Truth, Morality, and Anti-Realism (AKA: Somethin’ ain’t right with that boy, I’ll tell you hwat!”)
Truth and morality tend to be tied together; without truth, there tends to be no morality, at least so far as anyone can elucidate as being objectively codifiable. One benefit of backpacking, at least for me, is that I can listen to a variety of bright folks (well, Dr. Jordan Peterson would probably contend that I’m listening to a variety of people with PhDs, among whom some are bright) talking about interesting subjects. Sometimes, I’ll like a discussion enough that I’ll even transcribe it.
Dr. Thaddeus Russell, an anti-realist atheist (the same worldview to which Stephen Hawking by his own writings seems to have subscribed), made some interesting remarks in a debate; they explain the logical position of this belief-set rather accurately. I have provided a transcription below. Any errors in wording are mine.
⮑ “There is nothing in my book, in my work, anywhere, that is true. I never speak the truth. I’m telling stories. I’m telling new stories; different stories…you can like them or not. I don’t think they are any more true than any other story—about the holocaust, about World War II…
Now I use evidence that other people use against them, or against the game that they’re playing, but I don’t claim that there is an absolute universal truth that is going to apply for all time. That would be highly arrogant of me!”
⮑ “Morality to me is a form of superstition…it is the idea that something applies again to all people in all times and all places forever; that is a religious idea. I hope that’s clear. I hope it’s clear that you can’t prove that. That is a hell of an arrogant claim that is very similar to what you find in the Bible.
No, I don’t want to live in a society that has slavery in it, because of my values. So what I what I tell people; what I’ve told my students has for decades been, “Don’t worry about what is morally good or morally wrong; figure out what you want; what you value.”
It’s the politics of self interest that I’m preaching here. If you want to live in a society that includes slavery, I’m gonna fight you. If you want to not live in a society with slavery, that’s all you need. You don’t need to make moral claims, do you?”
THEY CLAIMED TO BE
In essence, many anti-realist atheists subscribe to a belief that morality is an illusion, and that “will to power” is the only real game in town. This can be observed in the following quotations:
A.) “Ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…and any deeper meaning is illusory.” —Dr. Michael Ruse
B.) “There is no such thing as morally right or wrong. Individual human life is meaningless and without ultimate moral value. We need to face the fact that nihilism is true.” —Dr. Alex Rosenberg
The anti-realist position is, to me, highly untenable. It requires one to tell people that they shouldn’t have morals, but rather, values, which in a working sense is a distinction without a difference. Furthermore, it claims that statements of universal fact are highly arrogant, as there is no such thing as a fact. Of course, one has to ask, “Is that statement universally true? Is that statement arrogant?”
I believe that this worldview requires one to be either intellectually dishonest on the bad end, or at best, very sloppy in one’s philosophy. When I listened to Dr. Russell, he noted that we used to think that the earth was flat, and later on that it was round, and now that it’s a lumpy spheroid, and thus facts about anything don’t exist. However, Dr. Russell doesn’t use a more concrete example about facts, such as 2+2=4 (you can, of course, add modifiers to this proposition if you want to avoid sophistic gotchas, but it’s good enough for this example), and for good reason. It is much easier to build a strawman around abductive or inductive logic, and then apply the foibles found therein to deductive logic, than to go on the offense against the arrogance of mathematics.
Of course, this worldview allows one to concomitantly hold two ideas which are in direct opposition with no sense of cognitive dissonance. Consider Dr. Richard Dawkins’ two views:
A. “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…We are machines for propagating DNA…It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”
B. “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Anti-realism answered, “A lie, and arrogance.”
In the spirit of brevity, I’ll cut this topic off here; I believe that it warrants a discussion on properly basic beliefs and intrinsic defeaters, which I believe have some rationale derived from the mathematical realm. However, that’s for another time.
With love, always,
Note: One can granulate further distinctions, though I have not done so here, as the current level of differentiation is sufficient for such an abbreviated view of this topic. To briefly elucidate in the spirit of honesty, however, we can use the example of Dr. Alex Rosenberg, who is an anti-realist when it comes to any sort of morality, but seems to consider himself a structural realist absent a defeater for that view, though he doesn’t go so far as to believe in scientific realism. Ie., he believes that there are real, mathematical relationships, but doesn’t necessarily believe that these relationships describe “real features” of the world, at least insofar as such things can be known.