Friday, January 05, 2007

What is truth?

This is a few weeks old, but I intended to come back to it eventually. It's an opinion piece in the LA Times entitled "10 myths and 10 truths about Atheism." The author, Sam Harris, basically lays out his 10 myths and then attempts to counter them.

I can understand the value of such a thing, but I think the myths have to stand. Since atheism isn't a formal religion, there isn't any sort of set doctrine or dogma. Thus, atheism ends up somewhat like Protestantism, with a very diverse spectrum of philosophical beliefs centered around a defining principle.

This isn't to say that there aren't intelligent, rational atheists out there like Harris would have us believe. It's just that they aren't exactly the majority, or at least the vocal majority. The atheists I've met in person have been generally polite if somewhat impatient with religion and the religious. On the internet? Well, let's just say that the worst myths Harris writes about achieve critical mass.

I do wonder, though. Is that an effect of the internet, or does it say something about the progression of modern atheism? I'm not sure Bertrand Russell would find himself welcome amongst most of the atheist blogs and websites today, but why is that?

Then again, I'm still looking for an answer to my question: Why is it wrong to hurt other people? I think issues revolving around atheistic morality have to start there.

4 comments:

meera said...

Then again, I'm still looking for an answer to my question: Why is it wrong to hurt other people? I think issues revolving around atheistic morality have to start there.

you wouldn't want someone else to hurt you. so why would you hurt someone else? i realize it's a major theme in most religions, but i don't think you need a god to back you to believe it.

Hal said...

Perhaps, but I don't think that rationale actually builds a moral foundation. I don't think there's a straight path of reason between "I don't want other people to hurt me" to "I shouldn't hurt other people." It's taken as a given for "former, therefore, latter," but I don't think that's the case at all.

What distinguishes between "I don't want to be hurt, so I shouldn't hurt other people" and "I don't want to be hurt, so I will only hurt those who can't hurt me back"?

meera said...

so...are you saying that the only thing that is keeping you from killing someone is because your god tells you not to?

also, i think you misunderstood my point. i wasn't saying, i won't hurt person A because i don't want person A to hurt me. i was more making the point that i know that being hurt sucks and i don't like it. so why would i inflict that pain on someone else? in other words, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". not "do unto others as you would have them do unto you because god will send you to hell otherwise."

Hal said...

I'm not sure the argument is very different. However, I'm afraid my thoughts here are not coherent, yet.

The general proposition is, "I don't like X, so why would I inflict X on someone else?"

This is taken to be a self-evident proposition. I'm not entirely certain it is. If you were to lay out the progression of arguments, it feels like there is a step in between, a qualifier or some other proposition, that is missing. In other words:

1. I don't like X
2. ?
3. I won't inflict X on others.

Most people skip 2, but it sure seems to me that there ought to be something there.

But I can't get more explicit than that. My thoughts on the matter aren't coalescing as I'd hoped.

However, I might tackle the "I'm only good to avoid Hell" argument in a regular post. It seems worth it.