Jordan Peterson versus Susan Blackmore


(Mitchell W McKain) #1

This discussion is the first time I have seen Jordan put up against someone who can hold their own with him. Some of the first paragraphs were posted on the youtube page but soon I got tired of adding to those and just put my comments here instead.

Perhaps a measure of just how excellent this discussion is that as a theist I can often find myself more in agreement with Susan Blackmore than Jordan Petersen even though I have been very much impressed with him before this. For example, I quite disagree with Petersen’s claim that memes are the same as archetypes, especially since he conceives them as something associated with our biological neurological functions. They have different conceptual origins and roles and the similarity is rather superficial. Memes are all about human communication and how information is transmitted in a way that has similarities with the genetic transmission of information. As someone who rather likes the meme concept I would tend to claim that the meme is the broader concept and that the archetype is the more specialized one – an archetype is (at least in some part) a meme but a meme need not be an archetype. Though to be sure I don’t buy into the incredible atheist bias that leaps from meme to virus as if viruses were the only organism using genes.

Another of my agreements with Susan rather than Peterson is that my answer to the titular question is a emphatic no! We do not need God to make sense of life. I think that is demonstrable, individually at least. The most that Peterson can really say with some validity is that atheists are well advised to learn from the example of our religious past, and a poignant response can be that atheists may actual do so better than the religious have done… since the stubborn hidebound tradition-petrified tendency of religion is rather obvious. Though I guess the differences tend to be aligned with whether we learn from the good things or bad things in religion. On this particular issue I don’t think Susan is making a good case for her objection. The possible reasons for correlation between dysfunctional regions and religion are too numerous – are people more dysfunctional because they are religious or more religious because they are dysfunctional?

Perhaps the tact that Petersen should be taking is not whether we CAN make sense of life uprooted from our historical mythologies but whether we should do so, for the simple reason of the basic stupidity of reinventing the wheel. If it is already there then why throw it away. Instead use some discernment and separate the wheat from the chaff in religion. But in the meanwhile, the theists can lay off the atheists (and visa versa and lay off those of other religions too while they are at it) because however we find meaning and responsibility in our lives, that is a good thing!

I am not buying Jordan’s argument that gratitude must be gratitude to someone or to some equivalent of God. I quite agree with Susan that one can simply be grateful. Jordan is imposing his ideological framework on another and I would have thought that someone with his education would be able to step outside of that. In fact, I find this very suspicious behavior for a clinician, who should be used to working within the ideological framework of his client. I cannot believe it helps his clients to impose his own way of thinking on them. Force them to think things through, yes. But you do that by asking them questions so they find their own answers to them.

BUT, I quite agree with Jordan Peterson that Susan’s response to tragedy by telling herself that it is all meaningless is fundamentally inconsistent. In my book, it is practically on the level of a mantra of gibberish and just makes herself feel better like a stiff drink and thus ignoring the tragedy. And by the way, I don’t see this as a signature atheist response. There are plenty of atheists who would react much more in line with Peterson by finding meaning from taking responsibility to do something about these tragedies. Frankly, I would classify this as more of a yuppie attitude which turns to pharmaceuticals or distractions to push them out of her consciousness. And I can admit that I might do something similar to some degree but what I will not do is pretend that this is a terrific answer. But I suppose it can be classified as a coping mechanism to keep our attention on the tragedies we can understand how to do something about.

So the discussion degenerates to some degree at this point because Peterson is equating atheism with the idea that life is meaningless and that isn’t at all what atheism means. Susan thus finds Peterson’s declarations that she is acting like a theist offensive, even though she is just as unable to separate this out because of the way has translated atheism into her thinking about meaning.

I have to say, however, that whatever the validity of Peterson’s opposing arguments, Susan’s way of thinking about memes acting through her is down right goofy by comparison to his.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #2

You ‘can’ make sense of life without God, but in practice, theism (or at least following the seven noachide laws) works better. I see New York’s recent abortion law as a sign that we have abandoned the value for life found in Genesis 9:6. Blackmore is also wrong when she associates theism with poverty and higher crime rates. There is fairly good science showing that belief in God lowers crime:


(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

Jordan Peterson is perhaps my biggest influence in becoming a theist. Even today, I remain sadly unimpressed by most arguments for God’s existence, but see theism as necessary for a functioning society. Note that I still say the individual can be good without God, but I am sceptical whether society at a macro-level can function.


(Mitchell W McKain) #4

I think that is too simplistic of an answer. Atheism works better for some people. Say rather that theism definitely has some advantages. But you can also say that atheism has its advantages also. Which is better in the end is going depend on which of these advantages work best for the particular person. And don’t you think God is in a good position to know which is best for them, and if theism is better for them, do you think God is going to have any trouble changing their mind? (Oh and by the way… we are not even going to come close to an agreement on abortion which has no objective support in the Bible at all. Besides I think this may be a prohibited topic in this forum)


(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

I think some things need to be valued over others. It is (generally) better to live than to be dead, for example. I agree that the Bible nowhere prohibits abortion, but it does condemn murder due to the intrinsic value of human life. You can debate on whether or not a newly conceived foetus is living or not (I personally see it as a moral evil to kill, but begrudgingly admit it is sometimes necessary), but it seems ridiculous to think that life begins at birth (which is effectively what is going on in New York), and that a being is somehow worth less just seconds before.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

As long as it doesn’t spiral out of control in that direction so that the thread is about that instead, then carry on! If you really do have a lot more that you can’t stand to leave unsaid on the topic, you can always resort to private messaging each other too. But we can hope one or two more exchanges over that here shouldn’t hurt anything. [subject to change, of course!]


(Mitchell W McKain) #7

But I don’t think we have any good reason to call it human life until the start of brain function at 20 weeks, which is where we mostly start prohibiting abortion anyway. I think some freedom of choice before that is essential because of the existence of rape. I would support changing the laws to prohibit abortions in the third trimester unless there are exceptional circumstances like proof of rape or danger to the mother’s health. The status quo seems to depend on the state. Most states have prohibitions for late term abortions but perhaps many are not prohibitive enough in my opinion.


(Dominik Kowalski) #8

It is allowed to discuss about abortion here?

Anyway Mitchell, I take Ben Shapiros view here, if you don´t put the attribute of being human to the point of conception, every criteria can be also applied to a grown human being. But this is certainly a topic which has to be discussed via PM.


(Mitchell W McKain) #9

That was the impression I had, so despite Mervin’s encouragement, I will limit my comments to simply stating my position without making any strenuous arguments.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #10

Not really - but we can show grace for a few comments here and there, as we often have on other topics. If you have a lot more you wish to say, you can private message one or more discussion partners here and discuss about anything you want as much as you want! [as long as nobody feels harassed by it.]

It probably qualifies as a “politically charged topic” - as referred to in the FAQ / Guidelines:

Politics and Religion

Please note that we do not host discussions that are primarily political in nature. If a politically charged topic is mentioned in passing by others in the course of a discussion, please do not take it as an invitation to argue for your personal political views on that topic.


(Dominik Kowalski) #11

Don´t worry Mervin, I won´t push this any further outside of private messages. I fear on this topics the forum would become a venom hole very fast.


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