Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Section H01 Group 3

Today we discussed whether or not belief or disbelief in a God was beneficial. It was stated that religious beliefs did not necessarily determine personal character, but could be used as a reason to do good for others. An example would be organizing a church or other group together to do a community event. In the case of religious individuals they might be following holy texts such as the Bible which says that one should be good to other people. In the case for those who are not religious they might wish to make the most of their time on Earth and positively contribute to humanity. However on the opposite note violent and judgmental extremists may be found in all beliefs, but these people should not be judged based on their personal beliefs but by their personal character.


  1. It was a good conversation, good enough to co-opt our group discussion time. To be continued...

    The latest David Brooks column in the NYTimes* addresses some of the points I think some of us were making about atheism and its perceived absence of affirmation. He writes in part: "It seems to me that if secularism is going to be a positive creed, it can’t just speak to the rational aspects of our nature. Secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action. Christianity doesn’t rely just on a mild feeling like empathy; it puts agape at the center of life, a fervent and selfless sacrificial love. Judaism doesn’t just value community; it values a covenantal community infused with sacred bonds and chosenness that make the heart strings vibrate. Religions don’t just ask believers to respect others; rather each soul is worthy of the highest dignity because it radiates divine light."

    Brooks is right that atheism needs to do for SOME of its adherents what religion does for SOME of its, namely affirm and even "radiate." I'd just add the observation that in fact it does so, for many.

    * http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/opinion/david-brooks-building-better-secularists.html

    1. Letters are already rolling in, in response to Brooks. Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett:

      To the Editor:

      Re “Building Better Secularists” (column, Feb. 3):

      David Brooks says secular individuals have to build their own moral philosophies, while religious people inherit creeds that have evolved over centuries. Autonomous secular people are called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions.

      Secularists don’t have to “build” anything; we can choose moral philosophies from what’s already well tested. If religious people think that their “faith” excuses them from evaluating the duties and taboos handed down to them, they are morally obtuse.

      Does Mr. Brooks think that religious people are not “called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions”? Children may be excused for taking it on authority, but not adults.

      Mr. Brooks writes, “Religious people are motivated by their love for God and their fervent desire to please Him.” We secularists have no need for love of any imaginary being, since there is a bounty of real things in the world to love, and to motivate us: peace, justice, freedom, learning, music, art, science, nature, love and health, for instance.

      Our advice: Eliminate the middleman, and love the good stuff that we know is real.


      Medford, Mass.

      The writer, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, is co-author of “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.”

      One more observation of mine: in the Atheism class last time we read A.C. Grayling's compilation of secular wisdom (including secular morals/ethics) which he cheekily titled "The Good Book." Dennett's right, modern atheists don't have to build a moral structure any more than religious traditionalists do. But we ALL have to appropriate and affirm those structures by thinking them through, if we're to avoid shallow dogmatism.


  2. FQ's for 2.5.15.-
    1. What does it mean to be Dogmatic?
    2. What or whom prolonged the life of Pyrrho?
    3. Epicurus argued that the fear of what was a waste of time and based on bad logic?
    4. According to Epicurus, why shouldn't we fear death?

  3. Evan Conley10:53 AM CST

    You mentioned that religion can often be used as motivation for individuals to do good works and help others. I definitely do agree with that, though I would like to point out that SOME of those works are done in the name of spreading the influence of the religion rather than in the name of actually helping others. However, I do not believe that the intentions behind the works is important enough to discredit the good that is done in the name of religion.

    I would, however, like to provide a bit of perspective from the side of those who do not believe in the existence of a deity. I would argue that, because of the lack of a belief in an afterlife, the importance of bringing forth good in the world is more emphasized. This is not necessarily true for all of those who fall under the blanket term "atheist," but I do feel that many good works done by people who don't believe in a god in the name of humanity, and of the progression of the human race.

  4. I think Atheism can lead for some reason to a kinder persona as a whole it is more personal. But I think Christians have done a great job with organized movements, Though it isn't the only means for sure, The March of Dimes was largely secular. I think Mormons do this incredibly well. From my perspective they emphasize service more than theology.

  5. I agree that religion (or lack thereof) can be used as a basis for both good and bad. A lot of the Bible and other religious texts praise positive movements and caring for those less fortunate--Jesus himself said he dined with those deemed "improper/scandalous/sinful" because "it is not the well who need a doctor". However, other events like the Crusades prove that even the best intentions can go awry. I believe this can be attributed to any sort of movement, though, not just religion. Atheists can do as much harm as Christians in their attempt to do good (though perhaps not on the grand scale that "Christians" can, due to the widespread conversion forced by many countries).
    FQ: Did Epicurus enjoy writing?

  6. DQ- Which of these arguments do you feel are the strongest either for or against God?
    DQ- Have you used any of these arguments or have you incorporated any of them into your personal philosophy?