The Atheists and the Hive

Jerry Coyne is right about a couple of things. Namely, that if atheism is true, there is no free will and there is no moral responsibility. But there is no reason to stop there. For example, if atheism is true, there is no such thing as individual rights. If atheism is true, the individual is subservient to the collective. The individual is dispensable, the individual is replaceable, the individual is transient. It is the collective that matters, for it is the collective that functions as the substitute for God in a godless worldview. In other words, the atheist has an insect-like perspective on the world, where each member of the Hive only has meaning and purpose in relationship to the Hive.

Coyne himself provides a nice glimpse of this Hive mindset when defending his attack on moral responsibility. He writes:

That is this: I favor the notion of holding people responsible for good and bad actions, but not morally responsible. That is, people are held accountable for, say, committing a crime,because punishing them simultaneously acts as a deterrent, a device for removing them from society, and a way to get them rehabilitated—if that’s possible…….. That said, all the strictures and punishments I mentioned yesterday still hold, and retributive punishment is still out. But moral responsibility implies free choices, and those don’t exist.

Now someone will ask this: “Why not punish innocent people because that could also serve as a deterrent?” I don’t agree with that because such a strategy is bad for society for two reasons. It removes two of the three justifications for punishment (rehabilitation and removal from society of dangerous elements), and has the additional deleterious effect of making everyone scared that they can be arrested and punished even if they’re completely innocent. That casts a bad pall over society, making everyone paranoid.

Very interesting. “Why not punish innocent people because that could also serve as a deterrent?” I can answer that very easily – Because it is wrong. Because it violates individual rights. Notice it does not even occur to Coyne that such actions would be wrong.

Instead, Coyne’s atheism causes him to seek his answer from the Hive. The only reason not to punish innocent people to serve as a deterrent is because it could hurt the Hive. It’s bad enough that Coyne doesn’t seem to be aware of how wrong it would be to punish innocent people to serve as a deterrent, but consider also that his insect-like approach is rather feeble and becomes a matter of personal opinion.

Coyne argues

such a strategy is bad for society for two reasons. It removes two of the three justifications for punishment (rehabilitation and removal from society of dangerous elements),

Is there some rule that says there must be Three Justifications for action within the Hive? I can imagine there are many in the Hive who would be satiated with one justification.

For that matter, one could argue that by punishing innocents, you raise the public profile of certain crimes, making it easier to get funding for the rehabilitation of the non-innocent and making it easier to remove dangerous elements from society.

He also argues:

and has the additional deleterious effect of making everyone scared that they can be arrested and punished even if they’re completely innocent. That casts a bad pall over society, making everyone paranoid.

That would only be true if the Hive somehow publicized that innocents were being punished. What if the Hive became very good at framing selective innocent, individuals to set examples for the rest of the Hive? In other words, Coyne’s insect-like approach could easily slip into this argument: If the Hive was to discreetly and selectively target certain innocents to be framed for crimes in order to serve as a deterrent for those crimes, and the general populace was not aware of this, the Hive would benefit.

In summary, I oppose punishing people for crimes they did not commit because, as a Christian, I think it morally wrong. It would not matter if it benefited the Hive. It is wrong. Coyne, as an atheist, opposes such action only because he imagines it might hurt the Hive. And his argument doesn’t even hold up to the slightest of criticism.

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22 Responses to The Atheists and the Hive

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’m wondering if this explains the willingness to allow the NSA to spy on us: it’s (supposedly) good for society as a whole.

  2. Bilbo says:

    Though when I ask myself whether Democrats such as Coyne would remain silent about Snowden’s disclosures of NSA spying if a Republican were President right now, I can’t help thinking we might hear a smidgen of outrage.

  3. ingx24 says:

    I think we need to be careful here: Atheism alone does not entail a lack of free will or lack of individual rights. What entails these things is the misanthropic scientistic materialism to which atheists like Coyne, Dawkins, Dennett (especially Dennett), Myers, etc. subscribe to. Of course, materialism and atheism are usually found together these days, to the point where in practice it works to use them as synonyms. But I think it’s important to be careful when applying generalizations like this: I, for example, am agnostic regarding the existence of God, but vehemently reject materialism as dehumanizing and obviously false.

  4. TFBW says:

    Here’s where we need to get picky about words and what they mean. If atheism is, as New Atheists often claim, a lack of belief, then almost nothing can follow from it at all. Consequences follow from premises, not an absence of premises. This is where the line between “lack of belief” and “belief in the negation of the thing that you profess not to believe” becomes important. If anything “follows” from atheism, then atheism must provide some kind of proposition to which the atheist lends assent (i.e. believes).

    But let’s not dwell on that aspect: anyone who says that anything “follows” from atheism has moved past atheism-as-lack and on to atheism-as-assertion, regardless of whether they say otherwise, and that’s pretty much that. What’s being asserted in atheism-as-assertion, generally speaking (where New Atheists are concerned, at least), is the non-existence of the supernatural. That is, it is the shadow of philosophical materialism, which asserts the same thing in the opposite manner: i.e. only the material world exists. (A nod to ingx24, above, however, who distances himself from this position. I am speaking in generalities, not universals.)

    Having established a set of assertions to act as premises, let’s reconsider the statements made in the opening paragraph of this article.

    … if atheism is true, there is no free will and there is no moral responsibility.

    Fair enough. It’s hard to see how “choice” can exist in a world of deterministic physical laws, and without choice, a “will” can have no freedom, even if such a thing can be reduced to material components.

    … if atheism is true, there is no such thing as individual rights.

    Again, fair enough. The notion of a “right” does not appear to have any basis in physics. Indeed, it appears to be suggestive that some courses of action have moral standing, and that moral agents are therefore under obligation to make certain decisions in their actions, despite having other alternative courses of action within their capacity for free will. Thus, the idea of “rights” doesn’t seem to make any sense without free will, which has already been summarily rejected.

    If atheism is true, the individual is subservient to the collective.

    This claim is problematic. I can see no possible basis for this claim in atheism. For one thing, the “individual” and the “collective” are simply arbitrary sub-divisions of matter. For another, the whole notion of “subservience” seems to be based, once again, on a concept of free will. It assumes that we can choose between alternative futures through our actions, and that there is a moral compulsion to pursue one possible future rather than another. None of this is compatible with materialist premises, on which matter is matter, and matter does what matter does. The notion that “the individual is subservient to the collective” is a policy to be imposed upon the universe by exercise of free will, not a description of its behaviour. For examples of truths which follow from atheism, see such things as, “all change increases the net entropy of the universe”.

    The individual is dispensable, the individual is replaceable, the individual is transient.

    But so is the collective, for exactly the same reasons, surely? The only difference is scale.

    It is the collective that matters, for it is the collective that functions as the substitute for God in a godless worldview.

    This may be so. My point is that none of it follows from atheism. Indeed, the position is actually incompatible with atheism. There is no basis in atheism to prefer A over B for any values of A and B. There is no basis in atheism to say that anything “matters” in any non-subjective sense, and no basis for any blob of matter to “care” about the tendencies of any other blob of matter. Thus, to the extent that any atheist claims that anything matters, they have compromised their atheism (if their atheism is derived from philosophical materialism).

    This attitude is not one of atheism, but humanism. Humanism can be atheistic in the more limited sense of asserting the non-existence of God, or supernatural beings in general, but it is not materialism. It asserts values — especially the value of the human collective — which are fundamentally incompatible with strict materialism. If the statement, “the human collective is more valuable than any human individual” is true, then it is a truth that can not be supported by materialistic premises. Some other premise must come into play, and I think that humanism is a set of premises all unto itself.

  5. Michael says:

    ingx24: But I think it’s important to be careful when applying generalizations like this

    I agree. And if I encounter atheists who do take a more nuanced approach, I am happy to reciprocate. It’s just that given the popularity of New Atheism, misanthropic scientistic materialism is becoming synonymous with atheism.

    TFBW: This claim is problematic. I can see no possible basis for this claim in atheism.

    True, in a purely logical sense. But beliefs/attitudes that follow from atheism need not follow in any logical sense. They simply follow as the result of some form of intellectual/emotional/psychological inertia that is set up by the embracement of atheism. That is why it is not surprising to see Coyne reject the punishment of innocents solely in terms of the collective.

  6. You think punishing innocents is wrong? Strange. What about Exodus 11:5? Did god make a mistake there? When can we expect you going up there and demand an apology? Of course also for all the other places where the descendants are punished, the innocents slaughtered and raped, etc.

  7. Michael says:

    You think punishing innocents is wrong? Strange. What about Exodus 11:5? Did god make a mistake there? When can we expect you going up there and demand an apology? Of course also for all the other places where the descendants are punished, the innocents slaughtered and raped, etc.

    When a New Atheist immediately tries to change the topic, you know my point struck a raw nerve.

  8. Every time you ask a christian a difficult question, you will not get an answer but he will claim he won the argument anyway. Funny.

  9. Michael says:

    Every time you ask a christian a difficult question, you will not get an answer but he will claim he won the argument anyway. Funny.

    I didn’t claim to win any argument. I merely observed that I struck a raw nerve judging from your reluctance to engage my posting and instead immediately change the topic to some Bible debate.

  10. So, asking a question about the things you write after you write them is “changing the topic”? Sure. You still evade having to answer…

  11. Michael says:

    Did I write about the Bible? No. Did I write about New Atheism and Coyne’s rationale for not punishing innocents? Yes. Clearly, you do not want to talk about what I wrote about and would rather talk about what I did not write about. Your evasion does not surprise me.

  12. You wrote that YOU think it’s wrong. So I was asking the obvious question, how that makes sense considering your holy book teaches the complete opposite.
    And no, you only wrote about Coyne’s reasons, not the reasons of “New Atheism”. Contrary to you, new atheists are allowed to think for themselves, there is no holy book that needs to be followed.

  13. Kevin says:

    New atheists may be allowed to think for themselves, but almost the entirety of what I see is regurgitated little quips and sayings off the internet that were obviously not original ideas. It would be interesting to see independent thought from the atheist community, although from what I’ve seen I imagine most of that probably would occur in the non-antitheistic crowd.

  14. TFBW says:

    …considering your holy book teaches the complete opposite.

    I venture to suggest that you have no idea whatsoever about what that book teaches, given that your learning appears to come from sources which are vehemently hostile towards it and all that it stands for. I don’t see any possibility of profitable discussion on the subject, off-topic or not, given that your mind is clearly set in stone on the matter.

    I take it, however, that you concede the main point of the article: that Coyne is wrong. I surmise this from two things. First, your response takes the angle of, “your religion is no better,” which relies on the truth of the article’s main point in order to carry any weight. Second, you distance yourself from Coyne, or at least detach his opinions from New Atheism so as to allow such distance.

    You’re right that New Atheism has no holy book, and this makes it convenient to distance yourself from any particular statement that someone else might have made on the subject. Rather than using that terribly cheap evasion technique, why don’t you put us to rights and tell us why you think that Coyne is wrong? Show us how justice follows from atheism, in your own words, where both Coyne and the Bible fail.

  15. The Deuce says:

    Hey Mike, what you’ve pointed out here also explains the incompatibility of New Atheism and science that you pointed out previously.

    Consider: Jerry Coyne says that we’re not morally responsible for our actions on the grounds that choice is an illusion. We don’t make decisions, because there is no “we” to make the decisions in the first place. We think we reason from premises to conclusion in choosing moral courses of action, but Coyne tells us that we do not, and that there never was a decision. Rather, “we” just react to physical stimuli in various deterministic ways that we don’t choose and are not responsible for.

    But if that were true, it would be true for ALL our decisions, not just our moral decisions. As you said in the other entry, “In science, we change opinions with experimental results. We change opinion with scientific evidence.” But if Coyne is to be believed, we are all completely incapable of doing so, and it’s merely an illusion that we ever do! We are incapable of looking at evidence, and reasoning our way to true conclusions. At best, we merely react to stimuli in a deterministic manner that we don’t choose. As with moral reasoning, “our” brain just creates the illusion that there were ever any abstract premises or logical reasoning involved, or that there was even an “us” to engage in that logical reasoning.

    But that means that truth cannot be arrived at by reasoning from evidence. In fact, it means that there really is no such thing as “evidence,” but only physical stimuli that we react to in physically deterministic ways.

    And if there is no truth that we can arrive at by reason, then there are really only various “narratives” competing to be called the “truth.” And the way you get your own “narrative” to be called the “truth” is by getting everyone to subscribe to it any means necessary – invective, ridicule, propaganda, even violence or threats of violence where feasible – in short, the methods of the New Atheists and history’s other atheistic materialist movements.

    It goes without saying that this is a collectivist endeavor – establishing your “narrative” as the “truth” is a matter of your Hive expanding to assimilate, dominate, or eliminate competing hives, and hence we arrive at the same collectivist result that you’ve discussed in this post.

    It’s shouldn’t be a surprise that materialists who deny free will exhibit the perverse moral reasoning you highlight in this post, or the approach to evidence and science that you highlighted in the previous one. It would be a bigger surprise if they didn’t act according to the implications of their beliefs, since they are dead wrong and we do in fact engage in moral reasoning from premises in making our decisions.

  16. Michael says:

    You wrote that YOU think it’s wrong. So I was asking the obvious question, how that makes sense considering your holy book teaches the complete opposite.
    And no, you only wrote about Coyne’s reasons, not the reasons of “New Atheism”. Contrary to you, new atheists are allowed to think for themselves, there is no holy book that needs to be followed.

    In “thinking for yourself,” you are making multiple assumptions. To address your point would entail the need to address these various assumptions. By the time we did that, the OP above would be a distant memory and no opinions would be changed. I know how the game is played. So rather than ignore my points and change the topic, why not address the topic. You tell us you are allowed to think for yourself, yet there is no evidence to support your belief. Why not provide some evidence that you have the ability to think for yourself and address an issue that is not found in some Gnu Debate Handbook – the issue I raised in the OP. That is, explain where and why Coyne got it wrong.

  17. Ok, let’s start from the beginning, as there are obviously some problems here…

    First of all, do I think that Coyne is wrong? Well, depends on what you think is wrong. Do I think his conclusion is wrong? Not at all – you don’t, either. Do I think his argument is wrong? Not at all. You also didn’t show it to be wrong, you tried to prove it weak for it’s started purpose (and we could now argue how realistic it is to assume that something like punishing innocents can be done without ever being discovered, but that’s not the point). Is it the argument I think best for this point? No.

    Do I think YOU are wrong? Well, as you just expressed an opinion and didn’t have any argument to support it, I can only tell you that I share your opinion. But, so das Coyne, obviously.

    But of course, we both know, that you have a basis for your opinion, that it’s not just something you throw a coin for. That basis could (probably) described as: “…because, some thousand years ago, some guys wrote a book in which they claimed that god is perfectly good and that he wants it that way.”.

    Of course, there are other possible bases, for exmaple: “A stable society should be the most important thing for humans.” Or, another one: “We should maximize the happiness of every human being.”. We have to decide for a goal and the reasons for that decision are, of course, not absolutely perfect. The biological imperativ (protect yourself, protect your offspring) is one such reason, but as we are humans, we can transcend that, of course.

    Anyway, it’s not like your basis was somehow better – in fact, it’s even more random and pretty faulty, as I tried to show you be telling you that the bible indeed does not always live up to it’s own standards: Innocents get punished all the time. So, in the end, it is impossible to absolutely measure which morality is “better” – because there simply either is no absolute morality or, if there is, we cannot know it (even if we assume, god existed and was omnipotent, we still cannot know anything about absolute morality, as we cannot know anything about god’s motives). But the wish for an absolute morality is doomed to fail, anyway, so we simply should abandon that wish and search for a good HUMAN morality. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be absolute. But it can be good enough.

    As a side note: Nope, from atheism does not follow that the individual is less important than “the hive”: Technically, atheism says nothing except “I don’t believe in god”, but interpreted more broadly, yes, there is no absolute worth to any individual. But, the same is true for humanity. Both are dispensable, replaceable, transient – from an absolute viewpoint. The universe doesn’t care about either. So, you are wrong here with the whole hive thing, at least as far as you claim it’s somehow a logical conclussion from atheism – it isn’t.

    Not believing in god but still trying to judge everything from an absolute point of view (in other words, god’s point of view) doesn’t make any sense. So, with god, the search for an absolute morality has to be abandoned as well – just to be replaced by the search for a better, a more realistic, a more human one.

  18. Michael says:

    AM,

    Coyne raised the following point – “Why not punish innocent people because that could also serve as a deterrent?”

    Notice “because that could ALSO serve as a deterrent.”

    In other words, he is talking about a specific form social engineering.

    Now, it is a simple fact that he comes out against this form of social engineering not because he thinks it is wrong, but because he has convinced himself it is a form of social engineering that would be destructive to the collective.

    So one has to wonder if Coyne does indeed think it would be okay to punish innocent people to serve as a deterrent as long as someone can come up with a method that would make it unlikely to harm the hive. As I wrote:

    What if the Hive became very good at framing selective innocent, individuals to set examples for the rest of the Hive? In other words, Coyne’s insect-like approach could easily slip into this argument: If the Hive was to discreetly and selectively target certain innocents to be framed for crimes in order to serve as a deterrent for those crimes, and the general populace was not aware of this, the Hive would benefit.

    The closest you have come to actually addressing my OP is this:

    You also didn’t show it to be wrong, you tried to prove it weak for it’s started purpose (and we could now argue how realistic it is to assume that something like punishing innocents can be done without ever being discovered, but that’s not the point).

    But I am not trying to show Coyne is wrong. I’m merely providing contrast.

    As for arguing how realistic it is, yes that would be a matter of opinion. But what if Coyne came to believe it could be done? Or are you saying it would be impossible for any atheist to ever believe this could be done?

    You write:

    So, in the end, it is impossible to absolutely measure which morality is “better” – because there simply either is no absolute morality or, if there is, we cannot know it (even if we assume, god existed and was omnipotent, we still cannot know anything about absolute morality, as we cannot know anything about god’s motives).

    There is very little that we can “know.”

    But the wish for an absolute morality is doomed to fail, anyway, so we simply should abandon that wish and search for a good HUMAN morality. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be absolute. But it can be good enough.

    So what is stopping you from searching and finding such a “good HUMAN morality?” The atheist blogosphere would be a great place to demo that morality. Yet what I see are a bunch of people who will rip each other apart because of what happened in an elevator. What I see are a bunch of people trying to build a movement on hate and bigotry.

    What’s worse, even if you find some “good HUMAN morality,” Dawkins and Harris have shown there is no reason to think anyone would abide by it. For example, both Dawkins and Harris agree that atheist Peter Singer has made his moral case when it comes to eating meat. Both Dawkins and Harris agree with Singer that it is wrong to eat meat. Yet they both continue to eat meat. Dawkins actually provides yet another example of an atheist with HiveThink. He wishes Singer could change the Hive so that eating meat in the Hive would become a sin. Then, and only then, could Dawkins find the “will” to stop his sinful meat eating.

    Yes, AM, we cannot “know” absolute morality. But you have nothing better to offer than a vain, endless search for the promised land – The Hive. Atheists are always busy creating little hives in the hope of making The Hive. And in their attempts to build their little hives, they show the rest of us they have not yet found their searched for HUMAN morality .

  19. TFBW says:

    AM,

    Thanks for clarifying.

    So, you are wrong here with the whole hive thing, at least as far as you claim it’s somehow a logical conclussion from atheism – it isn’t.

    I said much the same thing, and Michael already clarified that it’s not a logical conclusion, but rather, “they simply follow as the result of some form of intellectual/emotional/psychological inertia that is set up by the embracement of atheism.”

    Would you agree? If there is no logical basis to atheist morality, as you say, then what is its basis? I see no way to distinguish it from any arbitrary form of subjectivism, in which people simply adopt whatever mode of behaviour seems appropriate to them. You advocate the “search for a good HUMAN morality,” but what yardstick do we have for that goal other than your intuitive analysis? As Michael points out, moral intuitions differ widely, even among fellow New Atheists, once the subject passes outside their shared antipathy towards religion. If there is no absolute point of view, as you say, then what makes you think that there is even enough common ground to permit harmony (unless a moral code is imposed from without, in the manner of a religion)?

  20. The Deuce says:

    But the wish for an absolute morality is doomed to fail, anyway, so we simply should abandon that wish and search for a good HUMAN morality. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be absolute. But it can be good enough.

    Well that’s circular. To be able to identify a standard of morality as good enough implies that you already have an objective standard of goodness by which you are obligated to measure it, which means that you already have an objective and absolute moral standard.

  21. The Deuce says:

    Also, if your definition of goodness is something like, “is sufficiently appealing to me personally” then then that goodness isn’t actually a property of the moral standard itself, but merely of your attitude towards it, and it would be more accurate to describe it accordingly. If your definition is something like, “works sufficiently for the maximum number of people,” then that same problem still remains (only applied to all those people instead of just you), and you additionally provide Mike another example of Hive morality.

  22. Nic says:

    Atomic Mutant: “First of all, do I think that Coyne is wrong? Well, depends on what you think is wrong.”

    Give this a little thought. If Coyne is right, you cannot have an opinion as to what is right and what is wrong. Such is the logical conclusion of such illogical reasoning. Coyne should give up trying to be a philosopher, open a cat rescue shelter and spare the world his palpable nonsense. At least running a cat shelter he would be doing something useful.

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