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Re: [OT] Good, evil and religion [WAS] Re: A way to compile 3rd party modules into deb system?

On Mon, 7 May 2007 12:37:40 +0200
Florian Kulzer <florian.kulzer+debian@icfo.es> wrote:

> [ I was without internet connection over the weekend, therefore I can
>   only follow up on this now. I don't want to give the impression that I
>   just wanted to rile people up without really participating in the
>   discussion. ]

I appreciate your measured, thoughtful and intelligent response to my
comments, even though I disagree, sometimes strongly, with some of what
you write. 
> On Fri, May 04, 2007 at 18:20:31 -0400, Celejar wrote:
> > On Fri, 4 May 2007 18:30:32 +0200 Florian Kulzer wrote:
> > 
> > > On Fri, May 04, 2007 at 10:09:38 -0400, Celejar wrote:
> > > > On Thu, 03 May 2007 18:52:02 -0700
> > > > Kenward Vaughan wrote:
> > > 
> > > [...]
> > > 
> > > > > Kenward
> > > > > -- 
> > > > > With or without (religion) you would have good people doing good things
> > > > > and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil
> > > > > things, that takes religion.  --Physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven
> > > > > Weinberg
> > > > 
> > > > Even if true, there are different ways to interpret this:
> > > > 
> > > > a) religion increases the number of people who do evil things,
> > > > extending {E:E does evil things} and causing it to overlap with 
> > > > {g:g is a good person}
> > > > 
> > > > b) religion increases the number of good people, extending {g:g is a
> > > > good person} and causing it to overlap with {E:E does evil things}
> > > > 
> > > > In any case, I think Weinberg's assertion is ridiculous; no 'good'
> > > > atheist has ever done evil? Perhaps he means 'for good people to do
> > > > evil in the name of good', but it's still patently false; no 'good'
> > > > atheist has ever done evil in the name of a (secular) humanist ideal?
> > > > If Weinberg means that a 'good' atheist who does evil is by definition
> > > > not good, then this is sophistry; the same can be said about believers.
> > > > Apparently scientists, even great ones, can be as ignorant and shallow
> > > > as anyone else outside of their areas of expertise.
> > > 
> > > What are, then, your definitions of "good people", "evil things" and
> > > "religion"? Which events in human history do you consider to be examples
> > > of good people doing evil things without religion being involved?
> > 
> > Good questions, certainly, and difficult to answer well in any context,
> > and certainly in an OT discussion on d-u. I'll pass, for now at least,
> > on your first. WRT to your second, one example of what I had in mind
> > might be the murders and other evil acts committed by some communists
> > in the name of communism. While Stalin was as evil as they come, I
> > would conjecture that there were communists that one might consider
> > 'good' (without providing a definition, but something along the lines
> > of well-meaning, unselfish and generally following, or trying to
> > folllow, some sort of moral code recognizable as such - I know that's
> > not a very good definition) who nevertheless did evil in communism's
> > name. Anothe example, for balance, might be certain US military actions
> > in Vietnam or even WWII. I believe that there were good (as above)  US
> > military personnel who committed acts that one might consider evil.
> I realize that it is extremely difficult to define these things. My main
> point is that it is therefore not immediately obvious that Weinberg's
> statement is "ridiculous". I also would like to point out that his work

Although we haven't specified exact definitions, I am arguing that with
the rough, general idea that I have, Weinberg's assertion is untenable.
I'd turn the your point around; how can Weinberg sweepingly disparage
religion as he does, given the difficulty of even properly defining
good and evil? Under what definitions is his accusation fair?

> on the theory of the electroweak force does not rule out that he has
> spent time to read religious and philosophical texts, has thought about
> these issues and has reached an informed opinion. (An informed opinion
> is still just an opinion at the end of the day, of course.) It also goes

Certainly true, just as it's possible that a professional athlete or
popular musician may have read, thought and reached an informed
opinion. I'm not just being flippant; I am suggesting that celebrities
can be guilty of becoming intoxicated by their celebrity and reaching
the unwarranted conclusion that their opinions are more valuable and
sought after than they really are. One might argue that they
(musicians, athletes and scientists) should be given the benefit of the
doubt, and at the very least we should judge their pronouncements on
their merits, but that's exactly what I meant to do; I criticized his
comments about religion (convincingly or not) on their own terms,
without regard to his scientific celebrity. I merely added that, given
my conclusion about the quality of his philosophical / historical
opinions, they apparently aren't of the same caliber as his scientific

> without saying that his Physics Nobel prize does not make him more
> qualified to judge these things. To my knowledge, he himself has never


> tried to use his achievement in that way. I can understand that seeing

Perhaps not, but the "OP" attributed the statement to "Physicist and
Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg".

> his statement cited like it was here tends to put religious people in
> the defensive; after all, it sounds a bit like: "A really smart person
> has said that religion is evil/wrong/stupid, so there!".  Nevertheless I
> think it is not justified to assume that Weinberg is "ignorant" and
> "shallow".

I agree that being insulted doesn't justify an accusation of
shallowness or ignorance, but I criticized the statement as being
grossly inaccurate and unjust. 
> Unfortunately I have never been able to find a full transcript of
> Weinberg's 1999 speech from which the "religion is an insult to human
> dignity" quotation is taken. From what I understand he makes these two
> points:
> - Most people have the capacity to understand, on an intellectual and an
>   emotional level, the consequences that their actions have for other
>   people. This results in a built-in "moral compass" which all the "good
>   people" have. The "evil people", by contrast, are the ones lacking
>   this moral compass, for example due to certain pathologies which are
>   recognized in clinical psychology. As far as I know, there are a
>   number of anthropological studies which show that people from vastly
>   different cultural backgrounds give strikingly similar answers when
>   asked about their evaluation of certain ethical problems. While it
>   easy for all these people to come up with these similar answers, they
>   often have difficulties to explain any kind of "reasoning" behind
>   them.
>   I think this first point does not really pose any problem for
>   religious people. At the very least you can view religion as a useful
>   means to codify our built-in sense of morality. If you believe in a
>   supernatural creator it will probably make sense to you that he/she/it
>   gave us the capacity to tell right from wrong, because otherwise it
>   would not make much sense to hold us accountable for our actions. An
>   evolutionary psychologist would probably argue that it was simply
>   advantageous for our species to evolve such a moral compass.

I may be misunderstanding you, but you seem to be quoting Weinberg as
saying that evil people are so because of a lack of moral compass. A
fairly common view of at least some classic religious traditions is
that one has free will to choose between good and evil, implying that
one perceives, or can and should perceive, both options and their
ramifications. Deuteronomy 30:15 - "Behold I have given unto you today
life and good, and death and evil ... life and death I have set before
you, blessing and curse; you shall choose life, that you and your
descendants may live". I don't deny that some may pathologically lack a
moral compass, but he isn't the one that religion typically holds
liable for sinning. Weinberg may of course disagree with the above;
even among religious thinkers, free will is one of the thorniest
doctrines. I'm just pointing out that religious people may indeed have
a problem with the above mentioned view. 
> - What does it take to override this moral compass, how do you make
>   "good people" lose their natural inhibition against inflicting
>   unnecessary harm on other people? Weinberg argues that you need to
>   trick them into thinking that their actions will be for some "greater
>   good", thus justifying "breaking eggs to make an omelette".  This is
>   not yet so controversial, but then he goes on to claim that the only
>   way to get away with this is by involving "religion".
>   It seems to me that if you want to argue against Weinberg then you
>   need to establish an objective way to distinguish "religion" from mere
>   "ideology". That is probably difficult, also because every good
>   demagogue knows the profound effect that religiosity can have on the
>   human psyche and therefore he/she will often tend to mimic religious
>   language, ceremonies etc. to manipulate people and to achieve his/her
>   goals.

You seem to be defending (at least as Devil's advocate) Weinberg by
suggesting that we understand religion broadly enough to include what I
would call mere ideology, e.g. communism. But then he's really saying
"Only religion / ideology / deeply, passionately held beliefs can cause
good people to do evil things". That doesn't quite have the same ring
to it, and I might even agree with it, but do we really mean that
humanity would be better off without any of those sorts of beliefs?
That belief in a greater good is profoundly and inherently pernicious?

>   Maybe it is better to look at the issue this way: There are,
>   obviously, some psychological mechanisms that are responsible for the
>   fact that a large number of people consider themselves to be
>   "religious". (I leave it to the individual people to define what
>   exactly that word means to them.) The same mechanisms can be (and have
>   often been) abused to make ordinary people do extraordinarily cruel
>   things. I think it is dangerous to ignore this and to reflexively
>   dismiss every critique of religion as shallow and ignorant.

I don't ignore it; I agree that religion has made ordinary people do
extraordinarily cruel things; my point was that this isn't a problem
exclusive to religion, but to compelling and convincing axiologies in
general, and I reiterate, would we really be better off without them? I
think it is unjust to imply that I'm 'reflexively' dismissing 'every'
critique of religion as shallow and ignorant; I dismissed *one* as
such, and for reasons I maintain are logical.

And one more thing; while religion can "make ordinary people do
extraordinarily cruel things", it can (and often does) also make
ordinary people do extraordinarily lovely things.

> Regards,            | http://users.icfo.es/Florian.Kulzer
>           Florian   |

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