The Ethics of Atheism – A Conversation with Dr Peter Boghossian

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Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio, discusses faith, reason, philosophy and religion with Dr Peter Boghossian (apologies for the odd video color)

Dr. Peter Boghossian’s main focus is bringing the tools of professional philosophers to people in a wide variety of contexts. Peter has a teaching pedigree spanning more than 20 years and 30 thousand students–in prisons, hospitals, public and private schools, seminaries, colleges and universities, Fortune 100 companies and small businesses. His fundamental objective is to teach people how to think through what often seem to be intractable problems.

Audio only link – listen to or download mp3

 

Written By: Stefan Molyneuxcontinue to source article at youtube.com

29 COMMENTS

  1. Oh no. Sad to see this posted here. I’m a fan of Peter but Stefan is a crack job nut. Just try and watch some of his other videos. Full of conspiracy paranoid delusions. I’m disappointed you are giving him publicity by posting here. 

  2. How disappointing that the interview opens with a diatribe against atheism by an interviwer who obviously has no undertanding of the meaning of the word.  Even more disappointing that Boghossian agrees with him, and runs a mile from any association with it.

  3. “Full of conspiracy and paranoid delusions.”

    It’s incredible to think that we might frequently come across a large population of theists, or organised gangs, and truly not even think for a second about these two terms (paranoid/delusions) in the same sense you intend them here, don’t you think? However I for one, personally, know for sure just how each of those things they truly are due the incessant nature of their decades long “willful ill intent” towards individuals whom do not fit their clique or more likely multi-cliques – which I consider to include multi-faiths as a subset or other of the leaderships of each.

    If I get the time I’ll spare it some listening time, a while later in the day.

  4. Thanks for your comments. 

    The words “atheism” and “atheist,” mean
    different things to different people. 
    Often times a criticism of atheism is actually a criticism of how the
    term is used, or how the term is defined. 
    It’s essential in these conversations to flesh out how the terms are
    used, so everyone will be on the same page. This is exactly what we were doing
    in the beginning of the interview.  

  5. I’m about 50 mins into this and having a break … no criticism implied.

    A couple of good points I haven’t heard before – first, a new (to me) God paradox from Stefan – if God is all powerful, he can change the future; but if God can change the future, he doesn’t know what is going to happen. Nice.

    The second point was about delusion – are the religious truly deluded? Peter says, some may be and gives an example of a snake handler who was recently killed. But then Stefan said – so you think he would have passed a lie detector test. Now that’s a thought – what question(s) would we choose to check the credentials of the religious?

  6. Speaking for myself I call myself an atheist when asked about my faith as quick and clear way to state I have no religious faith. If I used the term “critical thinker” I think that would not explain that, as most people think of them selves as critical thinkers even if they are not. 

    Actually, I am an agnostic atheist ( I don’t know / I don’t believe ) but I drop the term agnostic because it is misunderstood by most people who think its a declaration of neutrality.  Everybody is agnostic in once sense so the term is redundant.
    So atheist is the best label for me.
    However I would probably agree that atheism has in recent years been conflated to include things that it doesn’t describe such as accepting evolution or being a secularist / humanist.
    These are great things but they do not require atheism to subscribe to them.

  7. Stefan’s assertion that the ideologies of the thirties arose out of atheism rather than socio political events is the biggest load of shite I have heard in ages. 

    These events have causes that go back well into the nineteenth century. If you were listening you might notice he pushed in the old chest nut of fascism and Nazism were caused by atheism.
    Also he is pushing his political ideas down our throats. His assertion that communism was inherently bad and caused by lack of faith is his own political stance.
    You could just as easily point out that it was Stalin who corrupted the system which had promising beginnings ( under extreme pressure from capitalist states who wanted to bring it down) . And how is that different to any other dictator of the twentieth century? Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Sadam Hossein etc etc.
    Communism isn’t even ipso – facto atheist. There are plenty of religious communists in Middle and South America.
    I’m not a communist I should point out but I really resent anybody linking lack of faith to any political stance.

  8.  “A couple of good points I haven’t heard before – first, a new (to me)
    God paradox from Stefan – if God is all powerful, he can change the
    future; but if God can change the future, he doesn’t know what is going
    to happen. Nice.”

    That makes no sense to me. I see no problem with an omnipotent omniscient god being able to foresee all possible futures and change the present to create any future he desires while still knowing exactly what’s going to happen. Like a chess player who can see every possible move right to the end of every possible game and is still free to choose whichever of those games he wants to play.

    OK so there’s absolutely no fun in any of that if you can see every possible future which is perhaps why after allegedly creating the universe 6000 years ago he rapidly got bored with it as he knew everything that was going to happen and buggered off never to be seen again.

    In fact it’s hard not to feel sorry for the old dear. Can you imagine how mind numbingly boring existence must be if you know with absolute certainty everything that’s ever going to happen? Even if you tinker with the present it only changes things to a new but already totally predictable future. That sort of thing could drive a being into complete insanity where you might end up doing all kinds of crazy shit like oh I dunno, wiping out the whole of humanity in a giant flood for the sheer hell of it, killing all the firstborn just because you can or mandating complete bollocks like “gays are bad, m’kay and you gotta stone those nasty arse bandits to death if you come across one”.

    Would you bother to play chess if you could predict every possible move of every possible game?  How dull would poker be, or backgammon or roulette or even creating entire universes for sport? There isn’t a single tv program you haven’t already seen, no possibility of a conversation with a friend you don’t already know every word of, not the tiniest motion of any fundamental particle you can’t already predict and you know you’re stuck in this hell for eternity with no possibility of parole.

    So it’s pretty clear. If God is omnipotent and omniscient he must also be insane and probably drooling quietly to himself in a nice comfy padded cell he made somewhere. You know I think I’ve just explained all that weird stuff in the Old Testament. He’s just bat shit crazy – like most of his followers.

  9. Does the later discussion get better? I’m amazed that a professor of philosophy wouldn’t know the definition of atheism. Its not anti-theism its simply a belief that God doesn’t exist. Also, in general I find these discussions about which words to use pretty pointless. What is important is to define your terms. If you think atheism is used in a confusing way just say “in this talk when I say atheism I mean X” and move on. Anyone who has studied even a bit of linguistics (there is a good dicussion of this in Pinker’s The Blank Slate) knows that there is never one and only “correct” meaning for a word in a scientific sense. (I mean outside of a theoretical model of course) Its like the people who argue that “marriage” means in some objective sense a relation between a man and a woman, just because that is the way it was typically used in the past.

  10. I don’t know which part his statement are you disagreeing with, but I think the part where he said that the existence of atheism is dependent on theism is quite spot on. Atheism is the disbelief of the existence of God/gods. For disbelief to be possible, there needs to be the initial assertion, and in this case, obviously the assertion is that god/gods exist.

    So, by its very definition, Atheism is just a reaction against the the claim of god’s existence.

    We don’t know whether there had ever existed a time when no one believed in god/s, but through humanity’s recorded history, the idea of gods have always existed, even since the very first cuneiform was scribbled in Mesopotamia. Theism is the establishment and Atheism is the contrarian.

    Claiming to be Atheists limits us to be the mere opposite of theists and it doesn’t say anything about ourselves, our dreams, our morals or our aspirations. We all have those, as all living persons do, so why not define ourselves as what drives us instead of what we are not([A] theist)?

    I think all Atheist here have their own lives to live and the danger posed by religious ignorance is the only thing that created and sustained the Atheist identity. The goal for anyone here with the right mind should be to one day create a world where they don’t have to be an atheist anymore, a world where they can be themselves.

    For those who strongly identify themselves as an Atheist and could not see themselves as anything else, I suggest that they reevaluate their priorities. There are things worth doing in life, but is that all your life is worth?

  11. I’m with you on that. And them. I don’t care particularly for the word. And it makes a nice straw man for the faith heads to beat up on. The positions of evidence-based claims and rational thinking are much more important ideas. 

  12.  to Peter Boghossian:  The first words out of your mouth after he expressed his feelings about the word atheism, were “I think what you said is absolutely correct. ”  Sorry, professor, but that doesn’t sound like fleshing out how terms are used.  It sounds like you are already on the same page as the interviewer; that you think his definition is accurate.

    I agree with you when you say the words mean different things to different people, so it would have been helpful to say THAT in the interview, instead of immediately subscribing to one meaning.

    I hope you  spend some time asking people what the words mean to them and reporting on that, while giving up the notion that the subject was handled satisfactorily in this interview. 

    It was not.

  13. I have no idea why philosphophers have to “flesh out” the meaning of “atheist”. The meaning is crystal clear, i.e. the non belief in gods/God. Perhaps being a Brit, I have no appreciation of how the dirty word “atheist” is perceived in the USA? When I lived in the USA, (ok SF Bay Area some years ago), there was never any problem with being a non-believer. I’m happy to call myself an atheist, but I’m happier to describe myself as a materialist. My knowledge of the world comes through my, yes imperfect, senses. What other contact with the “external” universe is there?

    We all know that that Holy Joe has the only hotline to God!

  14.  I think you’re making a common mistake with the term atheist. It’s not a definition of who a person is, it just addresses one particular aspect of their life. I am athiest and I’m a lot of other things as well.

    As for the video, I think some people are being a little harsh here. I didn’t agree with everything I heard and I thought Molyneux seemed a little too fond of the sound of his own voice but, overall, I found it to be an interesting conversation.

  15. If you would re-read my post you’ see that I obviously know that atheism is just one particular aspect of certain people’s life. Yet, I don’t think that you can deny that there are people out there who’d consider atheism as the defining point of their identity.

    You, me and a few other people might see human beings as complex creatures possessing a tapestry of life’s aspects, but this might not be the reality everyone subscribe to. Emotional intelligence is a quality everyone possess to varying degree. Just because we treat others as complex individuals, it does not mean that they will reciprocate or even have the capacity to do so.

    “An Atheist”, like “a Christian”, is a declaration of identity, and it is also a label. Labels are used mainly to caricature a group of people by a particular aspect of their life which is turned into their Raison d’être. While theists are the ones who are the most prone to labeling godless folks as “Atheist”, some are actually wearing the Atheist label proudly as a sign of defiance. The problem with this is that those who are given labels or labeled themselves actually do start to embody the label they are given. We can find parallels of this in the minority cultures of US. African Americans who do not conform to the stereotype are considered as sell-outs and Asians who did poorly in maths are laughed at by their peers. The point is, even though the label “Atheist” cannot sufficiently define a person, there are still people who inflict the label upon themselves. This is a very easy trap to fall into, especially when faced by the opposite force. What I was trying to do in my previous post is to remind people to focus on the issues that are really important for them. 

  16.  

    Yes, I read your post and I think that you lend too much
    weight to the term “atheist”.

    You said this:

    “Claiming to be Atheists limits us to be the mere opposite of theists and it
    doesn’t say anything about ourselves, our dreams, our morals or our
    aspirations. We all have those, as all living persons do, so why not define
    ourselves as what drives us instead of what we are not([A] theist)?”

    I don’t know why you would think that anybody is limited by
    claiming to be atheist, it is simply a word that describes a position within
    the context of a debate about religion. It strikes me as a tall order to ask
    anyone to define themselves fully. It may be that there are some people who consider
    atheism to be the defining point of their identity but they don’t represent the
    majority – in fact, I can’t think of any, that I am familiar with.

    In the wide debate about religion, there is only one factor
    which is common to all atheists and that is atheism. An attempt to focus on
    other, perhaps more positive, driving forces will only serve to muddy the
    waters in a global conversation of great importance.

    It seems to me that the main problem with the term is that
    it’s widely misunderstood. I think that, rather than running away from the
    word, it would be more useful to press home the point that atheism is a lack of
    belief in gods, rather than a statement that they don’t exist.

    I have taken to describing myself as an agnostic atheist,
    when asked, and this seems to have the effect of provoking a discussion about
    terminology which allows me to make my position clear. Perhaps something like
    this would be a good habit to get into. I would be interested to hear anybody
    else’s thoughts on the matter.

    I’m not trying to have a go at you here, by the way, I just
    don’t agree with the point you are making.

  17. Look, you’re free to disagree, but I have the right to defend my points too. That’s just how discussions work.

    There are 2 things here I want to cast the spotlight on. First is the definition of the word “Atheist” and the second is the “Atheist identity”.

    You claim that the term atheism is wildly misunderstood. Yet your definition of atheism is contrary to some dictionary and encyclopedia definitions which includes the “denial” component of atheism.
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/to
    http://dictionary.reference.co

    I will not say that your definition is wrong, but it demonstrates that even atheists, or people who identify themselves as atheists in it myriads of ways, disagree with the meaning of the word atheist. Atheists, like any other person is susceptible to the effects of being stereotyped and being labelled and to conform to it. If you think that atheists have never though about how their daily lives should be consistent with their atheist identity, then I say that you’re out of touch with the general atheist community out there.

    Look at my local Atheist Choir group:
    http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ath

    Also, look at this question from a random atheist on the net:
    http://www.atheistnexus.org/pr

    Being an atheist does not make anyone special, nor does it make anyone immune from social forces.

    It is a fallacy to think that just because you never tried to conform to your atheist identity, no one else does.

  18.  There’s no need to be patronising about this. We’re having a discussion, aren’t we?

    And you haven’t addressed the point that atheism is the only factor common to all atheists. Trying to shoehorn in some other motivation will serve only to alienate some of the people who share concerns about the effect of religion on the world.

  19. “atheism is the only factor common to all atheists.”

    I did not address it because it’s a tautology. Maybe what you’re trying to say is that the only common factor between all atheists is their disbelief or denial of God, thus anything else must not be considered relevant in the context of the atheist movement.

    If that’s what you’re trying to say, then it’s a fair opinion. I do not completely agree with it, but I can see its merit.

    I don’t know what gives you the idea that I am trying to shoehorn some other motivations or qualities into the atheist identity, all I’ve been saying is that there are more important things in life than promoting atheism. Maybe you are assuming that I am prescribing atheists to work towards other goals besides combating religious fundamentalism. Well, that would only be half right. I want atheists to pursue the things they consider to be more important in life as INDIVIDUALS. I am not trying to steal the rein of the atheist movement to drive them towards some arbitrary goal if that’s what you’re worried about.

  20. There may have been great advances in medicine, engineering etc. over the last 200 years but I would argue that the pace is slowing down. Maybe it simply startedx to slow down for philosophy a long time ago. After all, philosophy started much earlier than these other disciplines.

  21. Wow, I can’t believe the majority of comments on this ENTIRE discussion, are about the term “atheism”. Really people? Can we move on? Christ, I thought Sam Harris buried this issue 5 years ago.

  22. Yes, and while we engage in these arcane debates, the religious right continues to make great strides in promoting their agenda. Like, carving out special privledges in law and destroying public education. See Sean Faircloth’s book and posts on this site for details. Please, let’s stop the infighting before we totally lose our Secular America

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