“atheists are, alongside rapists, the most distrusted group of people.” Maybe in your privileged world, they are. Um, have you heard of race?MY REPLYThere a number of independent studies that have shown this to be true. I know it sounds surpising, but here are the links, so u can see for yourself:Scientifc American article on a University of British Colombia study:The original paper:Here is an article on a University of Minnesota study, it states the conclusions, but I can’t find the original paper:…I’m sorry but this isn’t my “privileged” world. These are peer-reviewed studies carried out with the highest degree of scientific and statistical reliability. Of course there ia a degree of uncertainty in the sample, but it is only small, or else the papers wouldn’t be published. If you can provide me with some studies that point to race being the greatest indicator of distrust, I would be quite happy to read them.On another note, we must always remember that the modern USA was willing to elect an African-American president, but never an atheist one. This is just anecdotal evidence, so we can’t read to much into it, but I think it gives some backing to my point, However, as I say, better to read the studies.
I hate people. People are more willing to trust those who believe in the supernatural than those who follow a more scientific standing?
Well, I think the fact nearly half of all Americans surveyed find atheists the least trusted people stems from the idea that not believing in God means you have no basis to act morally. If that were true, then I can understand why they distrust atheists policy-makers or doctors…
Of course this isn’t true. We know very few moral decisions are derived from authority. The neuroscientist Joshua Greene has done some excellent work to show that moral decisions are usually instictive and driven by emotional involvement with the concerns of others. And when we do try and reason through our moral decisions, rarely is quoting an authority sufficent justification. Even when Christians interpret the Bible and decide that Old Testament commands to stone adulterous women ought to ignored, they are appealing to a set of moral concerns, over and above that supposedly provided by God. They are depending on a moral sense we all have, atheists included.
Moving on, I think the person who replied to me was just basing her objection on the commonsense notion that most Americans would distrust black people - I mean, we know there is racism, and we know crime-figures are high in the ghetto, so it would be reasonable to believe many Americans were prejudiced against their fellow black Americans. Of course, gathering the data has shown that intuition to be unwarranted.
raptorific said: It's interesting that you mentioned creation vs. evolution, (although, point of order, that quote is from the Declaration of Independence), because Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, meaning he believes the universe was created, but continued from that point without intervention from the creating being. I like the idea of "created" because it works as saying that what's important is equal OPPORTUNITY rather than literal equality, meaning everyone should start life with the same doors open to them.
Well, most theories of justice (John Rawls and friends) imagine that this whole idea of equality of opportunity is indeed something created by humanity. We confer equality of opportunity on each other, so that kind of equality is only real because we believe it so. Its like the role of President of the US, there’s no real thing called a President, but by virtue of a general perception (whether you voted for him or not) Obama accrues this identity president. So the idea of giving each other equality of opportunity stems from a social aggreement among people to treat other people as objects in of themselves, with freedoms rights etc. Thats the basis of social contract theory.
Thus this kind of equality is independent of wherever humanity came from. It stems from the rules governing the interactions between people all over the world.
However, I have to admit, I have little time for this kind of theorizing. Social contract theory imagines this tacit aggreement to treat others equally somehow spontaneously arising from ingroup interaction back in the prehistoric. John Rawls actually uses the metaphor of a bunch of cavemen sitting down together by the fire and hammering out this contract to treat others equally.
However, I ask the question where does this willingness to treat others equally come from? The social contract isn’t so much a social aggreement, but a set of behaviours that were selected for within evolutionary time. I believe that there is an genetic predisposition within humanity to treat other people we perceive as humans as objects in of themselves - that is, the Golden Rule was selected for by natural selection. I’ve blogged about this before, in far more eloquent fashion and with supporting experimental evidence, so I’ll refer anyone interested to this essay:
My only gripe with what I wrote there is that after reading Terrence Deacon’s work on language coevolution, I would tend to see moral codes as undergoing a kind of memetic evolution to best fit in with human nature. That is, the behavioural codes that are best adapted to being expressed within the context of natural human behaviour are more likely to survive than those that aren’t so (e.g. the attempt to create new family relations rules in the kibbutz). I think, then, you can rescue social contract theory and say that there is a human predisposition to treat people we perceive as being human as objects of moral concern, and that moral codes that encourage such behaviour (i.e. golden rule within the group of people we consider human) such as Christianity, Islam, Humanism are more likely to survive in what I guess I must call the meme pool.
And after that longwinded rant, I must say I agree with you. We should strive to allow all people to start life with the same doors open to them - especially in education. But that doesn’t imply we ought to force them to walk through those doors!
P.S. I know Jefferson was a Deist. I think that kind of Deism is rather dodgy position though. Its the whole idea of a clockwork universe, whereby everything that happens is predermined in the systems (ie. Universe’s) initial conditions. And that therefore, if we knew the initial conditions, holding the laws of physics are constant, then we can know the future. This is one of those bland statements testosorone fuelled physicists (e.g. Brian Cox) like to make when they wanna sound profound. Yeah, if we knew every detail of how the quarks etc interacted we could know how to predict a heart attack, but we’ll never know because that kind of computing power is physically unattainable. (more points of interaction than there are atoms in universe). So instead of spouting truisms, these physicists should be helping develop imaging technology so squishy biologists can study the heart, or they should be put their differential equations to good use in statistical analyses of heart attack incidence.
I’ve always struggled with the concept, that you go one way or the other, and that all the other people that have been put there remain forever. This puzzled me as a child because you see the obvious confusions of ‘How do you decide?’ and ‘Wouldn’t they get full?’
I think it does exist, to an extent. I don’t believe that there are two locations out with what we know as our home on Earth where you are beamed up to or kicked down. I think that the way we are remembered by people and the way we influence them is our heaven and hell, and you can be both. If you have had a bad influence in someone’s life, you are that hell in them – you have changed that person forever. The same thing happens the other way, if the thought of you is connected with good things and good memories, then that person’s happiness is heaven – caused by you. This is all rambling a bit; I’m finding it hard to put into words. Basically I think Heaven and Hell is the legacy, the aftermath you leave. No one is perfect and no one is evil, so the incentive of heaven is to have a good effect on the world, which everyone wants because it is a form of eternal life. I don’t think we need to die ourselves to be with our lost, our dead that mean something to us are always with us.
Interesting. I agree with most what you said, but there’s one little disagreement, which means a lot to me as I have done a lot of thinking about it, so I hope you don’t mind me sharing. OP, you’re under no obligation to read on, I tend to go on a bit.
Ultimately its a bit daft taking concepts from Abrahamic religion that have specific meanings from scripture and redefining them to suit our own philosophical beliefs, but tbh its hard not to considering the culture we live in and come from. I can understand that if we’re not gonna accept literal eternal life, its comforting to replace it with a kind of figurative living-on-in-the-minds-of-our-loved ones. Especially nowadays when people’s legacies will remain more or less forever in tangible form on facebook, tumblr etc. Consider the Hebridean (possibly only southern isles Catholic?) idea of a funeral - which is not particular to that culture I must add. Traditionally people will drink long into the night as if it were a wedding celebrating the person’s life. The community comes together and the men bear the coffin on their shoulders and the women/kids throw the soil onto the grave, as if saying you’re still part of us. Gravestones aren’t so much for remembering someone’s dead, but for having something of them that lives on - a place to go, I guess. If we interpret eternal life as the legacy then, yes, I suppose you could say the good things we’ve done for people, the things they remember and treasure about us, are a type of Heaven, in that we’ve done at least something to make the world a better place. So that when you say ‘x is in heaven’ and smile, you really mean x made my life better and thus I smile at the thought of them.
I disagree, however, that ‘heaven’ is the incentive. Do people really do good things because they think it’ll make life better for those they leave behind, or because it’ll make them live forever in people’s memories? What I mean is, if the motive is that, then its not really a good deed. (Its the same reason helping a charity cos it’ll get you through the Pearly Gates isn’t truly good cos its motives are ultimately selfish.) Saying eternal life (a legacy) is the motive for making heaven in the here and now is imposing a far too rational rationale(!) on humans. The only people who think like that are people making wills. And the willmakers’ actions stem from the same motivation as other people for doing good (acting morally) - helping loved ones.
By loved ones, I mean people who we view as objects of moral concern. From an evolutionary perspective, the ultimate cause of human goodness is the fact that genes ‘for’ moral behaviour, when expressed, foster in-group cohesion, and thus in our social environment, increase reproductive fitness and proliferate. These genes manifest themselves in emotional responses - “feelings” - of empathy, sympathy, love, i.e. the feeling that x is worthy of our moral concern. So the proximate cause of good actions is a feeling of what may best be called love.
A neuroscientist called Joshua Greene localized moral reasoning to the amygdala, the emotion centre of the brain, i.e. its active when we reason morally, try and do what is good. This makes sense because if you consider people with ASD, many struggle to empathize with others - tehy dont see others as having a mind- and cannot act morally on instinct. They must memorize a moral rulebook, and apply it zealously, as opposed to acting on the situation. I’ve done quite a bit of writing on this subejct, so I’ll move on.
I just want to reiterate that good actions in the present are motivated by emotions (Love) and not by a rational calculation. The calculations are instead carried out in evolutionary time in terms of the differential survival of distinct behavioru patterns, and we are unaware of it. Kin Selection (genes for helping relatives at teh expense of oneself will proliferate as those genes themselves are spread by those rellies) and Reciprocal Altruism (in game theory, as long as two participants engage in the game over and over again, strategies for helping each other will tend to develop, as it can no longer be a one-off zero-sum game) have a role to play in specifying who ought to be the objects of moral concern. We know people love and care more for their immediate families. And this is morally okay - consider a father in a famine who uses the last of his money to buy his starving family a loaf, but gives it away on the way home to a starving beggar: I, and I think most people, would say he’d done wrong. Family-first stems from kin-selection during man’s history when we lived as small clans. Treating strangers well arrives when reicprocal altruism forces us to look into their minds, and treat them as objects of moral concern.
Now we know the roots of moral behaviour (I can extend if need be but I dont wanna go on too long.) … we can return to the idea of heaven and hell as good and bad legacies respectively. If we’ve decided moral actions aren’t motivated by future legacies but by instinct in the present, we’ll have to redefine heavne and hell in terms of teh present i.e. before we die. Heaven for me is human progress - both scientific and technical, but also, specifically, moral progress. History has been a tale of declining violence (see http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html he explains it better than I could) … in spite of world wars, this past century has had the lowest rate of violent death in history. Why? Because of a widening circle of moral concern. Christians used to torture Jews, now they hate Guantanamo. The reason is that evil stems from not being able to imagine the victim has a mind. Heretics weren’t objects of moral concern. Similarly, the Holocaust was as a result of ideology turning Jews into non-humans. With the rise of travel, the media, science, people in far off countries have become like us. Racism, prejudice is frowned upon. Even vegeteranism can be seen as people expanding their circle of moral concern to animals. Same applies to special needs education, instead of locking them up we try and see how they think and help them. The state helps keep order, helps us treat people well - consider how when you get teh rid of teh state, you get riots and looting. Feminism has to remember that today rape is despised, perpetartors hated, but in, say, the Viking invasions, thousands of women were systematically raped. In many places in Africa, where tribalism and patriarchy rule the day as there is no state to keep ‘em in check, we still get genocide and mass rape, but they just don’t happen in the West. Because of moral progress.
By my reckoning then, taking into account the origins of morality, of good actions, we ought to redeisgnate Heaven as a mythical aim for society - an optimum width for the circle of moral concern. Like science, the progress to Heaven can never end, for its raison d’etre is improvement! Hell, then, is when we treat other people as objects, that is, without minds. This is evil, though not necessarily something to condemn. In cases like severe autimsm or pathological psychopathy it is hard to condem people. But in cases of ignorance, greed, ideological blindness or even being drunk, we have to condemn people. However, if we want to make Heaven we have to treat Hell’s creators with moral concern, i.e. offer them mercy and forgiveness Christina-style.
Heaven, then, is when we treat people as objects of moral concern. Its based on moral equality (i.e. people entitled to basic human rights) but doesn’t force us to deny the talents of our nature. Its not utopian, because it doesnt force us to obey the mantra ‘to each just what he needs, from each just what he can give’ - it recognizes that love is the driving factor evolution put behind morality, hence we are allowed to treat family and loved ones as a priority. (even Chrsitianitu does it, calling everyone brothers and sisters!) … ever since I was nine, and I read His Dark Materials, I’ve been very keen on this idea of a Republic of Heaven. That is, heaven, as OP quite righly said, is not a place in the sky where we go when we die, its something on earth. However, its not a legacy - thats too inactive - its a process. Lyra Belacqua realizes we can’t imagine fantasy worlds or paradises, we must build the Republic of Heaven in the here and now, by our actions, by treating others as objects of moral concern, by living by the Golden Rule. Most people aren’t motivated by their Legacy to Society, they live in the present, simple lives trying to do things as best they can for those they love. Heaven is not the legacy of the person in the coffin. Heaven is not what the person in the coffin did, Heaven is what the celebrants (not mourners!) are going to do, inspired by what the person in the coffin did!
Anyone who read all that I applaud you, but its something I’ve being thinking about over the past year. Science tells us human beings have an instinct to act morally. Its something we ought to celebrate - its is, I suppose, the philosophy of the Republic of Heaven. OP said much that was worth saying, and much I agree with, but I think there is a distinction between seeing Heaven as the static legacy left-behind, and seeing Heaven as what people will do, inspired by the person. Its the difference between a one-off donation to Marie Curie in the deceased will, and a Foundation set up and maintained by the loved-ones to combat, say, stomach cancer…