harris to say similarly about Christians/religious folks?

    Aren’t they the current posterboys for atheism?

    How are they naïve or what religion drives them?

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  126. goldnkiwi (1,531 comments) says:

    SGA (925 comments) says:

    August 22nd, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    When did killing another human being become ‘murder’ and thusly morally wrong?

    I doubt Neanderthals etc had any such qualms, when we were hunter gatherers.

    Morality (or what passes for it) to a degree is a societal construct, probably for self protection as much as for the protection of others. If I state that it would be wrong to kill you then I am less likely to be killed myself.

    Such niceties are recent. I think if nature allows a foetus to survive the mother’s own body expelling it if not viable then the baby deserves to live.

    In saying that, it can be a life sentence for the parents (not necessarily with Downs children), the children become their life’s work, they give up more than money for the principle of the ‘sanctity of human life’. Should the determining factor just be money?

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  127. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    Bullshit – civilized systems of law have sprung up completely independent of religion and belief in god/s.

    Name one.

    Actually, thinking about Buddhism a bit more, it is not really a religion. Not at its essential philopsophical core. Stuff like praying to statues of Buddha are not the real heart of Buddhist teaching. In fact, probably rightly, it has been described as “an atheist religion”. Whether God exists or not are not really of importance for Guatama.

    Instead, he produced a set of techniques (including morals) to attain nirvana/existential nothingness which would supposedly solve the problem of human suffering…which have their basis in the “eightfold path” that effectively acts as a law code.

    And whilst I do not agree with Buddhism, if you accept the primary premise that physical existence is an illusion (a possiblity Descartes has shown has an existential philosophical basis), then it offers a coherent system of ethics. As to whether those ethics are existentially viable (i.e., can anyone really consistently live as if material existence is not real) is another matter.

    And Buddhists, like Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and Jedi live lives that reflect the inherent human capacity to think and act morally, both personally…and collectively. Which allegedly they should not be able to do seeing they don’t have deity as a basis for their morality.

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  128. Dean Papa (784 comments) says:

    “Life has subjective value to us.”

    Indeed, for KB chinless wonders, foamers, trolls, gutless racists, and other assorted anonymous trolls, the lives of 200 Palestinian babies is a price well worth paying for the peace of mind of a bunch of Israelis sitting outside a cafe sipping their Frappuccinos.

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  129. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    What the hell – where did that come from?

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  130. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    chiz,

    virtualmark:

    Because there is no God there is no method or principle for all humanity to agree on a universal moral code.

    And even if there is a God there is no method or principle for all of humanity to agree on a universal moral code.

    Mea culpa. Poor wording on my part. Rather than “all humanity to agree on a universal moral code” I should have more correctly said “all society to agree on a universal moral code”. As you correctly point out, Christians & Muslims (to use just one example) don’t share a universal moral code. But note that when I say “all society” I still mean pretty big slabs of people … as in all Western society for example, rather than just “all of New Zealand”.

    Ah, the old saw that atheists should be selfish. This argument takes no account of the work by political scientists showing that altruism is sometimes the rational strategy. It takes no account of the fact that many people have a conscience – we can learn that causing subjective harm to others is sometimes wrong, just as it would be if someone did it to us. It also takes no account of the fact that most people have a sense of empathy – we can suffer when others do, or feel joy when others do.

    Look there’s plenty of altruism within families. And even between friends. That’s “love”. But widespread altruism across society is as rare as rocking horse poo. Countless academic experiments have highlighted how nasty people can be to other people they don’t know. And countless historical records show that is very much the case outside universities too. Altruism is not rational. It’s not in line with human nature. And I would strongly contend it doesn’t actually exist.

    Sure, we are altruistic to those we know. We have a conscience. We have a sense of empathy. We “love”.

    But as I said above that, to me, is more an argument that supports theology rather than supports atheism. For me, I can accept a theologists view that those behaviours are the echo of God in each of us. Or sky fairy if you’d prefer.

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  131. RRM (10,018 comments) says:

    1/
    Oh goody, another generalised theism vs atheism thread, we don’t have enough of those. :roll:

    2/
    Do human beings really need morality and a sense of right and wrong to be GIVEN TO THEM by some sort of organised religion? Or is the golden rule innate? Given the large number of Judeo-christian and other religions that seem to teach the golden rule, it seems to be something that is pretty innate in humans.

    3/
    If you need your ideas about right and wrong to be GIVEN TO YOU by some authority figure, how good are you?

    4/
    Church groups do a lot of the best things in my town. But let’s not conflate correlation with causation. Every law-abiding, honest atheist you meet is a counter-example to the proposition that you NEED to believe in the creator spirit in order to be good/moral/etc.

    5/
    Militant campaigning speech-giving atheists are, by and large, dicks.

    6/
    Evangelising, door-knocking believers are, by and large, dicks.

    7/
    Don’t be a dick.

    8/
    Treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated.

    9/
    Goodbye, stupid thread.

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  132. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    goldnkiwi at 1:53 pm

    When did killing another human being become ‘murder’ and thusly morally wrong?

    I imagine it’s complicated because the morality of killing another person probably depended on whether that person was “in-group” or “out-group” as well. Not just your “tribe”, but even “castes’ or “classes” within larger “tribes” in some cases.

    I doubt Neanderthals etc had any such qualms, when we were hunter gatherers.

    Not so sure – I’d guess there was a strong interdependence in such groups – if you were too much of a problem to the group, you’d just get driven off or killed yourself.

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  133. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    As I said to Kimbo earlier, do you really think you and I could deLorean ourselves back to the Sumerians and Babylonians and they would tell us their society, values and morals weren’t based on their Gods?

    So you haven’t bothered to check out the Law Code of Hammurabi that was brought back by said deLorean?

    And as I said earlier, despite hypocritally lecturing others as supposedly “intellectually lazy and philosophically dishonest”, you continue to commit the logical fallacy of begging the question.

    I seem to remember what the Scriptures say one should do with unrepentatnt sinners who refuse correction. Something about shaking the dust from my feet.

    Byeeeeeee

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  134. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “If you need your ideas about right and wrong to be GIVEN TO YOU by some authority figure, how good are you?”

    As good as every other person on earth, as every person gets their morality from someone else, from parents, society, history, and people we admire and give some measure of authority to. Nobody independently thinks their way to ideas about right and wrong.

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  135. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Funny old thing this morality and beliefs business.

    I can be some offensive bastard like Dawkins, promote the killing of all foetuses with Down’s Syndrome, and still be a model atheist.

    The same cannot be said for Christians.

    Now some of you will claim atheism is more “moral” to Christianity, because religion is the cause of all evil, and Christianity is a religion.

    Go figure.

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  136. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    ShawnL – “Nobody independently thinks their way to ideas about right and wrong.”

    apparently georgebolwing did.

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  137. goldnkiwi (1,531 comments) says:

    SGA (926 comments) says:

    August 22nd, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    So you think cannibals only killed and ate ‘other groups’?

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  138. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    goldnkiwi at 2:23 pm

    SGA
    So you think cannibals only killed and ate ‘other groups’?

    For the most part, I’d assume that a tribe that regularly killed off its own members and ate them would have some difficulty surviving.
    That said, some societies have made religious sacrifices of in-group members for the “greater good” – I’d imagine that smaller groups would find such practices more difficult to sustain.

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  139. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    So you haven’t bothered to check out the Law Code of Hammurabi that was brought back by said deLorean?

    Yes, I have. This would be the Law Code of Hammurabi that starts by saying “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, to bring about the rule in the land.”

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  140. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Yes, but Virtualmark, don’t you know when atheists say “all religion is evil” they really mean “Christianity” and perhaps the brave ones “and islam too”. Any other religion is fine.

    As long as it’s not Judaism/Christianity/Islam, it’s not really a problem, it doesn’t really count.

    Therefore they can claim the Code of Hammurabi is the one shining example of a moral code that was dreamt up a la Georgebolwing-like without any influence of religion.

    But there’s bound to be lots more examples out there too. People were doing it all over the place before religion was handed down by the sky fairies.

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  141. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    All religions are flawed. I’m undecided if they’re evil, as they probably had utility for sub-rational societies.

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  142. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    Wondered if you were going to get around to that. About time.

    Now, in what way does the shaping of Law Code of Hammurabi depend upon their belief in God? No where is Marduk appealed to as a source, or the reason for the Law Code of Hammurabi.

    Just like the Greeks and Romans, no one is disputing that these cultures belived in deities and referred to them. But to what extent did that belief undergird and shape their ethics? Correlation does not prove causation. Which was my point.

    Look at these “gods”. In the Epic of Gilgamesh they destroy humankind with a flood because they make too much noise, but then they are sooo stupid, they have no one left to feed them with sacrifices. And Saturn eats his own children. Zeus is a nasty and capricious “big human”. In many cases the pantheons in which they exist are marked by in-fighting and divison, so they cannot possibly provide a coherent and infallible set of ethics, let alone form the basis of a moral code.

    In no way do they act act moral exemplars for the civilisations in question. Instead, they just are, just like the moving planets in the sky that we now know are lumps of rock, with little bearing on our system of morality. Instead, these civiliastions based their morality on other sources…

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  143. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Gee Kimbo, I thought you went byeeeeee?

    Read what I’ve said in earlier posts. Universal moral codes require a lawgiver, a judge and a threat of punishment.

    In Hammurabi’s code he is clearly the lawgiver. He is the king. He is recording, codifying and setting out the law.

    In Hammurabi’s code it’s not clear who is the ultimate moral judge, but I will assume it’s their God (hint: the ultimate judge is nearly always the God). For more pragmatic day-to-day events there’s a whole panoply of judicial courts who provide more earthly judgement and who link their earthly authority back to the God’s moral authority.

    In Hammurabi’s code I’ll go with the “threat of punishment” coming ultimately from Marduk (hint: the words “who feared Marduk, the patron god of Babylon” kind of give that away). For more pragmatic day-to-day events there’s sure to be a lot of faces being marked, hands cut off, and people being killed in gruesome ways.

    In Hammurabi’s code I will strongly wager that the code had societal standing and moral standing because it was seen as being backed by Marduk, via Hammurabi. I will strongly wager there would be nothing in the code that was at odds with their societal belief of what Marduk wanted and how Marduk behaved. That’s just how these things roll.

    Re your other points … absolutely Gods are often presented as being bloody capricious and hard to like. Often they’re vindictive. Even a bit childish. But, ironically, that strengthens the idea that people fear them. Remember … you need the law to be backed by a threat of punishment. Zeus (to use one example) carries a big stick … if he would do those things to his own family imagine what he’d do to you if you fuck up.

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  144. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    Just like the Greeks and Romans, no one is disputing that these cultures belived in deities and referred to them. But to what extent did that belief undergird and shape their ethics? Correlation does not prove causation. Which was my point.

    Look at these “gods”. In the Epic of Gilgamesh they destroy humankind with a flood because they make too much noise, but then they are sooo stupid, they have no one left to feed them with sacrifices. And Saturn eats his own children. Zeus is a nasty and capricious “big human”. In many cases the pantheons in which they exist are marked by in-fighting and divison, so they cannot possibly provide a coherent and infallible set of ethics, let alone form the basis of a moral code.

    In no way do they act act moral exemplars for the civilisations in question. Instead, they just are, just like the moving planets in the sky that we now know are lumps of rock, with little bearing on our system of morality. Instead, these civiliastions based their morality on other sources…

    And here you start to get into really interesting theological questions. Like why the big difference between the vindictive God of the Old Testament, and the loving God of the New Testament. What happened in between? Who knows. But the two parts read like they’re talking about completely different deities.

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  145. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    First, start with the fundamental truth that all societies (ie all big groups) need some shared basis for “good” and “bad”. They need a universal moral code.

    A non-sequitur. “Some shared basis for good and bad” is by no means a synonym for “a universal moral code.” And of course we do have a shared basis for good and bad – general concepts of “fairness” and “unfairness” are hardwired into humans via millions of years of evolving as social creatures. That these concepts are vague and therefore open to interpretation is evidenced pretty strongly by the very fact that there’s an ethical dispute over abortion. There is no absolute, universal moral code – even the apparently-straightforward stuff like “don’t kill people” is disputed by anyone who isn’t a pacifist.

    A truly atheistic society would inevitably become totalitarian.

    This is about as useful as saying any truly religious society would become a murderous threat to other societies. It’s a matter of opinion.

    The reason “atheists” today think an atheistic Western society works is because they’ve grown up soaking in a society based on a religious moral law.

    It’s a secular society, not an atheist one. But regardless, it’s a false claim. Those basic concepts of fairness and unfairness predate religion by an unknown but definitely very long period of prehistory. The encrustations of ‘religious moral law’ that various superstitious types have put forward over the millennia of recorded history have been more of a hindrance than a help to building better societies.

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  146. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Mikenmild “All religions are flawed. I’m undecided if they’re evil, as they probably had utility for sub-rational societies.

    You decide if religions are evil? On what basis? By what standard?

    Do you ever read the absolute nonsense you spout?

    You’re a funny one Mike.

    Some of the most rational minds were/are religious.

    I agree religions are flawed since they are attempts by flawed humans to encode/formulate divine truth.

    What about the deities the religions worship – have you determined if they are flawed or evil?

    How will you know?

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  147. georgebolwing (992 comments) says:

    Rufus

    I never said that I independently thought my way to ideas about right and wrong. What I said was “What I don’t have is values given to me by a deity. I managed to come up with my values by reading and thinking and talking to other people.”

    The most important part of this is the bit about not being given my values by a deity.

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  148. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Like why the big difference between the vindictive God of the Old Testament, and the loving God of the New Testament. What happened in between?

    Civilisation did. It’s good like that.

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  149. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    As a rationalist, mikenmild, can you condemn the boyfriend who kills his partner’s infant kid?

    I mean, what he has done is perfectly rational. All he is doing is getting rid of some other bloke’s DNA and making it more likely that he can disseminate his own DNA instead.

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  150. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    Gods are often presented as being bloody capricious and hard to like. Often they’re vindictive. Even a bit childish. But, ironically, that strengthens the idea that people fear them. Remember … you need the law to be backed by a threat of punishment. Zeus (to use one example) carries a big stick…

    But what they called Gods we understand as a personification of cause-and-effect.

    If you didn’t worship the gods right, or you backed the wrong one in a heavenly coup d’état, then the gods will take their vengeance on you with a deluge.

    Now, today we do the same thing, whether atheist or not, but we just change the name of the cause, and (in most cases) properly identify the cause-and-effect relationship. For example, if do not properly take care of your environment, such as good planting and erosion-management, then you will be wiped out if a flood comes. There is no need for a “philosphical basis” to the system of behaviour/morality. Instead it is a morality based on impirical observation. They suffered the catastrophe, attributed it to a deity, examined what actions they had done just prior to the catastrophe, and concluded thye had identified the reason, and took remedial action. Whether the action was moral or practical, it was nonetheless essentially utilatarian, and not based from the extrapolation of a philosophical imperative.

    Swap the words “God” with “cause-and-effect” and there is no change in the moral system. It is simply a word that is not really shaping the moral system.

    And like the ancients, modern-day atheists can and do base their morality on cause-and-effect. As a result their moral system, reasoning and actions can be as philospohically valid as any theist’s. For example, murder is “bad” because it has bed effects, therefor we should not do it, if for nothing else, than the reasons outlined in Immanuel Kant’s moral imperative (Do good that good might spread).

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  151. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    mandk
    Yes, I can condemn that. I don’t need the Flying Spaghetti Monster to tell me that it’s wrong, though.

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  152. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Psycho Milt,

    First, start with the fundamental truth that all societies (ie all big groups) need some shared basis for “good” and “bad”. They need a universal moral code.

    A non-sequitur. “Some shared basis for good and bad” is by no means a synonym for “a universal moral code.” And of course we do have a shared basis for good and bad – general concepts of “fairness” and “unfairness” are hardwired into humans via millions of years of evolving as social creatures. That these concepts are vague and therefore open to interpretation is evidenced pretty strongly by the very fact that there’s an ethical dispute over abortion. There is no absolute, universal moral code – even the apparently-straightforward stuff like “don’t kill people” is disputed by anyone who isn’t a pacifist.

    Qu: Do you disagree that a society needs some shared basis for “good” and “bad”???

    Something I do disagree with is your view that “fairness” and “unfairness” are hardwired. Nope. Time and time again we see human being treating other human beings in hideous ways. I will strongly contend that the basic human condition is self-interest and greed.

    A truly atheistic society would inevitably become totalitarian.

    This is about as useful as saying any truly religious society would become a murderous threat to other societies. It’s a matter of opinion.

    It’s a matter of opinion in that we don’t have any actual atheistic societies to point to as an example. But rationally and logically a truly atheistic society will become totalitarian. Read Dawkins. He’s the high priest of modern-day atheism and he is at least intellectually honest enough to acknowledge this. He says on several occasions that a purely rational evolutionary atheistic society would be an unattractive place to live, for these reasons.

    The reason “atheists” today think an atheistic Western society works is because they’ve grown up soaking in a society based on a religious moral law.

    It’s a secular society, not an atheist one. But regardless, it’s a false claim. Those basic concepts of fairness and unfairness predate religion by an unknown but definitely very long period of prehistory. The encrustations of ‘religious moral law’ that various superstitious types have put forward over the millennia of recorded history have been more of a hindrance than a help to building better societies.

    Look, to keep this manageable let’s just focus on our own Western society. Our judicial law is philosophically based in whole on Christian tenets. Sure, the New Testament doesn’t set out securities law, to use one example. So our judicial law has to go into areas of detail way beyond what the theology worries about. But the basic tenets of our law are almost 100% Christian.

    Now you might not believe in Christianity yourself. Fine, I don’t care if you believe in the life-saving powers of pink elephants. But your whole life has been spent soaking in an environment of basic Christian tenets such as the sanctity of life, the value of each individual, the Christian/Jewish moral code etc etc. The difficulty you have is (a) actually recognising how much of that you have absorbed and (b) contemplating how you could replicate those same moral tenets if you start with “There is no God”.

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  153. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    To just use one example to illustrate where you go off the rails:

    For example, murder is “bad” because it has bad effects, therefor we should not do it, if for nothing else, than the reasons outlined in Immanuel Kant’s moral imperative (Do good that good might spread).

    Murder has bad effects … because if you are caught you will be charged with murder, and you face spending a long stretch in prison.

    It is a crime we codified largely because God said “do not kill”. Underpinning that is the Christian belief that all life is sacred to God. So to take a life is to offend one of God’s most fundamental principles.

    Murder has bad effects … if you go back to an earlier time when there was a more Christian society it was bad because even if you didn’t get caught you feared that one day you would face God and he would judge you for murder, and there would be a more eternal punishment.

    But try hard to truly take a coldly rational logical “secular humanist” view of this. Life is just an evolutionary fluke. It has no purpose. There is no eternal consequence awaiting you if you take a life. Absolutely you might fear being sent to prison. But let’s say you had the opportunity to kill without any fear of imprisonment, and that by killing you would advance your own interests. Rationally, what would stop you?

    And, if that’s the case, why stop at killing just one. Stalin killed tens of millions and died in his bed, an old man, shaking his fist at God. Rationally, his was an atheistic life well led. Sure a lot of people died. But Stalin got to do all the things he wanted to do, faced no earthly consequences, and the atheists would say he can surely face no eternal consequences.

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  154. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    ‘a crime we codified largely because God said “do not kill”.’
    Was murder not a crime anywhere before the Ten Commandments? And how could those commandments be ‘underpinned’ by Christian belief – they are pre-Christian?

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  155. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild,

    Yes, they were pre-Christian. But I would say not pre-theology.

    My specific example to Kimbo was based on our legal system here in the West. Which is based on Christian values.

    More generically, I expect practically every other legal system has a similar crime of murder, and they too will be ultimately historically based on a religion. So sure, to use an example, Israeli law is clearly not based on Christian values, but “do not kill” is still in their religion and no doubt is reflected in their legal system.

    General view … legal systems are a human attempt to capture and codify a set of principles set out in an underlying religion. The religion will concern itself with questions of “God” and how people should relate to God. The legal system will concern itself with questions of day-to-day life and how people should relate to each other. But the legal system will reflect the God’s values and will draw its moral authority from its connection back to those values.

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  156. mikenmild (11,719 comments) says:

    I’m pretty sure that basic ideas about how to treat other humans, like not murdering them, would pre-date religion. I mean, what came before the Ten Commandments? Religion evolved as a social mechanism of utility in regulating human life.

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  157. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Georgebolwing

    My bad – I didn’t pick up on the distinction.

    “The most important part of this is the bit about not being given my values by a deity.”

    So how do you know that the people whose values you’ve inherited did not themselves obtain such values from a deity, or belief in a deity, given that the society you live and grew up in is steeped in 2000 odd years of Christianity?

    Why is that bit so important anyway? If the values are right – who cares where they came from?

    You’re like a kid shaking its fist towards his dad shouting “I’ll do it myself”.

    The irony is that you quote Jesus, the man who claimed to be a deity when you advocate “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

    See I got my values early on from my parents. I then had to think them through when I grew a bit more aware and came into contact with people who had different values.

    I read books too, including the Bible. The Bible contains authors who claim to have lived with and been taught by Jesus. I quite like Jesus’ teachings, and have tried to adopt his way as mine.

    Now how different are you and I? Not much I suspect.

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  158. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Mikenmild – tribalism would disprove your point at 3:54.

    Murder of the “others” has been and is still ok in many human societies. The best you can say is that they haven’t evolved to your enlightened level yet.

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  159. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild,

    I think the challenge there is working out how far back you’d have to go to pre-date theologies. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll wager it’s back long before we have any records of civilisations.

    I don’t know of any theology that says “murder freely without consequence”. I can think of religions, being perversions of theologies, that seem to say murder is okay … we saw one this week with James(?) Foley being killed in Syria.

    But I do figure every theology that says “do not murder” will back that up with some spiritual/eternal consequence should you actually murder. Whether you’re cursed, or go to Hell, or whatever … there’ll be some injunction that says “even if the law doesn’t get you God will”. Atheism obviously can’t replicate that.

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  160. mandk (1,018 comments) says:

    “Yes, I can condemn that”

    But, why, mikenmild? Your truth is not the infant-killer’s. Your morality is not his morality, and there’s no reason why you should be able to impose yours on him.

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  161. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “I’m pretty sure that basic ideas about how to treat other humans, like not murdering them, would pre-date religion.”

    No, as “religion” is inherent in human nature, thus has always been there. But even if we take away thae assertion that it is inherent, it has still always been there. Spirituality of one sort or another has always been a part of how human beings interact with the world.

    “I mean, what came before the Ten Commandments?”

    Your making the standard atheist mistake of assuming that religion is only organised, institutional spirituality written down. Human spirituality, and folk religion, are as old as human beings.

    “Religion evolved as a social mechanism of utility in regulating human life.”

    This is a belief, which is fine, but it’s not a provable belief. It requires faith in a particular worldview.

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  162. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    @ Psycho

    “That these concepts are vague and therefore open to interpretation is evidenced pretty strongly by the very fact that there’s an ethical dispute over abortion. There is no absolute, universal moral code – even the apparently-straightforward stuff like “don’t kill people” is disputed by anyone who isn’t a pacifist.”

    That there is disagreement about morality does not prove there is no absolute morality, only that human beings disagree about it.

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  163. chiz (1,164 comments) says:

    virtualmark:

    Altruism is not rational. It’s not in line with human nature. And I would strongly contend it doesn’t actually exist.

    Except that research by game theorists has shown that there are circumstances in which altruism is the rational strategy. And it is sometimes in line with human nature. People feel sympathy for others. We’ve had an example in chch recently of one woman who helped set up a new charity for helping homeless people. According to the news reports it was motivated by compassion rather than religion.

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  164. chiz (1,164 comments) says:

    virtualmark:

    But try hard to truly take a coldly rational logical “secular humanist” view of this. Life is just an evolutionary fluke. It has no purpose. There is no eternal consequence awaiting you if you take a life. Absolutely you might fear being sent to prison. But let’s say you had the opportunity to kill without any fear of imprisonment, and that by killing you would advance your own interests. Rationally, what would stop you?

    What would stop you is the ability to see things from another point of view, and the ability to reason. Since you value your life and would not like to be murdered you can understand that other people would not like to be murdered. You can also reason that a society in which you can kill at will would be an unpleasant and risky place to live in since it means that others could also kill at will and possibly kill you or someone important to you.

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  165. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    chiz,

    What I would say is this:

    1. There is “altruism” in families, and with friends. Personally I call that “love”.
    2. There is some limited altruism in some limited games. Personally I call that “self interest dressed up”.
    3. There is observably all but zero altruism elsewhere. As I said, check out the Milgram experiment, or the Stanford prison experiment, or any concentration camp, or any crusade etc etc. At the heart of the human condition is self-interest and greed. That’s why capitalism is so effective.

    Sure, you can find some well-meaning people who feel compassion and so setup a charity. I applaud them, I really do, I’m not being cynical about them. However, I would ask this question … are they living the tenets of a Christian faith that says “love everyone, show kindness to everyone”? Or the tenets of atheism that says “there is no God, there is no value in human life”? I contend that, in your example, this lady in Christchurch is motivated by a sense of the value and sanctity of each life that she has absorbed via living in a Christian society, rather than a sense of atheism.

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  166. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “Except that research by game theorists has shown that there are circumstances in which altruism is the rational strategy.”

    And when it’s not?

    The problem with this “reason alone” faith is that sooner or later real compassion means being compassionate even when it may not be rational or in our self-interest.

    Reason alone, assuming such a thing is possible (it’s not) will only get a person or a society so far, and what is rational to one may be irrational to another. Reason is not objective.

    At one point racial eugenics was the epitome of rational, scientific thought. That did not lead anywhere good.

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  167. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    chiz,

    What would stop you is the ability to see things from another point of view, and the ability to reason. Since you value your life and would not like to be murdered you can understand that other people would not like to be murdered. You can also reason that a society in which you can kill at will would be an unpleasant and risky place to live in since it means that others could also kill at will and possibly kill you or someone important to you.

    You might say that. That you wouldn’t murder because you’d be worried about someone in turn murdering you. But the strongest and most ruthless person in the society doesn’t have to fear that. What moral injunction do you have over them?

    As I said before, Stalin murdered over ten million people (well, not personally, but you know what I mean …). I don’t think he was overly worried about the risk of himself being murdered (sure, there was a risk, but he took steps, like murdering them first …).

    Note that what I’m not saying is that you can’t have a Stalin in a Christian or theological world. What I am saying is that atheism has no moral grounds to say Stalin was evil. In fact, not only was Stalin not evil he (well, totalitarianism generically) is the logical outflow of a purely atheistic world.

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  168. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    General view … legal systems are a human attempt to capture and codify a set of principles set out in an underlying religion.

    But as pointed out to you before, the “religion” of Ancient socities was in many cases an expression of their cosmology. The term “gods” was simply a way of designating the cause of their problems, in the same way we would use “a comet detroyed the dinosaurs”. But “gods” weren’t essential. They could have called it somethinmg else, and kept ot as an impersonal force of nature.

    For example, as stated before, Buddhism has no need for God. Instead we are trapped in an illusion of material existence, therefore we must escape that. Our methods of escape take the form of morality that will work positively within a cause-and-effect system. So Buddhists have a moral system, but no need for God.

    It is a crime we codified largely because God said “do not kill”. Underpinning that is the Christian belief that all life is sacred to God. So to take a life is to offend one of God’s most fundamental principles.

    Where are you coming from?! At one point you appeal to pagan Romans and Greeks and say that thier morality was based on their belief in Gods, and then you say “we codified” because of our Christian belief! Pagans did not hold to a Judaeo-Christian moral system! And yet their morality has influenced our history!

    Sorry, you just seem to be grabbing a mish-mash of ideas, and squeezing them into a rigid preset belief that is incapable of Popper’s principle of falsification – or at least it can’t be falsified when your appeal to historical “fact” is so cavalier!

    For example, you ask,

    But let’s say you had the opportunity to kill without any fear of imprisonment, and that by killing you would advance your own interests. Rationally, what would stop you?

    yet you ignore the evidence I gave you – Immanuel Kant’s moral imperative based on disinterested altruism. Which doesn’t require a belief in God…and which Christians, other assorted theists, and atheists use in many cases as the basis for their morality.

    Which is why, as indicated before, it is getting to be rather frustrating trying to dialogue with you, because you just plain ignore stuff that is pointed out to you.

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  169. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Qu: Do you disagree that a society needs some shared basis for “good” and “bad”???

    No – it’s difficult to picture how nihilists could form something we’d recognise as a society.

    Something I do disagree with is your view that “fairness” and “unfairness” are hardwired. Nope. Time and time again we see human being treating other human beings in hideous ways.

    The concepts of fairness and unfairness are hardwired. That doesn’t imply fair behaviour is.

    But rationally and logically a truly atheistic society will become totalitarian.

    There is nothing “rational” or “logical” about that claim at all. It’s based on the religious view that atheists have no morality, which is cobblers.

    Our judicial law is philosophically based in whole on Christian tenets.

    In your imagination perhaps. In reality, it’s based on common law, precedent and fairly basic concepts of natural justice.

    But your whole life has been spent soaking in an environment of basic Christian tenets such as the sanctity of life, the value of each individual, the Christian/Jewish moral code etc etc.

    And I guess that’s how it looks if you’ve convinced yourself that stuff like life and individuals being worth something are “Christian tenets” – others haven’t deluded themselves in that way.

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  170. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    Rufus at 3:58 pm

    Mikenmild – tribalism would disprove your point at 3:54.
    Murder of the “others” has been and is still ok in many human societies. The best you can say is that they haven’t evolved to your enlightened level yet.

    Disproves it – how? The prohibition against killing still applies first and foremost to in-group members – tribe, class, caste, nation. After receiving the 10 commandments, what changed about the Jews relationship to other tribes? I can’t imagine a functional society where random acts of violence toward in-group members were an accepted and tolerated norm. Even criminal organisations may have rules about how members treat each other. Perhaps that’s why such prohibitions are so common in so many societies – without them the society doesn’t function very well.

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  171. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    That there is disagreement about morality does not prove there is no absolute morality…

    Well sure. Disagreement about whether there are fairies at the bottom of the garden doesn’t prove there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden either.

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  172. chiz (1,164 comments) says:

    Trying to take one or two examples – like Stalin – where there is an underlying ideology at work, one which functions as an ersatz religion, and which has totalitarian underpinnings, and then trying to argue that all atheist societies must turn out the same way isn’t rational.

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  173. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    What I am saying is that atheism has no moral grounds to say Stalin was evil.

    This demonstrates only that you have no idea what atheism is, and are arguing against some bastardised propaganda fantasy version of it.

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  174. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    What would stop you is the ability to see things from another point of view, and the ability to reason. Since you value your life and would not like to be murdered you can understand that other people would not like to be murdered. You can also reason that a society in which you can kill at will would be an unpleasant and risky place to live in since it means that others could also kill at will and possibly kill you or someone important to you.

    You might say that. That you wouldn’t murder because you’d be worried about someone in turn murdering you. But the strongest and most ruthless person in the society doesn’t have to fear that. What moral injunction do you have over them?…As I said before, Stalin murdered over ten million people (well, not personally, but you know what I mean …). I don’t think he was overly worried about the risk of himself being murdered

    And this is what I mean by a cavalier recital of the facts of history – and a suspension of logic and common sense!

    Stalin, just like any tyrant, lived in continual fear of being murdered! In the last weeks of his life he was preparing to launch a Tsarist-like pogrom courtesy of the “Jewish Doctor’s plot” that was allegedly set up to poison Communist Party leadership, including Stalin himself.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors%27_plot

    If Kant’s Moral imperative couldn’t provide a cast-iron basis for morality that could persuade Stalin to do good, then a doctrine of God wouldn’t do it either.

    And even if it could, you overlook the problem that few, if anyone can live up to the dictates of their moral code…which I seem to recall the Gospels have a lot to say about.

    For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. Galatians 3:21b

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  175. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “There is nothing “rational” or “logical” about that claim at all. It’s based on the religious view that atheists have no morality, which is cobblers.”

    Wrong, it’s based on the evidence we have from real world atheist societies. Every officially atheist society in the 20th century was totalitarian and engaged in mass murder.

    Now atheists desperately try to get around this by claiming that it was communism, not atheism, which was the problem. But in reality atheism was one of several ideologies that was central to the communist worldview, and it contributed to the ease with which communists devalued human life, especially individual human life.

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  176. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Psycho Milt,

    Start with the statement “There is no God”. Construct a set of rational and internally consistent statements that flow from each other and end with the rational conclusion “That is why Stalin is evil”.

    Take your time. I’ll wait.

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  177. ShawnLH (5,754 comments) says:

    “Trying to take one or two examples – like Stalin – where there is an underlying ideology at work, one which functions as an ersatz religion,”

    One or two? Lets see. The Soviet Union. Maoist China. Pol Pot’s regime. North Korea. Cuba (less so today) and likel;y several other regimes.

    Any ideology, including atheism and rationalism, can operate as an “ersatz” religion, and usually do.

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  178. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    I’m not trying to ignore you, but I’ve also had to push other things along in my real world life …

    Where are you coming from?! At one point you appeal to pagan Romans and Greeks and say that thier morality was based on their belief in Gods, and then you say “we codified” because of our Christian belief! Pagans did not hold to a Judaeo-Christian moral system! And yet their morality has influenced our history!

    Sorry, you just seem to be grabbing a mish-mash of ideas, and squeezing them into a rigid preset belief that is incapable of Popper’s principle of falsification – or at least it can’t be falsified when your appeal to historical “fact” is so cavalier!

    Breathe through your nose Kimbo. Breathe.

    I didn’t appeal to pagan Romans & Greeks at all. I responded to someone else’s assertion that their societies and moral codes weren’t based on their Gods. Personally I disagree with that. I think their societies and moral codes were absolutely based on their Gods, and if it were possible to talk with them I’d be amazed if any of them thought their societies weren’t based on their Gods. By Jove!.

    Let me clarify your “we codified” comment. We, Western society, over the last 2,000 years, has codified its laws on the basis of Christian tenets.

    And prior to our Western society previous societies through history, be they Sumerian, Babylonian, Greek or whatever, have codified their laws on the basis of their Gods.

    yet you ignore the evidence I gave you – Immanuel Kant’s moral imperative based on disinterested altruism. Which doesn’t require a belief in God…and which Christians, other assorted theists, and atheists use in many cases as the basis for their morality.

    Not ignoring it, just I haven’t really had the time or inclination to debate it in depth. But since you ask …

    First, as I’ve outlined above I don’t buy the altruism argument. My experience has been altruism sounds great if (a) you’re an academic or (b) you want it to be true just so so badly. But human history shows scant experience of altruism. If we want to put all the samples of altruism outside a Christian theological setting such as the church or Christian charities on one side of the scales and all the examples of pure naked self-interest, greed and straight-out meanness and evil on the other then I know which way the scale is going to flip towards.

    Re Kant. Great thinker. Sadly didn’t move the ball far down the field. Further than I could sure. But basically he said “If we can touch it, see it etc then it’s real and if we can’t then it’s unknowable and hence a question of faith”. Laid the ground-work for what we call rationalism today. But didn’t help us much. I do agree with the core thrust of “Religion within the limits of reason”.

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  179. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    Stalin, just like any tyrant, lived in continual fear of being murdered!

    Go back to what I said … I don’t think he was overly worried about the risk of himself being murdered (sure, there was a risk, but he took steps, like murdering them first …).

    Maybe my “overly worried” was a poor choice of words. But Stalin managed the risk of being murdered by getting in first. He did it effectively.

    But don’t get distracted. The core point I was trying to make was “atheism has no moral grounds for saying Stalin was evil”. Do you disagree?

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  180. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Chiz,

    Trying to take one or two examples – like Stalin – where there is an underlying ideology at work, one which functions as an ersatz religion, and which has totalitarian underpinnings, and then trying to argue that all atheist societies must turn out the same way isn’t rational

    Go back to my post at 12:12pm. Work through the logic. Especially step 7. Rationally, over time, atheistic societies will devolve into being dominated by the strongest and most ruthless member. It is the logical outcome. In that society that is not “evil”, because there is no evil.

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  181. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    If we want to put all the samples of altruism outside a Christian theological setting such as the church or Christian charities on one side of the scales and all the examples of pure naked self-interest, greed and straight-out meanness and evil on the other then I know which way the scale is going to flip towards.

    But doesn’t that appeal to a comparison which of its very nature acknowledges atheists can and do exercise a moral system that causes them to do good (the fact that it is supposedly inferior to Christianity is irrelevant) contradict your argument that “in atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life”?

    Which would also imply that you yourself have found the philosophical basis by which atheists can say Stalin was evil.

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  182. Rufus (676 comments) says:

    Some atheists may claim Stalin was evil. Others applaud him.

    Now by what standard was he either?

    Both for and against will have to admit that as long as he shared their disbelief, he was as much an atheist as themselves. For that the cannot deny.

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  183. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    With all theologies I would draw a distinction between what the core truths of the theology are, and then what people actually do.

    To use Christianity as an example, I would say the core truths are the “red letter” words in a modern day New Testament. That is, the actual words of Jesus. If you want to know what Christianity is, at its heart, then go to the source.

    However, although I know a lot of “Christians” I think I could count the number of true Christians I have met with my fingers. Reason being that the core theology is incredibly challenging and un-natural. For sure I wouldn’t have the moral commitment or strength to be a true Christian.

    Sadly, most of the “Christians” I have met may be well meaning, but fall short of what you think being a Christian is about. (*)

    Now, let’s look at atheism. If you look at the core truths of atheism then, frankly, they are bleak and nihilistic.

    And, although I know a lot of “atheists” I have never met someone who truly leads an atheistic life. And I’m not surprised. As Dawkins himself says it would be a terrible and unattractive life.

    Personally I think atheists grasp “altruism” as a fig leaf to try to convince themselves that atheism can’t be all that bleak and terrifying. The problem I have with that is that experiential human history says the altruism argument is bunkum.

    To be honest, to the very limited extent that I see altruistic behaviour I think that is un-atheistic.

    (*) To be fair to Christianity, it does explicitly say that no one will be able to live up to all the ideals, but that that can still be made okay. But I struggle with the distance “Christians” fall from the core Christian beliefs. Especially in US fundamental Christian circles. But that’s a story for another time.

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  184. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    virtualmark at 5:27 pm

    If you look at the core truths of atheism then, frankly, they are bleak and nihilistic.

    What are these core truths exactly?

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  185. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    Kimbo,

    (the fact that it is supposedly inferior to Christianity is irrelevant)

    Not inferior. Just incredibly rare.

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  186. virtualmark (1,537 comments) says:

    SGA,

    What are these core truths exactly?

    See my post from 12:12pm.

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  187. SGA (1,142 comments) says:

    virtualmark at 5:31 pm

    See my post from 12:12pm.

    Oh that – I commented (albeit briefly) on it earlier.

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  188. nasska (11,804 comments) says:

    Organised religion of any kind is merely a power base for another group of would be dictators. Kings, despots, parliaments & other assorted rulers have usually tolerated a national religion as it was useful to keep the illiterate unwashed cowered & submissive via threats of damnation in the next life. The King controlled the physical bodies…..the church controlled the minds.

    Stalin & Mao differed from the norm in that they saw religion as a subversive influence & a possible rallying point for counter revolution.

    The belief may be Christianity, Islam or Sikihism…..the true name in all cases is power.

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  189. dave_c_ (223 comments) says:

    I dont give a damn what Hawkins opinion is – But I do despair when so called politicians, and medical experts jump on the bandwagon, and use his proclamations as justification to impose policy or regulation to enforce the outcomes he espouses onto the general public !

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  190. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    @virtualmark: can’t be arsed reading everything that’s been added since I was here this morning. :-) What I can say is that observing that religion gives some people a moral code cannot be turned into an ought – that we ought all to believe in religion. Just because the world might be a nice place if everyone was religious doesn’t mean that people can turn a blind eye to the lack of evidence to support those religions. Nor can it tell us which religion to choose.

    Even more to the point, I’d argue that some religions, either currently or in the past, definitely did not do good things. So even the proposition that religion gives us a moral code doesn’t automatically translate into that moral code being the right code. Many christians believe strongly that to be homosexual is to sin, and that contraception is a sin. I find those to be perverse beliefs. Many muslims continue to believe that anyone who isn’t muslim should be forcibly converted, and failing that, it’d be OK to kill them. I’m not overly thrilled with that position either, and I note that a few hundred years ago many christians thought the same.

    If what you’re saying is that the current interpretation given by a large number of people in some religions to their holy texts gives a reasonable moral code to live your life by, with some exceptions that we maybe should tidy up, then I’m wondering what sense that makes. I might as well say that our collective civilisation has accumulated a list of things that form a moral code, and most of us generally live by that moral code, and generally that moral code is a good thing. It’s a pretty mild statement, but really it’s about the best you could claim for religion as well. And it’s probably enough.

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  191. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Start with the statement “There is no God”. Construct a set of rational and internally consistent statements that flow from each other and end with the rational conclusion “That is why Stalin is evil”.

    Given that God is irrelevant to any analysis of whether Stalin was evil or not, it really doesn’t matter whether you start with “There is no God” or “There is a God.” Admittedly, you can build a logical house of cards on the initial assumption that there is a God, but that would involve assuming the thing you’re supposedly trying to prove, otherwise known as “begging the question.”

    Still, I’m at a loose end”
    There is no God.
    Therefore, human morality is an evolutionary construct formed by a lengthy history as social animals.
    Therefore, the concepts of ‘fairness’ and ‘unfairness’ that we have is ‘best purpose’ for our living together as social animals.
    Therefore, deliberate transgression against those concepts on a mass scale should be regarded as evil, as should the deliberate attempt to construct a society that suppresses those concepts.
    Stalin did both of the above.
    Therefore, Stalin was evil.

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  192. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    With all theologies I would draw a distinction between what the core truths of the theology are, and then what people actually do.

    But that was not your original premise – “in atheism there is no concept of sanctity of life”. So I suggest you are shifting goal posts…and not for the first time, I might add, e.g., criticising what you consider intellectually lazy and philosophically dishonest, yet you also say, “My experience has been altruism sounds great if (a) you’re an academic”. Either it is intellectually sound and philosophically honest, irrespective of whether one is an academic!

    To use Christianity as an example, I would say the core truths are the “red letter” words in a modern day New Testament. That is, the actual words of Jesus. If you want to know what Christianity is, at its heart, then go to the source.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong! The teaching of the Scriptures is that ALL the words are the words of God, whether from the Son of God in his pre-incarnate form, while on earth, or in ascended glory to the Apostles, as reflected in the Epistles and the Apocalypse. All of it is required to understand the individual parts, including what “heart” can be discerned. Which is why, btw, “red letter editions” deserve to be discarded on principle due to the confusion and misconception they cause!

    Furthermore, the heart of Christianity is not morality. If does have ramifications for morality, but that is a secondary issue. The primary teaching of the Scriptures (including the Old Testament) is soteriology – a salvation history. God intervening on behalf of humanity, first in the Exodus, and then through the life, detah, resurrection ascension, and continuing and coming reign of Christ. Moralists may like to go running to the New Testament as a ‘superior” version of morality compared to the Old. But to do so is not only to misunderstand, but also to misuse the intent of the (Old and New Testament) Scriptures. So if you are misusing it, your philospohical judgements about its supposed “moral system and teaching must be flawed.

    Which is why, when you say…

    For sure I wouldn’t have the moral commitment or strength to be a true Christian.

    you betray a crucial error.

    The essential teaching of true Christianity is that no one has the moral strength or commitment to be a true Christian. Instead, it requires humility to humbly accept that all we do, including our conceptions and efforts concerning God’s Law – see Jesus’ attitude towards the Pharisees!), are inadequate. Instead, we must humble ourselves and receive God’s grace. I see you’ve corrected that with a late addendum to your post, but unless you have that front and centre, then there will inevitably be a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. Including its morality…

    All of which makes the singling out of atheism as especially pernicious or evil as pointless. You say atheism is “bleak and nihilistic” Maybe. But then, as you point out, as no one actually lives the philosophical position (just as Hindus and Buddhists can never actually completely live as if material existence is an illusion!), what does it really matter?

    You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things….12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2: 1, 12-16)

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  193. Kiwi Dave (94 comments) says:

    Your 12.12 post from point 4 misrepresents atheist thought substantially. We are not just sacks of meat as another commenter claimed, but sentient sacks of meat who live in social groups, inheritors of long biological and cultural histories and that has implications for how we live, as both Psycho Milt and PaulL point out in the previous posts.

    You later said, ‘ Universal moral codes require a lawgiver, a judge and a threat of punishment. ‘

    Universal moral codes also require a reason for believing that they are good; so how do we fallible human beings establish that the lawgiver is good/has given good moral codes? Any claim that atheists are incapable of constructing/knowing a universal code because we are defective, fallible human beings implies that theists, who are also defective, fallible human beings, may be just as mistaken in their judgement about their god’s perfections.

    Given Yahweh’s murderous performance and misjudgements in the Old Testament, the cruelty of hell in the New Testament and Christ’s sometimes strange moral pronouncements, it is not immediately obvious why we should regard this lawgiver as particularly qualified to talk about the nobility of life.

    Moreover, all tyrants do live under the threat of punishment which is rather more immediate and we know actually happens at the hands of their fellow humans on occasions, which is more than can be said for punishment in the afterlife.

    Once you accept that human morality is the product of our humanity with humanity’s imperfections, this claim of a top-down absolute universal morality seems just so much pointless wishful thinking.

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  194. Kimbo (1,067 comments) says:

    @ virtualmark

    …and while I’m in the process of picking your theological misconceptions to pieces (don’t take it personally – if you are going to argue that “Christian morality” is superior to atheism, then it in logically incumbent upon you to understand the theological packaging in which that morality is delivered)…

    your coment

    And here you start to get into really interesting theological questions. Like why the big difference between the vindictive God of the Old Testament, and the loving God of the New Testament. What happened in between? Who knows. But the two parts read like they’re talking about completely different deities.

    is a heresy that first orignated back in the 2nd Century AD via a man by the name of Marcion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism

    As the Church rightly discerned, and Albert Schweitzer later confirmed Christ himself, other than abrogating the ceremonial law, continually affirmed the authority and the validity of the Torah, the Prophets and the Jewish apocalyptic expectation found in the Old Testament.

    So much for the (to quote you) “big difference”. Which is probably why you fell into the “red letter” fallacy.

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  195. V (749 comments) says:

    This issue is about to get even more complicated once sequencing technology is coupled with detection of cell free fetal DNA in the pregnant mothers blood sample.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell-free_fetal_DNA

    The other ethical question is, OK you might decided to not terminate based on a Trisomy 21 diagnosis.
    But what about any one of a myrid of other genetic disorders?
    Then there is gene editing where you will be able to actually correct the genetic defect.

    It is never as simple as ‘the Herald reports’.

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  196. ChardonnayGuy (1,215 comments) says:

    I’m pro-choice but I find Dawkins perspective reprehensible. If a woman’s fetus is found to have Down Syndrome, then they should find out about the condition from an objective source, decide whether or not they have the resources and particular coping and support networks needed to provide quality parenting to someone with an intellectual disability, and *then* choose whether or not to continue or end the pregnancy. Let it also be noted that I support parental support benefits and human rights legislation to protect people with Down syndrome and other forms of intellectual disability.

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  197. Dazzaman (1,145 comments) says:

    Dawkins is a moral midget and nasty fuckwit.

    DPF is a moral pansy.

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  198. soundhill1 (269 comments) says:

    “Then there is gene editing where you will be able to actually correct the genetic defect.”

    In the contract the editors will get ownership of successes but disclaim it in failures.

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