Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What about the books?

My previous post dealt with the way the book 10 Books That Screwed Up the World dealt with Darwin. Now I would like to examine the other books Doctor Wiker reviews.

The first book he discusses in Machiavelli's The Prince. Since Machiavelli is not named on the front cover and The Prince is listed as one of four "Preliminary Screw-Ups" it seems reasonable to conclude this book did not make the top ten and is one of the five mentioned in the subtitle. Given the influence of this book on both Hitler and Lenin, this book has done more harm then any other in the list. Machiavelli states clearly that the ruler should not be concerned with common morality and should use any means to attain his goals. However, liars lose trust and despots lose the support of the people. Benevolent dictators not only have more staying power because the people do not distrust and despise him but also because the standard of living in the society tends to improve over time. Machiavelli's biggest error was not his atheism but believing the lie spread by believers that without gods there is no reason to be good.

The second book discussed in Descartes's Discourse on Method.Not much to say about Descartes. He attempted a radical skepticism and then proceeded to defend his prior world view. In the end, he really got no where. He ended up exactly where he started. His only real contribution was the creation of the dualism problem.

The next book in the list of four is Hobbes' Leviathan. Once again we see that Wiker's prejudice against Atheism creep in. The problem with Leviathan is Hobbes' confused thinking. He creates a fantasy world where primitives are amoral and everyone has the right to whatever they want. Hobbes' view was that society caused morality to form and bind us so that we could get a long. Now that we have better tools to look back at the way our tribal ancestors lived we can see that moral values were being developed all along the way. Religions often codified the moral rules we learned, they did not bequeath them to us from on high. Even after religions our moral values were not perfect, since religion in man made we should not expect perfect morality to come from them. Religions not only accepted slavery but set up rules for how it should be ran. Only recently have we realized that slavery does not benefit us and have prohibited it. Contrary to Hobbes, primitive man was working on discovering the behavior patterns that benefit him and passing those on to his heirs.

Rounding out the 4 preliminary screw-ups is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Rousseau, like Hobbes and Machiavelli rejects the myths of religion. He also fails to understand that morality has improved over time as we discover which of our conventions benefits us and which don't. Primitive man was not better off being amoral but was in fact improving his lot by discovering moral truths. Civil society may have been created for the benefit of the rich but the power of the majority has changed us from the feudal society to a capitalist republic where social mobility enables even the poor to become rich.

This rounds out the 4 preliminary screw-ups mentioned by Wiker. He puts too much emphasis on the atheism of the authors blaming their misunderstanding of morality on atheism instead of the assumption that morality depends on gods.

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