the complete inferiority of Christian ethics. (xPrae: how I defeated you so soundly (part 5))

In this post, I am going to argue that Christianity is morally inferior to both Islam and atheism. Christianity purports to answer moral questions, but instead offers a loophole that bypasses and excuses all those possible answers to morality. Islam, at least, does have a clear moral message and lacks any obvious subversion of its own system. Atheism also surpasses Christianity in moral systems in that it does not purport to answer moral questions, which at least leaves room for intellectual progress.

There is something obvious but important to point out. Religious moral ideas only work if the God actually exists; there must be a judgemental God who somehow dictatorially defines good and bad. If that isn’t the actual case, then holding to a religious moral standard is just a theatre. Based on the evidence, Christianity and Islam are about equally likely to be right (with a slight advantage to Islam, as Mohammed is better documented than Jesus). But, as all religions have about equal evidence in their favour, it’s more likely that neither Christianity or Islam are the right religion (even if a religion is true).

In this post, I shall subvert entirely the question of whether a dictatorially defined morality is a morality at all. Although, that one has to entirely surrender all their thoughts on what might be moral and instead obey the interpreted (and translated) definition by fiat, doesn’t seem to be a morality.

In a previous post, I argued that Christianity is only socially acceptable because Humanist and Enlightenment ideals have clipped and diluted it. However, the slave-keeping and stoning of unruly children and adulterers is not my point here. If I were a respectable person, acting as a cornerstone of society, who never killed or lied, nor raped or abused a child (holding myself to a higher moral standard than the Bible does), but I don’t believe, where do I go? The Bible is quite clear that I only go to Heaven―i.e. I’ve only been good―if I accept Jesus’ death as my redemption.

There are many apologists who argue that God holds us to an impossible standard, so doing goodness can never be enough in of itself to get into Heaven. So, if we reverse the thought experiment above, what happens then? Imagine I am a murderous, dishonest and abusive person, but I accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Where am I going then? I’ve certainly not seen a Christian argue, with chapter and verse, that such a person is going to Hell. I’ve seen it asserted, but every time I get an answer with chapter and verse, it supports that person going to Heaven.

And that there is precisely the catastrophic failure of Christian morality. The child-abuse and slavery can be justified by saying humans have no intellectual access to what is moral and that what the Bible mandates and condones is, in fact, moral. It’s a poor argument, as human conversation is how we overthrew slavery after having it institutionalised, so clearly humans have some access to moral knowledge. However, it could be argued that an actual moral system could be observed. But, despite all the moral imperatives and implicit commands and the impossible standard, the whole system is undermined by a loophole. The expectation of perfection and unforgiving imperatives to thought crimes are all swept under the rug of human sacrifice.

Islam is superior to this. Despite Islam teaching brutal things and ultimately being more directly eschatological than Christianity, at least its agenda is clear. Jihad is highly unpalatable and there are many other aspects of Islam that are more violent and brutal than Christianity. But, the moral system is consistent. It gives an actual, sensible (although very poor) answer to the moral questions. And all the apparent immoral things it mandates are not really ‘immoral’ through the lens of Islam, just unpalatable to human sensibilities. Christianity not only also offers unpalatable imperatives and laws, but does not give a clear answer to the questions of morality.

Christianity and Islam also have moral contradictions in them. But the Koran includes a rule on how to abrogate (‘tafsir’) in the case of a contradiction: that which is written later in the Koran takes precedent. Presumably, following a logic that Mohammed became more enlightened as he lived on. Christianity offers nothing of the sort, except Jesus offering things that are more palatable. But nothing in the Bible can explain how ‘palatable’ can equate to ‘good’.

It appears, on its surface, Christianity’s abject failure to offer a moral system or even imperatives would make atheism and Christianity level. Christianity’s answer to moral questions is undermined by its own loophole to the point it is as if Christianity offers no answer at all. Atheism, also, offers no answer to moral questions. But, atheism doesn’t purport to answer moral questions. And that difference is profound. Because Christianity purports to offer an answer but doesn’t (or offers an answer so confused as to allow everything) it blocks the conversation to find an answer that actually works. Atheism doesn’t purport to answer moral questions, so it leaves a freedom for other discussions for how we should behave in society, what we will accept, liberties and security.

There have been failings in secular political systems. That seems obvious. If you ever want to argue that, you need to be clear about what the secular failing was. Nazism, for example, was populated by Christians and propagated on Christian rhetoric. You need to articulate exactly what the problem was. But the simple fact that atheism permits a conversation is not a problem, it’s the characteristic that gives it superiority over Christianity.

More thoughts on this idiot

22056 (catchy name) has a second blog, and it is here. This blog exists solely to host one post, arguing that theism can be thought of as a lack of atheism. He considers this important, because it could change the nature of the burden of proof: atheists would have to do more than question whether arguments for God make sense, but they’d have to come up with arguments in favour of the content of atheism.

Simply trying to explain the impacts of the 22056 thesis, if true, immediately undermines it. What is the content of atheism? If it has no content, what exactly would a lack of it be? There is a further problem: atheism literally means ‘without theism’. So, 22056 is trying to define theism as ‘without without theism’. If that’s the definition of theism, then the definition of atheism becomes ‘without without without theism’. This is a self-referential paradox. I should be able to leave my criticism here and not engage with the actual argument made. But where’s the fun in that.

I want to preface this with a point of clarification about language that equally applies to xPrae, from former posts: the mere use of words is not the same as an explanation. On ‘Enquiries on Atheism’ I posted something that starts to allude to what it actually means to offer an explanation; you can read it here.

So, let’s start to look at the actual argument offered:

The primary goal of this investigation is to determine whether or not the theist can use the same reasoning as the modern atheist in order to separate the term ‘theism’ into a weak/negative […] just as modern atheists have done with the term ‘atheism’; weak theism would thus be defined as a ‘lack of belief concerning God’s (or gods’) non-existence (essentially, a-atheism)’ whereas strong theism would be defined as a ‘disbelief in God’s (or gods’) non-existence (essentially, belief in God).” [My emphasis]

There are three interesting points here. Firstly, the term “a-atheism”. This is the author’s first actual point, and right off the bat the author alludes to the self-referential paradox. Secondly, “lack of belief concerning God’s… non-existence” is a type of atheism. It’s a heavily agnostic atheism, but if you lack a stance on the non-existence of God, as either true or not, then you really shouldn’t believe in that God. That’s atheism.

The third point is that this asinine redefinition of theism doesn’t have any point. “Strong theism”, as 22056 terms it, is “a disbelief in God’s… non-existence… essentially, belief in God”. Atheism doesn’t have the luxury of being defined in both a positive belief and an absence of a belief, in the exact same way. Atheism actually is a lack of theism. Theism is an actual content-holding stance.

I should clarify: if 22056’s point is that he doesn’t believe God doesn’t exist, then I can agree. Neither of us believe a God exists.

“There are numerous, almost fatal, problems with the idea of weak atheism, such as that weak atheism is not really different from agnosticism”

Weak atheism is the stance of not believing in a God. This overlaps heavily with not knowing whether a God exists, which is agnosticism. However, atheism is in the domain of belief and agnosticism is in the domain of knowledge. The distinction is relevant. But, let’s pretend the distinction isn’t relevant. Then this entire argument could be mooted by simply agreeing that ‘weak atheism’ should better be referred to as ‘agnosticism’. If one were to make that admission, which the author seems to be advocating, then their argument crumbles away immediately.

“or if it is, then it actually fits the criteria of being burden-bearing strong atheism rather than weak atheism”

To say “I do not accept the claim of Gods” is not burden-bearing. It is atheism. And it is also agnosticism. The problem here is the author doesn’t understand the words being used. I don’t accept that weak atheism and agnosticism are the same, although clearly the author is advocating that they are. But they are answers in different domains of cognition.

“furthermore, the atheist’s use of weak atheism is arguably disingenuous given that the atheist seeks to gain the burden-avoiding advantages of agnosticism while still being able to label himself as an atheist.”

I don’t see that this is true. I use the label atheist because it’s the honest label. I don’t mean to garner advantages for myself, I am simply unconvinced of by your argument, or anyone else’ arguments, so far, for a God. I am unconvinced, therefore I don’t believe. That’s literally atheism.

Agnosticism has other elements to it that have impacts upon atheism, but are clearly distinct. Agnosticism may extend as far as the claim that we cannot know of a God. Ontological naturalists would fall into this category of agnosticism, but would also be atheist. Ignosticism is a subset of agnosticism, that pertains that the claim of a God is so poorly defined that it is meaningless to say one could know. Some parts of agnosticism are actually burden-bearing. Atheism is not.

But, our author goes on:

the modern atheist: he will define himself regardless of what the dictionary or traditional usage asserts is the case, and the way that he defines himself is as someone who just lacks a belief in God or god; he is, essentially, just a non-theist, not a positive atheist

This is comical for many reasons. Take the traditional usage of the word “atheism”, where the polytheistic Romans used to call Christians and Jews atheists for not having enough gods. The dictionary used to define atheists with adjectives like “sinfulness” and “wickedness” (which the author readily quotes), but everyone seems comfortable admitting that traditional dictionary use doesn’t actually apply. No, the author is arguing for the “traditional” and “dictionary” definitions, only so far as they support his own position. Dissenting and differing views are ‘no true Scotsman’. The term “traditional use” in a language that adjusts to better encapsulate ideas and meanings is also “archaic”.

It gets weirder still. By the definition offered in the post, I am not an atheist. But, I am also not an agnostic. So, what am I? Where’s the burden of proof? This “explanation” has muddled understanding to the point of obscurity.

Imagine a politician trying to pass a new law, defended by the idea that “it is what God wants”. The politician is opposed by a group who claim they don’t believe in a God and thus don’t accept the defence offered by the politician. The politician then replies with “I don’t believe in not-God”. Does that defend the proposed law? Is there anyone who can’t see right through the politician’s sophistry at this stage?

But don’t worry, it gets weirder still. At a later point the author reveals a profound understanding of the problem with the labels he is using:

“… each of these words are what Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblance’ words. That is, we cannot expect to find a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for their use. Their use is appropriate if a fair number of the conditions are satisfied. Moreover even particular members of the families are often imprecise, and sometimes almost completely obscure. Sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical scepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.

(Smart, 2011)

Given this quite nuanced quote, is it just a copy and paste job? Because the author shows a lack of engagement with this idea. The author quotes some other writers and online dictionaries that equally engage in this nuanced discussion about atheism very much including the ‘lack of belief’ ilk, not just the “positive atheism” definition of actively believing God does not exist. So, why does 22056 follow that with:

So it must be clear that there is nothing irrational or unjustified in claiming that atheism is the positive belief that no God or gods exist

It’s not just the word “atheism”, a pivotal word in this faeces thesis. The different between a default position in philosophy and its practical application in the court of law seems to entirely escape our little study.

[T]he burden of proof is intimately linked to the idea of an argumentative presumption; indeed, if a certain position bears the burden of proof then there is a presumption in favor of the opposing position, which means that a person can and should act as if the presumptive position is actually the case until and unless the position which bears the burden of proof is itself demonstrated to be the case.

This is a revealing misunderstanding of the default position. The default position is to accept no claim at all. It is not to presume the contradictory claim is true until the claim is demonstrated. In this context, it is not reasonable to assume that just because the claim “God exists” hasn’t met any reasonable burden of evidence, we should instead accept the claim “God doesn’t exist” is true. I accept neither claim. And that is the default position.

There are practical assumptions. When you are found ‘not guilty’, you may as well have been found ‘innocent’, for you are revealed back into the population. However, it is an important distinction to note that there may not be evidence they are innocent, there is simply insufficient evidence that they are guilty.

It is not prejudicial. That’s the really important point. When you try to make the case for a God’s existence, you are trying to move someone away from the default position. Default positions are not prejudicial. If your failure were then considered evidence God actually doesn’t exist, that would be prejudicial. That’s how it works. In a court case, it is prejudicial. In a court case, the failure to demonstrate someone’s guilt leads to a ruling that is indistinguishable from being innocent. It does not lead to a re-trial until at least one side demonstrates their case; it all rests or falls on the success of the prosecution. But that is a poor parallel to the religion-debate.

Here’s a question to ponder: how do you distinguish between different types of atheism? Positive/Strong/Gnostic atheism is often characterised as the stance that believes there are no Gods. Where are Weak/Negative/Agnostic atheism is the stance of a lack of belief in Gods. But, that latter category is one I share with my laptop and desk; they too lack a belief in a God. There is a meaningful distinction: I doubt the existence of a God, my desk is incapable of thought and doubt. This is probably the only good point 22056 makes. But, before we offer to buy him a round of drinks, simply making a point is something 22056 has elevated to “damningly”.

First, and must damningly, consider that rocks, raccoons, and rhubarbs lack a belief in God or gods, and yet it is obviously absurd to claim that such things are “atheistic” in any meaningful sense; but if atheism just is a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods, then, literally-speaking, the very computer that I am typing this document on is “atheistic”, which is, as stated, an absurd view

I argued that language changes to better encapsulate ideas and meanings. I don’t think it is absurd to lack a belief, like a stick of rhubarb would. However, I do think it is meaningful to draw the distinction. We could, for example, refine the definition of atheism again to the stance of doubting the claim that a God exists. Rhubarb doesn’t doubt, and so a meaningful distinction is made. Also, I think this captures a lot of what people in the atheist community do; they articulate their reasons for doubt. Or, we could create a category of atheism called “naive atheism”, where rhubarb, babies and people who have never heard of a God reside. The problem isn’t exactly damning, and it doesn’t help show that theism is better defined as a-atheism.

Part of the problem here is 22056’s thesis was written before I published this picture, where I explained that just because you have heard a claim, does not mean you accept it.

if someone has contemplated the existence of God or gods, then it is highly doubtful that they lack a belief about the issue, but rather they have very likely either come to see God’s existence as more probable than not, or less probable than not”

Perhaps this is true. But that does not mean either claim has been demonstrated to the level of being believed. I don’t have to accept a claim or its negation just because I have heard the claim. I can consider a claim more likely than its negation, and still not believe it. I can not understand the claim in any meaningful way (which describes a lot of people when it comes to God).

I’m less than halfway through the thesis at this point, and I’m starting to see the power of the Gish Gallop. I can’t be bothered to address the rest. And, on the way to this point I have simply overlooked equally big errors as simply being irrelevant. But, have a read of the thesis, leave a comment. Be nice.

 
Smart, JJC. (2011) “Atheism and Agnosticism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/.

The Human Ecosystem: knowledge and philosophy

All species exist within their ecology and niche. This is a combination of physical things, both favourable and unfavourable: nutrients and prey, predators and toxins, hot and cold, water and salt. If you imagine a deer in the woods, it exists among the trees, eating grass and bark. Humans are not like this. We live apart from all of our requirements and ailments. We exist independent of our ecosystem. How did this happen?

Firstly, it’s worth clearing up some terminology. The Gause Exclusionary Principle is a way of defining a species, and it is reliant on the ecosystem in which the species exists. Therefore, if humans are a species, we do not live apart from our ecosystem; our ecosystem must simply not be what it appears to be. The Gause Exclusionary Principle―or competitive exclusion principle―states that any two individuals who are able to exist in the same area occupying the same ecological niche are members of the same species; two different species trying to occupy the same niche in the same area will enter into competition, which one species will lose and become locally extinct or excluded. Given sufficient time, one of the species may adapt to a different niche.

If you put cows and sheep in a field, one will be better at eating grass than the other. Populations of both will increase until their is sufficient pressure on the resource that the advantage of one species over the other becomes significant. The disadvantaged species will go hungry. Their competition for grass will be a competition one of the species will lose. (I use a farming example to simplify the ecosystem.)

Over here, Nate asked his readers to entertain the question of whether evolution can select for advanced cognitive abilities, like philosophical ponderance, complex and abstract true beliefs and science. When you think of a species struggling to survive, it may seem the brain of brain-possessing species only needs to find food and select mates, a struggle to which the concept of abstract ‘truth’ may not be important. The Tunicate, for example, is a filter feeder that uses a brain to navigate to a rock, clings to that rock, then eats its own brain and filter feeds from their. Functional brains are not necessarily useful.

But, given a particular niche, functional and intelligent brains are useful. Early hominids created tools, which were very useful for hunting, and fire, which was useful for cooking. This gave hominids an immediate advantage over species in similar niches that didn’t have tools. If individuals gathered an way of understanding, then they could learn to make tools from other individuals who either intentionally or accidentally made, say, a spear.

Spear heads were made by taking flint and striking it with a harder rock, and the way flint breaks makes a sharp edge. But, it’s not enough to watch another individual do that and then replicate it. What would you replicate? Could you also reach for the nearest rock to your right and the nearest to your left and clash them together? Were the rocks important, or could a handful of sand and a stick achieve the same thing? Do you need anything in your hands, or could I simply mimic the motion with my empty hands? No, I would need an understanding of an explanation that explains what was happening, then I could adjust my behaviour to find the right rocks, and alter the way they collide to make sure they fracture correctly to make a sharp edge.

This is a very different behaviour to other species in their niche. Some birds use rocks, unchanged, and drop shells and nuts onto the rocks for the food. Others make inadvertent changes to their ecosystem that have to enter into an equilibrium. Humans (and a couple of other primates) alter their niche on purpose. And the tool they use for that is knowledge and deep cognitive function.

Our intelligence is a primary feature of our niche. Unlike other species, whose niches can be described in terms of water and energy flows, nutrient cycles and prey/predation population dynamics, human ecology is defined in schematics, economics, international trade and technology; all of which are built on intelligence. Once our niche could be capitalised on by intelligence and understanding, the capacity to understand true things became a selective pressure. Explanations and understanding are our niche. Globally.

If you look to a dog, then a sheep and start to ponder whether evolution can really create deep cognitive function and philosophical pondering, you need to ponder that in the context that once a species occupies the niche globally, it can only happen once. Otherwise, there will be competition for resources, like land and space. (Rise of the Planet of the Apes.)

Philosophical pondering is very important and a key part to how understanding and technology progress. Take, again, our early hominids clashing stones together to make a spearhead. Evolution may have been able to select for something more superficial, like knowledge of the types of rocks to reach for. But it’s certainly not clear what the progressive and graduated steps to such binary knowledge might be. Whereas, for levels of cognition, that comes in levels. Labradors think more than mice. Primates more so, again. This clearly is on a continuous spectrum. That is where evolution operates.

Philosophical ponderance allows our hominid to ponder what about its observation is important. It will have to make these sorts of judgements, because it will never find identical rocks; it has to know how to identify selection criteria. Perhaps it will posture that the colour of the things being hit together is important, which it can then test, identify the failure and go through a process until it identifies the rocks are important. It must conjecture an understanding that it tests and refines. It’s philosophical ponderances are key to the progress.

Our ecosystem, our niche, is our intelligence and our ability to create explanations. Our critical though and philosophical ponderances define our nest. And that is why evolution has created no other contemporary species with the same intellect; because then we would be fighting for a niche, and one of us would lose.

36 Questions for which I, as a man, am uniquely qualified to answer

Equality is one of the most important issues facing people. The expectation that women should have most of the family responsibilities cuts men off from their family and women off from their career progressions, and that has repercussions in lifestyle, pensions and then, ultimately, the amount the young have to pay to support the retired. Seeing a woman’s opinion as somehow not valuable cuts off a population from the discussions that need to happen about politics and ethics. Gender inequality hurts both genders and society.

But, pretending the problem is worse than it is, pandering to stereotypes, and misrepresenting issues isn’t going to help us identify the real problems so they can be addressed. I’m beginning to think that, just as we have become good as establishing a language to distinguish Islamists from Muslims, we should start looking at language that separates regressive, dishonest, and superficial arguments about feminism from real feminism.

Social tolerance to the point that it allows regressive views and sexism have grown and not even be challenged is a problem. You do not have to tolerate cultural sexism to be politically correct; we started cutting it from our culture, so we can expect it from others, too. We have literally progressed away from abject sexism, and it’s both racist and sexist to allow it in other cultures; to assume other cultures can’t overturn their sexism (like we did) and that those cultures supersede women’s rights, somehow.

I am a feminist, but I care that the problems I consider are real problems. To show what this problem looks like, here’s a 31 questions (that claim to be 36 questions) women apparently want to ask men, with my “answers”. But, you know me by now, I don’t care about the answer half as much as I care about the question.

The questions are filled with stereotypes and characterisations of men so asinine they would incur the whining and belligerent wrath of feminists if men did it. The questions are just stupid.

 

  1. Why do you hate romcoms, or do you feel like you need to hate them? Everybody like the notebook, everybody likes Beyonce.

How many men have to like how many romcoms? There are men who like romcoms, despite the fact that romcoms are designed for and then marketed to women. I like Four Weddings and a Funeral and the first Bridget Jones’ Diary. Is that not enough? Do I have to like seeing Gerard Butler get sentimental at Jennifer Aniston? Because that was an awful film. Films with unrealistically forgiving, handsome men with limitless free time and flexible careers in big houses who pursue the “realistic” neurotic and slightly insane protagonist, simply doesn’t make compelling watching. If I pursued a woman in the way a man does in romcoms, I’d have a restraining order strapped on me.

Romcoms are almost invariably films about rich and handsome men pursuing deeply flawed women who are playing hard to get. It is female fantasy. Just like pretending one could be a quick-witted, muscled, stoic action hero is male fantasy. And I’d wager as many women like actions films as men like romcoms. (And it’s not a zero on either side.)

I find this question stereotypes.

 

  1. Why do you make women just sit around and talk about men and movies, when y’all easily just sit around and talk about boobs for hours?

Never have I ever spent more than 30 seconds talking about boobs.

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. Why do you automatically assume you won’t like TV or movies that star a female lead?

The Good Wife may be my favourite drama at the moment (it’s competing with Netflix’s Daredevil and the BBC’s Luther). Also in the top 5 is Jessica Jones. And didn’t I already admit to liking Bridget Jones’ Diary?

I find this question assumes more about me than it can possibly know.

 

  1. Why are you surprised when women are funny? I’m probably funnier than you.

I’m not. And no, you’re not.

I find this question assumes more about me than it can possibly know.

 

  1. Why do you think that we’re obsessed with you when we hook up?

I think you might be hooking up with men who don’t like you, therefore everything you do that isn’t sex annoys them. Try hooking up with people who like you.

I find this question needs to make better life choices.

 

  1. Why can’t I sleep with as many people as I want to without being judged? When men do it, they’re congratulated.

Congratulated by who? Judged by who? Are you judging everything by the insane and sociopathic frat-culture and lad-culture? Are you judging women who sleep with a lot of men?

I can assure you, in the real world, men and women pay the same nominal social costs for sleeping around. Men are judged just as much as women, and by women. And women are pretty quickly forgiven; I’ve never known a woman be mocked for sleeping with a lot of people for more than the hilarious day after. Both men and women pay a social cost for sleeping around.

There are echo-chambers, in both male and female groups, where such social costs do not exist. But, in general, everyone pays the cost.

I find this question needs more life experience.

 

  1. Why do you consider a woman a tease if she doesn’t sleep without after 3 dates, but a slut if she sleeps with you on the first date?

Mathematically, one can deduce that the second date is the ideal time to sleep with someone, with some lenience into the third date… it’s the only logical conclusion.

Again, I think you might be dating people who don’t like you and are only there for the sex. I’ve slept with people (sober) that I never dated and neither of us were judged, and I’ve dated a girl for 7 months before anything happened. Both of these worked because I got on with the people.

I find this question needs to make better life choices.

 

  1. In what world does “no” mean “yes”? No means no.

None. In precisely no world. That’s true about sex, cups of tea, footwear in sports.

I’m not going to plug the gap and pretend to understand that you’re talking about rape. You need to make your point explicit. Because, by letting me make the assumptions in between, we skip the bit where you are accusing men of being rapists.

I find this question doesn’t get to the point.

 

  1. Why do you say women are too emotional to be leaders, then justify cat calling by saying that men just can’t control themselves?

I’ve Googled this, and I found a handful of arguments debunking the myth and lots of articles attacking one person (just one) who actually said it, someone called T.I. Does anyone take that person, with that name, seriously?

Just, also, Obama was only chastised by the far right for crying. And, on Fox “News”, that was predominantly by women.

And Hillary Clinton is about to be president.

And the UK has had a female Prime Minister. So has Australia.

And, other than cat-callers, who defends cat-callers?

I find this question doesn’t have a point.

 

  1. Why do you think that just because you’re nice to me, that I owe you my body?

I don’t. Just like being nice to me in no way entitles you to dinners out on me, me being nice to you in no way entitles me to your body. If you’re dating people who make it clear they’re being nice to you for sex, you’re not dating people who like you.

If people are saying to you that you owe them your body for holding the door open, you may not work at the asylum; you may not be allowed to leave the asylum.

Either way, I find this question needs to make better life choices.

 

  1. Why would you ever send an unsolicited dick pic?

I never have. But, I am going to assume the answer is ‘because at some point it has worked’. It’s like cat calling. It’s awful, but I’d wager that a woman has positively reinforced this behaviour for people who still do it. But, also, it’s a dick. It’s really not that offensive.

I find this question lacks a sense of humour.

 

  1. Why do you feel like it’s okay to harass women or make offensive comments about women, but when someone does it to your sister, it’s not okay?

I don’t do that. But also, generic ‘women’ jokes are very different from personal jokes. Generic ‘man’ jokes also exist, and I would get equally irate and defensive at jokes made at the expense of my younger brothers. As for my 18 year old sister and 23 year old brother, I’d assume they can defend themselves or are mature enough to ignore it.

This question has a few weird sexist assumptions. First, it either assumes no jokes offensive to men exist or that men don’t get offended, second, it assumes I can rightly be defensive of my sister(s) but should not necessarily jump to my brother’s defence as quickly. Why not? Probably some sexist assumption about the heightened sensitivity of women? And why should I care about that? If women want to be treated the same as men, they better have thicker skin than that, because men treat each other awfully.

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. How does it feel to interrupt me when I’m in the middle of making a point, during a meeting?

I don’t do that because you’re a woman. I do that because your point is rubbish. Seriously, nonsense ideas get nipped in the bud. I do that with friends, friends do it to me, I’ve received that in meetings (although I’ve never done it in a meeting). If you feel strongly enough and actually have a point, speak up. That’s how it works.

I’ve spent most of my social life around women, and I can assure you that my opinion is valued (or listened to, at least) a lot less in social circles than the opinions of everyone else. This isn’t a gendered issue, this is the issue of ideas fitting in with goals. In a business meeting, pragmatic ideas are needed. Apparently, in my social groups, no ideas are needed and everything should just be an opportunity to complain about problems no one intends to fix. You cannot bring ideas from one of these marketplaces to the other.

I find this question to be a victim narrative.

 

  1. Why do you have to sit with your legs so wide open? I get that you have balls, but I don’t stand around with my arms wide open to make room for my boobs.

Yes, but breasts are out front-and-centre, and shoulders are wider than the distance between inside-legs. Do the geometry yourself.

I find this question ignorant of geometry.

 

  1. Why are women perceived as the “weaker sex”, even though we literally birth you?

Is giving birth the definition of strength? Because I’ve consulted a dictionary and Google, and I don’t think it is.

There is not a single woman at my gym who can bench, squat or deadlift the same weight I can, and I am a very long way from being the strongest man in my gym. There is one woman, and only one, whose shoulder press is comparable to mine. That’s an anecdote that reflects a broader biological truth: men are stronger than women. 

I find this question ignorant.

 

  1. Why is it so bad to show your emotions? It means you’re human.

I’m sorry, who are the sexists in this? If you honestly believe showing emotion defines humanity, and that men don’t do it, you just excluded half the population from your definition of humanity.

And that’s assuming men don’t show emotion. We do.

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. Why are you always trying to prove your masculinity to me?

I’m not. Very few people are. Do you believe that men consciously identify a number of options, identify the “masculine” one and then do it even if it goes against their wishes or natural inclination? And that they do that for you? You need to get over yourself. Men are no more ‘proving’ their masculinity in what they do, than you are ‘proving’ your femininity in what you do. I’m pretty sure you don’t go to the bathroom in group and shop recreationally to prove your femininity to me.

I find this question ignorant.

 

  1. Why the fuck isn’t it ladylike to cuss? When did words get genders?

Ask the Italians, French and Spanish, where words really do have genders. And, also, it’s not gentlemanly to cuss either. “Lady” is a status and gendered word. You can swear as much as you like, but we all pay a social price for swearing ‘too much’ in given contexts. The connotation isn’t one of lacking feminity, but lacking politeness. Men are as vulnerable to such social judgements as women.

I find this question ignorant.

 

  1. Why is it your first instinct to doubt women who have been sexually violated, or raped?

5 points to anyone who can tell me what word is missing from the question.

The missing word is “claimed”. Even if you ignore all the evidence that genuine sexual assaults go unreported and a lot of reported sexual assaults are unfounded, our justice system always works this way around: the accused is innocent until proven guilty. You can make sure you don’t do anything wrong, but you can’t make sure you’ll never be accused. And that’s the point.

Look at the number of false accusations that have ruined people’s lives. We should demand evidence before we go on a witch hunt.

I find this question needs to research the justice system.

 

  1. Why do you assumed a woman is angry because she’s on her period?

I don’t. I might make the joke, just to point out she’s being unreasonable. But I ask men if they’re on steroids or on their period, too.

Grab a sense of humour, because I’ve never had a man complain I suggested he was on his period.

I find this question lacking a sense of humour.

 

  1. Why do you think women who wear makeup are false-advertising? We could say the same thing about your dick size.

Make up is interesting. People only feel they need to wear it because everyone wears it. If all girls agreed to stop wearing make up today, there wouldn’t be a problem about it by the end of the week. Girls aren’t ugly, the cultural expectation is becoming that of what a made-up face looks like.

And for penis size, I don’t cover my penis in plasticine and whop it out in public. I don’t advertise it and when you see it, what you see is what you get.

I find this question has had a disappointing sexual experience.

 

  1. Isn’t it weird there’s a bunch of old white men sitting in a room making legislation about what I can and can’t do with my body? Do you have a cootchie?

It’s not that weird. They make decisions about drug use and violence, there’s legislation about who can have sex and who can get tattoos and piercings. It is in no way weird that people who have extraordinarily little in common with me make legislation that affects me and my rights to my own body.

What is weird is when these white, elected, men make decisions that do not reflect the decisions of their constituents. That’s weird.

Also, I’m pro-choice. Why are all men getting lumped in with the decisions of the elected representatives you disagree with? That’s just ignorant. Also, why is abortion a woman’s rights issue? If one can defend the idea that it is murder of a human life, then it’s not your body you’re making decisions over. The ‘it’s my body’ argument for pro-choice is a nonsense because it fails to rebut a thing about the opposition’s views.

Also, if it’s my child in your uterus, it’s not only you who gets a say (or, it shouldn’t be). This is not a woman’s rights issue.

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. Why are straight guys so obsessed with lesbians?

I don’t know. But I am. And I don’t judge you for your kinks.

But, also, according to Pornhub’s stats, “Lesbian” is the number 1 searched term for female viewers. Female viewers of Pornhub were 4 times more likely to search for “Lesbian” than men. So, judge less and learn more.

I find this question needs more tolerance.

 

  1. How does it feel to get kicked in the balls?

Uncomfortable.

Fair question, though.

 

  1. Do you get tired of trying to be manly all the time?

I’m not trying. I don’t know what is being considered “manly” here, but I don’t invest effort in changing the status quo. If the status quo comes across as ‘manly’ to you, that’s on you.

I find this question ignorant.

 

  1. Why are you so afraid of gender equality?

I’m not.

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. Why do I deserve to be paid less than you? In what world does 0.77 = 1? In what world does 0.68 = 1? How is that fair?

I’ve removed units to make it international. 77c or pence to the $1 or £1. Or 68c/p. Which is it? There are certain things that mean women will be paid less for the same job, like risk of maternity leave. I think that is something that needs to change, but women also need to be a part of that change; it’s no good continuing to assume that women should be the primary caregivers and family carers, thus taking afternoons off to take kids to the dentist, and expecting the same salary. We need a social change about what is expected at home. Women are a big part of that expectation. After the change, hopefully salaries will fall in line.

But, also, women tend to choose different career trajectories. In general, they don’t do the same job. Women do not tend to get paid 30% less for the same job.

I find this question needs to look at the social issues more deeply before they blame men of sexism.

 

  1. Why are you intimidated by a woman that makes more money than you? That’s awesome. More money!

All my life, my partner(s) have earned the same or more than me. It’s only really frustrating when I’m not earning at all.

But, why is it awesome when the woman earns more, but a problem when the man earns more?

I find this question sexist.

 

  1. Why are opinionated women seen as bitches, when opinionated man are seen as bosses?

They’re not. Simon Cowell is seen as being many derogatory things. So is Donald Trump. So is Duncan Bannatyne. So is my uncle. Remember Mattsplaining? That was derived from Mansplaining, which is what people really think of opinionated men.

This is a ridiculous victim narrative where one assumes that having an opinion plays out differently across the genders. I’ve never seen that happen. Having an opinion plays out differently depending on the utility of that opinion. That’s why Trump’s harsh-line no-negotiation opinions have been very successful in business. If your opinion is that everyone should live in some utopia where they turn up to work if and when they want, and not necessarily do as they’re told, but instead do what they like, those opinions have no utility. The holder of that latter opinion is an idiot, regardless of whether they are my brother or a woman.

I find this question ignorant.

 

  1. Why aren’t you speaking up when you hear your male friends behind closed door that make jokes that are offensive to women?

It doesn’t happen. If it does, I do. But it really doesn’t. Don’t tell me it does, because of the two of us accused of being on the other side of the closed door, it’s me, not you.

I find this question presumptuous.

 

  1. Why are you so afraid of recognising your own privilege? It doesn’t make you a bad person, just recognise it and do something about it.

What if I recognise my privilege, but, in fact, my life of doing a master’s degree and being a part of legal battle regarding inheritance is actually too busy to also go about social change.

Or, what if females have outnumbered males in management positions in every company I have worked in, and in student numbers in every educational facility I have studied in, and excelling students I have taught have been female far more often than they have been male; what if I don’t recognise my privilege over women, because I don’t have one.

Looking at my cohort from my undergraduate degree, there is no discernable difference in the success of the men and the women who graduated back in 2010. So, perhaps you need to look at the symptoms you are putting down to privilege and wonder if, perhaps, other people are just working harder than you.

I find this question ignorant.

Thoughts on this idiot

The memorably named 22056 has recently started a blog which appears to have the goal of attacking “atheism”. I say “atheism” because I strongly suspect the author’s concept of atheism has formed in an echo chamber that doesn’t care much for what atheism really is or what atheists really believe. Part of the reason I think the author lives in an echo chamber is because here the author considered criticisms of scientism to be rarely discussed. Type scientism into YouTube or into the WordPress search you will see that the criticism is absolutely everywhere.

More importantly, the rebuttal to scientism is a moot point. I have never encountered anyone who is an advocate of scientism. I have met people who think science is a better method of knowledge in certain domains, of course, but never as an absolute method.

The author writes short posts, of about a paragraph or two and managed to compact a lot of mistakes into that. There is extensive writing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, including a link to a rather dense piece by Edward Feser (who seems to be gaining some traction in apologetics circles).

I think 22056 is on a predictable trajectory. For now, the author is blogging about horrid straw-atheists that should be apparent not only to atheists, but to any honest and informed religious person as well, and about a massive misunderstanding of objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I’ll spell it out:

1. The Straw Atheists

1.1 Knowledge

Despite dedicating an entire blog to discussing atheists and, therefore, belief and knowledge, 22056 is strikingly uninformed about pretty much every element of the philosophy he would need to engage in the conversation. 22056 claims that:

“One of the most interesting intellectual phenomena to observe is witnessing certain atheists […] deny the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument […] and thereby tacitly admit that some things might come uncaused from absolutely nothing.”

Anyone who cares can see this is fundamentally mistaken. But I thought a graphical representation might make it clearer for those who still don’t know:

Knowledge

Although I admit off the bat that deriving “confidence” from non-statistical data, like reason and logic and carefully considered evidence, is much woollier than this graph implies, I do feel it captures the basic concept: both the claim and the claims negation can fall short of being accepted. The truth is we simply don’t know what would happen with any given sample of nothing. The philosophical points this alludes to are the ‘default position’ and the ‘burden of proof’. The default position is the idea that a person being told an idea should start off from the position of scepticism. The burden of proof is the idea that the claim maker needs to actively support their claim, not just deride imagined negations and alternatives.

Another interesting idea this graph alludes to, which is much more nuanced, is the idea of varying levels of confidence. 22056 thinks of “belief” in binary terms and uses that to extrapolate wildly:

“if that atheist truly believes that universes could possibly come uncaused from nothing […] then the same atheist should immediately and unavoidably become agnostic about all knowledge claims […] for if the atheist believes that it is possible that our universe came uncaused from nothing, then […] it is also utterly possible that this very same universe came uncaused from nothing five seconds ago with the appearance of age, or that it was a universe where only the atheist himself is conscious and everyone else just appears to be, or a universe where the atheist is just a brain in a vat imagining all that is around him, and so on and so forth”

I’m not actually sure what “and so on and so forth” might refer to here, as the author has exhausted the philosophy 101 cliche examples of reasons to lack absolute certainty. But, by recognising these are possibilities, 22056 has followed through their confused notion of ‘possible’ being a monolith and not a spectrum, and ruled out not just certainty, but the acceptance of any belief.

These tortured philosophical ideas lead to caricatures of atheism that do not map onto anyone I have met and, more importantly, do not reflect critical thinking that underpins most atheists I know.

 

1.2 Assumptions

Atheism is very simply the lack of belief in a god. Atheism has no greater reach. It solely answers to the question ‘Do you believe a God exists?’ with anything other than the affirmative. Anything else a person claims atheism to mean is an assumption.

 

1.2.1 Appending a misunderstood philosophy

22056 also makes reference to methodological naturalism. But, in keeping with a person who simply has not read up on the issues, defines it wrongly:

“inferring design violates the long-held scientific principle of methodological naturalism”

22056 is clearly thinking of ontological naturalism, the position that really does exclude supernatural causes and therefore Intelligent Design. However, methodological naturalism is the position that we can only investigate natural things, but they can, in principle at least, lead us to supernatural explanations. I’ve never known it happen, but it is not a long-held principle to exclude them. As the term “methodological naturalism” is repeated, I don’t think this is a typo. I think this is actually an outright philosophical error.

Naturalism

On the left, with Ontological Naturalism, the solid line denotes the natural world is all there is, or all that can be known (these are slightly different claims, and are two different schools of ontological naturalism). The lines connecting different observable entities show that all things can only be understood in relation to each other. However, as “physics” could be an entity inside Ontological Naturalism, it isn’t a bad representation of the actual body of knowledge we currently have. The broken line in the right, under Methodological Naturalism, distinguishes between the natural, which we can observe, and the supernatural that, given sufficient reason, we could call on for explanations; the distinction between the natural and the supernatural is semi-permeable. The reason I have used arrows instead of lines connecting entities inside the natural world to things in the supernatural world is because there are no well defined entities in the supernatural world, at this time, to connect them to, and no good theories that would connect the natural world to a supernatural world.

It’s isn’t just this mistaken “long-held […] principle of methodological naturalism” that’s the issue. It’s the assumption that atheism is methodological naturalism, at all. If you want to attack methodological naturalism, be my guest; I look forward to knowing how we can directly investigate the supernatural as well as a good definition of the supernatural. However, neither atheism nor science is necessarily methodological naturalism.

 

1.2.2 Atheism doesn’t answer questions

Atheism is also not an answer to a question. The topic has no reach into ethics. More importantly, in the context of 22056, atheism doesn’t answer questions in biology, chemistry, cosmology or physics. It is inaccurate to say:

“the atheistic-naturalist […] has an utterly blind and unjustified faith for not only does the atheistic-naturalist not know how […] life came from non-life, or rationality from irrationality, or consciousness from unconsciousness, the atheistic-naturalist does not even know if they could arise on naturalism for he has no idea if natural forces have the causal power to make these things come about, and thus the naturalist, on nothing more than blind faith”

What we do know is, however it is that nature operates, it allows for phenomena like the ones 22056 lists here. It could be that nature operates with the occasional intervention from something supernatural. That is not, by fiat, ruled out. However, given the absolute absence of evidence at this time, a rational thinker rules out the supernatural intervention. This does not mean that in some dichotomous sense the rational thinker then accepts naturalism. Look at the graph at the start of this post again: The cause is natural and The cause is supernatural are two different claims; it could be that neither of them have met their burden of proof.

If that makes you curious as to why secular thinkers talk of models of abiogensis and evolution of rational thought, it is time to look at the arrow on the first diagram that connects the claim on the right to the doubt of the negating claim on the left. Doubt is informed by many things, including shortfalls in the defence of that claim, ambiguity and linguistic shortcomings. But doubt is also informed by good defences of the opposite claim, even if the opposite claim has also not reached its burden of proof. So, every plausible model of abiogensis feeds into not only the confidence in the claim ‘The cause is natural’ but also into the doubt of the claim ‘The cause is supernatural’.

 

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument

2.1 Everything that begins to exist has a cause

This premise can be written in many ways, but this is how 22056 decided to word it. It doesn’t matter, as the premise always has the same problem: it fails to distinguish between that which begins to exist and that which does not. I think the problem is clearer when the premise is worded in terms of ‘contingent’ and ‘noncontingent’ things, but the problem is essentially the same. If you listen to William Lane Craig defend this premise, he will talk of the ‘absurdity’ of an infinite chain of causes, and therefore there must be some cause that, itself, is not caused. This is needed to break the infinite regress.

The infinite regress point only makes sense in time, so any ‘boundary’ to time also gets around the problem. If the chain of causality were infinitely long and transcended a cyclical break in time, like in Loop Quantum Gravity models, then the problem disappears. Any Bang-Crunch cycle of the universe gets around this problem. But, the problem also evaporates when one looks at ‘time’ as one of the things that began to exist. Time cannot be caused to exist, because causes and effects happen in time. Time cannot be effected by a cause that precedes it.

 

2.2 The Universe began to exist

This very much depends on what one means by ‘the universe’. If this universe is actually the rearrangement and expansion of a previous universe that collapsed, did this universe ‘begin to exist’? If, as some people argue, “universe” means “everything” then this universe did not begin to exist, it is simply a former collapse being rearranged. It is a dynamic and constantly rearranging universe. Under these circumstances, the infinite chain of causes stops being a problem because there is a ‘boundary’ to time at each collapse/expansion. And the entire ensemble becomes eternal.

Also, if one takes the law of conservation of energy seriously, then energy is eternal. Even if all energy was once expressed in terms of quantum fields, all that energy doesn’t disappear and wasn’t created. One could argue the universe ‘began to exist’ from that energy. But one may also choose to argue that the energy is a part of the universe.

 

The blog 22056 has started up is an embodiment of the Gish Gallop; a large number of poor-quality arguments that take no effort on 22056’s part, that take a long time to unravel: bad assumptions and misleading use of language. A Gish Gallop is not a fallacy, it is a technique of offering too much to address. The content of what is offered is often laced with fallacies. That is what 22056 represents, tripe and gibberish coloured to look rational.

 

Climate change is real, the “realists” are wrong and we can solve this problem (if we try)

Approximately 64% of Americans do not think climate change is a threat to their way of life. That 64% will be made up of climate change deniers as well as people who call themselves climate change “realists”. This is a hugely concerning problem; democracy demands that people are aware of the problem before action can be taken. To solve a problem the people are unaware of, or in active denial of is a serious problem to democracy. It involves spending their tax money in a way that isn’t representative, and from my history lessons I understand that Americans are strongly against taxation without representation.

The question is about how we go on to address this issue of awareness. Awareness is an absolute cornerstone of democracy. And my very first bit of advice would be to change the rhetoric the media uses, or at least produce media that uses more accurate rhetoric. Equating climate change to “longer and hotter summers” is simply not accurate. We are not talking about being able to wear shorts and a vest in February. We are talking about weather that is, on average, warmer as a result of extreme weather events. We are talking about fatally dangerous heat waves that will kill the vulnerable (old, young and people with particular illnesses). We are talking about storm events that will flood more places, more severely.

We are talking about climate stability changing, making agriculture less reliable. That reduces our access to food. We are talking about damage to infrastructure that will reduce the reliability of energy supply which will reduce access to healthcare. We are talking about droughts that will reduce access to water. We are talking about a fundamental diminishment of the vital needs of our population.

That so-called ‘climate realists’ deny this is a problem; pretending that climate change is just a warmer summer is dangerous. Quibbling about the exact relationship between storm strength and climate change is simply tweaking details, but distracts from the actual direction of change: droughts in one season, floods in another, fatalities from heat waves and the destruction of the infrastructure that delivers our energy, food and water. Maybe hurricanes won’t become more powerful, but that is a minor discussion distracting from a major theme. (But they will become more powerful; but that’s not the point.)

I think there are two basic ways of dealing with climate change. That 64% of American don’t think it’s a risk indicates there is a third option―deny it―but I’m not going to advocate that; it’s based on bad science (when it’s based on anything at all). The two options worthy of mention are: reducing carbon output by regulation and investment in ‘green’ energy technologies, perhaps with comparatively modest investments in technologies to increase the resilience of our infrastructure to climate change; or very heavy investment in technologies to increase our resilience to climate change.

The latter one is something few people are familiar with, so I’ll take a moment to explain it. Climate change is not the problem. The effects of climate change are the problem. But, if we can invest in near-zero energy costs, local solar-energy production, flood-proofed buildings, GMO crops that can grow through a drought, desalination plants to provide water and relocating people away from flooded areas, then we have solved the (anthropocentric) problem. Part of this solution is to charitably invest in vulnerable and poor places. I don’t just mean New Orleans, either. I mean Mozambique and Bangladesh.

There are downsides to the investment solution to the effects of climate change. One is that investment will be focused on human settlements and not ecosystems; climate change will still affect biodiversity in a big way. More concerning is that there is a time limit on this. We must be able to produce the knowledge, technology and investment at an affordable rate before climate change affects our economies so severely we just can’t keep up with changing needs. We need to have made reasonable headway with this solution before climate change cripples our economies. We also need to choose to defend Bangladesh, even if it isn’t profitable. We need political infrastructures in place that allow us to relocate people if we can’t defend Holland and Bangladesh before rising sea levels submerge them entirely.

As a result, I think we should probably also be investing in buying ourselves some more time. This will involve some levels of regulation, green energy production, carbon capture and, I think most productively, greening the deserts. A ‘greened’ desert is a carbon storage with the possibility of food production and even an ecosystem that stores water; it is a negative-carbon idea that supports biodiversity.

There is this idea that it is unfair for me to dismiss the ‘climate realists’ overly calm approach to downplaying the severity of climate change. And to that I respond that it is dangerous to start talking about science as if it should be a democracy open to the uninformed, and that it is dangerous to focus on comparatively minor disagreements―like storm intensity―until we have some sort of policy in place to deal with climate change in general. I’m all for a discussion that includes dissenting voices, but it has to be a rational discussion that cares what the evidence is and is willing to prioritise. Once we are solving the problem of vulnerability to heat waves and droughts and floods, we can talk about whether we need to increase resilience to more powerful storms. But we should not forego all action so that we can discuss a minor detail.

I don’t really care how we choose to combat climate change, regulation or investment in technology, or both. What I care about is that we start now, and we make sure we carry the developing countries and vulnerable people with us.

Deep Ecology, Eco-Moral Nihilism and Meat Eating

Contrary to many environmental philosophies, I think it is important to recognise humans as occupying a special niche within nature. Eco-philosophies often have the assumption that humans are, in fact, indistinguishable from the rest of nature and the logical conclusion is that humans have no special rights to abstraction and interference. I think the logical conclusion is that humans also have no special responsibilities and, more damningly, that it leads to an eco-moral nihilism where all human behaviour (abstraction and interference included) is simply ‘ecology as normal’.

Deep Ecology, one of the more radical eco-philosophies, shares this basic spirit of assuming no special position for humans. Arne Naess, one of the founders (or, at least, popularisers of) Deep Ecology has concluded that human intervention should, therefore, be limited to vital human needs. This is because we have no right, according to Naess, to reduce the diversity or richness of nature. Deep Ecology, as an environmental ethic, strips itself of the ability to say this. One of the premises from which it advocates this minimal-interventionism is that of humanity’s “excessive” and “worsening” interactions with nature (Naess, 1995). But, if humans are atop no special niche, such evaluative language is entirely meaningless; the only thing that could be said is that, as far as Naess can see, humanity is living in a disequilibrium with nature. That is neither good nor bad, but simply ‘ecology as normal’.

I am not advocating ethical nihilism. I am simply pointing out that to truly take Deep Ecology’s “platforms” (not premises, apparently) seriously one must actually arrive at very different conclusions to the ones Naess and other advocates of Deep Ecology reach.

I think it is much more sensible to recognise humanity as being in a distinct ecological niche, clearly different from the niches of other species. All species have effected their niche; they are a part of the ecosystem and changed the way it functions by their presence. This happens through predation, release of toxins, eating plants and in some cases, like ants and beavers, the actual creation of physical structures. However, humans have some level of control over their ecology, in real terms. Human knowledge has allowed humans to adapt environments to their needs. There is even a proto-habitat in space (Deutsch, 2011). Human knowledge plays a very different role in shaping an ecology than the ecological function of other animals does. I think this is an important distinction, as the potential reach of human knowledge is vast, if not entirely unbounded. This gives us, not rights, but responsibilities.

It is only our knowledge that allows us to appreciate the interconnectedness and fragility of nature. Only knowledgeable explorations of ecosystems allow us to appreciate that how certain actions in the environment play out are unpredictable (at our current level of knowledge). It is only empathy and compassion that might implore us to imbue rights into other species. (Other animals may well have interspecies compassion.)

The minimalist intervention conclusion of eco-philosophies like Deep Ecology are not just irrational, they are deeply pessimistic. Arne Naess believes biodiversity is valuable in its own right, distinct from human needs. To conclude that humanity should not intervene with nature, from this premise, requires that readers bring a pessimistic premise about the essence of human interactions with nature. But, human knowledge and compassion are such that this is a wildly unnecessary premise. Humans do not just regulate against CFCs to mitigate their damage, they also reforest and afforest areas and there is a proposal for the ‘greening’ of the deserts; this means creating a rich and diverse ecosystem, where currently there is desert (Issar, 2010). Such actions have implications for carbon and climate change, as well. These sorts of interventions realise the value of biodiversity (if such a thing exists) much better than simple non-internvention.

In the context of The Moral Landscape (Harris, 2011), known to be what I think is a better explanation of ethics, this recognition of humans as occupying a special niche and how that affords humans responsibilities (telling humanity nothing of its rights) does limit itself, and offers some rather counter-intuitive eco-moral ideas. It does suggest that human intervention in nature should work towards the improvement of nature, with respect to species that are capable of wellbeing. (Elm trees are not capable of wellbeing, but their role in an ecosystem makes them vital to wellbeing.)

This ethic, coupled with a trend to not limit human population and wealth, leads to a counter-intuitive conclusion for an eco-philosophy: we should aim to occupy outer-space and leave geo-nature to itself. This is true as, in principle, it would be possible to create a source of gravity that harnesses matter from the universe (dust and hydrogen and alcohol) which we could then transmute into other materials to sustain a space-dwelling civilisation (Deutsch, 2011). In the short term, we are to live with geo-nature and the concept of ‘environmental management’ falls in the purview of geography  and we can see our need to better get along with nature. However, in the future, environmental management and resource management could fall under the purview of astrophysics and nuclear physics; questions of how we harness things from space and how we transmute them into what we need.

In that short term, Harris’ qualms with eating meat (mahalodotcom, 2011) are relevant here. But the questions of veganism are important on even deeper levels: pastoral farming is very land intensive, land we could be putting to more biodiverse or practical purposes. Harris raises the image of “life in an abattoir” to start to unpick why this is a moral or ethical question. The distinctly important answer is that a balanced diet can be vegan. In the same way as meat eating is no guarantee of dietary health, veganism is no guarantee of dietary deficiency. One may defend meat-eating by saying that it is easier to get a balanced diet from meat, and therefore compare the wellbeing in abattoirs to that of having to plan meals in advance. I doubt that defence would ever have held up, but the analysis, so far as I can see, has never been done. It’s also no longer true. Huel and Soylent are nutritionally balanced powdered vegan meals. There’s simply no way to make the convenience argument.

One may argue that to cease farming is to condemn a great number of animals to death, and a net reduction in population. This is quite possibly true, and encouraging massive depopulation or extinction is an important ethical consideration. Another important ethical question is that of heavily reducing the agricultural sector, leading to unemployment. These are significant questions. However, I would argue that if an open discussion about food diminishes the demand for meat, then, like all economic bodies, farmers must simply adapt. As that market dwindles, looking at how to occupy and farm space and transmute materials expands.

In conclusion, traditional premises of eco-philosophies do not get us to the conclusions they advocate or hope for. However, the opposite premise of recognising humanity’s distinct ecology and behaviour does a better job of affording humanity with responsibilities, as well as cosmically counter-intuitive long term goals; environmental management, itself, will eventually be subsumed into the hard sciences. In the shorter term, humanity needs to rethink its relationship with species on the planet in terms of land use, diet and the extent to which it tolerates low-diversity habitats like deserts.

 

Deutsch, D. (2011) The beginning of infinity: Explanations that transform the world. Penguin UK.

Harris, S. (2011) The moral landscape: How science can determine human values. Simon and Schuster.

Issar, A.S. (2010) Progressive Development by Greening the Deserts, to Mitigate Global Warming and Provide New Land and Income Resources. In: Progressive Development. Environmental Science and Engineering. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. pp. pp. 37–42. [Accessed 13 January 2016].

mahalodotcom (2011) Can You Defend Eating Meat with Sam Harris. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLFnJ8pWh8g [Accessed 13 January 2016].

Naess, A. (1995) The deep ecology ‘eight points’ revisited. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. pp. 213–221.