December 10, 2009

Speaking of atheists...

... Christopher Hitchens is flaying Bob Wright over on Bloggingheads.

42 comments:

chuck b. said...

Or is he filleting him?

Bissage said...

Oh God, how dis-scourge-ing!

john said...

Bob: "Hi Christopher."
Hitch: "Robert."
Bob: "How are you?"
Hitch: "Bit early to say."

Translation: "I am more freakin' hung over than I usually am this time of morning. Why can't we do these interviews after happy hour, say about 11 AM, when this pounding in my head has gone down, and I've primed myself for the day?"

"Oh yea, please stop talking so damn loud."

Jeesh, what a lush.

Christy said...

I want to have Hitchen's babies.

Funny how I admired Wright much more before he started Bloggingheads.

Salamandyr said...

Wright is so angry. Hitchens is maddening because he just refuses to match that anger.

lucid said...

It's a bit like watching the lions and the Christians must have been.

Joe said...

I'm normally bemused by Wright's passion (and profound lack of charisma) but his hysteria in this reminds me of everything I hate about liberalism even when I agree at a fundamental level with a point they may be making.

(And Wright's selective memory about where the inspectors could go is nothing short of bizarre. I well remember the news stories of inspectors camping out in front of certain buildings while waiting for permission. I read enough reports to know that the entire inspection scheme was a joke and that the inspectors were being completely and utterly manipulated by Saddam Hussein.)

Robert Cook said...

"I read enough reports to know that the entire inspection scheme was a joke and that the inspectors were being completely and utterly manipulated by Saddam Hussein."

Any yet, even after Hussein was deposed and executed, no WMD have ever been found. Looks like you were reading the pro-war propaganda, as the findings of the "joke" inspectors were accurate while the lie--er, "claims" of the administration were not.

Salamandyr said...

Any yet, even after Hussein was deposed and executed, no WMD have ever been found. Looks like you were reading the pro-war propaganda, as the findings of the "joke" inspectors were accurate while the lie--er, "claims" of the administration were not.

Nothing but the hidden centrifuges, the aluminum rods, and the 500 tons of enriched uranium we removed from the country and gave to Canada. Moved goalposts aside, this wasn't just about stockpiles, but that Saddam Hussein had the capability, and desire to, of restarting his weapons program the moment our backs were turned.

Even then, his unwillingness to abide by the 93 cease fire agreements was cassus belli enough.

Robert Cook said...

Yep...you've been reading the pro-war propaganda, too. As Chris Hedges said in a recent interview, our world is awash in lies. Believe 'em if you like, but that doesn't make lies truth.

Joe said...

WMD have ever been found.

Actually they have and there are chemical agents the first inspections found, but which are unaccounted for.

That said, my point had nothing to do with this. Wright is making claims about the inspection regime that are thoroughly documented to not be true. Why does he think the inspectors were withdrawn? Why does he think they were effective? Why does he think any inspection regime in a dictatorship is effective, let alone truthful.

Chip Ahoy said...

Yes, do let's have this argument all over again. It's never tiring and I do see positions changing all over the place.

Sheepman said...

Watching it now. Body language says it all. CH is calm, solid and to the point. RW is fidgety, uncomfortable and talking around the point.

Jason said...

According to the Director of National Intelligence, in a declassified report to Congress, we have found approximately 500 chemical munitions in Iraq since 2003, as of about three years ago.

http://intelligence.house.gov/Media/PDFS/DNILetter.pdf

Cook.. better put some ice on that. It's gonna leave a mark.

WV: freafrab. Freafrab isn't frea.

Chip Ahoy said...

But speaking of atheists ...

I drew a Christmas card for you to have or to send to your atheist friends.

elHombre said...

Hitchens knows a good deal about Iraq and virtually nothing about God.

When Becky Garrison, a fairly prominent Christian satirist, asked to excerpt material from Hitchen's book to include in her book, "The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail," his publishers refused to allow it.

A wise decision.

On the other hand, "A Long Short War" seemed well done. Although it is always odd to hear an atheist speak passionately about moral imperatives.

Synova said...

"Funny how I admired Wright much more before he started Bloggingheads."

Not everyone is as good talking as they are writing. That's the happiness of writing... you get to edit.

Synova said...

Hitchen lists things that really happened, violence resulted from innocuous things like some (not very) offensive cartoons and a rumor in Newsweek... and Wright calls it taking the logic to an extreme...

But it's not taking logic anywhere, it's actual History and events.

Did the Iraq and Afghanistan war have the downside of creating more terror, motivating Hassan? Wright depends on this as a matter of faith. Hitchens doesn't care much for faith.

Synova said...

"You're trying to apply reason and logic to where it doesn't work."

The Kurds have more reason for being horrifically violent than anyone... but they don't/haven't. They are even Sunni Moslems.

Lung cancer... LOL. If it were truly random who responded to similar events with violence and who did not, it would be random and not divided into different groups, those who respond that way and those who do not. The *cause* therefore, is something else.

Hitchen's point seems obvious to me.

Jen Bradford said...

I find the timbre of Wright's voice just excruciating, especially on B-heads, where he gets so jacked up. I think Hitchens made the decision to be low-key before he turned his computer on - good choice. Beyond the fact that I agree with him on the merits, it makes a great show. (Bob and Mickey cancel each other out, hysteria-wise. I can never get through them.)

Hey said...

The major shock is that the comments on Bloggingheads aren't the usual smug reflexive leftist nihilists. Hitchens brings fans out of the woodwork as he is beating the tar out of Wright.

Bush should have hired Hitchens as his Press Secretary. No news conferences until 5pm, but would have been epic.

Oligonicella said...

elHombre --

"Although it is always odd to hear an atheist speak passionately about moral imperatives."

Why? Moral imperatives aren't dependent upon the supernatural.

elHombre said...

Olgonicella said: Moral imperatives aren't dependent upon the supernatural.

It wasn't the moral imperative part that seemed odd. It was the passion part. Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences? Why does one become passionate over tomayto rather than tomahto?

Paul said...

Jen Bradford said...
(Bob and Mickey cancel each other out, hysteria-wise. I can never get through them.)

Don't say it! Bob and Mickey comprise a perfect dramaturgical dyad, like Itchy and Scratchy; only Robert Wright looks like Ren from "Ren & Stimpy" and Mickey Kaus looks like Bert from "Sesame Street." I love their little squabbles. Robert seems so utterly ineffectual in his anger. I can see him yelling at kids to get off his lawn like a crazy old coot.

MarkW said...

Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences?

How about Empathy? Compassion? Recognizing first the value of one's own life, and second that other humans are the same kind of creature with equally valuable lives? No supernatural beings are required for any of that.

Murder isn't wrong because religions forbid it. The wrongness of murder doesn't depend on religious scripture (or etchings on mythical magical tablets). Instead, religions forbid murder because humans recognize it as inherently wrong.

elHombre said...

"Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences?"

How about Empathy? Compassion? Recognizing first the value of one's own life, and second that other humans are the same kind of creature with equally valuable lives? No supernatural beings are required for any of that.

"Empathy? Compassion? Recognizing ...?" I'm sorry. Perhaps I should have said "personal feelings" instead of "personal preferences." Same difference.

Whose empathy, compassion and recognition? Are empathy, compassion and recognition authoritative? Under the materialistic worldview compelled by atheism are they even real?

...religions forbid murder because humans recognize it as inherently wrong.

Really? Did the Mayans or the Aztecs recognize that? How about Stalin or Mao? Apparently not.

When they murdered, were they being evil or were they just inescapable evolutionary mutations?

Like I said: Tomayto. Tomahto.

Oligonicella said...

elHombre --

"Why does one become passionate over tomayto rather than tomahto?"

Don't know. Why do you? I personally don't see the pronunciation of a word as a moral imperative.

"Under the materialistic worldview compelled by atheism are they [empathy, compassion and recognition] even real?"

Yes.

MikeR said...

Wright was trying to make a reasonable point, but was utterly incapable of doing so: We should be thinking about what works, in addition to what's right. We really don't have the resources to police the whole world.

But Wright gets so mixed up in politically correct anti-Americanism, and anti-Bushism, and trying to give the benefit of the doubt to every two-bid murdering dictator in the world, that he can never make a good point without sounding ridiculous at the same time.

Robert Cook said...

"Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences?"

In the recognition of that which does harm to others and ourselves, to our trust in one another, to the safety and stability and long term survival of our societies. If we permit thievery or murder or other abuses by humans of other humans to proceed unchecked and unpunished, we can have no stable or thriving societies, as all will live in distrust and fear of all. Just as is the case with pack animals in the wild, we cannot survive in nature individually, and must rely on our fellows, acting in concert with us, to find or grow food, stave off dangers from other creatures or from nature, and help keep our children alive long enough for humans to survive beyond the present generation.

"Do Unto Others As One Would Have Others Do Unto You" is not merely a feel-good maxim, a sentimental moralism, but the key to our continued existence. It does not require imposition upon us by a deity for it to be the germinal precept from which derive all others that pertain to the behavior of humans among humans.

craig said...

"Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences?"

"How about Empathy? Compassion? Recognizing first the value of one's own life, and second that other humans are the same kind of creature with equally valuable lives? No supernatural beings are required for any of that."


Not so fast. "All men are created equal" is a religious statement; there is no empirical reason to accept it, and indeed nature strongly suggests otherwise. Once you make the assertion that they are, in order to support your claim you must rely upon concepts like "creature", "person", and "being" that have a specifically relational theology as their metaphysical basis.

The point is, emptying these concepts of their basis also empties them of any objective moral implications. There can be no natural order without a divine basis (and here I am not speaking specifically of the revealed attributes of God as known to Christians, but of the original first cause of Aristotle's and Aquinas' proof). Absent this natural law, subjective personal preference is the only thing left in which to root these concepts.

It then becomes just as easy to say that some are born to rule and others to be ruled, some to eat and others to be eaten. There is no longer any reason to condemn cannibalism other than personal preference -- the "yuk factor".

Murder isn't wrong because God forbids it -- the divine command theory is inadequate to serious religion -- but because it violates the natural law which is rooted in a divine order. Humans recognize it as inherently wrong when they admit the natural law. Religions recognize it as inherently wrong because they reveal more of the divine order than natural law can by itself.

elHombre said...

Oligonicella wrote: "Under the materialistic worldview compelled by atheism are they [empathy, compassion and recognition] even real?"

Yes.

Well. That settles it then. Well done. Carry on.

Robert Cook said...

"'All men are created equal' is a religious statement...."

No. It may be considered an existential or a legal statement: it is the recognition that all humans are mortal creatures with the same material needs and short life spans, all prey to the same ills, all deserving of equally fair treatment under the law. If we do not guarantee for others the same treatment we desire for ourselves, we create the danger that we will fall victim to abuse that we would prefer not to suffer.

The statement certainly has nothing to do with any equality of attributes, (i.e., intelligence, aptitudes, levels of aggressiveness or passivity, etc.).

elHombre said...

Rob't Cook wrote: "Ultimately, what basis does an atheist have for defining morality other than personal preferences?"

In the recognition of that which does harm to others and ourselves, to our trust in one another, to the safety and stability and long term survival of our societies. If we permit ... abuses by humans of other humans to proceed unchecked and unpunished, we can have no stable or thriving societies....

I can see that you prefer a society where we do no harm, trust one another, etc., etc.

If I disagree and act accordingly, what basis do you have for condemning my actions, that they disrupt the "stable society" that you call "thriving" because it reflects your preferences?

Nonsense, your preferences have no moral authority over mine. Nobody voted and made you God.

PS Reread Craig's post carefully. (12:21) Also, read the original: ...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,....

Robert Cook said...

"Nonsense, your preferences have no moral authority over mine. Nobody voted and made you God."

Well, no; but if your preferences were for a society that allowed unchecked predation by all of all, and your preferences governed our behavior, that society would likely very quickly exterminate itself.

There are no absolute values, of course; what we call "morals" or "ethics" have to do with those behaviors that will tend to benefit the long term viability of the group. What we deem "immoral" or "unethical" behaviors have to do with those behaviors that tend to harm the long term viability of the group. One need not refer to a deity to see the validity of such rationales. Given that "altruistic" behavior, so-called, and empathy and other social behaviors are found throughout the animal kingdom, we can conclude much of this is adaptive behavior, evolved over longer periods of time, and inborn in us. Our references to a deity as the source of our morals is merely our after-the-fact rationalization and codification of tendencies innate in us.

As for the phrase "endowed by our creator," one can consider that to be merely a rhetorical flourish.

MarkW said...

"Empathy? Compassion? Recognizing ...?" I'm sorry. Perhaps I should have said "personal feelings" instead of "personal preferences."

These are not 'personal preferences' or 'whims', they are beliefs. Many non-believers strongly believe that their own lives are valuable and that the same is true of their fellow humans. These beliefs are much better grounded in reality than belief in invisible supernatural beings. After all, there is an overwhelming mass of evidence that other people are self-aware, that they feel pain, and value their lives as I do my own. These are not matters of faith.

Really? Did the Mayans or the Aztecs recognize that? How about Stalin or Mao? Apparently not.

Were the Aztecs atheists? I must've missed that. There have been plenty of Christians who've done great evil with religious motivations or justifications as you must be well aware. Would you care to explain how a belief in God prevented the mass tortures and executions of the Inquisition? Or how belief in God was incompatible with slave-holding in the South? Or how their Lutheran and Catholic faiths protected Germans from being anti-Semites and from becoming Nazis?

The idea that the Christian religion (or any religion) has a unique power to make men and women behave morally is laughable.

Oligonicella said...

elHombre --

"Well. That settles it then. Well done. Carry on."

You get what you deserve. All you're doing is sitting back and asking for in depth explanations from atheists. All you hold forth is "God told me". Yes is my equivalently shallow response.

elHombre said...

Rob't Cook wrote: There are no absolute values, of course; what we call "morals" or "ethics" have to do with those behaviors that will tend to benefit the long term viability of the group.

Hence the term "moral relativism" going hand in hand with the assumption that you have the moral authority to impose your preferences on others for what you perceive to be the good of the order. Handy.

As for the phrase "endowed by our creator," one can consider that to be merely a rhetorical flourish.

Ridiculous! There is no basis for supposing Jefferson didn't mean what he said.

craig said...

["All men are created equal"] may be considered an existential or a legal statement: it is the recognition that all humans are mortal creatures with the same material needs and short life spans, all prey to the same ills, all deserving of equally fair treatment under the law.

It is striking that you couldn't even get to the end of your first full sentence in reply without resorting to "ought" statements that cannot be deduced from material facts. In fact, many people can and have made the claim that they have greater material needs and deserve better treatment than their fellow man, because of their fellow man's supposed inferiority. See Crow, Jim.

And before you reply that Jim Crow was imposed by a Christian society: yes, of course. And the shame of it was a specifically Christian shame, and the campaign against it, a Christian campaign. You cannot criticize Christians for failing to uphold their own moral code without also thereby admitting its validity as something that ought to be followed. The slaveholders, tyrants, and warmongers were bad Christians -- but a pagan would have called them good so long as they succeeded. Ancient Romans had no shame about such things, and they were the superpower for ten times longer than America has been. If long-term viability and adaptive success is to be the gauge of relative morality, then Rome, or perhaps China, has the better claim.

And by the way, more people have been detained without trial at Gitmo (NTTAWWT) than ever were tortured by the Inquisition. So many people have swallowed black legends (e.g., Foxe's Book of Martyrs) commissioned by princes specifically in order to overthrow popular support for the only real check on the power of the state, and in order to seize its assets for the enrichment of said princes. See Henry VIII. Now, our culture knows the Church only as a bogeyman atheists use to scare their children -- eat your cauliflower or the Inquisition's gonna get ya. People who have been under real oppression, as in the former Soviet bloc, know better than to fear the Church; they know that State is the real fear.

elHombre said...

Mark W wrote: These are not 'personal preferences' or 'whims', they are beliefs. Many non-believers strongly believe that their own lives are valuable and that the same is true of their fellow humans. (Emphasis added)

Swell. And many non-believers also believe that their own lives are valuable and that the same is not true of their fellow humans or that their own lives are not valuable, etc. Depends on their preferences, prejudices or feelings doesn't it. That's the point.

I will readily concede that morality has nothing to do with the supernatural for those who prefer the moral inconsistency of atheism.

Were the Aztecs atheists? I must've missed that.

You missed something. The issue was whether Aztecs recognized murder as "inherently wrong," not whether they were atheists.

And what's with all the drivel about "mass tortures," "slave-holders" and the like. Did somebody say that Christians are always good and atheists are always bad?

elHombre said...

Oligonicella wrote: You get what you deserve. All you're doing is sitting back and asking for in depth explanations from atheists. All you hold forth is "God told me". Yes is my equivalently shallow response.

I don't recall "holding forth 'God told me.'" I'm afraid you are mistaken about that.

You are also mistaken about what I was asking for. I don't expect atheists to offer "in depth explanations" when asked to provide a basis other than personal preferences for their morality.

Your response met my expectations -- completely.

Robert Cook said...

"Hence the term "moral relativism" going hand in hand with the assumption that you have the moral authority to impose your preferences on others for what you perceive to be the good of the order. Handy."

Have I claimed any moral authority? No. Have I stated any particular preferences with regard to specific behaviors or presumed to "impose" any preferences on others? No. I speak generally. I reply to those who claim atheists have no basis for supposing a moral order to human affairs. Atheists have a more sensible claim to what they may deem "moral" than do religionists: atheists refer to that which promotes the general welfare in practical terms, (and which in great part seems innate in us, evolved over time), while religionists simply refer to some imagined ghost in the sky who "commanded" that we behave this way or that. Where's the moral authority there? (The moral order supported by atheists and religionists might greatly overlap in many areas, but religionists ascribe to the big ghost after the fact the origin for that which is actually evolved in us, both in our nature and through the development of human societies and their means of organization over time, while atheists see and find adequate the material origins and basis for a "moral order.")

This is not to say all atheists subscribe to the same ideas of what is moral or immoral, (and, of course, neither do relisionists); it is only to point out how, in fact, we can have a basis for supposing a morality of any kind.

Somebody else said:

"It is striking that you couldn't even get to the end of your first full sentence in reply without resorting to "ought" statements that cannot be deduced from material facts. In fact, many people can and have made the claim that they have greater material needs and deserve better treatment than their fellow man, because of their fellow man's supposed inferiority."

You assume I am asserting here my personal moral imperative, but I am merely explaining how "all men are created equal" is not in the least a religious statement. (I agree with the "ought" that I describe, but I am not the one here saying what "ought" to be; it is Thomas Jefferson.)

I think you boys just like to be cussed for the sake of being cussed.

elHombre said...

You assume I am asserting here my personal moral imperative ....

No. We observe that. It is simply not evident to you because you believe your personal moral imperative reflects universal moral truth.