Sunday, October 03, 2010

Matt's "Superiority of Secular Morality" Lecture

As there's no AETV today, you'll just have to be satisfied watching this instead. For those of you who have been clamoring to hear this lecture, here it is, as Matt presented it most recently in the afternoon before the Bat Cruise. The whole video runs just over 78 minutes.


  1. It was a good talk. Should help me with my arguments against theists. Thanks for the upload.

  2. Thank you. I have been wanting to listen to this talk for a while now. Ethics and morality are issues I am particularly interested about, so I will listen to that one eagerly.

  3. Anyway to download the audio only or the video as an FLV (which I can convert to audio)?

  4. Pity the sound quality isn't better - it's a lot of concentrate to be able to hear everything clearly.

  5. Is there an aduio version of this floating around?

  6. I've extracted the audio as an MP3 file.

  7. THanks for this.

    It's hard to hear though...with all the explosive coughing, paper shuffling, juggling of plastic items, backpack zippers and general background noise.

    One suggestion would be to mic Matt but use video from the camera in the audience (not the camera next to people seemingly suffering from tuberculosis).

    Good talk though, but it deserves better audio.


  8. Regarding the comments about speed limits and morality:

    A speed limit sign is little more than a presumption of safe speed, but it's dependent on conditions and requires the observer (driver) to gauge the safety of a given speed based on these conditions. In a sense, your driving morality is expected to scale with your observation of conditions and sound judgement.

    Speed limits are not just chosen at random. Like other social laws, they're based on the very behavior of the people they're set to govern.

    Traffic engineers actually determine prima facie limits by measuring free-flowing traffic on a given road, who aren't supposed to be under the influence of any overt test or traffic signal. This gives a good idea what the 85th percentile is, and this 85th percentile is what is used to determine speed limits, usually rounded up or down to the nearest 5mph increment. It's assumed that the 85th percentile will be most reasonable drivers on a given road, where the rest tend to be too fast or too slow for conditions.

    Despite this rational basis for determining speed limits, it's expected that drivers will honor extenuating circumstances.

    The speed limit on a freeway might read '65', but if it's so foggy you can't see the car in front of you, it might not be safe to go 10 mph, if it's safe to drive at all. The sign in this case is woefully wrong.

    On the contrary, if it's free and clear, and traffic itself is going 80 mph, it wouldn't be safe to go 65, because you would be impeding traffic and it's actually less safe to travel at a speed much slower or faster than the majority of cars around you. This is known as speed disparity. This is why CA DMV tests mark you wrong if you answer that you should merge onto freeways at the speed limit. The correct answer is that you merge onto any freeway at traffic flow speed, whether it's high-traffic, slow speed or a fast-flowing freeway. Adapation is key, and the 'moral' thing to do on the freeway becomes what is safe for you and everyone else.

    Enforcement of speed limits is held to a moral standard, in a sense, based on conditions and often what is called 'selective enforcement' or 'low tolerance' enforcement, often driven by income the city receives from ticket revenue (and often a sore spot with drivers). Is it as moral for a cop to ticket someone going 80 mph when he's the only car on a freeway in perfect weather, as opposed to the guy going 80 past a construction zone at night with workers present? The guy zooming past the construction zone is risking the lives of others in a demonstrable way, compared to the guy in a modern car on a road by himself going a reasonable 80 mph. This is why cops have a continually sliding scale of 'tolerance' for those who 'break' the speed limits, because they know that there are sometimes reasonable ways to violate the speed limit, but that depends on the cop and who he works for.

    Is it within the cop's power to enforce the law in an unreasonable and unsustainable way? Sure, but that cop might find himself spending a lot of time in traffic court, or receiving complaints from civilians, or losing cases and wasting the time of the court and everyone involved. The 'morality' of a ticket or even an alleged speed can be argued in court, which is how I beat most of the 'immoral' speeding tickets I've I've beaten 6 out of 7 tickets over a 6 year period and I've even uncovered downright fraud.

    The fact is, speed limits, a lot like other social laws, are determined in large part by us even if they're enforced by an external authority, but that authority can be challenged at any time (as well as the 'laws' themselves).

    Dan Burke

  9. I recorded the audio. Did a litte EQ and compression. should be a little clearer.


  10. Rock on. The compression will help the coughing for sure.

    Great lecture, I thoroughly enjoyed it. :D

  11. Just found this blog, and just started blogging about Atheism yesterday. I am loving it. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  12. Dan Burke, Your description of how speed limits are determined is empirically wrong.
    A driver lacks the necessary information to determine a safe speed. There's the obvious of not knowing what is around a corner. And all other factors: not knowing the road surface quality, not knowing if a school district is close by, not seeing an upcoming side road or misjudging terrain.
    You are advocating over-confident driving. And the fallacy of argument from popularity.
    Also your point about the road works is moot. A police officer doesn't need a moral meter to punish more. A roadwork zone has a reduced speed limit. Therefore with the two motorists doing 80mph the construction zone driver will have a greater excess speed. Therefore a more severe punishment is given.
    Also the sign isn't wrong in the fog. A speed sign is a limit not a prescription.
    Arguments from analogy are so flimsy.

  13. I went to the Sam Harris talk about his new book, The Moral Landscape, which is about how morals can be derived through science. It was very interesting and I look forward to learning more from the book!

  14. @Dances with Beasts

    Empiricially, my facts are correct based on what I personally know about fighting speeding tickets (and winning) but also the speed laws in CA (and nationally), which are under majority compliance with the Federal guidelines outlined in the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices). Anyone can verify the way speed-laws are established.

    What I wrote about the prima facie limit is true; speed limit signs on surface streets are merely presumed safe speed. They are *not* maximum speed signs, though on the freeway the speed you see is supposed to be the maximum speed.

    If you're unsure about the points I am making about speed limits, go look it up. This is why states have what is called the 'Basic Speed Law'. The CA version states:

    22350. No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

    If you will notice, the driver *is* given the responsibility to not only abide the presumed safe speed in good conditions, but to employ good *judgement* in poor conditions or other extenuating conditions such as heavy pedestrian traffic, construction, etc.

    Speed limits *are* determined by drivers, otherwise how would they be relevant?

    Traffic engineers measure traffic flow on surface streets and then speed limits are set based on the 85th percentile. If you think that's wrong, then you clearly don't know how speed limits are determined. ;) Go look it up.

    You mentioned corners, but speed limits are not supposed to be measured under the influence of traffic control devices or corners, so your point here isn't even relevant.

    I've already mentioned that the speeder in a Construction zone is committing the greater infraction, so I am not sure what you're on about here. Usually fines are much greater in Construction Zones simply because the risk of manslaugher is greater for the inattentive driver.

    The person doing 80 with nobody around, in good conditions and in a modern car is simply not as guilty as the guy going 80 in a construction zone. If you think these are the same, I would say your infraction morality is off here. I think Sam Harris's latest book, 'The Moral Landscape' would even factor in here. There are *degrees* of infractions in traffic as there might be types of murder, but people have been duped to think that 'speed kills' and seem to have shut off their reasoning brains when it comes to traffic tickets. Perhaps, this is why only 10% of the populace fights their speeding tickets. ;)

    A speed limit is exactly a prescription. On surface streets, it's a presumption of safe speed, and nothing more.

    On the freeway, it's a national limit of 65, but since traffic flow is often faster, one could make an argument that the speed limits on the freeways are tantamount to a speed trap (and this would be true, since the 85th percentile is much faster).

    This doesn't mean people can go as fast as they want, only that most people on a given road for given conditions will go at a speed they believe is reasonable and prudent.

    Speed limits are not laws set in stone, they're open to interpretation, which is why the Basic Speed law exists, and which is why cops selectively enforce those guilty of infractions.


  15. Dan,

    Speed limit signs are, in fact, maximum legally permissible speeds.

    Basic speed law is a supplementary that simply notes that one may be ticketed for exceeding safe speed based on conditions even if they do not exceed the legally posted limit.

    From your own CA Driver handbook:

    "California has a “Basic Speed Law.” This law means you may never drive faster than is safe for current conditions. For example, if you are driving 45 mph in a 55 mph speed zone during a dense fog, you could be cited for driving “too fast for conditions.” You may never legally drive faster than the posted speed limit, even if you think it is safe to do so."

  16. From the same page:

    "Driving faster than the posted speed limit or than is safe for current conditions, on any road, is dangerous and illegal."

    If the posted limit is 65, anyone exceeding 65 is breaking the law.

    Your presumption about traffic moving along at 80 and that one should merge at 80 is wrong. The answer of merging at the speed of traffic is written that way to ensure that people don't merge at 65 while traffic is going 40...if traffic is going 80 and you merge at 80, you're breaking the law - just like everyone else on the highway.

    The fact that law enforcement may exercise discretion in enforcing the law doesn't change what the law IS.

    Speed limit signs aren't simply presumed safe speeds, even if that's how they are original determined - they are maximum legal speeds.

  17. So glad that this got posted :) I've been wanting to hear it ever since I first heard about it!

    Would like to post my own perspective on the question about motivations vs inability (and inadvisability) of considering thoughts within the spectrum of what's actionably moral.

    The questioner tried to make the case (or seemed to) that it was hypocritical to consider a person who does not act on a negative impulse because of empathy better than one who does not act because of fear of reprisal, yet simultaneously consider thoughts to be outside of our ability to critique.

    I think that the questioner missed the point entirely.

    The point I'm assuming that Matt was making was that the reason for any action (or inaction in this case) is indicative of the strength of the conviction. A person who does not act because they have reason to feel the action is wrong is less likely to commit that act in any circumstance, while one who simply does not out of fear of reprisal may not be feel compelled to refrain if they are capable of acting freely.

    Anyway, sorry for being long-winded :) just thoughts I had when I watched it.

    p.s. WTB Moar Non-ProphetS! XD

  18. I just want to clarify to you, Matt, and Dances with Beast that my initial comparison about speed limits were in response to a commenter in your video.

    First, let's remember that I have actual, real-world experience fighting (and beating) traffic tickets, and what you both are saying is a common misconception about speed limits (as they pertain to surface streets). The posted limit on a surface street is most certainly NOT a maximum speed (please, verify this on your own). It's a presumption of safe speed, and the real maximum speed on a surface street is hidden and based on the road itself, and whether it's divided.

    So, in CA, if a road is divided and over 40-feet wide, the real max speed is going to be 65mph, but the speed limit posted will not be 65, but something based on the 85th percentile speed....that could be 45, or 50, depending on what the traffic engineer found in his measurements in free-flowing traffic.

    Thus, if you are cited for doing 50 in a 45 on a road that's divided and over 40-feet wide, and not in a school zone or business district and with no other mitigating factors, you are well-within your legal right to defend your speed as 'reasonable and prudent for conditions' under the Basic Speed Law, because you were under the MAX speed, which is a 22349 CVC violation.

    I did make a distinction between FREEWAY speeds, and SURFACE street speed limits. These are not, in fact, the same.

    You're correct in that the national speed limit is a MAX speed, and violating it is *technically* an infraction, but on a DMV test, there's no distinction about flow of traffic *as long as its under the speed limit*. It's 'flow of traffic'. Flow of traffic could be 200mph, or it could be 10mph. The speed limit has zero bearing on the safety of merging onto a freeway, since the freeway safe merge speed is solely dependent on the flow of traffic governed by conditions and what drivers decide to do.

    There have been protests (look this up on YouTube if you like) where a group of motorists actually got on a freeway and went 65mph, no faster and no slower, in otherwise free-traffic where most people preferred to drive faster. You wouldn't believe the reaction other people had to this....serious road-rage.

    Again, surface streets and freeway limits are different. However, my response about speed limits was a reaction to the commentor in your video, and it's to show that speed limits are determined not externally, but based on the social-behavior of drivers, specifically, the 85th percentile when it comes to surface streets.

    There have also been studies showing that when the national limit was raised from 55mph to 65mph, the incidence of traffic accidents and fatalities went *down*. This is probably because artificially low limits create more speed disparity, thus more lange changes and more accidents. THis is true for surface streets too, when speed limits are set artificially low for revenue or due to homeowner pressure.

    Since all states are under majority compliance with the MUTCD to prevent corruption, I don't think Texas's laws would be much different than CA.

  19. I also need to clarify that the National Limit of 65mph applies to freeways only, but doesn't take into account the real flow of traffic.

    However, in CA, you can safely go 80 all day long (with the traffic flow) with little worry of a ticket. This of course, varies by location and the level of enforcement. Some parts of the nation are going to be less tolerance of infractions over 65mph (on the freeway), and some will be more tolerant, based on the prevailing speed of drivers.

    My point here is that speed laws are not hard and fast, nor set in stone. They're determined by the social group, and enforced in keeping with what the majority wants, generally. Imagine the chaos if deputies starting ticketing any freeway driver going over 65 mph. Not only would people be getting multiple tickets per week, there would be exceeding court costs, and more people would be animated to start fighting tickets, and cops would be hopelessly unable to keep up with the court appearances.

    It would end up *costing* money for any city foolish enough to start doing this.

    And finally, the Germans drive faster per mile with fewer accidents...just in case anyone has an inclination to say 'speed kills'. It doesn't. Speed *disparity* kills. ;) This is why lane-discipline is so important, and which is why this more important to enforce than outright speed.

  20. @Dan Burke

    It seems that spending less time behind the wheel than the rest of us allows you to disect the CA and MUTCD extracting information in your favour. Seven tickets in 6 years? I think you should just slow down.

  21. The more I think about morality the more confusing it gets for me. There are so many specific actions that seem to be in the realm of morality and others that do not and I have a real hard time distinguishing why.

    Exceeding speed limits are certainly illegal, but I don't think many people would call that immoral. Having sex with someone else while having a long time girlfriend is considered immoral, but it is not illegal. Cheating on taxes to a small degree is rarely called immoral, but cheating at sports games is often considered immoral.

    Morality still seems to conjure up strange spiritual connotations for me, even though I don't believe in supernatural things. I think religion has pretty much claimed a monopoly on morality until relatively recently in history and the words get really confused.

    The harder I think about it the more meaningless the word "morality" becomes.

  22. @MikeKoz68

    The important thing here is I beat six tickets in a row, and I'm not even a traffic lawyer (though I know a lot about this process now).

    My speed continues to be reasonable, but now I don't have to pay for low-tolerance enforcement. All of my tickets were 80 mph or less, and I've never been cited for unsafe lane-changes or reckless driving.

    The only reason I started fighting tickets was because of an obvious speed trap I got caught in, with 5-6 cops and 5-6 people pulled over. The out-of-uniform female cop smirked at me, and right then, I decided I would fight this ticket after a lot of research, and I beat it.

    Not only did I beat it, I got hold of the engineering survey, citing non-existent construction as a reason the speed limit was artificially low. There hadn't been construction on that road for about a year! The speed limit was raised by 5 mph a couple months later.

    Fighting tickets (and winning) just gives me choice and a bit more freedom, but more importantly, reminds the city/state that there are those who fight B.S. tickets, and it might just calm the hands that so enthusiastically write tickets.

    Cops know most civilians dutifully pay tickets with the pacification of traffic school every 18 months and a little hope about not getting another one too soon.

    I no longer need to rely on hope or traffic school. A little knowledge goes a long way, and for me, has translated directly into freedom, better-handling of the process in general (from stop to court).

    Next time a cop asks you, 'Do you know why I stopped you?', do you think he's trying to make sure you're safe? No. He's trying to get you to incriminate yourself, to make his job even *easier* and leave you with little legal recourse.

    Not all cops are giving out B.S. tickets of course, but some cops are under pressure from their C.O.s, or homeowners and others to give out more speeding tickets, and with less tolerance for reasonable driving over the presumed safe speed (prima facie limit) AKA speed limit sign. Low-tolerance enforcement can also happen when cops are doing a 'show of force' in response to complaints or whatever else, and that could mean mister slowpoke still gets popped for a speed he drives at every day.

    Let's not kid ourselves, safety is not the top concern for speeding enforcement, it's in large-part a nice revenue stream for any city or state. When cops who work for the city are handing out tickets which financially benefit the city which pays them, don't you think that's the wolf guarding the henhouse?

    I see a conflict of interest here, and a lack of checks and balances, aside from those educated civilians who are motivated to fight tickets. Our resistance makes this revenue fleecing a little more difficult, and perhaps cops or the C.O.s who pressure them might put more thought into who gets a speeding ticket. Imagine if 50% of people fought B.S. speeding tickets instead of 10%, don't you think there'd be fewer B.S. speeding tickets? I do.

    That fact that I beat tickets, or that the cops in question didn't show up in court to defend their tickets shows that most (or all) of them were unjustified.

    Overall I think it's worth fighting tickets. If nothing else, so it reminds the court (and police) that not all of us will just lay down and pay tickets simply because they were written. They have to be *justified*, and due process helps reinforce that.

    Few of we atheists would tolerate unjustified statements of fact, and I simply apply this to traffic tickets. ;)

    Knowledge is power, my friends.

  23. Gah, WTB edit features.

    In my last post near the end, it should read, 'few of us...'.



  24. The more I think about morality the more confusing it gets for me. There are so many specific actions that seem to be in the realm of morality and others that do not and I have a real hard time distinguishing why.

    Exceeding speed limits are certainly illegal, but I don't think many people would call that immoral. Having sex with someone else while having a long time girlfriend is considered immoral, but it is not illegal. Cheating on taxes to a small degree is rarely called immoral, but cheating at sports games is often considered immoral.

    I'm not feeling very articulate this morning so I hope this makes sense:

    Just because something's illegal doesnt make it immoral. There are two classifications of crimes that separate them.

    Malum in se means an action that is wrong in itself like murder, rape, assault and so on. These are crimes that are morrally wrong and even if a law didnt exist against them, most people would still consider them evil.

    Malum prohibitum on the other hand is an act that is wrong because law making authority says so (speeding, parking violations, drug use). These are acts that dont result in any harm immediately, but are considered risky in certain situations.

  25. Reposted with fixed audio:

  26. @Kait82

    Just wanted to point out that exceeding the posted limit on surface streets isn't illegal, since the sign is merely a presumption of safe speed. Sometimes, going the speed limit is actually an infraction if the conditions don't warrant that speed. As I've been explaining to
    others, the basic speed law leaves lots of room for interpretation based on conditions, kinda
    like other 'moral' choices.

    You can legally go 55 with a posted 45 as long as your speed is 'reasonable and prudent for
    conditions' since the max speed on the road is actually 55 or 65, depending on the type of road (undivided vs. divided). When cops cite you, they are merely acting as witnesses, not as judges and of course, innocent until proven

    Speed limits only relate to morality in the sense that the group being held to a social standard determines its own 'rules'.

    Literally, surface-street speed limits are based on the 85th percentile of drivers, and if drivers want to go faster, it affects the speed limit and how
    it's enforced. Note, that this excludes business, school and construction zones.

    Most people simply don't realize how speed limits are set, and see them as inflexible laws rather than guidelines based on the very driving group they seek to regulate.

    However, when people take speed limit signs as inflexible law and slow down flowing traffic, this actually results in *more* accidents simply due to traffic disparity.

    This little error of belief affects everyone.

    One could say that speed choices are similar to other (moral) choices, in that it should be
    relevant to the situation and be compatible with the common good, imho.

    IE: The self-righteous guy who drives slowly in the fast (1st) lane slowing everyone down, even if he is at or below the speed limit, is actually guilty of impeding traffic flow (and could be cited for such, ironically). This actually leads to more accidents via more lane-changes, and some angry lane-changes at that.

    I know I've beaten this to death, but German drivers are far more disciplined when it comes to lane choice and have fewer accidents than Americans, even though they drive faster per mile (which anyone can verify). This is due in
    large part because they're better trained and their self-enforced social laws are very strict about lane-choice. Sit on the Autobahn even at 80mph blocking someone behind you, and there'll be hell to pay. The thing is, you'd be
    hard-pressed to find this behavior in Germany compared to say, America.

    Too many American drivers feel they can drive in any lane at any speed, have conflicting messages from fast traffic flow and enthusiastic speed enforcement, combined with ignorance about speed laws and fear of the legal system and no wonder why there's so much traffic and road rage mixed with a sense that getting a ticket is like winning a lottery in Greater Heck™.

  27. DOh sorry Kait, I realize you were quoting John K. now.

    In a real sense, there's a feeling of empowered knowledge fighting tickets and understanding the system (and corruption) as there is rejecting god-claims, especially when people bring forth popular misconceptions about speed limits and their enforcement.

    This might explain my passion for this issue, since I believe a lot of the information you get about speed is either wrong, or geared to make us better 'paying civlians' who don't question too much.

    However, lacking knowledge about this actually affects our lives, and our wallets. Next time you or someone you know gets a B.S. ticket, think of this conversation, and know that you can probably fight it and win. :)

  28. Dan, in getting an Ontario driver's licence, I only needed to know Ontario law and I guarantee that here the maximum posted IS the maximum. I've never had a ticket myself but its very common around here to fight them and most people I know do win, but usually it seems that's because cops rarely show up to court.

    I did see something on wikipedia that seemed to be talking about something along the lines you were talking about but it seemed like it only applied to California.

    My point I tried to say yesterday was that speeding cant really be called immoral. The same speed considered illegal in one place is fine on the autobahn. So its not the act of speeding that's bad, its the decision to exceed the speed limit that is.

  29. @Dan- Just how much time and money have you spent "winning" all these cases? What you seem to be saying is that there are other "real" rules about speed limits that simply aren't shared with the common folks, most of whom will not fight tickets. This makes the "speed limit" effectively a "limit on your speed" for the common person who is not willing to spend every other week fighting the courts. Heck, some of us would actually feel guilty for making a general nuisance of ourselves. Can we really expect each person to research each stretch of road to determine the safe speed?

    Also, your idea that speed does not kill misses some important information (and physics). Certainly there is some truth that you need to go the same speed as everyone else. But a crash at 80 is less survivable than a crash at 60 which is less than a crash at 40. You mentioned the Autobahn. I saw someone hit by a Mercedes at 140kph in Germany and it wasn't pretty. Sure, it's anecdotal, but there are other factors on those roads besides simply speed.

  30. (cont)
    When the average speeds are raised more people will die. It comes down to an ugly truth of what we are willing to accept as the cost of using the road system. We now have vehicles and roads that are technologically safer than we did in the "55mph" era. But if we all drove 55mph nowadays, less people would die than they do now.

    I respect the effort you are putting in to this "project". Sounds like you got the city to rethink some speed zoning, also. But I don't think it would be a tenable situation if everyone decided to drive as you do. The system can withstand a few people like yourself, but if we all did, it just wouldn't work. Some people really are better drivers or worse at analyzing road conditions. I don't want the average grandmother or 16 yr old driving at more than 85% safe speed because they assess the situation differently than the road signs.

    Slightly another subject, but have you had any accidents with those 6 tickets?

  31. @Kait82

    You're referencing Ontario, Canada, correct? My personal experience is in CA, which, like all U.S. States, is in majority compliance with federal guidelines (probably to prevent local corruption).

    You're probably right about the Max speed postings in Canada, especially if the sign itself has the word 'Maximum Speed' on it. I can't speak to Canadian speed laws, but the basic speed law is in force in Canada, and the basic speed law doesn't necessarily relate to the speed limit, as I mentioned before. A Max speed of 55 would be too fast in icy conditions, and probably too slow in perfect conditions with little traffic, depending on the road. The posted max speed doesn't necessarily mean the sign is relevant to optimal speeds or real-world conditions, since those conditions change constantly. Factors which don't change (school, business, construction, ped traffic) usually do justify a lower limit.

    America does have Max Speed limits on freeways (the national limit of 65mph and even higher in some states) but on surface streets, only the presumed safe is posted and the real 'max speed' is hidden (not posted).

    I just looked it up, even Texas has a max speed of 70-75 on divided urban roads or undivided rural roads, though the posted speed may be different.

    There's a table here listing max speeds based on the road type for all U.S. States.

    As far as morality, I don't think the act of 'speeding' is by itself immoral, especially since the definition is really based on conditions and perception which is the crux of my point.

    I mention the Germans and their higher speed per mile simply because their training and enforcement (and laws) allow this, and they manage it with fewer accidents. Are the Germans inherently better drivers than Americans? No, but the system they drive in allows more effiency, expects more effort and skill, and doesn't tolerate any lack of lane-discipline. I am sure you've all seen it, the two cars driving side-by-side on a two-lane road, with self-righteous (or oblivious) drivers refusing to budge. I know I have, and it's maddening. This is what I mean by Germany (and other countries), if you're not passing, you have no business in the passing lane. In America, we're supposed to have this same arrangement, but such emphasis is put on speed that people who lack lane-discipline can really clog up even the widest multi-lane superhighways.

    I am sure there are some places where drivers have a slower average pace and have far more accidents than America, simply because the culture doesn't sufficiently value driving skill, or perhaps the infrastructure for this training doesn't exist as it does in America, Canada or Germany.

    Americans are ok drivers, but they could stand improvement. We let people do too much when driving (though that's changing), we tolerate bad lane choices (though road-rage is society's way of enforcing that and other bad driving), and there's a real conflict between enforcement and reality (posted speeds vs. real world speeds), which creates a conflict between the perception of safety and what's really happening.

    But, driving is an example of herd mentality in a real sense because we all agree on the speed we feel safe driving at, following distance, and we tend to reward good behaviour (signaling before cutting in) as opposed to bad behaviour (tailgating, cutting someone off, erratic driving). Speed is just another variable we all agree on, even when we're all driving 75+ past 65 mph speed limit signs, as is the case in L.A. when there's little traffic.

  32. @rrpostal

    When I say it's a myth that 'speed kills', I am talking about the notion that higher speeds necessarily equal more deaths due to accidents.

    I've already mentioned a few things which refute this in my prior posts:

    1. The National U.S. Limit was raised from 55 to 65mph in 1987 after the gas-crisis was over but also, because the 55mph was widely ignored. If speed limits are unreasonable, people tend to ignore them. If slower is better, why raise the limits, ever? As I've explained in prior posts, artificially low speed limits are ignored by many, but if only a handful of drivers take them seriously and feel they can drive in any lane because of it, it creates massive speed disparity, more lane changes and more accidents. The ideal situation is when people are all driving the same speed, in the proper lanes for their speed (slower on the right) and with maximum lane-efficiency (passing on the left). The fewer lanes there are, the more vigorously you see this social contract enforced (like on a 2-lane road to Vegas where average speeds are rather high).

    2. German drivers enjoy higher speeds and fewer accidents per mile. This shows that speed itself is not the culprit (assuming a reasonable speed for conditions). Granted, German roads are pretty good, especially on the no speed limit sections, but we could probably compare the Autobahn to almost any American freeway and find fewer fatalities on the Autobahn.

    3. Modern cars (and roads) are also much better than they used to be, so I would expect drivers to drive faster (and more safely) in 2010 than in 1970 or 1920, but this extra speed does require more training, less tolerance for distractions (texting while driving) and it makes lane-discipline all the more important.

    I agree that some people are better drivers than others, but America often fails in this regard by allowing people to drive worse than they could, what with the lax enforcement of driving while talking on handheld cellphones, driving while texting, letting people keep their licenses until they drop dead, and tolerating people who don't exercise proper lane choice or who drive too slowly.

    There's already a provision for people who can't drive so fast, and the slower lanes on the right are there for that purpose. Those who can handle higher speeds should be in the faster lanes. I wouldn't expect everyone is able (or willing) to drive with the flow of faster traffic, and yet, many who want to drive slowly often clog up the fast lanes...and not only does this diminish freeway efficiency, it creates road rage.

    As for the money I spend, well apart from the time it takes, all my ticket fees (called bail money) comes back to me in the form of a check from the city in the event of a victory. I also gain knowledge and experience from each case. My insurance rates have stayed low, and in some cases as mentioned I've helped reduce some corruption and expose its existence to others.

    As far as accidents, that's a different domain than tickets, generally, but no, my tickets have all been for speed in various forms with no accidents.

    I actually don't drive unreasonably, but there were times when going along with the flow of traffic still got me stopped or being in a car which attracted attention. I could write a book about various cars and how they affect the perception cops have when profiling us.

    Of course, there are times when people do deserve their tickets...and there's a huge gradient of 'infractions' people cause with various me, the person who runs red lights is far worse than the guy going 80 with everyone else, and there's a special place in Greater Heck for those who text while driving. ;)

  33. I don't really want to get into a discussion about speed limits, except to point out that my experience as a pedestrian makes me far less willing to try to cross the road (at specified crossing points that is, jay walking isn't illegal where I live but it's still pretty dumb) when the drivers I can see are travelling faster than the posted limits as, in my experience, they also tend to be the drivers who ignore crossing points and fail to indicate before taking a corner (and arguably even worse than that, fail to even attempt to avoid driving through deep puddles that drench me. Bastards. (/humourous aside))

    That is a longer 'except' than I had intended... anyway the point that I did want to bring up is that there is a difference between being right and getting away with it. I'm not saying that you are definitely wrong in fighting the tickets, I don't know the circumstances, but I will say that the fact that you beat six tickets proves only that you beat six tickets. The reasons you beat those tickets are unknown, at least to us.

  34. @Spoondoggle

    I see you're conflating those who you perceive to drive over the posted limit with those who disregard pedestrian crossings or engage in other careless driving behavior.

    Not so with me. I don't run red lights (and preferably, not even yellow lights), I honor traffic crossings because I know that pedestrians in CA have the right of way (even when jaywalking) and I stop for pedestrians crossing an intersection when cornering, since I know that once they're in the intersection coming toward me, legally I shouldn't be turning in front of them.

    Like atheists who often know the bible better than their theist counterparts, it's my understanding of the laws which not only makes me a better driver, but ironically, serves me well when fighting tickets. I honor traffic laws because I understand them, but I also understand how flow of traffic is different from the presumed safe speed on surface streets, or even the group behavior of freeway motorists vs. the posted limit.

    It's true, all you know from my ticket successes is that I've beaten six tickets, except I told you much more about why I started fighting tickets in previous posts and as I mentioned, I uncovered corruption in the very first ticket I ever decided to fight. What are the odds? This is why the city *raised* the speed limit after I had beaten it, and I don't think there's a coincidence there. I think someone had a discussion with the traffic engineer.

    I exercised my *legal right* to fight those tickets using the judicial system, and I beat them legally. Therefore, if I beat a ticket legally, nobody can say I am a bad driver, because the tickets didn't stick, and we can infer that if the cops don't bother to show OR if I beat the tickets on an affirmative defense, the tickets probably weren't valid, or valid enough, though I readily agree that it's possible for a cop not to show up for a valid ticket.

    It's kind of like being accused of a misdemeanor (my tickets were mere infractions), and having the witnesses fail to show, or simply having the judge rule in your favor. Once you beat a ticket, it's done.

    The reason I became animated to fight tickets in the first place was exactly because of unreasonable behavior from police, speed and being caught in what turned out to be a highly corrupt and illegal speed trap, based on an illegal E&T survey. It was obvious enough that me, as a layperson, knew something was wrong. I can thank my critical thinking skills for that, the same skills most of us on this board employ daily. ;)

    If speeding tickets were actually valid most of the time (since speed is left so much to interpretation), cops wouldn't have a choice in the matter and would probably be obligated to show up to court. I know many cops are actually paid to show up if they choose to.

    But, since many tickets are B.S. and the cops know it, it's just easier to let it go and write 10 more tickets in the time it might take to face any opponent in court, let alone an informed and determined defendant.

    It's about choice. Pay your tickets if you like, use traffic school when you need to, or use the judicial due process to fight tickets in court. It's up to you, but for me, knowing more just gives me more choice and ultimately, more freedom.

  35. In my own clumsy way, I was trying to point out that calling someone immoral more or less is a fancy way of calling them evil. There are all sorts of sets of rules to follow in different contexts, but moral laws seem to have the added baggage of determining if a person is good or evil.

    I don't believe in an afterlife or an objective set of rules that determines if a person is good or evil, so I can not honestly use the term immoral.

    I still think a person can be destructive or sadistic or counterproductive to all living things at large, but good or evil are really relative terms depending on who you ask, and thus so too is morality.

  36. Matt, I want to apologize for blowing up the comments with a huge aside about the ethics of speeding, so to speak, but then again it's an interesting topic which affects all of us at some time or another. :D

    John K., as a finer point, I wouldn't say that 'immoral' and 'evil' are the same thing, only because my interpretation of evil is the bottom run of morality, say, like a John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy, or someone who kills animals for 'fun'.

    Being immoral, or immoral behavior in my view falls on a gradient of possible immoral behaviour.

    So, if a kid steals a pack of Lifesavers and knows it's wrong, this is an immoral act, but in my view, not an evil act, whereas I might call the serial killer 'evil' in the sense that he's bout as bad as it gets and there's no hope of rehabilitation.

    In fact, I don't know if anyone we'd call 'evil' could be rehabilitated, but certainly those who commit immoral acts could be reasoned with.

    To me, 'immoral' covers everything, but 'evil' would be the worst of the worst. While I tend to avoid religious language, the word 'immoral' just isn't strong enough to describe some behavior.

  37. Interesting take Dan.

    I still have a bit of trouble creating a litmus test for what is a moral decision and what is not though. There are the old favorites: killing, stealing, wanton destruction and such, but what is it that makes these things special enough to get their own word? I keep coming back to the value judgment on the person. Perhaps 'evil' was too strong a word, 'bad' may fit better.

    Saying that failing to wear your seat belt is foolish or illegal is not nearly as pejorative as saying it is immoral. Calling someone who speeds immoral does not really fit because you don't think of that person as necessarily bad. Someone who steals in small amounts gets a bit more judgment, thus the word 'immoral' applies.

    Everybody has a threshold of behavior in others they will accept before they eventually brand that person an enemy or outcast. Claiming moral authority in any way just seems like another way to do that.

  38. @John K.

    I think this comes full circle, with the comparisons the commentor made to Matt's speech regarding speed limits and morality.

    The 'morality' of speeding on surface streets (or anywhere) is always a moving target (pun doh).

    If it's clear and dry with little traffic, cops might tolerate higher speeds, as long as there's no flagrant violation or 'contempt of cop' as some cops get annoyed by the simple lack of deference in their presence.

    In super foggy conditions, most people will slow down, but if someone continues to go 80, they're going to be far more guilty doing 80 in fog than 80 in perfect conditions with little to no traffic.

    The cop, at this point, can not only give a ticket for exceeding max speed, but add on a reckless driving ticket as well which is far more serious.

    Cops will also scale the 'punishment' of your infractions based on attitude, appearance, cleanliness, level of perceived threat, intent to speed, etc. IE: That RADAR detector is never a good sign on a traffic stop, as it signals intent to speed to the cop.

    If you're nice and unthreatening, a cop may reduce the infraction (say, from an observed 80mph to 75mph to be a little nicer to you), but if you have an attitude, the cop might get you for every offense he can: citing you for the full observed speed, fix-it tickets, window-tint violations, license plate lights, cell phone and seat belt infractions, etc.

    We also have to remember that an accusation of 'speeding' (even from a cop) isn't any indicator of guilt.

    Technically, if you're going over the posted limit on a surface street, you're not speeding until you break the MAX speed, which is hidden to most drivers who understandably think the speed limit SIGN is the max speed. This is convenient for courts who profit from civilians paying traffic tickets.

    Most people have speed violation software telling them: 'I broke the law, I am guilty' as opposed to 'Hey, the cop (who is just a witness and not a judge) only thinks I was speeding, but I was under the max speed for this road and so was nearly everyone else, I am gonna fight this'.

    Morality with regard to killing isn't held to the same standard, as I am sure you're well aware.

    There are gradations for how humans label killing, from assisted suicide or abortion to premeditated murder in the first-degree.

    Even with murder: self-defense, war, intent, circumstances, mental state, pre-meditation, remorse, all of that factors in when it's time for sentencing.

    So, whether it's speeding or murder, conditions and intent matter along with what the greater social-group will tolerate. It seems to be an age-old compromise between personal liberty and social good.

  39. Being involved in the healthcare field I thought the discussion on losing weight and healthcare costs was interesting, however, when the evidence is examined it's not quite as simple as 'unhealthy people are a burden to society'.
    As an example:


    If people stopped smoking, there would be a savings in health care costs, but only in the short term. Eventually, smoking cessation would lead to increased health care costs. "

    Not that I would object to longer lived healthier people!

  40. I used to be confused about morality, until I read "The Ego and Its Own" by Max Stirner.

  41. What's interesting for me is that I work at Emory University and as such, keep up to date on the latest and greatest from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Being an anti-vivisectionist, I have some difficulties with the center, but the social studies of chimp and other primate behaviors are fascinating.

    I was particularly fascinated with a study that compared and contrasted the vastly different community/social styles of chimps and bonobos.

    Chimps are humanity gone wild. Females in rut get gang banged, babies are killed, adults are killed, males make and break temporary alliances, etc. They seem to have very few off switches and their morals aren't as comfortably seen as ours, to a degree.

    The bonobos, on the other hand, are almost diametrically opposed. Fiercely matriarchal, solving problems via sex, bonding through sex, doing basically everything through sex, they are "kinder" "gentler" more "moral" and much calmer than their chimp cousins.

    And, interestingly enough, it appears that we share a certain set of gene bits with bonobos that we dont share with the chimps, and those bits govern so-called "moral behavior". Things like kindness, altruism, empathy and other positive, "moral" emotions that are seen in bonobos but rarely in chimps unless seen in very tight family pairings.

    So it appears that a moral code can be passed genetically from bonobo to human that cause us to be calmer, whereas if we had inherited the same gene bits from, instead, the chimps, we'd probably be behaving a lot more like them than we do.

    Because bonobos are so much more peaceful, they form alliances with other groups of bonoboes, meet, greet, share food, have sex instead of running the others off their land and raping their virgins, so to speak. Their more peaceful nature has enabled them to evolve more human characteristics. I think that as time goes on, we'll discover that morals, too, are just another bit of genetic code handed to us at birth rather than down from some mountaintop from a burning bush.

  42. @ Dan Burke

    I guess I just don't think you can apply morality to procedural rules violations like speeding. You would have to take things to such an extreme as to cause other problems in a willful negligence to the well being of other people. The specific laws originally violated then just become more or less a side note, and the disregard for the safety of others would be my concern regardless of the actual numbers.

    Of course intent and circumstances are important. I think I can narrow my definition of morality to taking action (or inaction) to the benefit of the society a person is living in.

    I would not refuse to associate with someone if I knew they tend to park illegally or drive dangerously, so those are not moral issues for me. Habitual theft solely for personal gain might make me think twice about normal interaction with a person, so that would be a moral issue. A veteran or policeman who has killed people would not bother me if the killing was in an acceptable manner, regardless of possible technical procedural violations, thus not a moral issue.

    So I think I get it now, I will put someone on the moral scale depending upon what kind of willful help or harm they are posing to the society they are a part of. I suppose this makes my morality somewhat relative, but that is why you get so many different answers to the same questions from different people.

    Thank you for helping me think this out, though the speeding example has really been beaten into the ground by now.

  43. The whole scheme of the presentation is foggy. After the introductory blabbering, an example: It's better (in some secular system metric) to give a gift than to steal the person's car. Why? Derive it from something other than your own personal belief (assuming you are not a car thief) that it ought to be so. Maybe this exercise, if you do it diligently, will show you why secular systems are arbitrary and therefore NOT superior. {As if there was a rating scale for various moral systems! Do you believe in Santa Claus, too?}

  44. Religious morals aren't arbitrary? Hah! That is so funny!

    Religions have taken cues from society and improved their so-called morality only after society has risen far beyond the mythologies the churches hold dear.

    So much for the inspiration from the word of god. Seems to have lost it's sizzle.

    I see resistance to progress everywhere there is religion, and not just in morals accepted by society.

  45. Stan said,

    'The whole scheme of the presentation is foggy. After the introductory blabbering, an example: It's better (in some secular system metric) to give a gift than to steal the person's car. Why? Derive it from something other than your own personal belief (assuming you are not a car thief) that it ought to be so. Maybe this exercise, if you do it diligently, will show you why secular systems are arbitrary and therefore NOT superior. {As if there was a rating scale for various moral systems! Do you believe in Santa Claus, too?}'


    This is actually a funny argument, since few moral systems are more arbitrary than religious moral systems.

    Secular morality relies on reason which can be explained and justified (or argued against with rational arguments). Religious morality simply appeals to some fictional authority, and while they might have some moral laws which society considers good, they also have moral laws which are anti-progress, oppressive, or simply unnecessary.

    Here's an example of religious morality:

    'Thou shalt not kill'.

    Now, this necessarily means killing a cow to feed a village is immoral according to this law, even if it means the people eating said cow are avoiding starvation.

    Secular morality makes distinctions about killing, where killing a wasp nest near a daycare might be a moral thing to do, but killing your neighbor for playing his music too loud is severely punished, unjustified and counter-productive for a peaceful society.

    But, if your neighbor breaks into your home at 3a wielding a knife and you see him about to kill your kids, you might be acquitted even if you kill him in self defense. Secular moral systems consider all the facts and conditions when considering alleged crimes, and moral systems are often far too simple or absolute to be practical or even 'moral'.

    Morality should be based on reason, so it can be reasoned with. Morality which is simply based on authority, especially fictional authority, is not really morality by tyranny.

  46. Theists(and some atheists) believe that it is the non-belief in god that binds atheists in their quests for knowledge. This is not true. The truth is, the common bond that binds atheists is the realization that morality is an evolved internal survival mechanism, not unlike love or charity. And that this morality is natural, common, and beneficial in an evolved society and the realization that the more people who realize this fact, the more honest the conversations become. Here is the secret to life: FEAR...LOVE...HONESTY...everything you have ever done; everything you will ever do revolves around how you deal with these three things...that being said I will add: I would rather live in a world full of moral christians than immoral atheists; but my wish is a secular world full of people who recognize themselves as human beings and see each other as fellow creatures on this planet; deserving of the respect that millions of years has taught us.

  47. This was great, and I really enjoyed the conversations at the end. I also felt like making a comment months after this has been posted to also show that these videos can have a long-reaching, permanent impact. Thanks!


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