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Secular humanists on the real planet of the apes - Comments

JuJu's Avatar Comment 1 by JuJu

Why do I feel like I just wasted my time ready this?

Tue, 23 Aug 2011 23:48:40 UTC | #863555

Dhamma's Avatar Comment 2 by Dhamma

Pretentious drivel - move along.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:00:13 UTC | #863558

Sara12's Avatar Comment 3 by Sara12

The beginning was okay enough. But once the author wrongly conflated utilitarianism and consequentialism, well, I kept reading, but it was no longer particularly interesting.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:17:25 UTC | #863561

JuJu's Avatar Comment 4 by JuJu

Comment 1 by JuJu

Why do I feel like I just wasted my time ready this?

Learn how spell, it's "reading" not "ready", dumbshit.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:27:57 UTC | #863564

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 5 by Cartomancer

I stopped reading after this guy tried to conflate the US and Britain into one cultural unit. Clearly he hasn't got a clue what he is talking about - they're about as different as night and day when it comes to the intrusion of religion into politics.

British politics, the anomalous position of the Northern Ireland Troubles and the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords aside, has been pretty much devoid of religious content for decades. At least since the War, largely so since the turn of the century. There is no "vacuum", and certainly not a suddenly emerging one. Centuries of successive religious conflict in Europe have secured that happy state of affairs.

Also, I really hate this term "unchurched". As if one specifically needs to point out that one has never frequented a dusty old building where puerile nonsense is spouted on a weekly basis. Fortunately the term is almost never used over here. One might as well say "unstartrekked" to talk about people not obsessed with the sci-fi oevre of Gene Roddenberry, I guess that's one major difference in the culture right there - to a British person a "church" is a building, whereas it seems that Americans understand it to mean a group of people, like it did in medieval times when people in Europe actually gave any importance to religious nonsense.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 00:46:07 UTC | #863569

nancynancy's Avatar Comment 6 by nancynancy

Rick Perry is living proof the theory of evolution is wrong -- he has a Cro Magnon body and a Neanderthal brain.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 01:13:29 UTC | #863582

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 7 by Neodarwinian

I stopped reading after the " creeds " talk began. Still, interesting to know that about Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy weighed in, though wrongly, on the zebra stripe debate if his time.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 01:16:56 UTC | #863583

Kalasin's Avatar Comment 8 by Kalasin

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 02:02:08 UTC | #863585

vega's Avatar Comment 9 by vega

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 02:04:34 UTC | #863588

Stevezar's Avatar Comment 10 by Stevezar

Comment 7 by Neodarwinian :

Still, interesting to know that about Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

Yes that was new to me. Surprising especially about Teddy Roosevelt, who called Thomas Paine a "filthy little atheist".

And I am sure that are plenty of us who are aligned with Dawkins and are secular humanists, so I am not sure what was the point of trying to divide them into 2 camps.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 02:04:55 UTC | #863589

Wiradjuri's Avatar Comment 11 by Wiradjuri

Believers have it tough. They have fight the unbelievers as well believers in other faiths. Easier to accept a theism and believe in yourself. I am new to Dawkins and having been a catholic cop heaps from them. Tho I notice most of em drink tell fobs and don't observe the rules the big 10 commandents but go to church most Sunday's. My mate reckons he is doing that as an each way bet! If heaven is their he rates himself a chance. Ha

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 02:48:27 UTC | #863598

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 12 by huzonfurst

Comparing Richard Dawkins et al to Madalyn Murray is a grave insult to the Dawkins crowd. I knew her and she was a miserable, anti-social, unforgiving, tyrannical and foul-mouthed creature, as were her son and granddaughter. I wasn't surprised when they all got murdered, although I wouldn't have wished it on them of course. That family admittedly accomplished a lot despite their broken personalities, and we all wished they had gotten psychiatric help.

Our current spokespeople are 180 degrees from the Murray-O'Hairs, thankfully, so let's be glad of it. The writer of this schlock article is closer to our dear Madalyn, I'm afraid.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 03:01:01 UTC | #863605

ThePoeticAtheist's Avatar Comment 13 by ThePoeticAtheist

But social animals are not altruists. Nor are they strict individualists. They are nepotists. As a rule social animals, like wolves, deer, humans and chimps, show favoritism to their relatives and friends and allies, with little or no concern for members of their own species with whom they have no close connection. Abrahamic monotheism insists on the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. Darwinism insists at best on the distant cousinhood of humanity.

Okay, that is a good point...but there is scope to comment on this further. The reason other social animals don't care for their species past close relatives is because they are only in contact with close relatives! Humans, on the other hand, have been able to connect with people across the world. A Somailian child crying in front of a camera is essentially communicating with us when we see him/her on television. We humans have an advanced sense of community that is global (not all humans, but a large number of us). Yes, for a lot of people it might be a fake sense of connectivity because they have been stuck with biased media or just find it too hard to step out of their frame of mind -- caught too deep in their luxurious lifestyle. However, we still have the potential to care for our species as a whole while being consistent with Darwinian evolution.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 03:59:54 UTC | #863623

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 14 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 6 by nancynancy

Rick Perry is living proof the theory of evolution is wrong -- he has a Cro Magnon body and a Neanderthal brain.

You do a grave disservice to the memory of the Neanderthal.

Neanderthals were stupid
Neanderthals had brains as big and in some cases even bigger than ours. But this doesn't prove they were 'brainy'; brain size doesn't necessarily correlate with intelligence. Neanderthal brains were also a different shape from ours, and could have been 'wired-up' in a different way. Their skilfully made tools demonstrate considerable intelligence and forethought, but we can still only speculate how similar or different Neanderthal thoughts might have been to our own.

From ten myths about Neanderthals.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 05:17:49 UTC | #863634

Functional Atheist's Avatar Comment 15 by Functional Atheist

The quotes from Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson drew me into the article, but as earlier comments have noted, the article is not very interesting or incisive after that.

The increasing anti-science tone of Republican politicians is a more interesting conundrum. While an undercurrent of anti-elitism (where the 'elite' are not the rich, but the educated) has long existed in American politics, the right-wingers have seized on this to an alarming degree. Disavowing evolution and climate change are where this is seen most prominently, but it reflects a larger 'no-nothing' brand of politics where people take perverse pride in stupidity.

The defenders of Sarah Palin, upset at her being asked 'mean' questions by the 'biased' media, exemplify this phenomenon, which is anti-aspirational--these are people who are dumb, and are profoundly proud of their dumbness. They think this makes them more 'real' or 'genuine'. They 'trust their guts', have what they think is common sense, and value their faith above all else.

This anti-elitism strain has always existed, but it has never been so loud and so proud, and so cock-sure in its contempt for evidence, reason, and science. These yahoos form perhaps the biggest block of voters in the Republican primaries, so catering to their ignorance is a major part of earning the nomination of one of the two major parties of the United States.

So when Rick Perry is saying something stupid, as he is sure to do repeatedly in coming months, take cold comfort in the fact that being dumb is the smartest way to woo a huge block of hard-core Republican voters.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 05:43:42 UTC | #863643

skiles1's Avatar Comment 16 by skiles1

It's not a matter of trying to turn humanity into something we are not - some higher, impossible animal. For if humanity was anything different than what humanity is, then secular humanism wouldn't exist, it wouldn't be an ism or an idea. Lind forgets that our brainpower is greater than that of other primates. You can't expect all cats to run as fast as cheetahs and you can't expect all primates to become interested in altruism. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and humans are the best thinkers: it's that simple.

Moreover, altruism is, ultimately, self-respect (or selfishness, if you prefer that word to "self-respect", here). Cooperation is security in a world with limited resources; goodness results in survival. So, it's not such a leap from monkey society to human society, as Lind proposes.

I've never read a humanist manifesto, and if I did, I wouldn't feel particularly compelled to live by any recommendations therein. However, I consider myself a humanist in that I happen to agree that some acts are universally wrong (acts such as rape and child molestation), in that I completely reject the supernatural, and in that I reserve the right to think for myself (even regarding humanism!).

I think that religious people are more likely to do wrong for one glaring reason Lind has overlooked: most religions have holy books which charge that certain peoples are inherently evil or more evil than others - women, all nonbelievers, homosexuals, for examples. If you followed a humanist manifesto, you wouldn't find those sort of bigoted ideas therein. Similarly, atheistic people who don't follow humanist manifestos, including humanists like myself (Here I should also mention that I'm a new atheist, as well), and non-humanist atheistic people, have no scriptures at all - no manifestos: nothing. Those like myself have nothing to tell us that certain people are evil, nothing like what most religious people have within their scriptures. Admittedly, those like myself also have nothing to tell us that we shouldn't be bigoted, either, but having a doctrine which charges that certain people are evil, makes a religious person more likely to do harm - specifically, it makes them more likely to do harm to the people their scriptures charge are evil. That, however, can only be asserted if you are unsentimental - if you are religious, you may actually view the harm religions do, as good.

Religious people are the same species as us: religious people can do great things and atheists can do horrible things. But, John Lennon was was essentially right: Why do we needlessly divide ourselves into religions; why not just admit that we don't know, and not believe?

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 07:18:54 UTC | #863654

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 17 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 08:22:28 UTC | #863667

anonymous.shyster's Avatar Comment 18 by anonymous.shyster

Oh, on about the gaps again.

By their logic, somebody could claim that video evidence of somebody robbing a bank 'has gaps in it', by pointing out that it is recorded at a frame frame of say, 25 frames a second. What could have gone on between frames is anybodies guess.

Record a bank robbery at 100 frames per second, and oh no, even more gaps!

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 09:05:02 UTC | #863681

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 19 by Stevehill

Hmmm. That's 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Meandering waffle.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 11:01:06 UTC | #863704

Alexandreina's Avatar Comment 20 by Alexandreina

While I enjoyed the Wilson quote and generally agree with the author's final conclusion that you "cannot turn monkeys into something that we are not," I did find the article overall to be disappointing. The author spent a considerable time shredding secular humanism yet offered nothing at all helpful in its place.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 12:02:08 UTC | #863717

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 21 by KenChimp

I've noticed a lot of negative comments on this article as a whole. What I would like to know from those who have posted statements suggesting that reading the article is/was a waste of time, that it was "Pretentious drivel" or "Meandering waffle" why their value judgement is absolutist.

There were statements the author made which I do not agree with, but there were points made as well which I cannot reasonably refute. We are apes. I'll defer to one of my odd "heroes" when it comes to an eloquent description of humanity:

"There is no reason to believe that he [man] is naturally good and kind and brave and wise, or ever was. On the contrary, there is much to show that he is a beast, that has taken a strange turning in the jungle and blundered rather aimlessly into a mental world in which he is certainly not at home."

-John Whiteside Parsons, from "Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword"

The author of this article seems to recognize this evidence-backed view of humanity. Although I support many of the concepts and the over-all world view of humanism, many of the leaders of this philosophical movement seem to be engaging in a type of wishful thinking which is not unlike that of faith-heads. The very concept that a human being has, or is even capable of having, the best interests of other human beings who are total strangers, at heart is quite frankly patently absurd.

That is the underlying idea that the article addresses. White-wash it as you will, the greatest flaw in the secular humanist movement is its insistence that human leaders who follow this philosophy are good, kind and wise, and are desirous beyond all temptations to the contrary of leading strangers to their collective best interests. It is a form of religion, not based on critical thinking and reason, but on pure wishful thinking.

The only way for humanity to get through the trials of this century and achieve the Type I space faring civilization our neo-cortex has made us capable of is for each of us to recognize and embrace the inherent selfishness that drives us, and through reason and science, to promote secular ideals within all societies. Those who claim knowledge and/or desire with which to lead us, any of us, into the brightest of futures must be consistently and constantly called into question.

Without this cyclical feed-back, without the seemingly irrational "Horus" syndrome of youth seeking to overthrow the authority of parent figureheads, new ideas being formed to challenge and ultimately replace the old ideas, human civilization will, as it has, stagnate under the unrecognized selfishness that drives each of us, as leadership continues, as it does, to promote its own best interests ahead of those of the collective whole.

The world's leaders are incapable of leading humanity to a brighter future from today in the face of an exponentially growing population now numbering over seven billion, with the current social models. It would be difficult enough now, even if the human species were to suddenly get a rational grip on its procreative tendencies and reduce the rate of its expansion. As things are, there will inevitably be much suffering (and death) for the vast majority of people. If you believe the world's leaders are preparing to combat this, you are sadly and grossly mistaken. World leadership has long recognized this truth, and have been preparing for the continuity of their systems of governance and the continuity of the few of us who have the most to lose if those systems were to collapse.

I've long since ceased to irrationally believe that I number among those. Have you?

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 12:23:23 UTC | #863719

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 22 by AtheistEgbert

I found this to be an excellent article, with the kind of polemic thinking to that of Christopher Hitchens. [Sentence yet again commenting on other users of the site rather than focusing on the topic of the article removed by moderator.] Paul Kurtz, for example, is no friend of new atheism. I have not heard of Michael Lind before, but will look forward to reading more thoughtful posts such as this by him in future.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 13:19:43 UTC | #863734

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 23 by AtheistEgbert

Comment 21 by KenChimp

Although I don't necessarily agree with some of your conclusions, I can't help but admire your willingness to be an independent thinker.[Removed by moderator]

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 13:24:20 UTC | #863737

mjs31's Avatar Comment 24 by mjs31

The militantly anticlerical tone of the new atheism...

I don't know which of these terms I tire of hearing more; the term "new atheism" or the term "militant" in association with it. The fact that actual intellectuals can protest the idea of atheists having the audacity to have a discussion about whether or not religion is worth anyone's time is baffling to me, since most of them have obviously decided this for themselves.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 13:57:11 UTC | #863751

Tirnamona's Avatar Comment 25 by Tirnamona

I agree with KenChimp. This is a fascinating article full of interesting observations about the implications of a true scientific understanding for human society. The heart of the matter, I think, is this quote:

To the extent that natural science can inform the way we think about politics and economics, it undermines the view that human beings are, or could be, rational actors devoted to the common good, rather than emotion-driven, semi-rational cousins of chimps and gorillas. On this point the secular philosophers Hume and Hobbes are more convincing than Bentham, Dewey and Kurtz.

Our simian psychology has obvious implications for naive models of democracy, in which a neutral, rational public listens dispassionately to all sides before making up its hyperlogical collective mind. And it has implications as well for naive models of economics, in which consumers and producers perceive, think and act with computer-like accuracy.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 14:54:14 UTC | #863763

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 26 by KenChimp

Comment 23 by AtheistEgbert :

Comment 21 by KenChimp

Although I don't necessarily agree with some of your conclusions, I can't help but admire your willingness to be an independent thinker.[Removed by moderator]

I know some of my conclusions are radical and perhaps even somewhat paranoid. I have an inherent distrust for those in positions of authority. Honestly I do not know whether that is a learned behavior or something genetically innate. Perhaps a bit of both.

In my life, I have met people in leadership positions who seem to embody the ideals of "leadership". Those individuals are willing and able to think outside the box of traditional systems of value and judgment. They are typically empathic people who question their own judgment and reasoning, and that of others. Established systems of value and judgment label these individuals as "mavericks" when commenting positively on them, or "iconoclasts" and "reactionaries" when in derogation of them. Such leaders are seen as "flying by the seat of their pants", or as "followers of an inner moral/ethical compass" depending on how the commentator views the activities of these sorts of leaders.

I see this type of leader as being proactive by considering as many potential outcomes as they are able for every single circumstance or decision. They also seem to be able to react quickly to circumstances that most others view as unforeseen.

Within the national leadership "pool" in the U.S. I honestly do not see any of these people. Instead, I find the same worn-out, tired or outright backward ideas, and people attempting to pass them off as new and untarnished, in spite of the obvious fact that they are not new, and are deeply corroded.

When I look elsewhere in the world, I see the same. I see leadership unwilling or unable to revitalize their approach to problems, or only able to marginally do so. Arguably speaking, leadership throughout human history has been thus, but I might also argue that the best and most far reaching of ideas in human endeavor were produced or embraced by a very few leaders of industry and government with the grudging acceptance of the rest (at best).

In spite of some of his flaws, John F. Kennedy presented a technological challenge to the nation, and did so in such a way that it inspired people to step up to the challenge through sheer pride. Perhaps not the most altruistic of motivators, it is none the less a powerful one. Even though many believed JFK's challenge to be impossible to meet, certainly within the time-frame, and even though many of those detractors to the feasibility of the Apollo project were leaders in the aero-space industry, the young "mavericks" of the day, including those older people who never lost touch with their youthful ambition, were able to drag the rest, sometimes kicking and screaming, into making what most considered impossible at the time into a reality.

It's one paltry example from my own nation. The history of humanity is replete with such examples. Whether we love or hate his ethics, religious beliefs or goals, "Cristobal" Colombus was such a maverick. Piotr Alekseivich (aka Peter the Great) was another example. Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, Plato, Socrates, Archimedes, Sun Tzu, Lao Tsu, Mohandas Ghandi...I could go on and on...were all the sort of "out of the box" thinking, fly by the seat of your pants human leaders.

With scant few exceptions, I don't see any such types in leadership today. Where are such leaders? Apparently they're in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Siria. They are at Fermilab and CERN and a handful of other research institutes world-wide. They are "out there", but they're not in Washington D.C., or London, or Paris, Moscow, Beijing, New Deli......in essence, they are not in the places humanity desperately needs them the most.

Unless/until that changes, I cannot view the future of the human race without seeing wide-spread misery, destruction and death beyond all but the most fantastic nightmares of the past and present.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:18:36 UTC | #863767

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 27 by KenChimp

Comment 25 by Tirnamona :

I agree with KenChimp. This is a fascinating article full of interesting observations about the implications of a true scientific understanding for human society. The heart of the matter, I think, is this quote:

To the extent that natural science can inform the way we think about politics and economics, it undermines the view that human beings are, or could be, rational actors devoted to the common good, rather than emotion-driven, semi-rational cousins of chimps and gorillas. On this point the secular philosophers Hume and Hobbes are more convincing than Bentham, Dewey and Kurtz.

Our simian psychology has obvious implications for naive models of democracy, in which a neutral, rational public listens dispassionately to all sides before making up its hyperlogical collective mind. And it has implications as well for naive models of economics, in which consumers and producers perceive, think and act with computer-like accuracy.

I concur completely with your assessment of that being the heart of the matter. It was certainly what I understood the heart of the article to be.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:20:29 UTC | #863768

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 28 by KenChimp

Comment 24 by mjs31 :

The militantly anticlerical tone of the new atheism...

I don't know which of these terms I tire of hearing more; the term "new atheism" or the term "militant" in association with it. The fact that actual intellectuals can protest the idea of atheists having the audacity to have a discussion about whether or not religion is worth anyone's time is baffling to me, since most of them have obviously decided this for themselves.

What is wrong with militancy? It is a good term. An appropriate term. Although I loathe the political climate in the U.S. which has led to leadership declaring war on everything from terrorism to drugs to poverty, it is clear that some times, in order to promote good for the whole, you have to be willing and able to kick some ass, literally or figuratively.

Where would secularism be without people like Chris Hitchens? He's a radical, a maverick atheist. And he decided some time ago that it was "time to kick ass or chew bubble gum", and found he was "all out of gum."

;-D

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:27:20 UTC | #863770

matthew_1's Avatar Comment 29 by matthew_1

There seems to be a misunderstanding of science on all sides here. Science is about creating theories that fit facts, not about 'belief'. The theory of evolution appears to be consistent with observations made in genetics, and from fossils.

However, being science means that one has to accept that a new and different theory could be proposed that fits these observations even better (cf. Karl Popper).

Once you raise evolution to a 'belief' that cannot be argued against you are making a religion out of it. Science doesn't give you truth, it provides models that explain, and hopefully predict, the world. Neither Newtonian or relativistic physics are 'true' in the sense normally used when one believes in something, but they have been pretty good at explaining a lot of behaivours (but not all). Evolution is no different from that.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:28:47 UTC | #863772

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 30 by KenChimp

Comment 29 by matthew_1 :

There seems to be a misunderstanding of science on all sides here. Science is about creating theories that fit facts, not about 'belief'. The theory of evolution appears to be consistent with observations made in genetics, and from fossils.

However, being science means that one has to accept that a new and different theory could be proposed that fits these observations even better (cf. Karl Popper).

Once you raise evolution to a 'belief' that cannot be argued against you are making a religion out of it. Science doesn't give you truth, it provides models that explain, and hopefully predict, the world. Neither Newtonian or relativistic physics are 'true' in the sense normally used when one believes in something, but they have been pretty good at explaining a lot of behaivours (but not all). Evolution is no different from that.

Very good point.

It seems to me that there is a sense among non-scientists that the scientific community is snobbishly arrogant, and perhaps that is not entirely an unfair assessment.

That being said, I have to pay attention to the evidence, and the scientific community deals rather effectively with evidence. Those outside the scientific community, who tend to comment about science and scientific inquiry, do not deal very effectively with evidence.

Since this is arguably an accurate assessment, I have little reasonable choice but to conclude that arguments against consensus of the scientific community on scientific theory is irrelevant, regardless of the wishful thinking of faith-head "opinion" sharks and the political lampreys attached to them.

Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:51:45 UTC | #863781