Still Stuck on Stupid

Discussion in 'Critical Discussions Among Proponents and Skeptics' started by DominicBunnell, Mar 14, 2014.

  1. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    I've just listened to the latest episode of Skeptiko with David Lane, and my favourite part of the whole interview was when Lane silenced Alex with the question "What's wrong with being made of matter?" Lane also deserves great credit for suggesting that the violence in the world has more to do with capitalism and the state than with atheism or scientific materialism.

    Anyway, let's get back to my main issue with Alex and Skeptiko. Yet again, Alex is claiming, without evidence, that mainstream skepticism and scientific materialism are propping up the techno-capitalist-militarist industrial complex and encouraging violence, greed and selfishness. He's now talking about materialism as being the 'tip of the spear'.

    We can all agree that mainstream skeptics are conservative and support the status quo when it comes to science. This is almost the definition of a mainstream skeptic. The question at issue is whether mainstream skepticism also supports the economic, political and ethical status quo. If we look at the big names in skepticism like Sagan, Randi, Shermer and Piggliucci, we can see that it's simply not true that these people always support the status quo across the board. Indeed, one of the most popular political/ethical ideologies with skeptics is libertarianism, according to which we should get rid of both the warfare state and the welfare state and legalize drugs and prostitution. You also have animal rights activists, environmentalists and socialists, none of whom can be said to support the status quo.

    So what Alex has here is a wild conspiracy theory, and moreover it's completely unfalsifiable. If I came up with some atheists or materialists who were against war, consumerism, technology-worship and greed, he would just say that deep down they were spiritual people and not really materialists. And likewise if I came up with some believers in the afterlife and psi who did support war, greed and selfishness, he would just say that they were not truly spiritual people.

    I know I'm never going to change Alex's mind about any of this, but I hope other people can see what I'm getting at. Skeptiko is still 'stuck on stupid'.
     
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  2. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    One other thing.

    A lot of people on this forum seem to agree with Alex that it's just obvious that the biologial robot meme will produce more violence, greed and selfishness in the world. This is confused on so many levels that I hardly know where to start.

    For one thing, it seems to me that genuine cruelty and sadism require that we are not biological robots. The sadist enjoys inflicting pain on others and watching others suffer precisely because he knows that they are conscious beings who can experience intense pain and pleasure.

    What would I do if I really believed I was a biological robot? Probably nothing, since I wouldn't value or care about anything. There's no reason to think that the biological robot metaphor goes naturally with war or consumerism.

    If you look at the history of state violence, you see a lot of racism and dehumanization of people in distant lands, but you certainly don't see the idea that we're all biological robots! I just don't see what the connection is meant to be here. The idea that we're all biological robots may well be very stupid and wrong, but Alex's conspiracy theory linking it to violence and capitalism makes no sense at all. If the idea was that those people in distant lands are biological robots but we're not, then yeah, Alex might have a point, but nobody has ever said that.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2014
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  3. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    I think what Alex is getting at is that for political and economic goals to shift would require not just one or two individuals with, shall we say 'enlightened' views, but a critical mass. Such a critical mass is unlikely to be achieved under the current dominant worldview, and it would first be necessary to lay the foundations by altering what is considered "obvious" or "commonsense" so that the baseline from which society measures its goals and achievements would itself be shifted.

    As for the interview, the fact that the interviewee was willing and able to engage with the subject and enter into a meaningful debate should be counted as a success, rather than interpreted from the rather negative perspective of "that shut Alex up". At any rate, more interviews with this degree of interaction would be welcome.
     
  4. Iyace

    Iyace Member

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    Is Dominic still stuck on this stupidity?
     
  5. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Believe me, this is just as boring for me as it is for you. I feel I have to keep on thinking of slightly different ways of saying the same thing. I've already successfully critiqued Alex's views many times, and he's even pretty much admitted this in the past, and yet he keeps on coming out with the same stuff even now. It's really bizarre.
     
  6. Iyace

    Iyace Member

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    Maybe he doesn't find your critique valid?

    Maybe just because you disagree with someone, doesn't mean that their view will be changed?
     
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  7. I think Alex would agree being an M1 materialist (aka skeptic) doesn't automatically mean you're an M2 materialist (greedy, consumer driven). He also seems to be a critic of religious fundamentalism, as anyone who watched the Twin Towers fall would be.

    However, Alex certainly isn't the only person who thinks M1 leads to M2, or that mass belief in M1 would ultimately lead to some kind of dystopian M2 state.
     
  8. Arouet

    Arouet Member

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    Is this what you mean by distopia (from wiki): "A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening."?

    Why would you think materialists by any definition would want to live in such a society?
     
  9. Wanting to live in such a society and providing the fertile soil in which such a society arises are two different things.
     
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  10. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Yes, I know Alex isn't the only person here who believes this stuff. If he was the only one, then maybe I could just let it go.

    Here I'm going to lay out a couple of the main points I strongly disagree with.

    1. The fact that mainstream skeptics are conservative and always support the status quo when it comes to science means that they will also be likely to support the status quo in politics, economics and ethics.

    -- If you actually read people like Sagan and Pigliucci they make it very clear that going with the mainstream position ONLY applies to science. These guys believe that we should go with the experts on climate change or big bang cosmology, but that certainly doesn't mean that we should just follow whatever the government says about consumerism, capitalism, drugs, sexual morality or war. They think we should 'go with science' wherever possible because it's proven itself historically. But the question whether it was right to invade Iraq is not a scientific question. It's a philosophical/ethical question. The same goes for questions about capitalism, sexual morality and all the rest. Scientific evidence may be relevant, but science alone cannot answer these questions.

    2. If people come to believe that we are all 'biological robots', then this will have disastrous consequences for the world.

    -- First of all, it's obvious that Alex has never read Dawkins or Dennett. All he ever does is pick up on a few silly-sounding metaphors they've used in the past. These guys both love using thought experiments, or what Dennett likes to call 'intuition pumps', and they use lots of colorful stories and metaphors in their writing. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that Alex's characterization of their views is correct when it comes to biological robots and selfish genes.

    Do we have any reason to think that widespread acceptance of the belief that we're all biological robots would lead to more war, greed and selfishness in the world? As I've said above, widespread acceptance of the view that people in other countries are biological robots but we're fully free and conscious beings could perhaps be used to justify bombing them or whatever. But the idea that we are ALL biological robots wouldn't seem to provide any such justification. Moreoever, the followers of Dawkins and Dennett seem to care about their family, friends and projects just like anyone else, and feel empathy when they see others suffering just like anyone else.

    So yes, Dennett and Dawkins may be completely wrong about free-will and consciousness, but what I'm objecting to is the idea that their views somehow uniquely justify or encourage invading foreign lands, bombing and torturing people, and shop-until-you-drop consumerism. We've had war, greed and selfishness for thousands of years, and almost every religious or philosophical ideology has been used to justify these things, but it would be wrong to say that any of these ideologies was the root cause of the violence.

    Ultimately, Alex has a utopian vision. Utopian thinkers believe that everything in the world will be OK if we just do one thing. Marxists think we just need to get rid of capitalism, Anarchists think we just need to get rid of the state, and Libertarians think we just need to have unregulated free-market capitalism everywhere. Alex, however, thinks that everything in the world will be OK if everyone just comes to see that we're all connected to each other and that psi and the afterlife are real.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014
  11. bishop

    bishop Member

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    What's the connection between this and Atheist/Theists debates? If you've ever listened to a podcast like "Unbelievable" the theistic debate points are an exact duplicate. For example:

    1. Without God there can be no morality, and no moral standard.
    2. Atheists aren't inherently bad, but what's stopping them from torturing babies?

    Is it fair to say that a belief in God, be it within organized religion or not, and the concept that "Consciousness is fundamental" are basically the same thing?
     
  12. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Sciborg, your position, as I understand it, is that widespread rejection of contra-causal free will will result in more crime, violence and immorality. I think you're probably wrong about that, but obviously it's an empirical question.

    I have to say, though, that this is not a wild conspiracy theory in the way that Alex's is. Your position is much more precise. You're not making big claims about atheism or materialism in general.
     
  13. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Yeah, there's not much difference, and that's why I often compare Alex to William Lane Craig. They both have a strong prejudice against atheism and materialism, and they both have a fondness for quoting atheists like Camus to try to show how everything is meaningless if atheism is true.

    The whole theist/atheist debate is always stuck on stupid. You have atheists like Hitchens arguing that 'religion poisons everything' and Christians arguing that atheism and materialism produce all the evils in the world. They then start comparing the numbers killed by atheists with those killed by religious people, and finally the atheists will talk about how happy secular Scandinavia is and the theists will produce statistics showing that atheists are more likely to commit suicide. It's embarrassing that smart people are still arguing in this way.

    But yes, I've listened to 'Unbelievable' many times. It's a great show.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014
  14. Arouet

    Arouet Member

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    Most philosophies can be twisted multiple ways, including immaterialist ones. Fertile ground is cultivated by people, using the tools they have available, including metaphysics. There aren't that many that can't be promoted positively or negatively (regardless of what one considers to be positive or negative.)
     
  15. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Another popular stuck-on-stupid debate that atheists and theists like to engage in goes something like this:

    Atheist -- We atheists can have meaning and value in our lives even if there is no God and no afterlife. We love our family, friends and projects, feel empathy for others and have a sense of justice, and feel we ought to try to make the world as peaceful and happy as possible.

    Theist -- Yeah, but that's really just pseudo meaning and pseudo value. To have true/objective/absolute/real meaning and value you must have a God and an afterlife. As Dostoevsky said, "If there's no God then everything is permitted."

    And they go on and on like this for hours, getting nowhere. I reckon Alex would be siding with the theist in this ridiculous debate.
     
  16. Iyace

    Iyace Member

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    Can you prove that an atheist has moral conviction?
     
  17. bishop

    bishop Member

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    This is where the conversation starts spinning in circles, at least typically. How does a theist prove they have moral conviction?
     
  18. Iyace

    Iyace Member

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    But thats my point. Here, on this forum, we talk about anecdotes and subjective experiences. It seems that in many ways, we're supposed to blindly accept when people say ' I feel or experience this ', but when it comes to psi, etc, those experiences are open to interpretation.

    How is that fair?
     
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  19. bishop

    bishop Member

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    I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Forgive the basic terms here, but are you saying that non believers often question proponents on their experiences, but proponents aren't "allowed" to question non believers?
     
  20. Iyace

    Iyace Member

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    Exactly. That proponents are expected to simply ' trust ' that atheists actually do feel compassion, morality, etc. However, when it comes to a proponents experiences and feelings, then those are subject to intense scrutiny. How often does steve001 point out that proponents ' need to believe ' because of ' fear of death '. Why then, is our word that those aren't the case any less potent than an atheist saying they are capable of compassion or morality?
     
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