Observations

If the sight of British youths mindlessly burning down the homes of mothers and their children doesn’t kill the notion in some atheist’s minds that humans are inherently cooperative and altruistic, I don’t know what will.

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20 Responses to Observations

  1. People are naturally altruistic and cooperative.

    They are not, however, perfect.

  2. jackhudson says:

    The problem with saying that is that in human history we have as many examples (probably more, I would argue) of violence and selfishness as we do altruism and cooperation.

    At best then we might say both are ‘natural’ to us – though there seems to be no indication we are inclined to altruism and cooperation apart from specific and intentional guidance by society and our families.

  3. “The problem with saying that is that in human history we have as many examples (probably more, I would argue) of violence and selfishness as we do altruism and cooperation. ”

    That’s because those are the interesting bits that make the history books. Nobody writes about the pleasant village who helps everyone and never gets into battles.

  4. jackhudson says:

    I think there are plenty of writings about the development of civilization and agriculture and so forth. We can survey societies now – and conflict seems to persist apart from specific efforts to minimize it.

  5. Nate says:

    It seems to me that the most altruistic, successful societies also tend to be quite violent, at least externally. Also tending to not be very cooperative.

  6. kenetiks says:

    Haven’t we been over this?

    Is your sentiment that because sometimes people behave badly that we should just take the word of the faithful?

    Or is this simply commentary on human behavior?

  7. Nate says:

    To me its why I stay armed. The government is not duty bound to protect you, indeed the government in the UK seems completely unable, whatever their duties or desires are over there.

    Attempts to burn my house down or pilfer its contents will be met with bits of metal going wicked fast.

  8. jackhudson says:

    Is your sentiment that because sometimes people behave badly that we should just take the word of the faithful?

    I am not sure how you got that out of it. Obviously human behavior comports with the Christian notion that we are inclined to do evil, but one doesn’t need to believe the Bible to see that for oneself.

    Or is this simply commentary on human behavior?

    I thought the statement was fairly clear – events such as the British riots should cause atheists to relinquish the notion that humans are inherently altruistic or cooperative.

  9. Tristan Vick says:

    Atheists don’t believe all people are altruistic or cooperative–but rather, we believe everyone has the capacity to be, meaning their is a potential for a better world.

    You are talking making a observation of mob-mentality, which deals with human behavior and psychology, and then blaming these behavior and psychological short comings on atheism?! Is their no end to your callousness?

    At least when we blame religious people for religiously motivated acts of violence, we are justified in the criticism! My jaw hit the ground in utter stupefaction when I read this post.

    Your claim is just as stupid as if I were to say something like,

    “Because people have tried to have sex with octopuses, this proves all humans are depraved lunatics, and if this doesn’t kill the notion in some atheist’s minds that humans are inherently decent animal lovers, I don’t know what will.”

    I hope you can see your claim is exactly like this. If not, then I’m afraid you’re completely hopeless.

  10. Tristan Vick says:

    *Edit*

    Atheists don’t (all) believe all people are altruistic or cooperative–but rather, we believe everyone has the capacity to be, meaning there is a potential for a better world where people are altruistic and cooperate.

    You are talking about making an observation with regard to mob-mentality, which deals with human behavior and psychology, and then blaming these behavior and psychological short comings on atheism?! Is their no end to your callousness?

    At least when we blame religious people for religiously motivated acts of violence, we are justified in the criticism! My jaw hit the ground in utter stupefaction when I read this post.

    Your claim is just as stupid as if I were to say something like,

    “Because people have tried to have sex with octopuses, this proves all humans are depraved lunatics, and if this doesn’t kill the notion in some atheist’s minds that humans are inherently decent animal lovers, I don’t know what will.”

    I hope you can see your claim is exactly like this. If not, then I’m afraid you’re completely hopeless.

  11. jackhudson says:

    Tristan, I am beginning to believe you no longer read these posts, but merely respond with histrionics because the word ‘atheist’ is in the post.

    No where did I say atheism or atheists caused the British riots, so you can pick up your jaw, open your eyes, and utilize the English education you claim to have.

  12. Tristan Vick says:

    I didn’t say that you blamed the events on atheism.

    Your claim was that the atheist’s belief in human solidarity and altruism is proved false by a few miscreants.

    Therefore, you are, in a sense, blaming the shortcomings on atheism (which is why I phrased it that way–however, I admit, I should have probably stated it more clearly).

    Shortcomings here entails the failure to provide a moral grounds for proper moral behavior and healthy psychology–as you often make a habit of pointing out. Even so, as we both know, atheism is not a philosophy equipped to provide any moral foundation (morals are derived by atheists from other sources/philosophies/ethics).

    There may be moral benefits to becoming atheist, but this is a discussion for another time.

    What you have done here, however, is looked at one example where a few miscreants act badly, and say, see there, atheists are wrong about this human solidarity and altruism crap!

    But the main problem with your example, is that although altruism and human solidarity are a large part of Ethical Naturalism, they are not the only factors which form the the naturalistic moral foundation of most atheists.

    Also, there are extenuating circumstances at play with regard to why these youths acted out in the first place. You can’t cite it as proof of the absence of human solidarity and altruism when there are hundreds of counter examples which falsify your claim.

    Cases of altruism are reported quite frequently, and cases of human solidarity, and humans working together for a better good, are common as well. Altruism is validated by science, proving that it is a genuine phenomenon, not to mention a real ethical intuition programmed into us biologically.

    As such, to say that this incident kills any possibility of entertaining the notion that human can be altruistic or exhibit human solidarity is completely false.

    I’ll cite a recent example. I saw a truck stop the other day to help a person change a flat tire. Did he have to do that? No. But he did.

    Altruism–yes, human solidarity–yes. Ah, you see Jack, one example falsifies your entire claim!!! It appears people do tend to exhibit the innate qualities of altruism and human solidarity.

    At best, citing miscreants acting badly is an example of one minority group, of one select demographic, of one particular culture, failing to listen to their innate moral sense–but it does not denote the failure of the atheist to recognize that altruism and human solidarity are real factors which inform our ethical intuition.

    ***

    As for the last bit, I can only assume you’re mocking my intelligence, and shifting the topic, a diversionary tactic you rely on so much it has become predictable. Very mature.

    But you’re not actually pointing out any faulty reasoning with regard to my objections–other than claiming I claimed something other than I did, which I corrected and clarified, so there should be no more confusion.

  13. Tristan Vick says:

    Jack, notice there were other factors to the riots… such as gang involvement… and the gang mentality of revenged, none of which are examples of healthy human psychology (thereby making your example invalid):

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8699857/The-street-code-of-vengeance-that-sparked-the-riots.html

    Even amid the riots, however, there were signs of human decency, altruism, and solidarity.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8700136/UK-riots-Im-no-hero-says-bereaved-father-whose-dignity-stopped-race-riots.html

    Just thought I’d point these out, because it not only falsifies what you’re trying to say, it proves the atheist belief in altruism and human solidarity correct.

    So what was your point again?

  14. justin says:

    Atheists don’t (all) believe all people are altruistic or cooperative–but rather, we believe everyone has the capacity to be, meaning there is a potential for a better world where people are altruistic and cooperate.

    Who’s “we”? You were just ranting and raving about how atheism is not a belief system, crying out for people to stop saying it is one, and now you speak for more than one atheist?

    Further, when you say “better world” – that’s subjective, right? I mean, there’s no real standard, according to your views, by which we could judge better or worse, correct?

    Is it hard being this self-contradictory?

  15. justin says:

    Shortcomings here entails the failure to provide a moral grounds for proper moral behavior and healthy psychology-as you often make a habit of pointing out. Even so, as we both know, atheism is not a philosophy equipped to provide any moral foundation (morals are derived by atheists from other sources/philosophies/ethics).

    Most philosophy is not equipped to provide any moral foundation, as Sam Harris’ debate with William Lane Craig proved rather embarrassingly for Harris. But, if you think morality subjective, it’s once again curious as to why you think there’s a rational way to arrive at a moral standard. Perhaps you don’t understand quite what subjective means.
    Oh, and atheism isn’t a philosophy, remember? Your words.

  16. jackhudson says:

    I didn’t say that you blamed the events on atheism.

    Your claim was that the atheist’s belief in human solidarity and altruism is proved false by a few miscreants.

    Therefore, you are, in a sense, blaming the shortcomings on atheism (which is why I phrased it that way–however, I admit, I should have probably stated it more clearly). </

    Well, again, I am not blaming atheists at all in this case, just pointing out that there is more evidence that they are wrong that left to themselves humans have a particular tendency to be altruistic or cooperative.

    I don’t think this is the only or primary evidence of this, or even the beast – merely the latest. I think the strongest evidence against such a natural tendency is that human societies invariably operate according to laws enforced by some sort of government. As Madison said (in justifying our system of checks and balances), “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

    Shortcomings here entails the failure to provide a moral grounds for proper moral behavior and healthy psychology–as you often make a habit of pointing out. Even so, as we both know, atheism is not a philosophy equipped to provide any moral foundation (morals are derived by atheists from other sources/philosophies/ethics).

    Well sure, which is why there is reason to be concerned about the state of morality if a society were atheistic!

    What you have done here, however, is looked at one example where a few miscreants act badly, and say, see there, atheists are wrong about this human solidarity and altruism crap!

    As I noted above, there is about 10,000 years of reasons why atheists are wrong about the inherent altruism and cooperative nature of humans. Now to be clear, like atheists I think humans have the capacity to be morally good – but their original design (from a moral perspective) has been corrupted, so that capacity is diminished. We also obviously have the capacity t be cruel and selfish. Given that both capacities obviously exist, I find it silly to claim we can trust people to be ‘naturally moral’. Given that we are all inherently capable of being kind and cruel, reliable moral standards can’t come from anything innate in humans – it must come from without.

    But the main problem with your example, is that although altruism and human solidarity are a large part of Ethical Naturalism, they are not the only factors which form the the naturalistic moral foundation of most atheists.

    Also, there are extenuating circumstances at play with regard to why these youths acted out in the first place. You can’t cite it as proof of the absence of human solidarity and altruism when there are hundreds of counter examples which falsify your claim.

    Cases of altruism are reported quite frequently, and cases of human solidarity, and humans working together for a better good, are common as well. Altruism is validated by science, proving that it is a genuine phenomenon, not to mention a real ethical intuition programmed into us biologically.

    I didn’t say human altruism and ‘solidarity’ didn’t exist, simply that the idea that we are naturally inclined to altruism is disproved by billions of examples over thousands of years of human history. As far as solidarity, it is not necessarily a moral behavior – the fact that many Germans were in solidarity about the fate of the Jews tells us that sometimes we don’t want solidarity.

    As such, to say that this incident kills any possibility of entertaining the notion that human can be altruistic or exhibit human solidarity is completely false.

    Given that I have never thought humans can’t be altruistic and exhibit solidarity, I will not only not contradict with it this, but agree with this – humans can certainly be altruistic and cooperative. We can also be cruel and divisive. We seem to do both from the outset. Where I differ with atheists is that we can expect humans to be altruistic as an ordinary practice apart from law or some objective moral incentive to do so.

    I’ll cite a recent example. I saw a truck stop the other day to help a person change a flat tire. Did he have to do that? No. But he did.

    Altruism–yes, human solidarity–yes. Ah, you see Jack, one example falsifies your entire claim!!! It appears people do tend to exhibit the innate qualities of altruism and human solidarity.

    Well again, I am not sure what you are seeking to prove – obviously altruistic acts exist. Did everyone stop to help? No, so at least we could say they impulse isn’t universal. Is there any reason to think this person was merely obeying a genetic impulse? Hard to say, but I don’t think even you are arguing that. In all probability the person stopped because he felt he ought to stop based on some moral belief he had about helping others – a belief that was founded in something outside of mere human impulses.

    I am not sure how you think this action exemplifies an ‘innate’ tendency; given you know nothing about the individual in question.

    At best, citing miscreants acting badly is an example of one minority group, of one select demographic, of one particular culture, failing to listen to their innate moral sense–but it does not denote the failure of the atheist to recognize that altruism and human solidarity are real factors which inform our ethical intuition.

    Sometimes I have no idea what to make of these hodge-podge, gobbledygook sentences. You seem to be saying we can assume that if a person acts altruistically, it proves they have an ‘innate moral sense’, but if they act cruelly and selfishly, it proves they are failing to listen to their innate moral sense. How do you know that humans aren’t innately cruel, and that when they are acting altruistically they are simply ignoring or contravening their innate cruelty? What aspect of our natural development forces us to conclude that humans can’t be as self-serving as any organism?

    As for the last bit, I can only assume you’re mocking my intelligence, and shifting the topic, a diversionary tactic you rely on so much it has become predictable. Very mature.

    But you’re not actually pointing out any faulty reasoning with regard to my objections–other than claiming I claimed something other than I did, which I corrected and clarified, so there should be no more confusion.

    Actually, I was not mocking your intelligence at all, but rather your overly-dramatic response to a different view. Because I generally understand you to be a bright person, I expect more than for you to be shocked that a Christians would hold the view that humans are sinners.

  17. Mike D says:

    This whole charade is a straw man. That we are innately cooperative and altruistic is so robustly demonstrated by science that it is no longer open to discussion. That’s why I keep recommending book after book by, y’know, scientists who explain this in far greater detail than a discussion on Blogger or WordPress can involve. If you choose never to learn about the science, it’s no one’s loss but your own.You can either face the facts, or live in abject denial. Your choice.

    But – and here’s the really important part – no non-believer or behavioral scientist has ever, at any time, has suggested that this hard-wiring fully explains our moral behavior or moral reasoning. This is for a reason so obvious it should not need mentioning: that hard-wiring must interact with an external environment. Our innate empathy can be eroded; we can be conditioned to become cruel. This does not change the unambiguous fact that, save for sociopaths (who lack physical development in the frontal lobes of their brains), we are innately empathetic and altruistic.

  18. justin says:

    I agree that we’re hardwired to have the ability to be cooperative and altruistic. This is self-evident, else we’d never see anyone be cooperative or altruistic if we weren’t wired with that capacity. This isn’t saying anything of any value at all.

  19. jackhudson says:

    This whole charade is a straw man. That we are innately cooperative and altruistic is so robustly demonstrated by science that it is no longer open to discussion. That’s why I keep recommending book after book by, y’know, scientists who explain this in far greater detail than a discussion on Blogger or WordPress can involve. If you choose never to learn about the science, it’s no one’s loss but your own.You can either face the facts, or live in abject denial. Your choice.

    Sorry I didn’t respond earlier, I have been enjoying the remains of summer, and our family has been hosting a delightful Japanese exchange student, so not much time for discussion lately.

    I have to say I am not a big fan of this argument, which amounts to “I read a popular science book about the subject that proves my point, so you are wrong!” It is an argument so pervasive amongst the New Atheist set that I think it deserves it’s own logical fallacy, argumentum ad scientia populi. or some such. I find it fallacious for a couple of reasons – the first being that it confuses pop-sci books with actual science, when in fact they are at best reviews of current science, generally for the purpose of proving some point of the author. Secondly, it assumes that the person the argument is being used against hasn’t read the book in question, and so therefore doesn’t have the requisite knowledge to have a discussion about the subject – despite the fact that reading a particular book isn’t actually necessary for such discussions, and it is rare that any two people will have read the same books on a particular subject. This is aside from the fact that the relevant information could be garnered by reading relevant (and current) articles and papers on the subject.

    Finally, I find it specious when some one claims to have read certain facts and arguments in a book, and yet is unable to present the information in the form of a rational argument. It causes me to doubt (true skeptic that I am) that the person making the argument has really read much about the subject itself, or understood it.

    I guess the takeaway here is, if you don’t understand the material enough to discuss it and relate it in a public forum, don’t delve into the subject at all; it just annoys those who have read and can discuss such subjects.

    But – and here’s the really important part – no non-believer or behavioral scientist has ever, at any time, has suggested that this hard-wiring fully explains our moral behavior or moral reasoning. This is for a reason so obvious it should not need mentioning: that hard-wiring must interact with an external environment. Our innate empathy can be eroded; we can be conditioned to become cruel. This does not change the unambiguous fact that, save for sociopaths (who lack physical development in the frontal lobes of their brains), we are innately empathetic and altruistic.

    It’s important to note that no one has said humans don’t have the capacity for altruism or that they are incapable of altruistic acts, so why you are stating the obvious, given this has already been mentioned, is beyond me. But experiments demonstrating such capacities don’t disprove our equally inherent capacity for cruelty, dishonesty, and selfishness.

    And to blame such actions on ‘sociopathy’ is absurd. Do you really mean to suggest that everyone involved in the British riots was a sociopath? That our own ‘flash mob’ thefts are the product of groups of coordinated sociopaths? Given that much selfishness, greed, and cruelty is the act of neglect and indifference, are you saying that every human who neglects to help his neighbor when it is in his power to help them is a sociopath? How is it, given that human law and governance, necessitated by the human tendency to act against the interests and well-being of others, is almost universal in human culture and history? I would suggest that such realities evidence an equally innate human capacity for evil.

    I would hope for some discussion on these topics, but I suppose unless there is a popular science book on the subject, you haven’t given these questions much thought.

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