Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Atheist "Ethics"

[John Stuart Mill utilitarian and  atheist]

A common ethical system claimed by atheists is "utilitarianism" - in essence the belief that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.

A recent psychological study seems to indicate that utilitarians were often psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless. I guess that's not very surprising, since they probably were often atheists as well.   


natschuster said...

Here's a study linking atheism and autism:


ksil said...

all of these people were no doubt raised with (strict) religion... as most were back in those days - i would imagine finding out that its all bullshit one day could push one to over the edge, to varying degrees.

the leaders of the churches/synogogues that peddles this stuff should be ashamed of themselves.

jewish philosopher said...

Nope. It's simple. Atheist = psychopath.

natschuster said...


People don't "become" autistic. It is a congenital defeect. So maybe atheists really can't help being atheists.

Oy Vey said...

"Nope. It's simple. Atheist = psychopath"

So many cliches come to mind, especially about pots and kettles, and it taking one to know one.

Oy Vey said...

"A utilitarian, for example, might approve of the occasional torture of suspected terrorists—for the greater happiness of everyone else, you understand."

The above is offered in the article as proof that utilitarians are not nice and it is the basis of the JP equation above.

Jewish law proscribes that if a person commits a relatively minor offense, hurting no one, for instance he counts his animals incorrectly or measures his grain inaccurately or he lit a candle on the Sabbath, he can be put to death horribly, be beaten within an inch of his life, or be beaten, healed and beaten within an inch of his life again, multiple times. That is if his acts are forbidden in the Torah.

If he transgresses a mere Rabbinic decree, even if that decree is there only to distance people from a Torah prohibition, and he violated the decree, or the Rabbis merely woke up one morning and decided that the people were weak in some matter, and they need to be forced to "strengthen themselves" in some commandment, the Rabbis may torture him in any number of ways that the torah does not prescribe. This is known as "makat mardut", and can include beatings, even to death, extended jail sentencing, or anything the Rabbis deem fit, including Medieval torture.

Yet, somehow, the atheists are psychopaths, because they MIGHT justify torturing terrorists in some rare instances. (For instance, testimony indicated that only 3 suspects were waterboarded, including KSM, a man suspected of having knowledge of ongoing operations.)

JP, you and natschuster by yourselves (if you are not the same person), are material enough for a budding psychiatrist's doctoral thesis.

jewish philosopher said...

The fact is that orthodox Jews are generally pretty nice.




Atheists, not so much.




Jeff said...

Overall the world has become less religious in the past 2000 years.

At the same time it has become less violent


So if your thesis is that somehow non-belief encourages violence, it goes against the evidence.

jewish philosopher said...

Pinker seems to choosing to mention only certain specific facts which support his thesis while ignoring others.

First of all, the recent general world peace since 1945 has been the result of massive military spending by the United States to enforce that peace. It's an anomaly. With the US now almost bankrupt, we'll see what happens in the next 65 years.


Secondly, China, a basically atheist state, includes about 20% of all humans and seems to be a little weak on human rights.


In an other aggressively secular state, Russia, human rights are currently collapsing.


And by the way, slavery, supposedly abolished, is actually more common today than ever.


So I don't quite see a reason to break out the champagne just yet and celebrate atheism's defeat of war, oppression and crime.

Oy vey said...

"Pinker seems to choosing to mention only certain specific facts which support his thesis while ignoring others."

More pots and kettles.

jewish philosopher said...

Where am I deceptive?

Anonymous said...

With regards to Pinker's theories of violence and world history, read last week's New Yorker and its review on this subject.

jewish philosopher said...

The book has generated mixed reviews.

The New Yorker review is here, and seems to agree with me


The Wall Street Journal thought it was OK


The Guardian liked it


Publisher's Weekly wasn't too excited


It seems to boil down to a question of whether the Enlightenment really enlightened us, and Fascism and Communism were just a brief slip, or perhaps not. 

natschuster said...

Oy Vey:

Atheists, e.g. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Song Il, etc. etc. etc. don't just justify torturing three people, they kill tens of millions of people for any reason, or for no reason at all. Rabbis never killed that many people. I'm sorry, but the numbers are against Atheists.

Jeff said...

"Communism were just a brief slip, or perhaps not. "

Excuse me, communism (as a political system) is still alive and well in China and Vietnam. Although individual rights are not a priority, they have very low homocide rates


jewish philosopher said...

As I understand it, Pinker's opinion is that the mass killings of Communism


are a small exception to the rule that as humans become more educated, we become more peaceful. Somehow literacy and science alter the human personality in a positive way, making us kinder and gentler.

My biggest problem with that startling concept is Nazism. According to Pinker, the German people (highly literate and scientific) should have recoiled in horror from the idea of launching a war of aggression and persecuting harmless minorities. Of course, that wasn't the case.

Jeff said...

Nazism is indeed startling. However you oversimplify Pinker's thesis by stating "as humans become more educated, we become more peaceful"

Its more than education or literacy (although that seemingly plays a role). Its also organized government/society, its communication and connectedness, and increased standard of living. Society somehow becomes less tolerant of unabashed violence, even outside of one's own community. An interesting point is that perhaps 300-400 years ago, Nazi crimes would have been relatively un-noticed by the world. The world certainly would not have awarded Jews their own country, out of guilt. Slaughters were routine. Even if somebody heard about mass murder 1000 miles away, he didn't have it broadcasted daily into his living room and have facebook posts.

Actually, on the question of why this change occurred, Pinker leaves it open. Also, I agree with you that all is not rosy. Iran or Al Qeeda could get a nuclear weapon and threaten the world. The "Arab Spring", about which Tom Friedman waxed so romantically, has turned into a bunch of civil wars. Also, Pinker clearly states that human nature itself has not changed. Society has changed. And it is society and culture that governs and restrains human behaviour.

Jeff said...

Another issue is that your post is essentially a red herring. One researcher's opinion about utilitarian's personalities has little to do with the ethics or validity of atheism or utilitarianism. This would be like me inferring that because some Republicans are mean or wealthy, that conservative philosophy is somehow wrong or immoral.

jewish philosopher said...

I really can't agree that technology has a positive ethical effect. Technology is neutral. A gun can be used by a police officer to defend the innocent. It can also be used by a psychopath to kill random strangers. Nuclear technology can produce clean energy saving the planet from global warming. It can also produce nuclear weapons which will wipe out most terrestrial life. Modern communications can be used to promote dissent and democracy or to crush dissidents and democracy.

"Nazi crimes would have been relatively un-noticed by the world."

That's actually not true. Even in the darkest days of the Crusades and Inquisition, there was no plan to exterminate all European Jewry. The Dominican friars were models of liberalism compared to the SS.  

Pinker seems to somewhat naively believe that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
and the United States Bill of Rights
both adopted on almost the same day in 1789, signaled the beginning of the end of all violence and injustice and the dawn of a Godless utopia. He has to work hard to explain away hundreds of millions of murders since 1789 to support this controversial conclusion.

"One researcher's opinion about utilitarian's personalities has little to do with the ethics or validity of atheism or utilitarianism."

Why not? How many researchers are needed before I can quote them?   

Jeff said...

"Why not? How many researchers are needed before I can quote them? "

Its not the number of researchers. Its that the personalities (notwithstanding the methodological issues of the study) doesn't have anything to do with the validity of the ethical system, as a basis for law and society. The article itself points this out at the end.

"That's actually not true. Even in the darkest days of the Crusades and Inquisition"

The point is that nobody else cared. The church got no bad press, unlike the Nazis. Same with the Russian pogroms, or Stalin's purges.

Having said that, I agree with you that technology is neutral. However it does bring otherwise distant people closer together, for better or for worse. Also, the chenge that Pinker talks about is clearly not a striaght line. I wonder what he would say about the slaughters in Rwanda.

jewish philosopher said...

I think this article confirms my suspicions that utilitarianism is basically a scam invented by atheists to claim that they are just as nice as Jews and Christians.

Stalin and Hitler and Mao were also not harshly condemned while they were alive.

Besides Rwanda, how about Darfur. The Congo and Colombia also are not really beacons of brotherly love. In Mexico disemboweled and decapitated people seem to be littering the streets on a regular basis. It goes on and on. I'm not sure how solid Pinker's answer is that today the world population is 7 billion and a thousand years ago it was only 400 million therefore it takes 18 murders today to equal one medieval murder. Killing a thousand people today therefore is as destructive as killing merely 50 in the middle ages, so based on that we're improving.   

Jeff said...

"Killing a thousand people today therefore is as destructive as killing merely 50 in the middle ages, so based on that we're improving."

This is an interesting and valid objection. Really, but my only answer is that you have no choice, because when you look at any social or biological phenomenon, you have to use rates and not absolute numbers. There is otherwise no basis for comparison between different times, populations and places. Imagine comparing the number of murders in the metro NY area and that of a small town in upstate NY. It wouldn't give you a real picture. Sometimes the legitimate question arises as to which denominator to use in the rate, but you've got to use a rate. Murder rates, disease rates or whatever.

Perhaps at a metaphysical level you are right. The value of a life is no different between times, and therefore more people dying is worse then fewer. But if you are looking from a point of view of a social phenomenon, you can't use absolute numbers.

I haven't read the book, and I don't know if Pinker has in fact taken into account the massacres you mentioned.

BTW what does Pinkers argument have to do with utilitarianism?

jewish philosopher said...

You brought up Pinker


My question is, are the homicide rates really getting better? Is the average person today less likely to kill someone than the average person 1,000 years ago?

As I write this a mass grave is being excavated in Libya.

About 150,000 have been killed by various people in Iraq between 2003 and 2010, basically thanks to our heroic President Bush.

200,000 are being tortured to death in North Korea

Even if we divide all the numbers by 18, I'm not sure we're making progress. My inclination is to say nothing's really changed. Without the fear of God and a belief in a humanitarian God given law, we are naturally violent, similar to chimpanzees. We have killed, do kill, will kill.  

jewish philosopher said...

Also, if you want to include the billion abortions performed in the past century as homicides, things look a little less rosy.


Jeff said...

"Is the average person today less likely to kill someone than the average person 1,000 years ago?"

I would rephrase the question as:

"Is the average person today less likely to die at the hands of another person than he was 1000 years ago". Likelihood is expressed in percentages, which is by definition a rate.

"Also, if you want to include the billion abortions performed in the past century as homicides, things look a little less rosy."

If you do, then you should include all of the unconceived babies due to the genocides thousands of years ago.

jewish philosopher said...

Well if Pinker wants to include the abolition of slavery, the abolition of anti- sodomy laws, the abolition of the death penalty and the increasing popularity of vegetarianism as signs that we are getting more peaceful, which he does


I don't see why legalized abortion should not be a sign that we are becoming more violent. You could also count draconian laws against illegal drugs and sex with minors as increasing violence. And while remote roadways may be much safer today than they were a couple of centuries ago, and schools now prohibit corporeal punishment, prisons may be far more violent than they were previously.

I think he is simply choosing data which supports his theory and ignoring data which doesn't. I don't think the Enlightenment did much enlightening. I doubt anything has really changed. 

jewish philosopher said...

Incidentally, Pinker's optimism about "the Long Peace" since 1945 reminds me very very much of Woodrow Wilson, who famously said of World War I  "This is a war to end all wars."

I'm afraid I'm inclined to agree more with George Santayana who countered "Only the dead have seen the end of war."


In retrospect, who turned out to be more correct?

Jeff said...

Going back to the original subject of the post...

Religious ethics tend to be more tribal, particularist, ethno-centric, and tend to distinguish between the "us" and the "other"

Secular/atheist ethics tend to be more universalist, stressing equality and fairness.

Jews were a small, oppressed, vulnerable and relatively powerless minority for most of their history. Thus, their ethics devoloped in this context-- non-aggressive but highly defensive, suspicious of outsiders, and protecting their own.

When you try to compare the Jewish form of religious ethics to a political philosophy like utilitarianism, which is intended for a wider empowered government and legal system, you are comparing apples and oranges. You can't apply the same principles of running a synagogue to running a country.

I think you can't really judge what is "better" or worse, since these are two completely different domains, which can co-oexist. For example you can have a democratic government and legal system, and superimposed on that, in a particular community, have a religious ethical/moral layer; the two are not mutually exclusive.

jewish philosopher said...

My belief is that utilitarianism is simply a scam. In other words, atheists really have no ethics, other than some remnant inherited from their ancestors.


Without God everything is permitted.

However to admit to being a psychopath is embarrassing. Therefore atheists have invented ideas like utilitarianism. 

Abe said...

...While there is no exact figures on how many people in Israel utilize the services of sex workers in Israel, Atzum estimates that up to 10,000 men each month visit one of the hundreds of discreet apartments or brothels throughout the country. Of those, Lauer said that roughly 25-35 percent are from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community; 25-35% are Arab; 8- 10% are foreign workers and the rest are from the rest of Israeli society...


Oh my! It seems that even with god, his edicts and injunctions are easily dismissed. It appears that the chareidim are as psychopathicaly seduced by the lure of unbearable urges that regularly overwhelm their pietistic

jewish philosopher said...

Well, 2,500 men from community of well over half a million isn't a huge percentage. Do the math. Maybe they're secret skeptics?

Anyway, at least they're paying. Secular Jews seem to prefer to economize and just grab women.



natschuster said...


Would those secular/atheist ethics be those utilized by Stalin and Mao? Or would they be some sort of hedonism? Objectivism? Thes are all universal.

What is the basis for secular/atheist ethics in logic, reason, or science, anyway?

I do seem to recall that the Torah does say that Jews are suppose to be nice Egyptians, Moabites, and other nations. Sounds pretty universal to me.

Jeff said...

Jeff has left a new comment on your post "Atheist "Ethics"":

"2,500 men from community of well over half a million isn't a huge percentage."

Hmm, so now, the rate matters? Why don't you say, "thousands of heredi men" visit brothels, more than ever, like you do with violence?

And, BTW, if the heredi population is say half a million, we can guess that maybe 15% are adult men, right? so 2500/75000 is 3.3%. So in a street block of 100 families, 3 of the men are double dipping. That's much higher than among secular Jews, according to the reference Abe quoted above.

"Secular Jews seem to prefer to economize and just grab women."

Like Rabbi Badani


jewish philosopher said...

With about 600,000 ultra orthodox Jews in Israel, 


2500 works out to be .4 % of the total or perhaps 1.6% of males over 13. This may be about the number of "hidden skeptics" in the population. 

Bidany completed rabbinical training but does not serve as a rabbi. He now studies at a yeshiva and help runs a soup kitchen in Israel.


He's not any sort of leader in the orthodox community, so the "rabbi" title is a little misleading.

Secondly, he was convicted of touching a fully clothed adult woman. Katzav and DSK seem to go a little further. 

Jeff said...

"Bidany completed rabbinical training but does not serve as a rabbi."

I know I'm not proving anything and its a silly argument. I was just responding to your anecdotal proof from Katzav. Proof by example is the weakest argument there is.

"perhaps 1.6% of males over 13."

One can always argue over the denominator, but the usual guideline for a rate denominator is "people at risk". So 13 year olds and 80 year olds in nursing homes, probably aren't very relavant. But its really a guess, since I don't have population distribution figures.

AS far as hidden skeptics, what makes you think only Heredim who violate sexual rules are skeptics? I expect that the skeptic rate is much higher!

jewish philosopher said...

Skeptics themselves write about how their sexual acting out often preceded the philosophical issues. Check out places like Abandoning Eden and unpious.com.

Here's another interesting example.