An open letter to Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss
First off I have to applaud your joint efforts to bring science to the common man and to in effect try to help along what I consider the logical mind. To me the logical mind will help us avoid extinction in the future. It certainly can’t hurt. Both of you have great minds and have made substantial contributions to science and science education.
But now you have both entered the world of anti-religion due to the stupidity and ignorance you see in the fundamentalist US and elsewhere. While you both do amazingly well in the debates I have seen recently, I have a few friendly, though unsolicited, pointers for you.
I have been fighting religion for many years, mostly on the internet. You could say I started when the internet started and even before that when the BBS was the way people debated locally, and before that when the only people you had to debate religion vs. science with were your family and friends.
As you may have guessed I’m your much hated philosopher. But I am not a classical philosopher. I won’t be telling you about what Aristotle said on any subject. I’m a science philosopher. I deal only in science and logic. I can even see why you don’t like philosophy much these days.
The thing is that if you want to debate Christians about themselves and science you have to turn to philosophy. You are already philosophers yourselves in that you interpret the data of science. Were you just scientists you would just gather data and let philosophers and technicians worry about the implications of the data and what it can mean for humanity.
But scientists have a habit of interpreting their data as well they should; and as soon as they do that they become philosophers by default. I know, it’s terrible. But there it is.
There are times you both seem confused about how to respond to Christians. You do a very good job even for that, but you could use a few pointers. There is a real problem debating Christians in particular, but I think it applies to most religions, and I think you both know what it is already: Every individual theist has their own version of the religion. They may all believe certain tenets of their denomination and even certain tenets of the religion in general, but not only do they pick and choose what they like and what they do not like, even if they believe the same thing they often believe it in a different way. Some will tell you animals have a soul and other will tell you they don’t. Some say atheists will go to hell for eternity for the crime of not having faith a god exists, and others will say it depends on how you live. Others still will even tell you there is no hell.
1: When asked why you do not believe, saying it is because there is no evidence is fine. But beyond that you can explain to theists that belief is speculation. Everything a Christian says about god is speculative. If they say they know for a fact/with 100 per cent certainty that there is a god, they are lying to you and to themselves.
Do you need to believe or have faith in facts? No. Facts are facts. No belief or faith is required or warranted. Should you invest belief in speculation? No. Why would you do that? People have committed suicide when their beliefs have been proven false. But religion demands faith in speculation. Why?
Richard, were asked: Do you have faith that your wife is faithful? I would have said no, and there is no need to. She is “faithful” (in the sexual sense of fidelity) or she is not. She has given me no reason to think that she is not, and every reason to think that she is. But like all speculative questions I do not believe either. What is, is. My faith either way could be very problematic at worst, (jealousy, violence etc) and useless at best, particularly if I am wrong either way. I give people the benefit of the doubt as long as I have no reason not to, I may even hope for something, but I don’t have faith. Hope is not belief.
My opinion is that my wife is faithful. But opinion is not belief. My opinion is based on fact but can be changed in an instant by good evidence to the contrary.
So belief is never required. Facts are required and until then being content with not knowing, and waiting to see, are the only strong positions anyone wanting truth can take.
2: Another thing is that people need a good standard definition for atheism. Atheism is A-theism: without theism. That’s all, full stop. An atheist lacks belief, we do not believe in lack. Theists believe, atheists lack that belief. In other words: an atheist does not believe that a conscious god exists, but neither do we believe a god does not exist. A person who says no god exists with 100 percent certainty is lying to themselves and to others. It is usually called strong atheism, but not for its strength of position.
Atheism is not a political affiliation, it is not a belief system or religion, it is not a world view. It says nothing about what an atheist might or might not believe if anything. It means only one thing: Lack of belief in gods. That is why sighting so called atheistic states as evil is a bogus argument. Communism has historically seen religion as competition. You can’t serve two masters. But take the example of Cuba which is a secular/atheistic state and yet accepts and tolerates the fact that many of its people are religious.
Atheists may also be Humanists, Pantheists, Zen Buddhists, Taoists, materialists, physicalists or what have you. I even know of a person who does not believe in god and doesn’t care how or why he exists, and another atheist who likes the message of Jesus as it pertains to loving each other so much that he often refers to himself as a godless Christian.
3: It is often said that science cannot tell us about morality. Even some scientists have said that. But it does. Cause and effect demands morality from us. The human condition, our nature, evolved. Religion did not create morality, it reflects the morality of 2 – 4 thousand years ago, and how people of that time wanted to change what they considered moral. Morality has certainly changed over the years. Religion is a model based on the facts of the human condition. It even tells us how we have thought we could solve many of our problems. Usually this consists of: don’t do it because it brings all kinds of problems and conflict to you. laws against murder and theft have been around long before Moses is said to have brought laws from god. The only new laws in the Ten Commandments are the ones pertaining to the god of the story.
In the religious model the bits about god’s attributes and character are irrelevant to day to day living because they do not have to be proven. God never actually shows up, and punishment or reward only happens after death. God serves only as an unseen threat against bad behaviour and a promise of a wonderful life after death as reward for good behaviour. More importantly if a human tells you something is not moral you can argue and ask who he thinks he is imposing his will on you, but if a god says it is not moral and he has a system of punishment and reward which will follow you after death it all carries more weight. It is where religion tells us how to avoid conflict that it deals with the facts of life. Many of its solutions are outdated, but that was to be expected. The same human conditions still exist and our solutions evolve with us.
Science shows us that even in the laws of thermodynamics we see the beginnings of morality. All atoms tend toward their lowest possible output of energy. That one fact creates a chain of cause and effect which results in all the chemicals we see. But it happens due to conflict through interaction. The resolution of the conflict is a new lowest possible output of energy (a new order) and a new substance on another level of existence. This is done through mergers and relationships by which as long as specific conditions are maintained, a balance is maintained. Humans reflect that process. As the religious say: As above so below. This process taken from the simple to the complex produces the dynamics of human relationships and morality.
The fact is that all humans love and want to be loved. But most of all they want a better place for their kids, and to be secure and content. We can’t do that if we are running from the person we stole from. Rationally we had to create and stick to agreements and develop a code of honour. I won’t harm you if you won’t harm me is the most basic agreement. Morality comes from rational/positive self interest. There is no such thing as a selfless act. All acts fulfill a need/desire. Morality is a logical tool for survival. And many of our moral skills serve more than one purpose. Empathy, for instance, has been shown to be vital in a person’s ability to assess risk.
The objective universe is not good or evil as Richard pointed out. But subjective beings feel there is good and evil because acts affect them positively or negatively. They feel this way most strongly if another human being is the one doing the act. This positive or negative affect is objectively true if real harm is done; physical or mental. So morality, while subjective, is based in the objective universe, the nature of existence, and in cause and effect. The golden rule is: do no intentional harm.
I disagree with Richard that natural selection is cold. It created humans who have a pronounced sense of morality, wonder and inquisitiveness. But not just humans. Primates have a sense of justice and fair play as well. We humans have realized that fair play is a two way street, and that justice for ourselves is only possible if we are just with others.
Evolution seems to be tending toward creating a perfection, whatever that might be, and how ever unlikely it is that it will ever succeed. Of course the first attempts are going to look bleak. I say this metaphorically, of course, about how the universe tends to create complexity from simplicity through chaos and conflict resolution, driven by entropy.
4: I also find this useful: I can prove a god must exist. Not like the proof of Descartes who chose perfection as his building block, but through existence and the most common definition of god: That which created everything.
We exist. We did not always exist. So if we define god as that which brought us into existence then there must be a god, because we do exist and didn’t always. From that we have two choices: god is an intelligent being, or god is a process. Nothing in the definition requires god to be intelligent. There is no proof of a conscious god, but there is ample proof of creative process in the laws of physics. The creative process being conflict and resolution which produces new order.
We should in fact be happy that there probably is no conscious god, because no conscious god could be forgiven for creating a world of suffering where all living things must kill to be able to survive, and where hunger, disease and brutality are common. But if we are produced by a non-conscious process then this is just the way it is. There is no one to blame but ourselves for whatever we do. Religion would agree with that, but it seems paradoxical to claim that mankind is to blame for its own ills if the conditions of existence were set up by a conscious being. To the religious that conscious being is not responsible, but to me it cannot claim to be guilt free if it made all that we do possible. It would be like saying a dog breeder is not responsible for intentionally breeding vicious dogs. The dogs are responsible for their own acts.
Well they may be in the fact that they committed them, but it is the breeders fault for breading a love for violence in to them.
In the case of nature, the human condition is its fault. But because it does not create these conditions intentionally (in a conscious sense) we just have to live and work with what we have.
5: Free will is a big point with Christians. You need to address it when it comes up. Free will does not exist. But will exists and will is the manifestation of conditioning, both predisposed and environmental. It is as simple as that. Our nature demands that we react to stimulus. Without it we do nothing at all. We have no choice but to act. Need demands that we act. How we react depends on our conditioning/predisposition/personal history. But you can bet that you will choose what you like (or what you like more) over what you do not like. Your likes are not choices. You do not choose to like ice cream. You like it or you do not. You do not choose any of your likes or dislikes. And it is this liking what you choose which makes you feel as if you have “free” will.
But again, does that mean we are not responsible for our actions? Of course not. If we did the act we are responsible. There is no getting around it. Should we be held responsible by society if we are not sane? Yes, if a mad dog is biting children on the street society has a right to remove the dog from the street. Same goes with people who are mentally ill and a danger to themselves and others. They go to a hospital to be cured, while the so called sane people go to jail for their crimes. But either way they are responsible for the acts they commit, even without “free” will.
Will to survive and live well and secure is enough. We have plenty of will, none of it is free in any sense; but that doesn’t matter.
In the unlikely event that either or both of you gentlemen read this: thanks for your time and keep up the great work.