Category Archives: philosophy

Atheism and the Mind II – Volitions and the abolition of souls

In the previous post I made the claim that atheists should not be any worse off than the religious when confronting serious philosophical questions. In this post I wish to show that they might be better off. I intend to show why the idea of an immaterial soul is misguided and needlessly confusing. I am going to use the example of volitions. And I warn you: This is not going to be an easy post to handle. If I succeed in writing anything intelligible , you are very likely to find yourself rather shaken.

I also wish to thank my dear friend Dr. Uri Maoz, who was the first to confront me with the following facts.

Here we go.

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Atheism and the Mind – chapter 1

Over at The Road To God Knows Where, Brendano posits a challenge for atheists. He has a list of interesting questions to be answered. And I intend to step in on the line of duty, and try it out.

Brendano’s questions are, in order:

1. Why is the human mechanism better or more deserving of respect than any other mechanism … a lawnmower or a cat?
2. Whence do concepts such as human dignity, human rights, personal morality, right and wrong, good and evil arise, and what is their justification?
3. Why should anyone be held responsible for their actions, given that these are caused by chemical reactions in the brain, and chemicals have no sense of right and wrong?
4. Why do you have the concept of a quasi-separate ‘I’, as in ‘my body’, if you are just your body?
5. How can volition be anything other than an illusion?
6. Why should feelings, emotions, etc. have any importance if they are mere artefacts of chemical reactions?

I will answer in a different order, and I also intend to tamper with Brendano’s phrasing. Iam also afraid that this will take more than one post.

But first of all let me point out one huge and terrible blander, of which I hereby blame Brendano. He seems to think that these questions pose a difficulty for atheists alone. That is utter baloney. These are, and always have been, the greatest philosophical questions of all time, wrestled with by many religious thinkers. And if you think that any of these problems are even  remotely addressed by any conceivable religious dogma in existence, you are dead wrong. They certainly are not solved. Not through Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any far-east religion in existence.

I short, then:

I do not know, but neither do you.

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Atheism and Socialism

Or:

Should Atheists admire Monotheism, the same way Socialists love Capitalism?

When I first read Karl Marks’ The Communist Manifesto, I was very much surprised. I expected a demeaning rebuke of Capitalism, a scourge of fire scathing evil wealthy industrialists. But I found nothing of the sort. The Manifesto struck me as a paean for capitalism. It is full to the rim with the praise of capitalism. Marks and Angels are charmed with capitalism. There are a couple of (very big) issues which make capitalism the greatest peak of civilization (so far) in their eyes.

  • The first point is that capitalism has brought an age of limitless capability. Steam BoatsFrom their perspective in the middle of the 19th century, it is more than understandable. As they rightly exclaim, humans can now cross vast oceans in mere weeks. Fertilized crop yield vast amounts of food. For the first time ever, the medical establishment is doing more good than harm. Medicine actually works(!). And on and on. The list is endless. Capitalism has unleashed an enormous power. This power can do much good, and it does.
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Why I am an Atheist

There is a growing debate on the blogosphere on Atheism v.s. Agnosticism (or, heaven forbid, Deism). The lines of battle are set.

On Pharyngula, Atheist PZ Myers slums at accommodationists, almost as hard as he slams the religious.

On Evolving Thoughts, Agnostic John Wilkins claims for disbelief.

And on and on. Take a look at Rosenbaum’s latest Agnostic pamphlet. It is a nice read. For the lazy, there is Elliot Sobel’s video on FORA.tv. He makes it simple, which is the job of a good philosopher.

In short:

  • a deist believes in god (whatever that is).
  • an atheist believes that the is no god.
  • an agnostic doesn’t believe either.

The bulk of the philosophical criticism against the “New Atheism” (by Sobel, Wilkins, Rosenbaum, Cristopher Schoen, and others – against Myers, Dawkins, et al.) is that no scientific evidence can possibly refute the philosophical theory about the existence of God. There can be evidence that certain beliefs are wrong (is the earth really 6000 years old? No way!). One can refute some religious views. But one just cannot refute the idea that god exists. Not scientifically, at least.

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Moses: A lesson in leadership

Happy Passover to all three readers of my Blog. Today, we shall read a sermon about great leadership at work, and of the relevance of ancient Judaism to our current political life.

These week we, Jews, celebrate the exodus – the miraculous escape of more than half a million Jews from slavery in Egypt. Their 40-years journey through the desert. Mount Sinai. The giving of the Torah. And the epitome of leadership: Moses.

Out of sheer sloth, I will assume that my readers are verse in the stories. For those who are not, take a look at wikipedia. What interests me is the great leadership shown by Moses (and his God). Through the first chapters of their tour of the Sinai desert, it becomes apparent that the people are not fit to be led by the great leader. They tire him by relentlessly asking to be fed, defended, and led. They show more interest in golden statues than in abstract deities. What Moses does in the story, reminds me of Berthold Brecht’s remark regarding the true followers of Moses – The governing party of the late German Democratic Republic:

The people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts.Wouldn’t it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in their place?

Which is exactly what Moses does. The great leader takes his people on a 40 year travel, so as to rid himself of the bickering mob, and remould their children into a rough warrior-like tribe, capable of mass murder. The People is not fit – so he replaces it. A towering moral example if there ever was one.

Should I have dubbed this post  “a lesson in soviet-type leadership”?

Comfort Kills

My uncle is dying. In less than a month, he would probably be gone. The doctors say he’s dying from cancer. But, in truth, is he’s dying from fear and superstition.

It was almost two years ago that he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A low-danger tumor. He was invited to schedule an operation. A simple operation. But my uncle panicked. He contacted a Chinese herbalist, who promised him that, indeed, no operation would be necessary. Those western doctors, she assured him, know nothing. All he has to do is keep a healthy life style and take her herbs. A year went by. His pains grew stronger and more frequent. The herbalist did some psychic tests and “discovered” that his tumor is shrinking. These are shrinkage pains, she told him. And he believed her for a simple reason: he was afraid of going through an operation. “It is risky”, he kept saying to everyone who would listen. “One can die from complications. One can go through an anesthesias and never wake up”.

It took the tumor months to grow malignant. It enered his spine, most of his abdomen, and both legs. The pain is now so excruciating that my uncle can barely speak. He has been given morphine, because no other sedative is strong enough to deal with the pain. But his Chinese herbalist convinced him that morphine is bad for his health (remainder: the man is dying!), so he takes none of it. Even now, when his only hope is experimental hypothermia combined with chemotherapy, he still clings desperately to a strange “healer” who promised him imminent cure with crystals.

As much as I would like to strangle that Chinese herbalist with my bare hands, as much as I loath her, I do not think that she is the essence of the trouble. If it were not for her, it would have been another healer, a UFO, or even a fatalist priest. The trouble stems only from this fact: that my dear uncle kept looking for comfort, where he should have been looking for a cure. The “western” way, with hospitals, and doctors, and operations, demands that he grows up to become an adult, and that he faces inconvenient truths (his mortality, his sickness). He would have non of that. He demanded comfort. He got death.