It's considered correct for atheists to insist we have values. But the values I see us testifying to come mostly from past movements and ages. Atheism doesn't seem to generate any new values today.
Why not? I think it's because today's atheism identifies primarily with science and logic, and values from that source--such as strategies from game theory--seem bloodless to most people, almost sinister.
I propose a new direction for atheism: a return to old-fashioned humanism but drawing on a more recent discovery. This could provide atheism with a source of new values, in fact an entirely new human nature, built on a new foundation.
What I see making a difference--the new foundation--is knowing we evolved. The source of new values would be what we know, and can learn, about evolution.
That's idea number one. Here's quite-unrelated idea number two: my idea of atheism is, it's for the whole person, not just the left brain--science and logic--as atheism's philosophy tends to be now. I propose we create, also, a right-brain strand of atheist philosophy.
Put those two ideas together and they point to an atheism informed by knowing we evolved, with right-brain style. That could lead us to a new renaissance-humanism, but the renaissance in question would involve not physics but biology--new thinking about evolution.
Here's the sticking point: the evolutionary theory most atheists subscribe to-- darwinism--is pure left brain. It consists of two purely physical processes--natural selection and genetic mutation--expressed in the form of population statistics. Atheists almost universally subscribe to this account of human origins yet probably very few of us understand the mathematical basis it's been given. That puts atheism in the precarious position of being based on a theory over which it has no influence.
I therefore propose we develop non-darwinian, non-creationist origin stories based on us having evolved that we can draw on for new atheist values we can then promote in the form of plays and movies. For a sample story check out my play, "What it Means We Evolved: Dialogue Between Darwin and Galileo."
That's the idea I invite responses to. I ask you to respect me saying I am not a creationist, have no religious leanings.
Is there a constituency for this kind of thinking? I've been debating on this site with an advocate of philosophy-of-mind which clearly represents the left-brain side of atheist theory. I know humanists are considering how to respond to science's offer of a consilience based on darwinism. Can you point me to anywhere else in society where evolution and "mind" are being looked at from both left-brain and right-brain point of view?
About myself: The trajectory of my life has been from left-brain to right-brain. I grew up a physicalist--seeing myself as purely physical, driven entirely by brain chemistry, my consciousness being impotent to direct my behavior--then in my thirties I had an epiphany that convinced me I could, through consciousness, direct my behavior, that I was doing it all the time. As the "Contrarian Evolutionist" I write articles critical of darwinism, and I am currently working up an alternative theory of evolution on right-brain principles. You can see a list of the principles I've arrived at so far on my blog on this site.
I start with evolution, Positivism, physicalism, darwinism (darwinism standing for both Charles Darwin's natural selection and the modern synthesis).
Evolution is a fact as much as something can be. We evolved. Positivism is a practice of science, limited to what can be measured, with anything supernatural discarded, even "volition, natural or supernatural," that is, even human conscious judgment and will.
Let Positivism grow into a philosophy and you get "physicalism," denial that mind exists: only purely physical things can have any effect on other purely physical things. Since it's not physical, consciousness cannot therefore drive our behavior, our behavior must instead by driven directly by brain chemistry. So according to physicalists our sense of having free will--of being free to any extent of physical determinism--must be an illusion.
Now darwinism: In 1809 Lamarck said evolution involved "subtle fluids," a term from alchemy. Under the influence of Positivism Darwin came up with the purely physical process of natural selection. Later the modern synthesis would add to that the purely physical process of genetic mutation. These purely physical processes were widely adopted as what drives evolution ("darwinism").
Both darwinism and physicalism are doctrines, assumption made based on the Positivist way of practicing science. There can be no proof of them. Physicalism can't be proved true or false; whatever you do can be claimed to be either determined or done of your own free will. Similarly with darwinism, the creative (macromutational) effects of genetic mutation and natural selection can become significant only after hundreds of thousands of generations, by which point you can't tell whether or not the original genetic changes were due to mutations-- not unless you define all genetic change as "mutations."
Darwinism may be nothing more than an unprovable hypothesis, but physicalists point to it as proof of their doctrine that physics rules everything and we are determined, that we can't consciously direct anything that happens in the world except as determined by physics. So when atheists defend darwinism they add strength to physicalism's denial of consciousness as an agent in events. I have no problem with atheists who are also physicalists defending darwinism. What bothers me is atheists defending darwinism as a knee-jerk reaction against creationism, in the process also supporting the physicalists' denial of conscious volition.
For me, what's at stake is freedom from the feeling of fatalism, an unavoidable implication of us being determined. I think of humanism as defense against that feeling just as much as defense against religion. How much does atheism today celebrate freedom from fatalism? I hope, a lot. But how do you defend that freedom?
If you accept today's physics as a complete account of the world, you can't argue against physicalism. It's a purely logical system based on today's physics. That's why I say it's the epitome of left-brain thinking.
So how can you argue for freedom from fatalism? Where's the hole in the physicalists' argument that we're determined? For me it lies in two pieces of evidence for today's physics being incomplete. One is my fundamental conscious experience of being able to express conscious volition in behavior, and hence in physical matter. The other is how creative evolution is.
(Physicalists deny me both of those pieces of evidence. Evolution is no more creative than matter, they may say. And you can't prove you're not determined. In answer I say, those are axioms on which I base my natural philosophy. You can no more prove them wrong than I can prove yours wrong.)
Then I build my system. First, conscious experience is the medium through which the practices of science have to pass: conscious creativity in coming up with hypotheses, in creating experimental apparatus, in judging results. So even the practice of science depends on conscious experience being an effective agent in the physical world. Second, creativity is found only in evolution, and in its products--for example us. Since the process of evolution evolved before we did, and generated us, I assume that's where we got our creativity from. Evolution is the source of both it, and us, being genuinely creative, in defiance of physical determinism--physics does not create anything like living species.
By similar arguments I trace our ability to be conscious and to think to similar capabilities in the process of evolution. In other words, I account for all our mental capabilities by saying they come to us from the process of evolution building into us some of its own powers. We need to account for them somehow. Where else in the cosmos could they come from? Then I propose evolving is equivalent to thinking. So in us, thinking is our thoughts evolving.
Mechanism of evolution? On the basis of thinking being equivalent to evolving, I can suppose the genome can by thinking make changes to its "brain"--the genes it consists of--just as we when we remember something make changes to our brain cells. The intelligent genome can literally think up new species.
My skein of arguments, given my axioms, is not illogical. Maybe not at first plausible. But illogical? Can't be proved so. Will that do?
Benefits: If we get our mental powers from the genome, then by further study of evolution we may discover new powers in it that we can add to those we've already got. And, if this theory turns out to fit the facts of nature better, we can base new technologies on it.
I offer this not as "truth" but as a model for how to think outside the physicalist box. Even I don't think my theory is true, rather a supplement I have to propose as a supplement to physics, incomplete simply because of the limits it imposed on itself through Positivism's denial of "volition" in its subject material.
Because my theory rests on axioms involving creativity and conscious volition I see it as right-brain. It gives due acknowledgement to that side of our nature, as darwinism doesn't. Between the two, may we come to understand ourselves more fully.