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January 03, 2012


This is part of the difference between the modern amateur "I'll just go with whatever make sense to me on the surface and makes me feel good" popular atheists and the older "I'm going to take seriously the idea of taking the idea to it's logical conclusion regardless of whether it makes me feel warm and fuzzy" atheist.

Atheists of the past realized that taking their ideas and putting them into practice would result in more than just closing down churches, and the supposed resulting propelling of the entire human race into Ph.D level logic experts.

Literature (Science Fiction in particular) has often explored the ideas of scientists or social planners who decide that anything that isn't scientifically measurable and doesn't promote the "societal good" is a detriment and should be eliminated. It generally ends badly. This is in opposition to the Dawkinsian view that eliminating all vestiges of religious faith would do nothing except make everyone happy and end all war. (an odd idea for someon who claims there is no such thng as good or bad, but just indifference)

As Greg often says, ideas have consequences.

Let's hope 2012 brings us more thoughtful atheists.

>> "they stick to naturalism and reject "ought" altogether."

ya i dont think the ought exists.
but its in my interest that everyone else does.
so keep on keepin on with that one.

On a side note, who is "rejecting the ought altogether" lately?

Certainly not the 'four horsemen' from what i've read of their work... In fact much of their work seems to revolve around attempts to ground the ought without god.

In other words, is there a big name in popular print who has come right out and said:

"The ought (objective moral laws) do not objectively exist, so anything goes"

I can think of a few contemporary minor names.

I can think of a few quotes from the frenchies - most of them dead.

But i mean, lately, who is rejecting the ought these days in popular press?

I'm sure there must be someone, since Christian websites and media constantly reference this event as the harbinger of bad mojo to come.

Whos got a YouTube link? I'm really curious.

Isn't St Dawkins on the record saying there is no such thing as right of wrong? How can you ground an ought in the fact that there is no right or wrong to determine what the ought should be?

There is just preference in the face of the merciless indifference of the universe.

Another lost comment?
Yes, the britest horseman, Dawkins, ahs said so, in print.

Note how the author of the article Amy quotes above essentially cedes the field of battle to Galton and his allies:

In that chilling disdain for emotion and feeling, Galton’s novel presaged the many inhuman horrors of the two world wars to come.
So the suggestion is that Kantsaywhere, and by extension the Holocaust, the Soviet Purges, The Great Leap Forward and the Killing Fields, were founded on reason alone and its chief problem is that the regimes involved didn't give due place to feelings and emotions.

This is nonsense. Kantsaywhere's problem is that it is based on emotion and not reason. There's no reason that we should prefer a world of genetically perfect individuals over a world containing the genetic soup we have. Logic doesn't insist upon genetic perfection. The axioms of arithmetic, geometry, ethics and theology do not demand it. The laws of Physics and Chemistry do not require genetic perfection. Even the laws of genetics and evolutionary biology do not require it.

Indeed, eugenics is to natural selection what a command economy is to the free market. Natural selection seems to go against the idea of eugenics. Fitness will emerge by natural selection from the environmental pressures, it isn't pushed from the top down.

Galton's program isn't a case of reason run amok. It's a case of emotion run amok. The reason we want perfect children is, obviously, that it hurts our feelings to see children suffer with genetic defects. Or, as I think is more likely in Galton's case, he just finds genetic defects icky.

I disagree.

I think part if the issue, especially with the eugenics of that generation, was coming from a view that the universe was mechanistic (ie clockwork) and the issues with humanity were along the lines of a machine with parts that were warped, broken, or merely missing. Natural selection might solve the problem in 100,000 or 1,000,000 years, but well planned eugenics could solve the problem in centuries or even decades depending on the problem.

To do this, emotions like empathy which might get in the way of doing the needed tasks (ie the forced sterilization of anyone who'se genes are deemed undesirable to be passed into the next generation or breeding programs such as put in place for the SS to produce more perfect Aryans) need to be supressed for the greater good of society. After all, one of the definitions used for morality in a secular society is what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Getting rid of congenital problems or "unwanted" traits such as low intelligence or cowardice would seem to many to ultimately provide a good to a large number of future people.


You disagree with my point that Natural Selection and Eugenics are at odds. That is actually not that big a deal.

My main point is that Natural Selection does not in any way recommend eugenics. I've no doubt that guys like Galton told themselves that they were being rational and scientific by breeding humans. But they were actually acting on a visceral loathing of those they perceive as inferior. There's no getting around the fact that reason, even augmented by natural science, does not recommend the program.

The problem is almost never out-of-control reason. Indeed the problems usually arise when reason fails to submit to the Word of God or when emotions and appetite fail to submit to reason. And the danger we face when our faculty of reason does not submit to the Word of God is never that that faculty will be too rational, it's that it will fail to be rational enough.

Im sorry Trent, isn't the greatest good for the greatest number of people exactly what we want? Isn't that what Christianity (if true) is supposed to provide?

I dont know if dawkins is saying there are no oughts... Or if he just wants everyone to use his...


Then theres Sam Harris whos own book was titled:

"The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values"

Now I think these guys are pretty bad philosophers any way you slice it.

But i dont know if they "reject ought altogether" as Amy said in the post.

Seems like they just wanna redefine them.

Hi ToNy,
Thanks for the link.

I dont know if dawkins is saying there are no oughts... Or if he just wants everyone to use his...
That's the same as saying there are no "oughts". He offers morality that is reasoned to, argues for, rationalize, and intelligently designed by humans in your video clip. those do not transcend so they do provide oughts. In fact, he demonstrates this as he goes on. He says that "we" no longer believe in slavery, and that we are gentle and kind to animals. Well millions of us do condone slavery and our kindness to animals is a very debatable claim. what he is really doing is telling us what he feels and giving us no basis to make his feelings into oughts.

As he says:

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions?

Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.


Responsibility logically demands duty which logically demands oughts. Dawkins views a world (which may not come to be) where we will all realize that there are no such things (we will be as enlightened as he).

Bad philosophers, yes, they certainly are that - their attempts are laughed out of court by real philosophers. But even if you check out the writings of the professional philosopher, and fourth horsemen, Daniel Dennett, you will see that he, too, has to define "oughts" away in order to preserve the language of morality.

DAwkins in an interview :

Skeptic: So once again the discussion goes back to how do you determine whether something is good or not, other than by just your personal choice?

Dawkins: I don't even try. You keep wanting to base morality on Darwinism. I don't.


As he says in this interview, human consciousness is a manifestation of brain activity and this is a product of Darwinian evolution. Our thoughts are ises, not oughts. What he said above about criminal acts applies equally to thoughts, then, they are " to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment."

Should we trust Dawkins' view of morality? Would he?

Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: “Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?” And next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

And again Dawkins says:
, “science has no methods for deciding what is ethical. That is a matter for individuals and for society.”5

Those would not be "oughts". they would be opinions.
In a universe of blind, pitiles, indifference, it is not that Dawkins has his own oughts - it's that he has denied them.
He may not want to admit that, but his writings and his answers acknowledge it as a fact.

Another big name and, though not a horseman, one terribly admired by Dawkins, is Peter Singer. He uses "ought" language all the time as well. But he, like Dawkins, does not have "ought" but "preference"

Singer, however, cannot acknowledge this truth without conceding some form of theism, which, of course, he will not do; hence, while he harshly ridicules those who disagree with his oughts, he absolutely vindicates them from being wrong. By comparing “acting morally” to “collecting stamps,” he admits that his moral claims are mere preferences, not obligations.


hmm well the question was do they "reject "ought" altogether."

i cant make heads or tails out of dawkins. Seems he believes in oughts in half his statements, and in others, seems like classical biological determinism.

I didnt read harris's new book. But I read his first book and saw him talk and sure seems he believes in oughts. the little dork

I saw a dennet talk 2 years ago and i remember him being very persistent that atheists were quite moral without moral grounding. but i didnt read anything by him

Dunno what Hitchens was all about, but he was pretty adamant that the muslims werent doing what they ought to be doing.

anyway, really I think I'm pretty much the only atheists who will come out and say outright that:

"there are no objective moral oughts"


Besides me, I think the other guys appear quite muddy and full of qualifiers, redefinitions, etc... In fact in public speeches, i'm pretty sure they see themselves as "moral crusaders."

Thats how they come off at least.

oh well thank god i'm here!

Thank God indeed.

I agree totally that they are as muddy as can be. I think Sagan wasn't. I think he called moral preferences the equivalent of tastes for food.

I agree also on Harris and Dennett. Though Harris, especially, is completely rejected on his terrible theory (which Dawkins supports, BTW, so you've got that) he definitely is trying to have "objective" "oughts". If fact, I think Harris is fishing around for some way to claim real objective morality so that he can justify his hypocritical moralizing. Dawkins (who says he has to live an illusion inconsistent with the way he knows things to really be so that life is tolerable) needs some justification for his moralizing as well.

Maybe Amy wasn't talking about the horsemen, though. Maybe she meant guys like Stalin, or Jeffrey Dahmer.

Ah, I was floundering a little looking for the quote from Daniel Dennett. That's because it is Ruse who calls morality and emotion and an illusion.

Having read through as much of the manuscript as I could--and many of the large hand-written sections I found illegible--Galton did indeed ignore morality; the one time it was mentioned, he acted like it was secondary or tertiary, and in any case nothing to be terribly concerned about. It was treated with total indifference, and regarded as an accidental effect of physical composition.

What I found far more interesting is where he wound up theologically: animism. A distinctly eugenics-minded animism, mind you, with a heaping dollop of pantheistic (and neoplatonic) language and tone to top it off. As usual, morality was totally missing.

How in the world did he wind up with such an 'advanced' civilization that was also animistic? I thought most secular history of religion types regarded animism as being on the other end of the spectrum from a thoroughly modern culture; maybe Galton didn't get the memo.

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