November 16, 2006

Closed / Chiuso 

This blog has closed permanently. Please visit The Second Version to read new material and update your links accordingly.

Questo blog è chiuso permanentemente. Per favore visitate The Second Version per leggere nuovo materiale ed aggiornate i vostri collegamenti.

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November 10, 2006

Bases of a Natural Morality 

Atheists, including agnostics, are constantly reviled by theists for being amoral, cynical and in short the source of all evil. Christians don't know who to blame for something going the wrong way? Blame atheism, the Enlightment and evolution. I've seen some twisted folk saying that atheists are even worse than Muslims - and this being on Little Green Footballs should give you an idea of the depth of hatred and contempt.

A reason for this behaviour is reaction to the ridiculous and obnoxious figure of the militant atheist, those convinced that their position is the only logical and rational one and hell-bent on proselytizing and mocking religious beliefs.

There is still no way to reach a conclusion about god using only logic and reason; whatever the position, it takes some act of faith. Agnosticism maybe less so, but it's an intermediate position that leaves many unsatisfied.

But there's a lot of atheists who instead are upstanding citizens and moral people, and respect theists even across the wide gap of worldview.

I think that the recent rise of atheism is in great part due to an increase of scientific knowledge. When more and more aspects of the world become clear, it is also more and more difficult to accept divine or supernatural intervention. We can explain lightning, earthquakes, floods, droughts, comets and epidemies without needing a god. In this view, evolution does indeed have a special place, because it says that from a biological standpoint men aren't all that special; just monkeys with little hair but good hands and an impressive brain. While christianity and other religions instead regard mankind as god's greatest achievement.

But if we deny the existence of god, or at least is capacity/willingness to intervene, where can we find the bases for morality? I say, even in nature itself, if we look at it properly.

To start with, the idea that evolution is anti-life is bull, to put it clearly. There is an assumption so obvious and basic in the evolutive model that non-one bothers to state it clearly: living beings must reproduce in order to evolve. If a species fails to reproduce, it will be extinct no matter how wonderful it is (though humans may be close to cross this border becoming able to build artificial lifeforms).

Going further, I maintain that most of the precepts regarded as god-given can in fact be explained through evolutive adaptation. Back when early humans and even hominides lived in tribal societies, orderly tribes which followed some rules had a definite advantage over more chaotic ones. Because observing rules increases trust between the members of a tribe, and the capacity to work as a team. While hunters are out in the wilderness, they don't have to worry too much about someone else stealing their possessions back in the village, or bedding their women. This means a more effective hunt, and thus more food for the whole tribe which in turn can prosper.

And in an historical perspective, societies which are based on family and values are generally more robust and succesfull than the vacuous and hedonistic ones (notice that in this context succesfull does not mean good).

Also Kevin wrote about atheism recently, and as he and others point out in the comments, while humanism produced atrocities the past of religion is far from spotless as well. It would seem that humans can always find an excuse to kill and pillage. Also Paul Kurtz on the Skeptical Inquirer dealt with closely related arguments.

I think that the real damaging positions are the rejection of reason and objective reality, which can be found both among atheists and theists; collectivism (that is also a severe lack of confidence in the individual); hedonism and vapid egocentrism; lack of self-sacrifice.

It is possible to reject all this through reason, examining which societies and ideologies succeeded and which didn't. Yes, faith can be a stronger motivator than mere rationality, but it does not always motivate to do the good thing. Many Islamic suicide terrorists are truly steadfast in their faith, I'm sure.

Or, you can see all this from another point of view. I am unable to believe (and it's not that I never tried) but I also want to live as a decent person, and not let my society crumble to dust. So I'd rather find a valid foundation for my worldview.

This post (which isn't great, I know. My inspiration is still wobbly) does nto want to be exaustive, but only to shed some light on the possible foundations of ethics that do not require divine pronunciation, at the same time avoiding the shortcomings of humanism as we know it.

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November 07, 2006

Perceptions, Wrong 

Coming back to Italy, I realized something that I already knew, but only now actually impacted on me.

It is the perception of the European - Italian in particular - situation that Americans have. Reading any random LGF thread, for example, one would get the impression that in all of Europe it is prohibited to mention the nationality/ethnicity of criminals.

Well, not here. Most media give regularly, clearly and sometimes even prominently the nationality of criminals and perpetrators. Headlines such as "Moroccan rapes woman" are rather common (sadly, because these incidents are not so rare either). Italian media use very sparingly politically correct terms like "youths" or "Asians" (there are no equivalent Italian words anyway). Sometimes, the vague term of extracomunitario/i is used to indicate all of those coming from outside the EU (which was previously called European Community, hence the term). Following this to letter, also Americans would be extracomunitari, but this term is never applied to them in practice.

A perp's religion is not mentioned too often, but that's because it is also redundant in many cases: most people already know that Egypt or Algeria are Muslim countries.

Also public debate regarding Islam and related questions is far from banned. I've seen talk shows on TV and heard them on radio about these issues; hosts are generally polite but don't refrain from criticizing Islam. And a popular position is that immigrants should adapt to the culture of the host country, not the other way around. Of course, without the protection of a First Amendement (and a Second too, I may add...) there is a risk of having to face trial for expressing an opinion - especially when said opinion is expressed boorishly. And this is a problem indeed.

And finally, after a long time, natality rates in north Italy are rising - and immigrants (all of them, not only Muslims) account for only a 10 - 15% of the total births. On the anedoctal side, I can state that Italian children have been a rare sight in my village for most of the 80's and 90's, but now are more common.

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November 03, 2006

Return of the Madman 

Hi all, I finally got my DSL in the new flat! It's nice and fast, but I have some problems with setting up the wireless network.

However, stay tuned. I should be back in activity soon, and there will be changes.

Update: Now my WLAN is working fine. I don't know what exactly the problem was, but I fixed it.

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