I looked in the index for the word "altruism" and could not find it. George does not seem to find a place for self-sacrifice in his idea of rational morality. His idea of morality from a "rational" view, is that anything is "right" if it promotes one's own well-being, happiness and survival. This self-centered view would allow for any behaviour from adultery to murder. Since there is no ultimate accountability after death, one can do anything with impunity to serve one's own interests if one is strong enough and smart enough.
Impunity? Only if everyone else is too busy praying for the non-believer to get his comeuppance in the afterlife that they fail to take any immediate action against him.
And there is no contradiction between altruism and rational morality. It's not irrational, for instance, to believe that one's happiness and well-being are influenced in part by the relationships one has with his peers. The rationalist would likely avoid a life of complete self-centeredness on the grounds that it would ultimately be a lonely and unhappy existence.
On what rational basis then would an atheist who believes death is the end, sacrifice his life for someone else or for the planet? What does it matter if a person or the human species or the earth is destroyed? The earth will be destroyed eventually anyway. And why is it not a moral obligation to exterminate humans as a parasite infestation of the earth, as they pollute and exploit its resources while destroying countless species?
Well, that's certainly a difficult question for me to answer. I'll take a stab at the first issue you raise: If the atheist believes that death is the end, it essentially nullifies life as far as he* is concerned. In other words, from the perspective of the dead atheist (for argument's sake let's pretend that there is such a perspective), it is as if he had never lived in the first place. As such, no amount of self-cultivation or achievement will benefit an individual once dead. Does this mean that there is no point in living? Not necessarily. It does, however, mean that if our lives are of any value at all, the only ones who will appreciate that value are the living. For lack of a better description, let's call this value one's legacy.
Now, the majority of people wish to keep on living and will take measures to preserve their lives if they can. There is a sense of attachment to one's own life that makes us prefer life over death (generally speaking). But eventually our lives come to an end, and with it our attachment to life. Up until death, we may live for our own benefit, but after death our legacy will only benefit others (if indeed it benefits anyone).
Okay, here's where it gets a little murkier. Realizing that death is only a matter of time, one might strive to increase the impact of one's legacy as it is the only thing of lasting value. In so doing, one might also realize that one can achieve the greatest impact by terminating one's life prematurely. This is where self-sacrifice comes into play. Content with the knowledge that he won't miss his life when it is gone, an atheist might be moved to sacrifice his own life for the right cause. "Right" being defined as anything that strengthens the impact of his legacy. If this sounds egotistical, remember that dead people don't have egos to satisfy, and that the act, regardless of the motive behind it, is actually a selfless one and can accurately be described as altruistic.
So you are saying that an atheist who dies to increase the impact of his legacy is being altruistic. While he is alive he does have an ego to satisfy, so this would be his motive in dying for others. Although an atheist may be altruistic, this seems to be irrational because he is believing things that cannot be proven scientifically, e.g. that life has value, that other humans have value, and that anything has value. If I understand George Smith, the truly consistent atheist does not hold to any irrational value or morality but lives to satisfy his own survival and pleasure. He may experience happiness or pleasure to care about the lives of others, but this is no more rational than the atheist who experiences pleasure by exploiting others and the planet. The latter seems most rationally consistent because he is living out the meaning of the finality of his death and the ultimate finality of the death of the earth.
Is it most rational to define humans as a parasite infestation worthy of extermination?
This issue is not at all relevant to the question as to whether or not a god exists. I could imagine any number of nonexistant entities that could positively benefit myself or the world, but this does not mean that they do exist. Simply because believing in an afterlife might cause someone to commit self sacrifice more readily than someone who does not believe in an afterlife does not give any credence to the idea that there is an afterlife.
Sam Harris uses the example of a man believing that he has a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in his backyard. This belief makes him happy and gives his life more meaning, but that does not mean that it is true. A rational person would naturally ask him to see proof of the diamond. When the man was unable to produce it, the rational person would be atheistic as to the existence of the diamond, no matter what the positive benefits would be if it actually existed.
The same goes for god. Yes, its nice to imagine a universe where every person had to face a just punishment or reward for their earthly deeds upon death. Its also nice to imagine being able to interact with lost loved ones after death. None of these facts in any way increase the likelihood of the existence of life after death or a benevolent omniscient omnipotent creator.
I would actually pose that these arguments are purely a result of ignorant, unreasonable, child-like yearnings. Trust me, it is much more fulfilling to accept the world as it is, cruel truths and all, than to pretend to live in a world that isn't.
OK let's say there is no god and no afterlife. One person's morality is as valid and true as anothers. One person's view of human value or the lack of it is as valid as anothers. I will therefore live for my own self-interest and pleasure and achieve this at the expense of others if necessary. I will view humans as a parasite infestation responsible for the extermination of thousands of species (not that it matters) and I will work actively toward the extermination of humans, as the noblest moral obligation of a rational human being. Returning the earth to a primal state would level the playing field for ALL species. Thank you Smith and Dawkins for your valuable contriubtions to the final destruction of humankind. As Voltaire rightly said, "If there were no god, we would have to invent one." The question is not only one of the existence of god but also of the necessity of god, of a transcendent authority or standard without which there is NO standard of morality and NO human value.
1. I take issue with the idea that the standard of morality is altruism without providing any evidence for it. Do you have a place for anything that does not involve self-sacrifice in your idea of morality? 2. There is a false alternative foisted upon George, by you, when you claim that: "His idea of morality from a 'rational' view, is that anything is 'right' if it promotes one's own well-being, happiness and survival. This self-centered view would allow for any behaviour from adultery to murder." If George does not endorse altruism, defined as self-sacrifice for the wants and needs of others, then he must automatically be a murderer since he refuses to kill himself on an installment plan? 3. We have a civilized society in which there is an overwhelming chance that you will be accountable for your actions during your life, so why does it matter that there is no accountability after your death? Being strong enough and smart enough doesn't make you invulnerable from the scrutiny or actions of others, especially when you infringe upon their basic rights. 4. Religion is not about morality, it is about getting you to a favored place in the respective denomination's afterlife. Religion will tell you to do unspeakably evil things in the name of your God, and so long as it is an edict from your God, then it is immune to any moral question. Note also that various people of the same denomination can not only disagree about whether the same moral action is good or evil, but they can both be considered true believers in the same denomination while disagreeing about the moral status of that said action. If morality comes from belief in God, following his word and such, then how is it that such indeterminacy arises?
The fact remains Smith does not speak of altruism but he does speak of self-interest and pleasure. The second fact remains that cleverness and power can enable one to exploit others with impunity. Without a transcendent standard or authority, then there can be no objective morality, no objective human value, and no objective meaning of life.
I haven't read Smith's book, so there are aspects of this post I cannot evaluate.
For some, in some cases, it's true that "cleverness and power can enable one to exploit others with impunity." For that matter, cleverness and willful failure to think about what one wants to avoid considering can prevent one from having obvious _internal_ repercussions from abusing others. For the rest of us, there's guilt and the loss of the satisfaction of friendly relationships, with lovers, family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, or more distantly with fellow members of our nation, planet, descendants, the rest of future humanity, animals, and whatever other persons may be Out There.
For that matter, even if you're "gifted" with the ability to fool your own conscience, playing nicely with others spares you the need.
Without a God (or something doing the same job), there's no one who'll necessarily punish you for breaking whatever rules the God sets up, or reward you for satisfying them. But that's not something that provides "objective" morality, human value, or meaning of life anyway. It's just a cosmic carrot and stick, and that's not what most of us think of as morality anyway.
Think of it this way - if your God told you, "Daniel, you've been really good. I'm giving you a Get Out of Hell Free card. Sin all you like, you're saved." Would you honestly think that then, nothing you could do would be wrong? I would think and hope not, and if you could, well, I for one would figure that you're using terms like 'moral' in a completely different fashion than I do and wouldn't have obvious room to continue the discussion with you.
For the rest of us, reward and punishment are unrelated to right and wrong. Satisfying a healthy, developed, enlightened moral sense is at least the first approximation to what makes something moral. The value in human life is that it's _good_ for the human living it. The meaning of life comes down to the meaning _in_ it, what we find that gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Life is good if you are having a good life? Life has meaning to you if you find meaning in yours? Be nice to others if you feel guilty about not being nice? God does not give out Get Out of Hell free cards. I recommend If There Is No God: Meditations On Believing
I'm largely inclined to answer yes to your rhetorical questions - that's the danger in asking them.
Also, in Christian belief at least, there _do_ seem to be a lot of Get Out of Hell Free cards. Have a death-bed confession after a life of wickedness and you're a-okay for Catholicism. Happen to be one of the Elect in Calvinism and you're there. Do nothing more than believe Jesus is your savior in a lot of other Protestant denominations and you're saved.
But even if you brush aside all of those - hey, there are enough varieties of Christianity, pick or make your own, or opt for another brand of theism altogether - the Get Out of Hell Free question still has force. Is there anything more to being wrong than that God will punish this? If so, then divine punishment or reward isn't sufficient for wrongness and may well not be necessary. If not, if 'wrong' just means the sort of thing God will punish - then you're not using the term the way many of us do, and we're doing quite well with that conception.
I'm perplexed that a transcendent standard or authority would even have a role in establishing an objective standard of rightness. There's the problem of what possible way there could be to be certain of it among a diverse group of people - sheer faith is simply sheer dogma, leaving it an impractical standard. Beyond that, there's the conviction that morality is more than someone's dictates, and a divine Someone is still just a someone, only with an infinitely big stick.
I'd rather not pay more for theistic tracts, but if you have free ones to recommend, I may investigate. There are quite a few atheist resources online that deal with the bases of morality. You may find http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismatheistsmorals/a/AbsoluteMorals.htm one useful place to start if you're interested.
Yes Christianity can be perplexing to those searching it out. If there is no God, why waste time on it? or on questions of morality, etc.? But if God does exist, then there is a chance he has communicated to humanity and wants people to believe without having seen. Maybe this is because those who did see, rebelled anyway, so God is looking for people of faith because they will surely remain faithful when they do see. Radical Christianity:Peace and Justice in the New Testament If There Is No God: Meditations On Believing
Despite valiant attempts by two devout parents, and searching theological discussions with my father (a former Catholic monk), I rejected Christianity by about eight years old and didn't pick it back up for the next several years of involuntary indoctrination. For my part, and I think I speak for a large portion of North American atheists here, it's not that Christianity was unfamiliar or perplexing - it's that it's morally unacceptable, factually doubtful, and personally unnecessary. It's not that it's uninteresting. I'm still fascinated in it as a body of belief and in its (natural) history and effects.
I'm also keenly interested in questions of morality. In my own experience, I've known a small number of Christians with that interest, a fair number of non-theists with it, a large number of Christians without an interest in moral questions, and a fair number of non-theists indifferent to moral questions. If anything, Christianity seems to still that curiosity - find a minister, find a priest, or find a favored biblical interpretation and there's your answer. With a naturalistic point of view, there's more reason to go looking.
I haven't seen any monopoly on moral behavior either way. I have seen Christian convictions due much more harm to people than I have naturalistic ones. (I'm not counting any afterlife there, but then, I have no reason to.)
For my part, I have plenty of time and little money, being disabled and independently poor. It's certainly not for lack of time that I'm not buying and reading all sorts of Christian apologetics. There's plenty of it to be had free, and if I don't pursue more of it, it's because I haven't yet seen any that isn't both rude and illogical. I can take one or the other - both is a bit much for me.
I'm not sure if this is an appropriate venue for this discussion - if anyone can let me know, please do so.
Smith is a rather dogmatic libertarian, a staunch follower of that ax-grinding money-worshipping crank Ayn Rand. As expected, he is too dogmatic, although his book has many good points. The book should be read while ignoring the hyper-capitalist implications, which to his credit, Smith keeps in the background. Branden, also quoted several times, was an acolyte of Rand.
Whether God or religion is somehow beneficial to humankind has NOTHING to do with whether it exists. Also the supposed benefits of Christianity, for an example, are outweighed by its negative influence. We would be better off without it.
You might as well say, why try to be happy when all things including your life and the planet Earth come to an end. Many, believers and unbelievers sacrificed for posterity. Many, believers and unbelievers care nothing for others. Human nature applies to atheists, agnostics and believers. Many atheists act is if the theory of evolution was a fact and futhermore that if Darwin was wrong, the Bible was right. Hubris. I'm sure the origin and continuation of life is logical but I do not know the mechanism. This atheist (me) sure knows that in the grand scheme of things, I am only one person, and that for life to mean anything, there must be morality. The Golden Rule applies, religious origins or not.