Reason Rally 2012

Me with PZ Myers

This weekend, I attended the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. This was the largest gathering of atheists and rationalists in history.

Now there’s a lot of debate about how many were actually in attendance, with reported numbers ranging between 5,000 and 30,000. Now I can say with strong confidence that it was a lot more than 5,000. And allegedly, official park figures suggest it was around 30,000, while others are simply asserting their own numbers based on their own personal guesswork.

Me with AronRa

In any case, it was a wonderful event. I got to meet numerous people I admire while sending Washington a message that they can no longer afford to ignore us. Throughout the day, American Atheists President Dave Silverman spoke to the crowd. And while I’ve often been critical of Silverman in the past, he was fantastic on the day. Other great and memorable speakers included Adam Savage of the Mythbusters, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jilette, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Kilstein, former Westboro Baptist Church member Nate Phelps, Youtube atheist Cristina Rad, and many more. Other YouTubers in attendance were Thunderf00t, AronRa, Ashley Paramore, and ProfMTH. The audience was also treated to musical performances by Tim Minchin and Bad Religion.

Of course, with the single largest gathering of atheists, it was inevitable that religionists would crash the party. Though to be fair, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was actually invited by the National Atheist Party, a controversial move that wholeheartedly support. The WBC are a joke and are also hated by, well, everyone. Goading them into attending not only increases media attention but also almost guarantees the press will be positive towards us as it’s hard to look like the bad guys when placed next to the funeral-picketing, hate-mongers of the WBC. While repulsive, I’ve often said that the WBC are not only one of the least violent religions in the world as well as that they practically do our job of showing the problems of religiosity for us by simply continuing their usual antics.

I personally find the WBC so non-threatening that I actually wanted to have my picture taken with them. Unfortunately, however, they kept their distance, possibly to keep their kids from hearing Nate Phelps, the prodigal son of the Phelps clan. I never even saw them. I did, however, get to interact with other evangelical groups such as those representing a ministry calling itself “True Reason.” I had a semi-lengthy discussion with one young member of that ministry and tried to teach him a little about moral philosophy. I also managed to get my hands on a DVD copy of Ray Comfort’s insipid 180 Degrees video which he markets as his never-fail secret to convincing pro-choicers to oppose abortion in about a minute. The movie is available for free online and Comfort’s amazing tactic is not very persuasive…at all. In fact, I’m so confident his video is not persuasive and does nothing but demonstrate what a clown religious nuts like Comfort are that I’d happily become a distributor of the DVD myself.

All in all, it was a fun event and hopefully the start of a growing political movement by rationalists.

I just can’t help but think what a shame it is that Christopher Hitchens didn’t live to see the Reason Rally because the central message of the event seemed to remind me of a Hitchens quote:

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.”

Surprisingly, despite all the constant in-fighting among skeptics concerning confrontational methods, the Reason Rally seemed to unambiguously support confrontationalism. And I can’t seem to find anyone in the movement criticizing the rally for being undeniably a call to arms for skeptics to get involved in efforts that will help push our message into the mainstream. Hemant Mehta called for attendees to run for public office while the attention given to young Jessica Ahlquist suggested fighting to maintain church-state separation through litigation.

Further, many of the speakers promoted humanist values through governmental policy with few even acknowledging libertarianism. The only mention of libertarian methods I caught was a quick remark in possibly my favorite speech of the day by Adam Savage:

Savage’s speech perhaps best summarized that key message of the Reason Rally:  we cannot no longer afford to stay on the sidelines and be mere spectator of injustice and misinformation. We must unite and fight back against the bullies of untruth who exploit the ignorance of others and cause great suffering in the world.

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37 Responses to Reason Rally 2012

  1. […] Reason Rally 2012 (skepacabra.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Octavian says:

    Nice post and I really appreciate that you and many others like you “fight back against the bullies of untruth who exploit the ignorance of others and cause great suffering in the world”.

    I know that the scientists can’t explain the existence of our 4 Dimensional World without bringing a few more extra dimensions into the equations, therefore the World is a “Top-Down” model not a “Bottom-Up” one…

    I also figure it out that the God from the Bible is a lesser God like Zeus or Jupiter etc, because according to the Bible God created the Universe outside of him, in other words the God from the Bible and the Universe are both contained in a Bigger Space. I’d say that the Mighty One Super Dimension of Space is the answer and I guess this is what the scientists are striving to find out. I know that in the past you experienced the so called OBEs, and I know that you consider them banal Lucid Dreaming, not paranormal. If you would live 100 or 2000 years ago and had those lucid dreams, lifelike experiences while your conscious mind was awake, you probable would try to convince (an sure you would succeed) everybody that you were a sort of a prophet, or Godsend. Half a century ago even Bob Monroe thought that he had genuine OBEs (and he died believing he had genuine OBEs, paranormal experiences). The Religion and the New Age are based on banal Lucid Dreaming. I do not deny that Jesus did not talk to Satan while he meditated in the desert, but I am sure that he had a Lucid Dream; I do not deny that Moses talked to the Burning Bush and I am sure he felt overwhelmed, just that everything happened in his head because he had a lifelike Lucid Dreaming…etc. I understand that WBC and others continue their usual antics, but can you blame them if they try to convince you? Maybe many of WBC members had encounters with “angels”, Jesus (Plato’s father used to talk to the God Apollo in his Lucid Dreams and he thought that it was for real). I had the so called OBEs and I thought they were genuine.

    Here is a link to my blog “Hyper God, Super God, and the Mighty One Super Dimension of Space” http://www.myspace.com/octavian7/blog/545472060

  3. pj says:

    “And allegedly, official park figures suggest it was around 30,000,”

    The National Mall Park Service completely stopped tracking attendance at National Mall events after the Million Man March.

    Please correct for accuracy and honesty.

    Who is the actual source of the 30,000 figure?

  4. mjr256 says:

    You may be correct. I am now unable to locate an official figure. The 30,000 figure seems to be the pre-rally estimates. USA Today reports at least 20,000 in attendance, but don’t explain how they arrived at that figure.

  5. thepegasean says:

    Rational atheism has its dangers. I don’t expect you or Dawkins are amoral people, but the logic of the science you saint has effectively done away with good and evil, and that is potentially as dangerous as irrational religion. For, never forget, atheism can certainly become religiously irrational. Just read the philosopher Nietzsche, or consider cold materialists like Stalin and Mao.

    Atheism is a double-edged sword, just like religion… everything, in fact. Without a God of Judgement there is no ultimate basis for law outside of strength and weakness. We can do as we dare, as far as we are able to evade the earthly authorities… but what about the authorities? Where does the morality of the powerful come from in a universe rationally understood as power complexes, as survival of the fittest? We pray (figuratively speaking) they are all humanists. They are not.

    Science has its awfully dark side, whether that be weapons of mass death and destruction, the pollution of the environment, human experimentation, or the hell of lot more yet to be dreamed up or that we are not told. Even something as seemingly benignly beneficial as the internet could be the printing press all over again and actually divide as much or more than it brings us together. We shouldn’t be afraid of science, but we cannot be sure that it can solve all of the problems it creates. It alone is not an answer for them all.

    I am not religious but I do appreciate the literary value of many religious texts; the power of myth, parable and poetry to promote moral wisdom. No scientist, however rational, can deny the poetic accomplishment of a Book of Job or a Bhagavad Gita. As long as we do not take these ancient texts literally, as the be all and end all for our times, and therefore live and let live, they have their place and always will.

    I don’t think a rational atheism alone can be any kind of answer to the human condition, not for everybody everywhere, at all times. Often love is irrational, often peace is irrational, often art is irrational, whereas often hate, war, and censorship are dreadfully rational. We cannot possibly be human and free without our being irrational occasionally.

    Just a few things to consider.

    • mjr256 says:

      No one ever died because people were too rational and there’s nothing inherently dangerous about simply not believing in imaginary creatures. Science, nor secular philosophy for that matter, has not done away with good and evil; on the contrary, it’s simply taken these concepts back from religious sophists who have falsely preached that the only reason we don’t behave immorally is because we’re following the orders of invisible dictators. Nietzsche was hardly a particularly immoral man. And Stalin and Mao’s evil deeds were as unrelated to their atheism as the Nazi’s Catholicism was to their atrocities.

      There’s no “double-edged sword” in recognizing the truth that every religion in the world is objectively wrong in part, if not in entirety. You say, “Without a God of Judgement there is no ultimate basis for law outside of strength and weakness.” Well allow me to retort: WITH a God of Judgement there is no ultimate basis for law outside of strength and weakness” as the very concept of a divine dictator who we must obey under threat of eternal torment is nothing but a “might makes right” game. Plato already dispensed with this nonsense 2,400 years ago with the Euthyphro dilemma. Morality derives from the same place traffic laws do, from the trial and error, self-regulating process by society for the benefit of that society. When we say something is “good”, we mean it is good for society. When we say it’s “bad,” we mean it’s bad for society. All morality comes down to biological and social forces. To suggest that no, it actually is just a bunch of top-down orders delivered by some dictator is asinine, especially if said dictator is the god of the Bible, who constantly gives contradictory orders whenever it suits his subjective fancy.

      Science, in its broadest sense, merely describes the process of observing the material world in order to better understand it; there is no inherent dark side to that goal. What you’re complaining about is the application of science for militaristic purposes. I share that complaint, but it’s simply not a fair criticism of science as a process for determining truth. And for all the negative aspects of nuclear physics, there are at least as many positives and that’s a much more complicated issue than you let on. And what of all the life-saving applications of medical science? Human beings live longer, healthier lives today than ever before thanks to science. And the very fact that we’re able to communicate in this forum is a testament to scientific progress. Is that not worthy of note? It wasn’t magic that stopped the small pox but science and hard work. It wasn’t magic that allowed man to fly but science and a lot of hard work. It wasn’t magic that developed life-saving vaccines and antibiotics but science and hard work. Science remains the single greatest tool we have for understanding the truths of our universe. Does that make it free of misuse? No. But until someone finds a metter system, I’m sticking with science.

      Now you say you appreciate the literary value of religious texts? Ever read The Bible? There’s a whole chapter that just randomly gives a recipe for cooking lamb. And it’s not like the chapter before or after it puts that recipe in any context either. It’s just randomly there as if someone accidentlly mixed a recipe into the pages before a scribe copied the pages. What’s so well-written about the Bible? Until the King James version came around, it wasn’t even very poetic. I’d take Shakespeare’s worst play over any story in the Bible or most religious texts. Hell, I’d take the worst book in even the Twilight series over the Bible. It’s just not a very well written book that’s full of deus ex machinas, plot holes, inconsistencies, and shitty characters. Hell, god murders almost everyone on the planet…and he’s supposed to be the hero of the freakin’ story!! So yes, as a writer myself, I categorically deny the “poetic accomplishment” of the Bible. Though The Bhagavad Gita’s not half bad.

      And though love and art, etc don’t expressly fall into the camp of rationality, there is plenty of rational thought that goes into our day-to-day decisions regarding these arenas. People are generally advised to get out of abusive relationships. And artists are encouraged to consider commercial factors as what message they wish to convey when making art professionally. So contrary to popular belief, reason does play a major role in such things, as it should, even if these aren’t strictly rational endeavors. There’s no such thing as being “too reasonable.” Even when we take risks, we do so only to a point, lest we become a fool. And as an artist myself, I find this bullshit cliche that art is irrational really irritating. No one has ever produced a masterpiece by accident or through mere stream of consciousness. A million carefully thought out decisions are made when producing a work of art in any medium.

      • thepegasean says:

        I agree with almost everything you say, especially seen as though most of it does not refute anything I did. You argue for science as I would were I doing so, you fail to see the point I am making about religion.

        Everything has an inherent dark side, my friend, there is no black and white in our world, science and religion included. My point was that religion is not all bad, and that science is not all good. I did not say Maos deeds were directly related to his atheism, just that atheism is no protection from the deeds usually associated with fanatical religion. Atheists can be just as fanatic, the violent materialism of Leninists like Stalin and Mao being good examples. It could seem rational to do all kinds of terrible things. Rationality is not some kind of grand panancea that cures all ill.

        I specifically mentioned the Book of Job, which is the most beautiful book of the Bible and has influenced poets for millenia, Shakespeare included. Try to judge ancient works in the context of their antiquity. You come at them typically for our time, that is, arrogantly and totally misunderstanding the world as it was experienced by your ancestors. To compare Twilight to the Bible is a most pernicious folly. Remember, somebody wrote these books thousands of years ago, before science was even a glint in the eye of theology, when science was effectively impossible. In the context of their age, Genesis and Exodus, for example, are excellent works of the imagination. They imaginitavely (i.e mythologically) present us with powerful archetypes of antique humanity, a creation story and an escape from slavery into statehood with the founding of a law, both of which are helpful for understanding the ancient mentality and experience. The stories of David and Solomon show us kings who come to understand that their pomp is ultimately from and for their people, they understand God as judging them for their fair and just treatment of their people, the widows, the fatherless etc. The God of the Bible is a God of common law, a God of justice. This is what the books of the prophets remind later generations and it is from this that Jesus drew his own morality, and hundreds of beneficient monarchs during the middle ages into the renaissence and beyond. There are values and lessons in the Bible, it is not just recipes for cooking lamb. It is and has been and will continue to be infinitely more valuable to us than hormonally charged teenage fiction.

        I never criticised science as a process for determining truth in its own domain, only a blind fool utterly ignorant of the modern world would. The problem is, the human experience is more than what science can measure, we are beings that value one anothers actions via opinion and perspective, we create such values on a mental plane that cannot be touched, or measured, or proved. Science can prove HOW things occur, and the immeasurable benefits as well as the down sides to that endeavour are clear for all to see; but the WHY, the for WHAT, is pure hypothesis. This is why spirituality, religion and art, though often, if not always, irrational, will always have their place.

        The point about art is that inspiration played a role in many of the greatest masterpieces, they were not put together with theory. Shakespeare was famous for hardly ever crossing out a line, he probably considered it heresy to rationally reconsider what had came flowing forth from his heart, as was the case with the likes of Blake and, going way back, Homer.

      • mjr256 says:

        I don’t think I did miss your point. But when you try to paint science and religion with the same brush, I’m going to have to state that they’re not. Science is simply about understanding our universe through observation and experimentation. It’s fundamentally a search for knowledge, a tool for understanding. Saying that because so and so applied that knowledge for destructive ends, that science is to blame is like blaming general education for the future acts of students or blaming a screwdriver because someone bludgeoned a person to death with it.

        No, religion is not all bad. But, unlike science, it’s built on fundamentally unsound principles like blind faith, obedience, traditional, and submission. Though some rare cases can be found of religions that don’t meet these criteria, every major organized religion in the world do.

        Now to even bring up Mao in this discussion is misleading. You say it’s just to point out that religion isn’t the cause of all evil. Nobody would disagree, so what’s the point of bringing it up other than as a roundabout way of making the classic “atheistic regimes caused more deaths in the 20th century than religious ones” gambit. There’s a difference between atheism and secularism. There are no shortage of examples of suffering being cause through secular motivations. But point me to a single example of violent crime that was expressly motivated by either one’s devotion to science or devotion to atheism.

        Just like there’s a big difference between atheism and secularism, there’s a big difference between rational behavior and rationalized behavior. Stalin could rationalize his atrocities, but that doesn’t make them rational behavior. You’re falling victim to what’s known as the Straw Vulcan Fallacy. Rational or logical behavior by definition can’t go “too far” where it reaches a point where it ceases to be rational or logical. So there can’t ever be a case of fanatical rationalism. Though I’ll grant that a hypothetical case could occur where an atheist activist became fanatical in their activism, but I haven’t seen it. That’s because atheism is not on its own inherently rational and there are indeed many irrational atheists. But not irrational rationalists; if they were irrational, they wouldn’t be rationalists. And while rationalism alone cannot solve every problem, it certainly would solve many problems. For instance, no one has ever presented a rational case for prejudice and discrimination.

        Regarding Job, I don’t think it holds a candle to Shakespeare’s worst play in terms of aesthetics, and find it grotesque in its content. And Shakespeare holds up as much today as in the time it was written. And most of the Bible isn’t even original but a mixing of already existing myths. But if you’re saying read the Bible like you would Beowulf, I agree. It’s a fascinating window into the minds of people living in a barbaric age before we began to truly understand our world. The problem is that many people want us to believe a book written in the Bronze Age is the ultimate guide to mortality. If everyone read the Bible as mythology, I wouldn’t have any problem with it. But unfortunately, these barbaric fools from an ignorant age are governing most people’s moral ideas from the grave because people falsely believe their writings are sacred.

        And while religion may always exist, I’m not going to respect it for that reason. Spirituality, if you mean it how I use it, as nothing more than a sense of awe and wonder at the universe, I have no issue with, though I think its greater in view of scientific discovery. And as an artist myself, I’ve always hated the often repeated notion that art is outside of rationalism as millions of carefully thought out decisions factor into almost every artistic work. The amount of painful care Shakespeare must have put into getting his plays into iambic pentameter is mind-boggling. The other commonly non-rational thing often cited is love, which of course can be measured to a degree by science. But the point is not to argue that science must have a hand in everything; it doesn’t. Science explains scientific things and that’s all science does. Just like a screwdriver mostly only turns screws. The existence of things that don’t directly relate to science is not an argument for religion, magical thinking, or irrationalism. So I don’t understand why it always comes up in these conversations.

  6. thepegasean says:

    I’m not religious, I just see the benefits that religion and the teachings of the bible have provided whereas you only see the downside, that is, the ignorant fanaticism is has inspired. I understand the dilemma of the ancients as being like ours, that is, from where do we derive our morality? The ancients decided upon the authority of God, Newton believed in his God to call his gravity a law; but without that authority there are no laws, only necessities; no ultimate morality, no worthiest ideals, no spiritual goal, not even an obvious opposition between irrationality and rationality, just a grey fog of can and can’t, daring and daren’t. That is a problem science cannot solve, whether you admit it or not. Don’t throw Plato at me, science has revealed a world of dog eat dog and refuted everything Plato stood for.

    • mjr256 says:

      I see good people who credit religion with their goodness. But as I said above, religion is built on fundamentally unsound principles like blind faith, obedience, traditional, and submission. Though some rare cases can be found of religions that don’t meet these criteria, every major organized religion in the world do. How can faith, in other words, believing things for no good reason (or at worst, believing things despite evidence to the contrary), be a good thing? Even it leads a person to perform a good deed, that would only be happenstance. Just like with obeying orders. If the order happens to be a good one, hurray! But if you just obey no matter what and it happens to be an evil order, oh well!

      I prefer people do good things for good reasons rather than take the chance that people who are just following order or just going with their gut feelings will happen to do something with a positive result.

      Newton didn’t call gravity a law, nor did religion have any direct relationship to his achievements in science. Gravity became accepted as a scientific law because it was rigorously tested and found through rational means to be universally true.

      Now I’m not even going to get into the morality thing here as I’ve gone into that at length many times before including my most recent article. But there’s much more to moral philosophy than just Plato (though his Euthyphro Dilemma) is unmatched. I don’t think you can get away with ignoring Kant, Hume, Rousseau, Locke, Mill, Rawls, etc.

      • thepegasean says:

        All of those philosophers give mere opinions on ethics, because without a God, thats all ethics can ever be. Individual will. Just because Kant said it is categorically imperative I should be a good boy, doesn’t mean I should be; his moral conclusions are no worthier than mine in an amoral world. Science means we can do whatever we want, that is its moral dilemma, just ADMIT it. The world is a complex of power against power, right and wrong is in the same fairy land as God and Nirvana. If it benefits me to screw someone over, or the whole human race, why should I not? I am but this little life rounded with a sleep, what matter to me if I cause our whole species extinction, seen as though I too go to oblivion soon enough?

        Newton did believe in God, and even, remarkably, the prophecies of the Bible. He could not explain the universe without a God. Why are we here, for what, whence etc? No scientist has ever been able to answer these questions except by saying, ‘For nothing, but we were lucky.’ Give me a break, man, we are here for a reason – one day science will discover what the poets of the ancient world could only hint at intuitively – this universe is no fluke.

      • mjr256 says:

        If you’re just going to write off 2,500 years of moral philosophy including consequentialism, deontology, virture ethics, contractarianism, egalitarianism, etc.as mere opinion, in favor of an amoral and preemptive Neurenberg defense, then there’s no point having a conversation as your mind (or whichever mind you’re obeying since you reject thinking on your own) is made up.

      • thepegasean says:

        I do not reject them as ‘mere opinion’, I understand their relevence and importance as ‘mere’ opinion, seeing as opinion is all that can elevate us above entirely rational individualist amorality.

      • mjr256 says:

        You wrote:
        “Just because Kant said it is categorically imperative I should be a good boy, doesn’t mean I should be; his moral conclusions are no worthier than mine in an amoral world. Science means we can do whatever we want, that is its moral dilemma, just ADMIT it. ”

        I would say this is a gross mis-characterization of what I’ve said. I definitely did not suggest that people should be good because of what Kant or anyone else has said. What I said was cooperation within groups is often correlated with long-term survival of individuals in those groups. And what we call “morality” adds up to little more than game theory in an amoral universe, which all current evidence suggests we’re living in. We could all disagree on morality, but morality is not truly relative in that the goal of morality seems to universally be optimal efficiency for the most people with least amount of suffering and one person’s opinion might objectively lead to better outcomes than another’s. So yes, you CAN do whatever you want, but like the person who chooses to run a red light, you risk increasing the probability of a negative outcome. And because the society benefits from maintaining a state of relative equilibrium between its individual members, if it’s discovered that you’re not playing fair, the society itself may turn against you and take away the privileges you enjoy from being a part of it.

        If you wish to further this discussion, please do so on my recent article titled “The basis of all morality” (https://skepacabra.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/the-basis-of-all-morality/) , which is based largely on this discussion we’ve been having, instead of posting on this article. Thank you.

  7. thepegasean says:

    You have to understand… I did not want to be distracted by arguing for the.literary value of the bible… it is one book that contains such values, they did not originate with it… the point I am making or I am trying to make is that the development of science and so-called ‘rationality’ was originally based on the authority of ‘God’… for centuries scientists believed they were uncovering Gods laws, and therefore they believed they would find a moral, ordered world with humanity at the centre… what they uncovered was a thoroughly amoral and chaotic world, with humanity a speck of dust at the periphery, and it is precisely this awful consequence of science that will lead people again and again, in terror, back to religion and irrationality. How do you solve that one though?

    • mjr256 says:

      The writings of Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Rousseau, Locke, Rawls, et al had nothing whatsoever to do with “the authority of ‘God’.” That’s ridiculous. If you think so, you haven’t studied ethics. Again, Plato definitively debunked such moral appeals to the gods with the Euthyphro Dilemma.

      But yes, it is a chaotic world with no inherent morality but that which we define for ourselves as a social species. Morality is the product of social species and all morality stems from both biology and social species realizing that their survival depends on group dynamics of cooperation and trust.

      • thepegasean says:

        But why is it so? Why does chaos result in biology sprouting a moral stem, and us its flower? Niether Aristotle, Kant, Hume or any other philosopher can give us a WHY, without a ‘God’, without INTENTION. Science decides that we are the product of random chance, the most insidious futility of conclusive reasoning. Chaos is the appearence of reality as understood by science, that is, in pariticulars. Thought of a whole, understood as a whole through our subjective perspectives, reality is never chaotic; disorder creates order through us; we are here for a reason; we are the reason.

      • mjr256 says:

        I’d say it’s so because we want to survive and thrive in our environment. Why would you choose behavior that wasn’t advantage to your survival? It’s easy to look at homo sapiens and say look how good we turned out, but what about all those millions of species that failed to learn how to work together and perished as a result? And even humans have hardly mastered the art of cooperation and risk our own extinction in the process. Morality is our trial and error process for figuring out what’s most advantageous for our survival and flourishing. It’s like traffic law. There was no god of traffic who decreed that we must have stop signs. We just figured out as a group that stop signs were useful. Same with the rules we came up with for governing who has the right of way at a 4-way stop. In a short-sighted Randian objectivist society where everyone just does what they want and doesn’t concern themselves with others , a 4-way stop would likely just invent collisions. But we recognize that rules governing our behavior on the road is advantageous for all motorists in that it will facilitate less traffic and less accidents while making our travel more efficient. I contend that traffic law is a microcosm for all morality in that way. There was no need for an outside third party to devise it but it was designed by us within the system. Our laws are certainly not perfect. But they tend to gradually improve over time as we learn.

  8. thepegasean says:

    We do not need a divine dictator for morality, but without one, morality has no objective truth; it is entirely subjective and speculative. You speak of society, but the individual is the only arbiter of morals; society does not make a man do good or ill, his will is free and he alone must decide. Society cannot decide for an individual. It can only prod and poke him this way or that. For the individual, science has done away with morality because it has decided that the world is a struggle for existence, a discharging of strength, a quest for pleasure as freedom from pain. That is a problem that a God of Judgement, as nonsensical as he seems to modern science, had actually solved. You do not follow your hateful whims because the fires of Hell await. That is the kind of logic that violent criminal idiocy can understand. I am not advocating a return to such logic, I just cannot see how science has replaced it. A criminal versed in science can only find justifications for increasing his vehemence.

    • mjr256 says:

      No, as I point out in my latest article, WITH a divine dictator, morality has no objective truth. AND without one, there isn’t. Because there is no objective morality. It is a chaotic world with no inherent morality but that which we define for ourselves as a social species. Morality is the product of social species and all morality stems from both biology and social species realizing that their survival depends on group dynamics of cooperation and trust.

      That doesn’t change the scientific fact that the universe is a struggle for existence. You’re problem is you’re not thinking enough moves ahead. Social species must learn very quickly that if they are to survive, they’re going to have to work together and form cooperative groups such as herds, packs, prides, schools, societies, etc. Then they must quickly learn that if these cooperative enterprises are to be maintained, they must form rules to govern behavior as to guarantee the safety of the individuals within the group. It’s this that we call “morality.”

      • thepegasean says:

        Fair enough, a compelling argument for beasts, but for the human individual, schooled in science, entirely irelevant. Our one mortal existence is all we shall know, and all we can get from it. The past, the future, pride and pack mean little more than what we can get from them, so long as we are individually victorious.

      • mjr256 says:

        I said morality derrived from both biological and social forces. I’ve just discussed the social aspects in my previous response. This is where the biological components come in. We, like the proto-RNA we started as, are genetically programed with the drive to reproduce. Now as we evolved higher order thinking and grown more social, that drive has begun to mutate. Our programing used to drive us to spread our own genes. But once we developed social structures like packs and societies built around reciprocal altruism, it became less important for individuals to protect and spread their own genes and more important for individuals to protect and propagate the genes within the pack, whether they belonged to that individual specifically or not. Now because there was no guiding hand behind this social grouping, many social species further developed a sense of empathy even for those outside of their pack or even outside of their species altogether. This is why we’ll sometimes see chimps and monkeys protect birds or dogs protect humans, or humans protect whales, etc. Through an evolutionary misfire, we’ve come to identify with other species and empathize with them.

        This expansion of herd mentality goes beyond just including other species in our sense of the herd but also allows some people to not have the same drive to propagate their own genes at all and just leave the application of the survival instinct to others in the society. There’s no separating beasts from humans because humans are beasts. We’re just really, really social ones, a trait that puts us at the top of the food change and allows us to rule this planet over all other species.

        So while it’s almost certainly true that I get only one life, neuro-biological processes I have no control over make me care about the continued survival and flourishing of the species and other species after I’m gone. And those instincts to propagate human genes are as ingrained in me as any other aspect of my personality. But while that may be important to me as a human, the universe has no such affection for humanity or the Earth. The universe has the feelings of a dining room table. It didn’t smile when we were born and it won’t cry when we die, and it won’t miss us when we’re gone.

  9. thepegasean says:

    I find I agree with everything you say, but still, I cannot escape my personal torment at the moral problem of science. For a mortal, modern individual, it could be entirely rational to do what they like, when they like, as long as it benefits them and they can get away with it. The benefits of rationality for society are potentially massive, but for the individual who cares for himself alone even more so, and to hell with society. We need some kind of ultimate morality that draws us INTO a society, and science, which places us in a darwinian struggle against one another, hasn’t yet provided it. In my opinion.

    • mjr256 says:

      As millions of non-social extinct species would tell you, the odds do not favor the uncooperative individual. If there is an ultimate morality, then it’s live together or die alone.

      • thepegasean says:

        Amen. But what matter if you die alone, if you had a rich and powerful life? What matter if the rest of you species goes extinct, if you are but your mortal life and the power and pleasure you derive from it? You admit life is amoral, then speak as if it there are some kind of moral balances that tilt toward us living together, but where are those balances? What makes it favourable for us to live together? You are getting dangerously close to a God here, my friend.

      • mjr256 says:

        I’d say it doesn’t matter, at least not in any larger, cosmic sense. Though in the grand scheme of things, being the king ant on a tiny blue dot in an unremarkable section of the universe for shorter than blink in the existence of the cosmos is a far less ambitious goal or at least less impactful than helping to build a legacy that will greatly outlive you. But to each his or her own, I suppose. You can decide that in the face of an absurd universe, nothing matters or everything matters.

        I thought I covered what makes it favorable for us to live together. To quote an old obscure movie, it’s cheaper, faster, much, much safer. You didn’t have to build your house or your car. You don’t have to hunt for your food or build a fire to cook it. Or sow your own clothes to keep warm in the winter. We have developed a complex system that allows everyone (at least ideally) to get what they need by compartmentalizing and divvying up labor responsibilities. This is massively advantageous and has allowed us the time and expertise to make countless technologies and discoveries we would never have otherwise found the time for.

  10. thepegasean says:

    Aristotle said in his Poetics that iambic pentameter is the most natural form of verse, why? Because it is the one we fall most readily into when we speak. I am a poet, and as a teenager found myself composing in iamibic pentameter without even realising it, the understanding of the technique having come after I wrote poetry. It is the meter most pleasing to the ear, the most rhetorical. Shakespeare at his peak wrote in iambic pentameter while hardly thinking about it.

    • mjr256 says:

      Shakespeare chose it because its pleasing nature but there’s nothing easy about writing an entire play, let alone many plays entirely in iambic pentameter. Though I think we’re getting off topic.

      • thepegasean says:

        You think Shakespeares writing involved EFFORT? You are making the common mistake of imagining yourself producing works of genius. Genius itself barely has to try.

      • mjr256 says:

        I think you do Shakespeare a great disservice by suggesting his accomplishments came easy but we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      • thepegasean says:

        Science usefully analyses minute particulars. Modernity is in the debt of ruler wielding robots just like you.

        Personality, however, is always based upon the human holistic perspective. It might matter what is fact but our fiction must come after it.

        2+2=4 but four of what and why should I care?

  11. thepegasean says:

    Do you really believe that the complexity of DNA is a fluke? That an evolving universe is without purpose, that evolution is not striving toward some goal? Consider the movements of innumerable particles in every molecule that makes up every single living thing, all inexorably moving in perfect harmony, not missing a beat. Consider a symphony of Beethoven. Its effect can be analysed by science physically, physiologically, and psychologically, or you can simply listen to it. But how are these modes of understanding connected? Nobody knows! Nobody will ever know how all the beings in becoming interact exactly, so science will call chaos what it cannot explain. But there is intention in every atom, my friend. Creation created creators that we might learn from it and for it. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I abhor that science does, considering it concludes we we have no meaning. That I cannot stand! I will not accept our unmeaning, whatever science achieves. Look at yourself and your surroundings, then imagine the sheer abundance of life in the universe! If Earth alone is anything to go by, seeing the number of the stars! And this is all chaos? I wouldn’t bet my house on it.

  12. thepegasean says:

    This is my eternal contention with so called scientific rationality, the utterly irrational conclusion that all the processes you so eloquently describe were not intended, that our humanity is not a lesson to us, that we were not intended. I do not believe in a ‘God,’ (though I believe all the conceptions of divinity expressed by poetical peoples have been maliciously misrepresented by their codifying ancestors) but I do believe in humanity, the patterns we create with our perceptions. I believe we are more than our bodily lives, though I cannot prove it, and whatever is us beyond this existence is what decided to test us within it. I cannot entirely explain this belief but I have read it hinted in the most intuitive poets, Homer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, Yeats, the Hindu Brahmins, the Hebrew prophets, the Greek tragedians, and lately, dare I say it, in the higher physics of the twenty first century. There is a suggestion that there is something more than what we can observe, touch, or measure, a dark energy, a spiritual realm of pure consciousness that holds this material world together. The brick wall science has run into it call chaos is just that, a wall, and there IS something beyond.

  13. thepegasean says:

    Shakespeares accomplishments came easy to him, they come much harder to his interpreters. Great art should be thought of like great dancing, I suppose there IS effort, of course (I only half meant what I said before, a spur of the moment made me rush to it), but their effort is so delectably enjoyed as to be indistinguishable from actual fun. You should not consider Shakespeare as sitting down with a furrowed brow and a sore backside, he probably skipped around his study and exulting sang his Hamlet and Ophelia, Caliban and Prospero, Antony and Cleopatra.

    • thepegasean says:

      The greatest art is delighted. Shakespeare is a tapestry of whims and wondering, a warp of thought and a weft of thoughtlessness. For this reason he continually perplexes criticism even centuries after his death. Shakespeare was a pure artist, a dreamer not a thinker. He knew he carried multiple meanings on the tip of his quill reflexively, he set out to achieve nothing in particular knowing he would exceed particulars.

  14. thepegasean says:

    I am the puer aeternus, the eternal boy, who hearing his fathers answers, keeps on asking, WHY? But you say, that reason is there is no reason, that there is no WHY? WHY IS THERE NO WHY?

  15. thepegasean says:

    ‘I’d say it doesn’t matter, at least not in any larger, cosmic sense. Though in the grand scheme of things, being the king ant on a tiny blue dot in an unremarkable section of the universe for shorter than blink in the existence of the cosmos is a far less ambitious goal or at least less impactful than helping to build a legacy that will greatly outlive you. But to each his or her own, I suppose.’

    Exactomundo. What does legacy matter when that king ant is all you are or will ever be? You call it tiny, but if that miniscule speck of matter is all we are, what matter anything outside of it, that outlives us? Nothing outlives us, our own life is all we shall ever know for sure, according to science. When we are dead, the world dies for us. What could possibly be bigger than our own advantage, which might be violently opposed to our own brothers, in a meaningless universe in which we alone can create meaning? Science provides no morals, it can explain them, but in that explanation refutes their necessity beyond an individuals personal fulfilment. This might not be your view of scientific morality, but it is an entirely rational extremity to which science inevitably tends.

    ‘The universe has the feelings of a dining room table. It didn’t smile when we were born and it won’t cry when we die, and it won’t miss us when we’re gone.’

    This is the most malicious metaphysics known to man. If this is so, why should we ever smile, why should we be born, why should we cry when somebody dies? If the universe is a dining room table, we are salt and pepper shakers and are innermost being is tasteless seasoning. How could an unfeeling universe create beings of feeling? That is absurd. The universe is not simply a dining room table because we are seated at it. It is feeling through us. We are its feeling expressed.

    ‘There was no need for an outside third party to devise it but it was designed by us within the system. Our laws are certainly not perfect. But they tend to gradually improve over time as we learn.’

    Forget for a moment a third party. Our party is learning, and the imperfection striving toward perfection is enough to suggest there is a goal, an end, a reason. Why a gradual improvement? Why is there not a gradual decay? But, ‘By us within the system?’ System? Whence a system? Wherefore? Tell it like it is, but why is it?

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