Yesterday, I wrote about Rosenberg’s commitment to genetic determinism. I think it is a fitting followup to write about his claim that, while people are “programmed” to have the same morals regardless of what we think, that people aren’t programmed to make the same mistakes.
At least, that is what he seems to be saying.
In trying to defend the idea that all humans are programmed to be good (and therefore don’t need to believe things about morals to be good), he addresses the rather obvious objection that we seem to commit so much evil:
Where most Nazis “went wrong” was in the idiotic beliefs about race and a lot of other things they combined with core morality, resulting in a catastrophe for their victims and for Germany. (“The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”, pp. 143-144).
That is, the Nazis shared our basic morals, they merely had bad science (in embracing racial eugenics).
This statement is far more controversial than its proponents insinuate. The fact that eugenics is making a comeback in academia is proof enough of that. But, if one needs more, a real look at the Nazis’ beliefs will show something very different from current moral convictions.
But the more obvious problem is the fact that Rosenberg gives no attention at all to what “idiotic beliefs” might be blinding the current generation–or future ones.
The racial darwinism of the Nazis was supported by respected scientists and philosophers of the time, but Rosenberg gives us no reason to think a similar thing couldn’t happen again. Is there any reason at all to think that we “programmed” humans aren’t going to fall victim to the same insanity if we accept some “bad science”.
As prime suspect number one in the case of bad science, I’d present Rosenberg’s own darwinistic nihilism. That seems as dangerous a pseudoscience as any.
But, in the event that his own bad science brought about something terrible, Rosenberg may well ask us to remember this about the Nazis:
But these decisions should not be misrepresented as scientific ones. Science is always neutral on what we should do. In these cases, as elsewhere, it’s core morality that does the deciding. (ibid, p. 290)
So, we can trust that we will behave well because we all have “core morality” programmed into us. Of course, it doesn’t work if we accept a piece of bad science. But, really, that is the core morality’s fault, nothing to do with science.
I’m genuinely confused as to why Rosenberg seems to think I should find this comforting.
At this point, it seems that Rosenberg needs either to bite the bullet and admit that his “nice nihilism” is simply “nihilism” or (as I would prefer) to consider that he might have been wrong to say that thoughts and morality are illusory. After all, these are as basic to human life as any other perception.
But that, of course, would lead him to reject his materialism.
May 2nd, 2013 at 10:49 am
I was hoping for a post on this topic. Well done. I agree, I see no confidence in his so-called “nice-nihilism”
May 2nd, 2013 at 11:10 am
That phrase definitely disturbed me as soon as I read it in the book. I hope there aren’t too many who find it persuasive.