On Atheist Island, What Are The Rules?

The Lion had too much coffee this morning, courtesy of a Starbucks gift card from a fan. Actually it was a regifting deal, so all parties shall be nameless lest there be repercussions and fatalities.

Thus, in a fit of synaptic hyperactivity occurring when The Lion was trying to take his noontime nap, The Lion began wondering about shallow little things like morals and ethics and their origins.

The religious freaks say we atheists have no morals or ethics, or that we just follow along with the majority position, which of course they claim came from their god or gods, or fairies or other supernatural oddities, and thus atheists benefit from such things and therefore such things must really exist.

The Lion, an absolute atheist, or, if you will, a faith-based atheist, since there is no evidence for or against gods and fairies and other supernatural beasties, admits he has not killed anyone lately, nor stolen, nor raped, nor pillaged, nor sneaked a peek up or down a Christian woman’s dress despite his terminal horniness. But that hardly tests the religionists’ argument.

By their lights a world of atheists would be brutal and cruel and vicious, in fact not unlike more than one Christian society (or Islamic or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or whatever).

Hence today’s thought experiment.

Take a group of atheist geneticists, biologists, physicists, and what have you. Give them all the shiny things they need, and let them create a batch of fully grown human beings, with certain constraints programmed into them.

One constraint is that any bias toward seeking supernatural explanations for real-world events would be excised.

Another would be a bias towards seeking evidence-based explanations for experiences in reality.

The beings would otherwise be physiologically normal and mentally normal. There would be a few more men than women.

Let’s say there are about two hundred of these people. And let’s give them a home, an island somewhere along the border between tropic and temperate zones.

The island would have sufficient food to meet their needs until they could develop the means to feed themselves.

They would have access to a source of information, say a SuperInternet connection, and would be shown how to use it. They would turn to this, for example, when they first see lightning, and rather than assume a supernatural creature as the cause, they could learn about electrons and electricity. Which is to say they would have access to facts and evidence about the real world, but not to any information or references about the existence of anything supernatural. They would understand that the information comes from other humans, from machines, and is not in any way supernatural.

They would have normal drives to survive, to reproduce. They would bear and raise children.

And finally let’s give them a language that doesn’t speak in values. For example, food is tasty, not ‘good’. A smell is offensive, not ‘bad’. While they may develop value expressions, they don’t start with them.

What morals and values would they develop? Or would they descend into brutality and cruelty, as the Christians would have us believe? What kind of society do you see developing on the island?

If necessary, refine the conditions.

Make a logical and argumentatively sound case for your conclusions.

Late addition: The people on the island do not have access to any laws, rules, regulations, or cultural information about any other people in the world. They have to develop their own rules, without assistance.

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15 Responses

  1. There are some problems with this scenario:

    You would have to seriously censor their internet access so that they could only get data on natural and scientific phenomena, otherwise they could get information on law, ethics and values from the same source that they get other knowledge. If you want them to create a society from scratch, you will have to limit their internet access accordingly.

    I think you would find that such a group would end up developing superstitions of one form or another. They would be different than the superstitions of a religious society, but unless you intend to deprive these individuals of any semblance of imagination (as you did not say so, I assume you do not) then it stands to reason that when faced with phenomena that cannot be simply explained, they will come up with their own conclusions, based not solely on objective observation, but subjective impression and interpretation as well.


  2. Good point, Sid. It is a far, far better thing… anyway I actually added the Late Addition note just before I saw your comment in my email.

    And yes, they do have imagination. The basic thrust here, and I don’t know if I’ve done a thorough job of delineating it, is to examine a society that has no external cultural or moral influences, nor extreme living conditions, and to look at that group from their beginning. Not a natural situation since it starts from scratch, of course. Except for the access to established science.


  3. Also, note that they cannot just ignore science, which is, I believe, the implication when you say ‘phenomena that cannot be simply explained’. They have access to the entire body of established science, and could follow a development in science from its beginnings, building their body of knowledge as if in school. Call it an ingrained cultural rule, perhaps – the unexplainable cannot be explained by the supernatural. They would file the inexplicable under ‘to be discovered’.

    The question is, or becomes, what values does a society without belief in the supernatural create.


    • Ok, this makes better sense. I would find this experiment fascinating. The question of predators as brought up by Matt is particularly interesting as it brings up a confrontation of the colonists with mortality. Science treats many of the question surrounding death as “yet to be discovered.” which will directly test whether or not such an answer is satisfactory for them.

      If it is, then a resort to the supernatural will be unnecessary, if not then it may be found that the supernatural is not as easily done away with as previously considered. In any case, it would illustrate whether or not a reliance on supernatural ideas was an inherently human characteristic, or merely a cultural imposition.


  4. What else is on the island?
    Any predators? A common force to act against is fantastic for enacting social cohesion and co-operation.


  5. You can postulate predators if you like. I think it would be useful to look at a variety of conditions – preds, no preds, mountains, flat atoll – and speculate what the effect would be.


  6. What about a predator that you couldn’t see ? I’m thinking of sociopaths and bullshit artists. Since people will believe 6 impossible things before breakfast, I don’t think you have to look very far for hoaxing to gull the sheeple.
    Funny thing is : I don’t really accept the idea that there is a clear demarcation as to where spin starts and ends. I say that there is no definition of God and no observation postulated. Having any sort of discussion as to existence then becomes a subjective trial of cant.
    I’ll only go so far as to say that Creeds violate my sense of logic : emulating Strawman Argumerntation.
    But the general trends of socially acceptable state religion revolve around the Golden Rule. Funnily enough, I seem to remember a game program that ran on 2 computers with the objective of prolonging interaction – that ended up with the best strategy being measured response : tit for tat.


  7. The Lion, an absolute atheist, or, if you will, a faith-based atheist, since there is no evidence for or against gods and fairies and other supernatural beasties, admits he has not killed anyone lately, nor stolen, nor raped, nor pillaged, nor sneaked a peek up or down a Christian woman’s dress despite his terminal horniness.

    Your testimony is worthless, since you, lacking any morals, are a liar.


    • Okay, I sneaked a peek down someone’s dress once. But it turns out he wasn’t really a woman.


  8. Your observation is worthless, since you, lacking any moral fiber, resort to character assassination.


  9. opit:

    Chill out! The Lion and I go way back. He knows I was teasing him.


  10. chappie –

    You’ve been talking to Stephi, haven’t you? Admit it, you sneaky wench!

    opit –

    It’s true. Chappie was torturing… er… teasing me.

    As for predators we can’t see, I dunno, I see them all the time when I turn on the news and see the businessmen and politicians and bubble-headed news speakers.


  11. bubble-headed news speakers

    Why confine the label to the news speakers? Most of the members of all the groups you named look pretty bubble-headed to me.


  12. chappie –

    See today’s post.

    Oh my, I’m blogwhoring my blog on my blog! It must be the drugs… did I take any drugs today? Oh no, I can’t feel my hands i can’t type any xlk lll nflosie099..m.,m


  13. chaplain
    Chill taken. Heh. I’m not as bad as many of my friends, actually.
    Groups. Mostly Pyjamas Media would fit in the box. The worst is when you realize finally that most policy differences revolve around the best way to cut up the carcass of the body politic.
    I’ve been seeing more sites faithfully promoting headbanging talking points without letup. I used to like Advice Goddess Amy Alkon – but she’s way too far gone.
    ClapSo is pretty good. I seem to be catching him at Bluebloggin/Truthugger of late. His place is ‘ the view from the bridge at Clapsotronics’. He used to have a killer site but I think frustration has got the better of him. He so didn’t want to be right about elections being rigged : not that Bradblog hasn’t told that tale for years.
    Now he kibitzes.
    Cheap drugs, Lion ? There’s enough offered on Spam. I’ve been following a hot marijuana debate on Current ; frankly there’s too much to follow casually. I was struck by the parallel between no marijuana in the USA and no poppies grown in Afghanistan. Burn the crops there and they have no money to buy food : mountains being restricted in what they will grow. In the US cotton would be re placed as hemp makes better clothing : and toxins in the soil are placed in the leaves. Get rid of them and you have reduced contamination !
    \But the real mess is ugly. I’ve posted a lot of stuff on my Links page – but just search water pollution uranium and you’ll get instant hiorror. The Indians know about it – both varieties of Indian too.


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