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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
Atheism and Consistency 
16th-May-2007 08:05 am
Inspiration
I believe in God, and therefore my occasional, but quite real, problem is to deal with evil and suffering and its place in God's creation. Dennis Prager said yesterday that while I have to account for that, atheists have to account for everything else -- why is there something, rather than nothing -- how does such intricate interlacing come to be -- and on and on, as well as the problems of beauty, goodness, relationships, and justice.

But I'd suggest that the atheist has to account for any value placed on his objection to suffering, and any value placed on his assertion that certain things are evil.
Comments 
16th-May-2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
I am an atheist who believes in Good and Evil. The Good is that which promotes Life, and particularly the most complex form of life, Mind. The Evil is that which needlessly destroys Life and Mind.

The Universe is so configured that cooperation is usually both possible, and better for both parties, than conflict. A Good person will practice some variety of first cooperate, then tit-for-tat; an Evil person will practice some variety of first conflict.

It's a bit more complex than that, but that's the basic ethic involved.
16th-May-2007 05:23 pm (UTC)
The Good is that which promotes Life, and particularly the most complex form of life, Mind.

And if I take your viewpoint seriously, wouldn't I then say, "What an interesting combination of keystrokes. Doubtless, were I more astute, I could use this to help understand the particular configuration of DNA, and prior environmental influences that shape this particular body. I do not, however, falsely attribute them to some "ghost" which is creating "meaning" by them: I take a scientific viewpoint."
16th-May-2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
No, because the existence of other, conscious human beings is supported by the evidence. You are assuming that if I am an atheist that I must also be a single-level reductionist, which is not the case. I am fully aware that systems can be considered at many different levels of analysis, and can have different signficances at each level.

I am Jordan S. Bassior, a unique human being. And I am a mess of cheap chemicals. I am not one or the other, I am both, depending on the level of consideration. As a complete system, I am Jordan S. Bassior; on the reduction-to-basic-compounds level, I am merely a mess of cheap chemicals. One does not contradict each other, just as a beautiful cathederal is also a pile of masonry.
16th-May-2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
A Good person will practice some variety of first cooperate, then tit-for-tat; an Evil person will practice some variety of first conflict.

So it is a matter of taste.
16th-May-2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
A Good person will practice some variety of first cooperate, then tit-for-tat; an Evil person will practice some variety of first conflict.

So it is a matter of taste.


Actually, it's a matter of basic strategy. And Good works better than Evil. Which is why it's "good."
16th-May-2007 08:16 pm (UTC)
But a choice of strategy involves a moral sanction? Suppose we took it the other way, arguing that initial non cooperation was a worthy test of the other party's sincerity, and punishing those who simply assumed that they were trustworthy as presumptuous pups who deserved a lesson?
16th-May-2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
But a choice of strategy involves a moral sanction?

Morals are "choices of strategy," in the widest possible evolutionary view. We have evolved to consider moral what works, which is why it's almost instinctive.

Suppose we took it the other way, arguing that initial non cooperation was a worthy test of the other party's sincerity, and punishing those who simply assumed that they were trustworthy as presumptuous pups who deserved a lesson?

Not as evolutionarily stable a strategy as cooperate-first then tit-for-tat. It's been tested. The strategy you describe will beat always-cooperate, but cannot survive among its own or among cooperate-first then tit-for-tat as well as cooperate-first does.

The discovery of the power of cooperate-first tit-for-tat strategies (plural because they can be more complex than the basic variety) in the mid 20th centuries was a seminal event in the application of games theory both to diplomatic strategy and to sociobiology. It's proof that the Universe really does love a moral order, if you want to get poetic about it :)
16th-May-2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
Both camps say essentially the same thing, with the exception of one pronoun.

Christians = "It's just the way He is."

Atheists = "It's just the way it is."
16th-May-2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, quite true. And for some deistic versions of monotheism, the difference with atheism is very slight indeed.
16th-May-2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yep.

They're all taking it on faith theirs is the right answer. It's why I find it all so amusing.
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