An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Discussion for Pangburn PhilosophyAn Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson


  • 2:00 Reminder, this is a quickly set up event…
  • 4:30 God… Not taken with enough seriousness from a biological perspective, phenomenological perspective, or a literary perspective, or metaphorical perspective.
  • 5:20 We’re rooted in a metaphorical substrate, which is religious phenomenology
  • 6:40 MD: That’s all to do with religious thought, tradition, identity, not with actual reality or evidence…People derive value from their beliefs.
  • 7:50 JP: It’s not that easy to distinguish between what is useful and what is real. (can be made, but harder than you think)
  • 9:20 The bible is not a scientific hypothesis, and that’s a mistake made only by people that are unable to distinguish different types of truth.
  • 11:50 MD: What are the real issues? JP: Dostoevsky, tolstoy, Jung, Eliade.
  • 12:40 MD: Because those are not the things we’re interested in, we’re interested in: Are there valid and sound arguments to lead one to believe that God exists.
    • In his conversation with Dawkins they weren’t even sure what evidence it could take to convince them. Predisposed in their unbelief. (Hitchens I believe said that if he ever witnessed a miracle, he would presume he was hallucinating, Hume as well)
    • Is God a being within the world for Dillahunty? Or, as Tolkien is to Middle Earth?
    • What presuppositions are brought into the discussion, and how did they get there?
    • People can believe whatever they want, but both people are more interested in the actions those beliefs affect, and how their actions change or didnt change from those beliefs
    • What filters are in the way of understanding each other?
    • From the materialistic frame of fundamentals and atheists, Peterson does not believe in God. But the frame he uses is one of potentiality, what works, intercontextual bonds, hierarchies, etc, in which God does seem to exist. God is ‘real enough’, perhaps in the same way that everything we interact with is not how we see it, but from our perspectives real enough.
    • Harris’s and dillahunty’s ethics are not that different from, essentially, a secular Christian, (heaven and hell play a role in their world of potentiality), the differences are mostly semantics. They’ve taken the axioms of history and gotten rid of their ‘belief’ in the metaphysical substructure beneath it, but continue to act it out. (Post-rationalizing the same reasoning as the Christians)
  • 14:00 JP:You seem to be able to reliably predict a mystical experience with drugs. Is this scientific data?
  • 15:00 MD: We have no way of confirming these experiences are in fact mystical.
  • 16:00 if a person describes an event as mystical, they’ll be likely to stop smoking, lose death anxiety, personality is altered, and it takes place as one of their most important events of their life.
  • 18:00 MD:this is a natural event that people just word as supernatural.
  • 20:00 MD: supernatural is something not originating within the natural.
  • 25:00 Why do the subjects automatically attribute their experiences to supernatural sources?
    30:00,MD: by saying 'I don’t know, we search out the actual explanation instead of posseting and answer and moving on…
  • 30:30 People personified the soul because it was something unable to be articulated otherwise.
  • 31:00 JP: I think deepest belief is associated with action.
    36:00 MD: what would we lose along with our belief? JP: We’d lose our metaphoric substrate of our ethos and be lost.
  • 40:00 the metaphor turns a thing into something we believe rather than just think. Belief is thought incarnated.
  • 40:30 MD: For me, belief is whether I think a proposition is true or likely true.
  • 41:00 JP: you cannot reduce the world to a set of propositions. MD: Why not? What is something true in the world that cannot be set as stated propositions? Demonstrably true.
  • 41:50 You’d lose art, and drama, and poetry and story. [MD: I can prove that false. JP: but you still behave in a way that shows your religious underpinnings]
  • 44:00 MD: IT’s a pragmatic moral structure.
  • 46:00 well-being and suffering are not metaphysical to be maximized or minimized, there are abstractions able to be utilized in the individual cases.
  • 47:00 MD: if you chop off my head, that is clearly not good for me. JP: Because you think you’re valuable. MD: Yes. JP: Why? [MD: Because my ancestors believed that] (do you believe everything your ancestors did Matt?]
    48:00 definition of wellbeing… (we don’t know, we want to find out)
  • 49:00 death can be preferable to life because it stops suffering. MD: But then there’s no BEING to get well being. (Now this sounds somewhat metaphysical.)
  • 51;00 these are the general terms for a moral foundation. (Is a foundation not locked in stone viable to be used, when it contains holes within it?)
  • 51:00 rational for life: It’s generally better since we’re talking about it, and dead people can’t talk about it.
  • 52:00 MD: To say I’m not sceptical is the opposite of what I am, because any of these three can be swapped out for something better. (Better according to what? Well-being I imagine)
  • 54:00 (Secular humanism works like chess, where, since we want to live a good life, what ways can we go about doing that. Only the people want to play this game can use these rules.)
  • 57:00 Purely rule-built AI doesn’t work (does it? Does he mean a goal needs to be inputted into it? I don’t understand.)
  • 57:30 The base axioms are metaphysical because they rely upon reasonable people to agree on good things first, (via intuition, or things that they can’t rationally explain perhaps, unless provoked into rationalizing.) there’s something driving you to agree on what is reasonable. MD: these agreements correspond to each individual’s self-interests.
  • 1:00:00 Deepmind was not given rules on how to play the game, only limiting constraints of pieces (I’m not sure I understand their points on this) ‘rule-based-systems for how to play a game are not optimal.’ MD: This deepmind method is exactly how we humans developed ethics
  • 1:05:00 If all humanity ceased to exist, would God still exist? I don’t know how to answer that […] I don’t buy that. I think that reality is some strange interaction with material and consciousness itself.
  • 1:08:00 is religion an archival system to hold moral truth? My goal is to have the best understanding of reality that I can, and for others to as well. JP: We ride upon the shoulders of giants and God is the Meta Giant that encompasses all other shoulders.
  • 1:15:00 Secular russia was deifying a single individual, and was not humanism. (Is this the same problem of choosing who you get to define as atheists?)
  • 1:18:00 secular humanism can be defined as a religion.
  • 1:23:00 Within religious language, the moral domain is primary, whereas the scientific domain, the facts are primary.
  • 1:28:00 ‘What would an actual atheist look like?’ Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. 'There’s no God. There’s no metaphysical thing stopping me from getting away with this. I’d be doing good by doing this. MD: ‘you’re not really an atheist, because an atheist in my mind is someone who would be a murderer.’ An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a god. (belief in action or in thought?)
  • 1:41:00 (if morality and the religious instinct is evolved to benefit us, What can we do about that?)

MD post-discussion

  • unfamiliar with Peterson, but knew he got famous for something that wasn’t even real. (Haha, but how to deal with the repercussions, lindsay Shepard etc. Is it real if everyone acts as if it’s real?)
  • petersons explanation of the observer effect violates all the rules of scepticism.
  • if people learned how to look at things skeptically, they would be better.
  • you need a mystical experience to stop smoking (that is what Peterson said, but Dillahunty did not clarify to learn he meant within the context of taking dmt to stop smoling, a mystical experience had to occur to get that affect.
  • you can change behavior through belief, but that doesn’t mean that the belief is true or is good. (By his definition, Harris’s maximal suffering world is untrue, and invalid)
  • we lose art without religion. (Is that what he said?)
  • the notion that we lose the value of a narrative when everyone stops believing that narrative is demonstratively false. (Is it? Relisten to clarify his point, because I think it is fundamental.
  • you can arbitrarily pick 3 axioms to go by, but if they go against well-being then we can change those foundations.
  • You cannot be moral without a god. (Is that what he said?) (Let’s say that the gods that dillahunty worships are well-being and scepticism. Sure, he doesn’t believe they’re a thinking deity, or even exist metaphysically, but he still encircles all of his action around them AS IF…)
  • dillahunty thinks that if a belief in god allows us to be moral despite there being no such being, then that tells us that we can have a narrative that actually is true that provides the same effect. (If it’s a different narrative, it’s going to cause a different effect, obviously. He knows that, so the question is, is the secular humanist narrative good enough to keep people moral, despite having no grounding in authority in the way that the narrative of God does? )
  • peterson thinks that the narratives we hold trumps reality, (but, if well-being is not metaphysical, only a preference, then that preference can be overridden.)
  • (So, agreement in the power of narrative to drive action, whether true or not, but would prefer truth, in the same way that people prefer well-being. An abundance of similar spiritual experiences would not lead him to believe in anything metaphysical. (Jung quote about Galileo’s telescope) I think about Sagan’s ending to Contact, where the extra-dimensioners appeared to us in the way that we’d be most ready to accept. I question just how much validity the atheist moralists place in subjective experience, because their entire ethics is built off of Well-being, placing it under the realm of 'objective world.)
  • He’s concerned with whether or not these narratives are true, What definition of truth is he using, and does Well-being fit under it?
  • Stalinist russia was religious in its structure. (Then what is secular humanism?) What definition is he using here for religious?)
  • You cannot point to an aspect of secular humanism that does not lead to Communist Russia. (What Demons is about)
  • Peterson is reading minds. (Or is he defining atheist according to action instead of mental belief?)

Vanderklay commentary

  • 3:00 ‘I don’t believe there is one.’ MD presupposes God as an object, not the essence of existence itself, as theists generally put forward as God.
  • 4:00 Western cultures presuppositions are nested immovably within a metaphysical substrate of religious phenomenology.
    8:00. MD: This is my sticking point. (He has his frame for the world, things must be filtered through that to reach him.
  • 10:00 though we have human experiences of value and mysticality, that tells us nothing of our ontology of the supernatural.
  • 18:00 the world that science has now told us the way things are, we do not act in accordance with that, we still act in the way that’s best for us.
  • 21:00 we don’t like being wrong, but we really don’t like being exposed as being wrong.
  • 25:00 how we act has been shaped by how we’ve been acting for much longer than 500 years, so to just say that you don’t believe in God doesn’t make much difference in how we act.
  • 28:00 Peterson sees how the celebrity atheists lives are hardly different from christian lives, and they haven’t rooted out their upbringing yet (as Nietsche tried.)
  • 29:00 many of us don’t want to address the aspects of religion that you find value in, instead are seeking out proving whether or not God exists.
  • 34:00 change in life is being counted as evidence for Peterson. Psychedelics has been real enough to affect our lives because of it, likely originating religious thought.
  • 35:00 If the supernatural happened, could you be able to see it in any other frame but the natural?
  • 42:00 it is specifically the experience that the subject describes as mystical which affects their behavior, indicating evidence.
  • 45:00 Peterson is saying that our deepest level of epistemology is the level we act upon.
    56:00 via common sense, in the same way we derive our ethics, if we wish to remain consistent must also be used by the subjects that report their experiential data. Common sense is the thing that tells us a story that fits within our framework.
  • 58:00 Dillahunty’s shown his bias for not accepting a supernatural origin to these experiences. And we are all biased, so how can we work around our biases to find out the truth?
    1:07, why do we place consciousness within our brain, when through history it’s made its way up from our stomach, heart, eye, brain?
    1:08, if we don’t have an explanation for consciousness, we resort back to our presuppositions.
    1:09, if we don’t know about something, how should we act? pragmatically. (pascal’s wager)
    1:11, ‘I can’t make this leap’ to the supernatural. (Why is that placed outside your ability?)

Open Letter

Peterson’s conception of truth. (How can we define truth that allows for dark matter, marriages, matter, Wellbeing, math, laws of physics, etc.) Definition of truth prior to the scientific revolution.

Perhaps Consciousness is God. (holotropic breathwork, my big toe) It is it’s own reality, by which mental processes take part in. (This fits with how atheists act)

Pakman’s show

Atheists believe in a god so deep down without even knowing it. (Not what he said, atheists ACT like they believe in a god, seen by watching their actions, even if, intellectually, they do not believe. (Through early christianity we’ve placed belief above action, We’ve… disconnected the two…)


Peterson puts forward that Dawkins and Harris have been raised in a culture where the judeo-christian values have been so ingrained, that they can take the conclusions as a given without the metaphysical foundation. As shown by Nietzsche. Which can be personified or not. To make a rational argument, you have to start with an initial preposition. The preposition that underlies western culture, is that there is a transcendent morality. And the ethic that drives our culture is predicated upon that preposition. (And I see that they’ll post-rationalize as Haidt has shown, in order to keep it within the natural world) Theophobe then takes this to mean that 'you must follow judeo christian values and believe in a god to live a positive contributive life in our society today. (Is that what he said?)

Appropriating Morality

  • 23:30 Secular humanism does not contain within it an equivalent to sin. (such as to one’s self, which can harm the individual. ‘harmless activities.’

What is atheism?

A personal disbelief in God

I enjoyed the way that Matt spoke, his generosity & patience. But there’s one thing he said that stood out to me, at around 54:12

That is what a secular moral system does, because it allows revision. Whereas religious systems don’t allow for revision.

First of all, I’m not sure I agree with the second part of that statement – that religious systems don’t allow for revision – and I think this is self-evident. If it were true there would only be 1 religion. Or at very least, only 1 expression of each religion.

But secondly, it opens up a really interesting question: In a purely secular moral system, where revision is encouraged and unregulated by any higher guiding design, how likely is it that someone will ever finally arrive at the conclusion, “this particular moral obligation really inconveniences me and puts me at a disadvantage, but oh well that’s just the way it is.”? If everything is up for revision, isn’t each individual incentivised to keep searching for a conclusion that benefits themselves, downplaying their own weaknesses and celebrating their own strengths?

Whereas in contrast, my experience of religion has been one which is always seeking to revise the moral system to the point where those at a natural disadvantage are given more, even if it comes at the cost of temporarily inconveniencing or disadvantaging one’s self. To keep searching until a conclusion is found where there is a seat at the table for everyone.

The secular moral system is know thyself, which is self-emergent rather than prescriptive, and occurs from trial and error, and discovery and tribulation.

Religions, be it worshipping of deities or men, obtain their moral system by observing common patterns and then making prescriptions, which falls into risky confirmation bias by attributing circumstances to its prescriptions. What is common isn’t always sensible.

Any change with a religion occurred through secular processes. Over time the secular reasons are lost and only the authority reasons remain. Some personalities thrive under and some enjoy the efficiency of the structure, however some personalities like to challenge authority while finding and testing truth regardless of who says it, ensuring its continual validity of environmental and individual application. Structures work suitably providing their environment remains; enforcing a structure into a malfitted environment hurts those holding it up. The structures being things like a handbook for how one should live, relevant support networks, and a satiable meaning for their life.

Secular societies would result in anarchy if it wasn’t for objective truth and human nature being a thing. However people tend to converge to different symbolic gods in secular societies, and many fall to corruption without protective structures to provide respite.

Rand argues the sustainability and higher good of a secular society is libertarianism/objectivism, that the pursuit of truth and right to liberty, person, and property, forces us to know ourself and each other, facilitating trade while disabling oppression. Under a libertarian government and agency, the only trades legal are consensual ones, that is to say all involved parties deemed the trade good, which achieves highest universal morality — a trade where one side loses is relative morality — by the means of maximal self actualisation without oppression for every member, accomplishing a smallest telos for the greatest ethos.

More likely, this ideal will just be partially achieved haphazardly through capitalistic globalism, that the nation of capitalism penetrates cultures and geographic-nations, to achieve micronations that all submit to the ideal of capitalism (consensual trade between parties), these participatory micronations would eventuate specific laws for their divergent environments (including populace), some micronations with more oppressive laws (enforced progressive altruism for the localised highest good), and some with more libertarian laws. With the anarchists and communists, those without capitalism, being left behind to the dust, unable to participate in trade as their contribution grows outdated and worthless against the larger cross-nation trade machine of capitalism.

I like how you frame religion here, as a system of patterns and conventions. And I agree, it feels as though there is much more ebb & flow between secular and religious systems in practice than what might appear if we were to simply try to dissect them in isolation.

The secular moral system is know thyself

I would like to offer a slightly broader definition of religion, and I’d love to know how it sits with you: religion is what happens after you “know yourself”. The practice derived from the principles.

In a healthy situation the journey of discovery and knowledge doesn’t end at this point. But one feels they know enough of who they are and how they fit into the world to also start doing something with their knowledge.

Many religions are highly prescriptive, as you say. But I don’t think this is a necessary distinction. They can just as easily be based on a couple of key principles, left to the individual to discover how they can be applied, using as much intuition, reason and creativity as they can.

Not sure if you agree with me on all of this, or have a different take :slight_smile: But either way, do you see the picture of capatalistic globalism you described as more of a secular vision or a “religious” one?

Good insight, seems fair.

Perhaps a hybrid.

Hello everyone. To contribute to the discussion, and being new to Bevry, I have just a few quick observations:

  1. Jordan did seem to be unnecessarily pedantic with Matt, and this ran out the clock so a better discussion could not develop;

  2. the debate about is there really a god is an odd discussion. I have thought about this somewhat, and in my mind, I have concluded the following:
    a) there is no good, all-encompassing definition of “god”;
    b) to create a framework for my observation, I have simplified “god” to mean “something which is greater than us, that we do not understand.” This seems quite accurate, given how historically when primitive natives did refer to conquering Europeans as “gods” due to skills, tools, abilities that were beyond their understanding.

Therefore, the first question from the audience asked something that seems to be answerable using my framework: “Is there a god if all humanity is gone?” (or something like that).

My answer is YES.

Our planet has generated sentient species that lead to our position now, and I am reasonabily certain, that if we were all to die, our planet would renew itself in several hundred million years to have a new sentient life form. Using my definition, we could consider our planet to be a god because it is greater than us, and over time can replace our essence with something different.