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.
Once upon a time, Astrology was a big thing. Astrologers ruled the world. Now they clatter in the back pages of second-rate magazines. Why were they so big and what’s happened to them?
We shall begin by following a line of thought that was very strong in many parts of the classical world. So strong, it was reason enough to deport Anaxagoras from Athens (he was advocating the stars were nothing but “hot stones in the sky”). The Epicureans made the fight against this view a focal point of their moral philosophy.
So, imagine you live in a society with a technology which is less than modern – there are no cars, no planes, etc. Now, observe: what things have “innate movement” (to borrow the Aristotelian term)? Living things, of course. Only living things can move without being moved by an external force.
Our second observation is this: all living things decease (given enough time).
All? Well, look at the sky – there you will find heavenly bodies moving perpetually in well-ordered paths. If living things are the only candidates for self-induced movement, then the heavenly bodies must be alive. They are also perpetual, hence immortal. They also seem to be moving in a nice circular fashion; hence they must be highly intelligent sentient beings (they know geometry! And circles are the most perfect of geometric forms).