Saturday, January 27, 2007

Steven Pinker on Consciousness (and Morality)

It seems like I've been seeing a lot of atheists defending the possibility of morality from their point of view. Sam Harris, for instance, advocates an atheistic basis for morality in an article about "10 Myths/Truths About Athesim" which I came across on this message board. I am more interested, however, in some comments made by Steven Pinker in his TIME article called "The Mystery of Consciousness". Pinker says this:
MY OWN VIEW IS THAT THIS IS backward: the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings--the core of morality.

He goes on to explain that the fact that we have all the same cognitive equipment (cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, etc.) that we will recognize that we are all human and should treat each other with respect. But how does it follow that because we have the same equipment we should recognize the interests of others? Note the word should in that question. I do not see how a biological fact could establish that we should do one thing or another. This is the failing I have seen in most atheistic attempts to establish morality. There are propositions they assume that need proof.

Pinker's argument in the article seems to go thusly:
  1. If we all have the same cognitive equipment we should behave morally.
  2. We all have the same cognitive equipment.
  3. Therefore we should behave morally.

This follows deductively if we agree with the propositions, but I disagree with proposition one. It needs the support of a good argument, which Pinker does not provide. I don't understand why so many atheists ignore the gargantuan chasm between biology and morality, but ignore it they do. They have yet to prove that atheism can provide a solid basis for moral behavior.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Click This Link!

Click This Link! to read about David Sedaris, Mohammed Atta, and Janis Joplin battling birds in Normandy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Oddments, Part I

I found a copy of The New Yorker in a Ladies' restroom. It was there two days in a row, which constitutes abandonment. If a magazine is in a public restroom two days in a row it's fair game. Bonus: It was the winter fiction issue. I know what you're thinking, but don't worry; I was in the ladies' room for a good reason. I'm a janitor by trade, you see, scrubbing toilets for a living. I tell people I don't mind because the bathrooms I clean are used by conscientious people. There's hardly ever a mess left behind. The worst I usually get is a toilet that was in need of a double-flush. People are impatient.

I like The New Yorker. That probably sounds funny coming from a conservative Christian, but I don't mind. I like making people laugh even more than I like the New Yorker. I enjoy the cartoons very much. Who doesn't? But the best part so far (I'm not finished yet) has been Louise Erdrich's story "Demolition". I keep trying to figure what I like so much about the story. I know the story hangs together well. She actually uses honey to unify it from beginning to climax to end. Not that there is actual honey stuck to the pages 70-81 of The New Yorker. That wouldn't ship well. I fell in love with her closing sentence as well. I don't want to spoil it in case you want to read it so I will say no more. But I recommend the story highly.

A friend,whose last name is Honey (no lie) has worked with our cleaning crew for the last two days. He temporarily replaced Pablo, who went home to Peru. Temporarily. Pablo's last name is not Honey. That's a Radiohead album. Mr. Honey and I are both displaced West Virginians living in St. Louis. Earlier tonight we were discussing the finer points of the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads", which was popularized by John Denver. He didn't write it, though. That honor belongs to Bill Denoff and Taffy Nivert.

Mr. Honey was singing the song as he emptied trashcans, and I wondered aloud about the lines, "Life is old there/Older than the trees/Younger than the mountains". Did Bill and Taffy mean that the mountains are older than trees in general? That struck me as false. Shawn said he had asked himself the same question earlier that day when he heard the song on the radio. He wasn't kidding. Sometimes hillbillies are weird.