Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Drawing Religious Battle Lines

I had a long phone conversation the other day with a friend who is a devout Christian. I remarked that it’s always difficult for me to strike a balance in my writing in terms of justifiably criticizing the Christian right while not sounding as though I am generally anti-Christian (which I’m not). I write a lot about some of the utter stupidity I see , in particular, from the more political forms of Christianity (the war on Christmas, creationism, claims about the founding fathers, reconstructionism). As a result, I tend to attract a lot of people who, in my view, take things entirely too far in this regard.

Some of them are on a crusade to show that any belief in any god at all is inherently irrational and to show that any religious person must be stupid or uneducated. In this regard, I think many of them are just taking their egos for a walk, flexing and strutting and, for all practical purposes, saying, “My rational dick is bigger than your rational dick.” I say that because, at a much younger age, I was one of those people (and I can hear my friend Andi, who probably remembers those days, laughing right now, as she did then).

I was absolutely convinced that anyone who believed in God must be an idiot, and that it was my job to tell them so. I spent quite some time as one of those annoying people who would go into Christian chatrooms just to tell them that they’re wrong and to prove that I knew more about it than they did. The problem was that I just kept running into religious people who were not idiots at all, and in fact were well educated, well-spoken, very bright people. And I ran into them in all brands, from Christianity to taoism to Islam to Wiccan. On top of that, I ran into my fair share of people who believed what I did but who were also ignorant, bigoted and not terribly bright.

Over the course of a few years, I met several people who, merely by virtue of knowing them (not because they ever tried to convince me of it), changed my views and helped me grow up and out of that stage in my life. Henry Neufeld, who comments here once in a while, was one of them. He was one of the first Christians I encountered who was not a fundamentalist (broadly defined, which I know is not entirely accurate). I remember we would have these conversations where I would pull out my handy dandy list of Biblical contradictions or falsehoods, pick one and throw it out there as a gauntlet. And Henry wouldn’t pick it up, he’d say something like, “Yep, you’re right. The guy who wrote that got it wrong.” And it would initially leave me a bit taken aback.

You see, I knew how this argument went. I’d had them before, and I had it all planned out in my head. You’re not supposed to say that, I’d think. You’re supposed to come up with some fanciful explanation to rationalize it away, and then I tell you how absurd that is and how you’re engaging in special pleading to insulate your faiith from rational argument, and then you’ll tell me that I need Jesus, and I’ll tell you that it’s ridiculous to believe in invisible leprauchans, and then you’ll tell me that you’re praying for me, and then finally I’ll tell you that you’re an idiot. And damn it, you’re deviating from the script in my head.

I simply had no idea that it was possible to be both a Christian and an intellectual. But I kept running into people like Henry, like Glenn Morton and Wes Elsberry and Burt Humburg and Howard Van Till and John Burgeson and Keith Miller and Chuck Austerberry and so many others. And eventually I figured out something that will undoubtedly come as a shock to some of my readers – I don’t know everything. Guess what? Neither do you. I have no answer to the question of ultimate origins (the origin of existence itself); neither do you. What we have are just our best guesses. Mine happens to be deism; stay tuned, it might change.

I think we spend entirely too much time and energy drawing the lines in the wrong place. Too many people are focused on dividing us up into all the wrong groups. Humans are tribal by nature, I think, but as the world has shrunk we’ve developed the ability to form intentional tribes rather than tribes of necessity (family, village, etc). But we still tend to distinguish Us versus Them based on the most superficial of characteristics. The lines shouldn’t be drawn between Christians and atheists, Jews and Muslims, and so forth; they should be drawn between the decent and intelligent and life-embracing people in every group and the bigoted, ignorant and reactionary people in every group.

They should be drawn between those who treat others as equal human beings and those who treat others as pawns to be manipulated, commodities to be bought and sold, or objects upon which to inflict their need to make themselves feel stronger. They should be drawn between those who respect the right of each individual to own themselves and control their own lives and those who seek to use their power, individually or collectively, to deprive others of that self-determination.

The fact that I do not accept Christianity does not mean that I must think that all Christians are deluding themselves. It also doesn’t mean that it’s my job to harangue them about our differences of opinion. When someone seeks to get their version of Christianity enshrined in the law, I will stand up and oppose them and I will use every means at my disposal to do so. When someone seeks to replace or water down science education in public schools by bringing in their religious views, they have made an enemy of me (in the political sense; I may well like them just fine personally). When someone uses their religious views as a weapon with which to assault the rights, and sometimes even the bodies, of my gay friends, they will find no more fierce an opponent than me.

But you know what? Here is the absolutely key point, so I’m going to put it in bold so no one misses it: In every one of those circumstances, standing by my side in those battles will also be a good many Christians. I work with them everyday in the battle to protect science education and, in many cases, I could only dream of contributing as much as they have in that regard. There will be Christians and Jews and probably people from every other religion standing shoulder to shoulder with me next to our gay brothers and sisters, marching for equality. And they will stand with me in opposing the imposition of authoritarian laws as well.

So that’s why I respond the way I do when I see people drawing the lines in the wrong place. That’s why I react the way I do when I see people on my side making enemies out of people who are also on our side. I really believe that people like PZ make enemies where none need to be made, with his attacks on Miller and, prior to that, on Francis Collins. There are disagreements between them, obviously, on the issue of theism and faith, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing those things, critiquing each other’s position, and so forth.

But when you flatly declare them to be creationists – the enemy, essentially, in this context – you are drawing the lines in the wrong place. I react to it because I’ve had it aimed at me as well. Despite everything I’ve done in the battle for science education, I’ve been told flat out that I’m an “adversary” (yes, by PZ himself, along with one or two others) because some of my political opinions don’t fall in line with what they think they should. Because I don’t think the Cato Institute is evil, I was branded a “primitive reactionary”. Because I urged caution rather than rhetorical bomb-throwing in the early stages of a situation where none of us really knew what was true or false, I was accused of being a mole for the other side, an idea that is astonishingly laughable. And my personal favorite, I was called (not by PZ but by Gary Hurd) a “libertarian, fundamentalist, Republican crypto-facist” (sic) and, worse yet, a supporter of James Watt, of all people.

This is the sort of glazed over, idiotic fanaticism that drives me up the wall. This whole groupthink dynamic of detecting any unorthodox opinion in the group and purging it for the sake of ideological purity is simply kneejerk stupidity uttered in little more than gutteral grunts and endless rants of the “enemy within”. It’s McCarthyism, only this time by the left instead of the right. And it’s something we would be much better off without. Stop drawing the lines in the wrong places. Embrace those who are on the side of science and rationality and decency even when they don’t agree with every single thing you say. Not only will your goals be more readily achieved with such a coalition, but you might even find out that it’s okay that you don’t know everything because no one else does either.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    Or, perhaps we should have the courage of our convictions, and actually acknowledge that we will not tolerate an all-inclusiveness that hamstrings our capacity to make meaningful statements? Saying something requires ruling out other statements, after all.

    We most certainly shouldn’t tolerate people lying about the nature of science and rational thought. As people who care about and value truth highly, we can’t let falsehood go unchecked.

  2. #2 Cheeto
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,
    That’s really a nice sentiment. Of course – it is possible that not everyone has as idiotic as you were as a young man. Some people (not you as a young man) can recognize that not all religious people are stupid. But it is possible to be an intellegent person with assumptions that lead to bad outcomes. Religion is a strong factor that leads to those bad assumptions. For example – it is possible to hate gay people and want to restrict their rights because of reasons other than religion. However, it is much more common that people will use religion to hate gay people and want to restrict their rights. Yes, but some people don’t – but you don’t see organized groups of people that want to put the other group down outside of religion.

    One can logically come to the conclusion that while religion has done some good – as a whole it is bad for society and has done more bad than good and for the betterment of the whole society – religion should be curtailed.
    Cheeto

  3. #3 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    Oh yeah, one more thing:

    This “my tolerance and inclusiveness are bigger than your tolerance and inclusiveness” rigamarole is just as disgusting as any other size comparison contest. Quit trying to demonstrate that you’re better than everyone else by ‘tolerating’ nonsense, then bragging about it.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Caledonian, you’re missing the point completely. No one, least of all me, has ever suggested that you or anyone else not value truth or let falsehood go unchecked. Debate the issues, critique the views of others all you want, just as I do. But we can debate ideas without attacking the people who hold them and without turning them into enemies unnecessarily. And of course, we should keep our priorities straight as well. The fact that we may disagree about one thing should not mean we should go around attacking people who are on our side in important fights. In recent weeks, PZ has attacked both Francis Collins and Ken Miller and declared them to be enemies. In both cases, he had to retract the accusations against them because he had overreacted without all the facts. I don’t doubt that both Collins and Miller would be more than happy to discuss whether theism is a valid position or not (I frankly just don’t care about the issue much). But that’s not what was going on at all. It was just a declaration that these men are “creationists” and therefore the enemy. That kind of paranoid overreaction does great damage; more importantly, it leads to false accusations.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Sorry, this post had nothing to do with “tolerance”. Neither the word nor the concept appears anywhere in it. It is a plea for rationality, not tolerance.

  6. #6 John Farrell
    September 12, 2006

    Very good post, Ed.

    religion should be curtailed.

    Nothing like a little ignorant bigotry to start the day. I’m always amused by the mute silence from atheists when you ask them how to explain why science as a self-sustaining activity developed in Western, Christian Europe. And nowhere else.

    It’s not like science and Christianity share any pre-suppositions about the natural world, after all. Gee, what would lead anyone to believe that?

    I must have missed the history classes on how the law of inertia was first set down in Aztec America, or the idea that reason can discover things independently of revelation was first formulated by an “atheist” in ancient Guam.

    We all know Universities were first founded by atheists in ancient Egypt. We all know the idea of the corporation and charter, by which universities were granted intellectual autonomy–without which you cannot do science, was granted to them by open minded atheists who truly were just pretending to be Popes.

    It’s matter of common knowledge that Roger Bacon, Jean Buridan, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Maxwell, Planck and Einstein were all atheists and believed the notion that the natural world actually operates according to rational laws is completely self-evident.

    Yep. Nothing like a little ignorant bigotry to start the day.

  7. #7 Jordan
    September 12, 2006

    Caledonian’s words can be restated in different terms.

    I was recently told that I was not being “open-minded” for not taking Creationism seriously.

    Where do we draw that line?

    Do I have to tolerate views like “2+2=5″ if they come from otherwise intelligent, life-embracing, and decent people? Do I have to respect all viewpoints, regardless of how demonstrably illogical they are? Because I don’t, and I won’t.

    This is different from drawing a line in the sand. I don’t see this as a difference of opinion; I see it as a fundamental misapplication of logic and reason.

    These words are good: “The lines shouldn’t be drawn between Christians and atheists, Jews and Muslims, and so forth; they should be drawn between the decent and intelligent and life-embracing people in every group and the bigoted, ignorant and reactionary people in every group,” but only in a political sense. I don’t see the utility in situations where the disagreement hinges on a falsifiable claim.

  8. #8 Brian
    September 12, 2006

    Wow.

    Y’know, I’m a pretty devout atheist and I’m very much against any form of creationism being taught, but Scienceblogs has gotten incredibly petty over this lately. “Tolerating nonsense”? Why is that a bad thing? How does it hurt you?

    You and I may agree that religion is pretty silly, but as long as people aren’t doing things like forcing their beliefs on others through the classroom, I think it is ‘tolerable.’ And if they’re actively helping us keep creationism out, it is extremely counterproductive to get this shrill about how they decide to support their belief system.

    Especially since none of this little argument matters at all. We’re not going to convert the world to atheism. We’re not going to even make a dent in the number of creationists, since a few hours of evolutionary theory in biology class is not going to make a dent in the preconceived notions that have been drilled into some of these kids by parents and clergy since birth. But hey, we can still try to make a rational impact, but not by going out and screaming at people.

  9. #9 SteveF
    September 12, 2006

    I agree entirely Ed. I have been undergoing the same growing up procedure over the past couple of years.

    As an aside, I have chatted online with John Burgeson a few times. Do you know how he is? As I recall, he was getting on in years.

    Cheers

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    September 12, 2006

    Am I reading a completely different post than you guys? Was there a misdirected link somewhere? I think this post is absolutely spot-on. Did Ed say anything about Christianity being anti-science? That was COMPLETELY out of left field, John Farrell. How do you get from “Embrace those who are on the side of science and rationality and decency even when they don’t agree with every single thing you say” to “a little ignorant bigotry”? Are you even using the same language I am?

    Ed, I think this post is brilliant, honest, and eloquent. I hope these are just some angry PZ hangers-on still lingering from the dust-up. None of the comments even make sense so far. Weird.

  11. #11 Left_Wing_Fox
    September 12, 2006

    I think part of the problem is that we’re experiencing a political schism in the United States driven by an unusually authoritarian and radical Republican party leadership, exacerbated by a two-party political system that greatly reduces the practical variations of political belief at the polls and encourages a “with us or against us” polar mindset from both supporters and detractors.

    I think a final part of the current polarization is just the nature of the internet. When people talk in person, they tend to be more cutious and reserved in their opinions, and simple human empathy keeps us from demonizing most people off the bat, especially when those differences aren’t visible. Most people have noted that PZ Myers is pretty softspoken and calm in person compared to the attitude that comes across in the blog.

    So in real life, you might meet a fine upstanding person, then later discover they’re gay/republican/christian/communist/whatever later on, and you have empathy for that person that keeps things civil for most people. Online, it’s much easier to rip into a person on multiple levels, since that empathy for the person is harder to establish.

  12. #12 tacitus
    September 12, 2006

    The fact that I do not accept Christianity does not mean that I must think that all Christians are deluding themselves.

    So, what other options are there? They are being deluded by others? I would think it’s got to be one or the other.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that all Christians are idiots or fools (even if they are being fooled). No matter how rational we like to believe we are, we all have our own delusions, large and small, and that’s probably, on balance, a good thing. What separates our delusions from our hopes and dreams? I would argue, not very much. They are what drive us to succeed even when we know that rationally, the odds are stacked up against us. Much of our art and culture are the product of our delusions and the world would be a poorer place without them.

    Good and bad, delusions and the people who have them, are here to stay. All we can do is limit the damage the worst of them can inflict upon us. When it comes to religious delusions, it’s how we best do that which should be the debate.

  13. #13 J-Dog
    September 12, 2006

    Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOES believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot? I mean, they either do not realize they were indoctrinated into their religion when younger, or as an adult professing a belief in the god / allah what have you, they have demonstrated a laziness or inability to see they have been programmed.

    Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but isn’t it disengenuous to pretend that you respect them for their belief in a Big Juju?

    In the interest of living in a society, I do not and can not insist that others believe as I do, but I just don’t get “Intellectual Christian” (or Intellectual Muslim, Fundy, Druid etc.)

    It just seems to me that anyone that says “Yes, I believe in The Great Spirit etc,”, may as well be living in a cave howling at the moon. Isn’t your point really just “fence sitting”? They might be wrong, but they might be right?

    Bottom line for me however, is that we do think alike on most issues, including basketball, so I have to open my mind to at least entertain the notion that a belief in leprechauns is not an automatic qualification for the Looney Bin.

    It’s asking a lot though.

  14. #14 GH
    September 12, 2006

    I agree with some of what you say and not other parts. In general I can accept your view.A few comments:

    does not mean that I must think that all Christians are deluding themselves.

    Of course they are. There is no other way to go in this area. They have no proof, nothing and yet buy into all kinds of baloney. It’s the same for the majority of religions. Lets call a spade a spade here. I have no problem with the delusion but it is what it is and this has no bearing on the intellect of such people. I think the brain is very complex and this is primarily an emotional response.

    like Glenn Morton

    I know he’s your friend but his writing is among the most compartmentalized convoluted religious drivel I’ve encountered. But his is on our side in the evolution area.

    You see, I knew how this argument went. I’d had them before, and I had it all planned out in my head. You’re not supposed to say that, I’d think. You’re supposed to come up with some fanciful explanation to rationalize it away, and then I tell you how absurd that is and how you’re engaging in special pleading to insulate your faiith from rational argument, and then you’ll tell me that I need Jesus, and I’ll tell you that it’s ridiculous to believe in invisible leprauchans, and then you’ll tell me that you’re praying for me, and then finally I’ll tell you that you’re an idiot. And damn it, you’re deviating from the script in my head.

    You must have run with a different crowd. Even if you had used that script I doubt any of the names or anyone for that matter could answer the invisible person with satisfaction.

    but this is flat out ignorant:

    I’m always amused by the mute silence from atheists when you ask them how to explain why science as a self-sustaining activity developed in Western, Christian Europe. And nowhere else.

    It was the Islamic world that kept science alive and allowed it to grow while the Christian religion was asleep at the wheel. And in truth the Christian religion is so malleable that it can seemingly encompass any idea no matter how absurd the fit may seem.

  15. #15 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    I am not going to disagree that there are many rational, compassionate, intelligent religious people who will indeed fight the fight of inclusiveness and tolerance on the same side of the rest of us who also preach such things.

    However, it must also be pointed out that enormous parts of religious teachings are patently false and that believing them is an act of willful stupidity – of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming ‘La la la la la’ at the top of your voice. Time after time the practical teachings of all religions are proved to be categorically wrong and they are forced to retreat – heliocentricity and the age of the Earth are a couple of examples and common ancestry will eventually follow. Religion is patently wrong and proven to be so every time it ever tries to clash with science on such matters and many religious people persist in believing themselves to be right and this is a mass act of willful stupidity and needs to be described as such.

    Of course there are grey areas. Morality is an obvious one – I think it is immoral to simply accept morality as a cast-iron list from some fictional character and apply it with the sort of blanket, dogmatic fascism that many religious groups do. However there are many religious people who do not do this and are deeply moral, sympathetic people.

    There are preposterous sides to all beliefs, but matters of fact and matters of belief are different. Morality, the ‘meaning’ of life, rightness and wrongness of certain lifestyles – these are all matters of belief and conviction and rarely change in people.

    This is where I think the dichotomy lies – cold hard facts which the church likes to dispute and is generally wrong about, and more metaphysical, philosophical arguments for which there is often no definite answer.

    The Darwinian model of evolution and the fact that the Earth is emphatically NOT the centre of the universe and is, in fact, round, not flat – these are immutable statements of fact and are beyond dispute. People who seek to dispute them are either intellectually hugely advanced (I hear the sound of distant sniggering – that would be me!) or simply deceiving themselves. This is generally for reasons of stupidity (unable to grasp the concepts involved)or of vanity (I can’t believe that this is all just, like, meaningless). So, Ed, I agree in parts, but creationsts are still idiots.

  16. #16 Jeff Hebert
    September 12, 2006

    J-Dog said:

    Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOES believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot?

    Turn that around. See how foolish it sounds when it reads “Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOESN’T believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot?” Does that advance the argument at all? Does that help at all? It might make you feel better to call them an idiot, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

    Tacitus said:

    Ed:The fact that I do not accept Christianity does not mean that I must think that all Christians are deluding themselves.

    Tacitus: So, what other options are there? They are being deluded by others? I would think it’s got to be one or the other.

    That’s a false dichotomy. The simplest other possibility is that Ed is wrong and Christians are right. Ed doesn’t believe that to be the case, but it would be dishonest to not admit that it’s at least a possibility. The second most simple alternative is that they are not “deluding themselves” but have reached a different conclusion based on the same evidence. You find the evidence uncompelling, but they do not. That doesn’t mean they’re “deluded”, it means they disagree.

    But all of that is beside the point Ed is making, at least as I read it. The point is, what people DO is far more important than what they BELIEVE. If someone treats me with dignity and respect because they’re religious, good on ‘em. If they treat me with contempt and degradation because they’re religious, screw ‘em. WHY they do what they do doesn’t interest me as much as WHAT they do, and if we’re all rowing in the same direction, who gives a flying fig what else they’ve got going on in their head? Just enjoy the help!

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    I think Jeff Hebert is right; I think some of you people seem to be reading an entirely different post and reacting to that one, not to this one. Nowhere did I say anything about not discussing, debating, and challenging anyone’s views on any issue where there is a disagreement. Nowhere did I say that anyone should “tolerate” false claims by never challenging them or arguing about them. Nor is this post in any way about whether religion is, on balance, a good or a bad thing. And when J-Dog writes:

    Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOES believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot?

    He is demonstrating precisely the sort of thing that I think is absolutely ridiculous. No, it isn’t true that anyone who believes in God is an idiot. Likewise, when tacitus writes, in response to my statement that just because Christians believe differently doesn’t mean they’re deluding themselves:

    So, what other options are there? They are being deluded by others? I would think it’s got to be one or the other.

    The answer seems obvious to me: how about they’re just wrong? How about they just reach a different conclusion than you? You are of course welcome to discuss the issue and debate it and show where you think their reasoning goes astray, but to begin with the assumption that they are deluded is patently absurd. One can be wrong without being delusional, for crying out loud.

    I can see now that this entire comment thread is going to become quite annoying and ridiculous. But at least try and respond to my actual argument, not to caricatures of it.

  18. #18 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Yes, Ed, but when was the last time you heard a religious person admit that they recognise that their beliefs sound rather ludicrous in the cold light of day (virgin birth, resurrection, walking on water, talking snakes etc..) but that they believe them anyway?

    I admit that some of the more theoretical scientific ideas on the origins of the universe sound more than a little crazy and are incredibly hard to even grasp. In fact, the questions themselves can be bloody hard to grasp.

    But while many religious teachings and religious practitioners need to be respected and listened to, engaged with and debated, there are many vocal religious leaders who are simply talking nonsense and will shout that nonsense loud enough and often enough that it is taken as being a legitimate, defensible position when it just isn’t.

    ‘Teach the controversy’ is a sly thing to say as there is no controversy. There is controversy around abortion, because the question is a moral one and very much a personal value judgment. But in evolution there is no controversy – unless you mean exploring the more esoteric mechanisms of sexual selection. Religious stances on this topic are virtually all completely, demonstrably wrong. So balls to respect on that one, I’m afraid.

  19. #19 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Jeff Hebert has my point mostly right. We’ve got people who are on our side in a very important cultural and political battle, people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins. These are brilliant men who have contributed much to our society, yet some of you are insistent not on discussing or debating whether their theistic views are correct or not, but on dismissing them out of hand as “deluded” or “idiots” solely because they believe in God. For fuck’s sake, Francis Collins just headed up what will almost certainly go down as one of the 4 or 5 most important scientific projects in the history of mankind. Are you really so driven by your fervor to purge anyone with the slighest religious belief that you can seriously say, with a straight face, that the fact that he believes in God makes him a delusional idiot? If so, to be blunt, you really need to get over yourself. You ain’t that fucking smart.

  20. #20 Ray Spurlin
    September 12, 2006

    Intelligence is not a simple linear scale. It is possible to be highly intelligent in regard to some topic and completely myopic in another. As an example, I offer PZ Myers and Ken Miller, although you may only think one of these illustrative to my point.

    I’ll happily respect your right to believe in anything you want if you reciprocate. My argument is with those Christians, Muslims or any other group, religiously defined or not, who wish to foist their unsubstantiated beliefs on me through law, force or terror.

  21. #21 GH
    September 12, 2006

    He is demonstrating precisely the sort of thing that I think is absolutely ridiculous. No, it isn’t true that anyone who believes in God is an idiot. Likewise, when tacitus writes, in response to my statement that just because Christians believe differently doesn’t mean they’re deluding themselves:

    No because there simple isn’t any reason to believe minus any evidence. Are people who think gnomes live in their backyard idiots or just deluded? How about the FSM? I don’t think idiots is correct but I think your incorrect about delusion.

    The second most simple alternative is that they are not “deluding themselves” but have reached a different conclusion based on the same evidence. You find the evidence uncompelling, but they do not. That doesn’t mean they’re “deluded”, it means they disagree.

    A different conclusion based on the same evidence. OK, what is the evidence? Where is it? Is it the same that the Muslims are using? The Hindus?

    What possible evidence could one have to conclude that a man ascended into the sky? or rose from the dead?

    It is silly to say a form of delusion is not at work when a group of people wait for a person to descend from the sky.

    But I agree with Jeffs general point.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Matthew Young wrote:

    But while many religious teachings and religious practitioners need to be respected and listened to, engaged with and debated, there are many vocal religious leaders who are simply talking nonsense and will shout that nonsense loud enough and often enough that it is taken as being a legitimate, defensible position when it just isn’t.

    I am baffled as to why on earth you would think I am saying that we should respect and not argue with clearly wrong positions like creationism. For crying out loud, I spend a huge portion of my time doing precisely that. Religious people (and non-religious people) take many stupid positions and I am all for pointing out why they are stupid. The point of my post, however, is that the mere fact that someone believes in God is not proof that they are delusional or that they’re idiots or that they should be made into enemies when they are in fact on our side in these important battles. Debate them all you want, but don’t call them idiots and adversaries when they’re not.

  23. #23 GH
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,

    Who said Miller and Collins where idiots? I do think both have a delusional aspect to their minds(call it fantasy if you will) I don’t think anyone seriously argues they are idiots in regards to their intellect.

    Although, and I’ve discussed this with him personally, I think Millers book in the second half makes him sound very, very removed from good thinking.

    At some points in Collins book he does sound idiotic. But this shouldn’t be taken as an example of his intellect as a whole.

  24. #24 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Ray Spurlin wrote:

    Intelligence is not a simple linear scale. It is possible to be highly intelligent in regard to some topic and completely myopic in another. As an example, I offer PZ Myers and Ken Miller, although you may only think one of these illustrative to my point.

    No, I think both are illustrative. PZ and Ken are both brilliant men. I also have no doubt that both also believe things that are palpably untrue (I have no doubt that I do as well, and you, and everyone else). But all of us can be wrong without being either delusional or stupid.

    I’ll happily respect your right to believe in anything you want if you reciprocate. My argument is with those Christians, Muslims or any other group, religiously defined or not, who wish to foist their unsubstantiated beliefs on me through law, force or terror.

    Precisely my point.

  25. #25 Stogoe
    September 12, 2006

    But you can’t believe in a petulant sky fairy with no justification without being deluded.

    We all have irrational beliefs, and that’s okay. You can keep your God booga boo if it makes you feel better. I’ll keep my irrational belief that laziness is the key to success. One thing you can’t do, however, is claim it’s rational or true. Also, I’d really rather you didn’t try to force everyone to believe in your exact booga boo.

    And that’s what’s happening, and why I’m up in arms about christian theocrats. I don’t want any part of your booga boo, but you keep ramming it down my throat.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    GH wrote:

    Who said Miller and Collins where idiots? I do think both have a delusional aspect to their minds(call it fantasy if you will) I don’t think anyone seriously argues they are idiots in regards to their intellect.

    Scroll up to J’Dog’s comment, where he said:

    Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOES believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot?

  27. #27 dogscratcher
    September 12, 2006

    “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
    – Voltaire

    And not very scientific either.

  28. #28 Jordan
    September 12, 2006

    Ed, I interpret your last comment as: religious people can be intellectuals, just as well as non-religious people can. Therefore, they simply arrive at different conclusions, given the available data, and the stage is set for a little vigorous debate on the subject.

    Would you stick by your argument if instead of “religious people” I filled in “people who believe in leprechauns?” How about magic? UFO’s?

  29. #29 Fox Laughing
    September 12, 2006

    “Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but isn’t it disengenuous to pretend that you respect them for their belief in a Big Juju?”

    I believe the point of Ed’s post was not that we should respect someone for their belief in Ghu, but for their decent actions. Belief or unbelief is irrelevant to the question, “Is that person a good person?”

    It is easy to draw the lines based on the superficial qualities; such as which invisible being a person believes in, what gender they find attractive, how much money is in their account, and how easily they sunburn. It is hard to continuously judge other people based on their actions, and possibly have to redraw where the line between “us good people” and “them not good people”. It is even harder to accept that other people would be doing the same to you – no more free passes to behave badly because you are in the “white male club” or the “straight club” or the “atheist club”.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Here’s what this all reminds me of. A few years ago I was helping out at a homeless shelter run by a church, helping prepare and serve a big Christmas dinner. Back in the kitchen before we began serving, someone suggested that we say a prayer and asked me if I’d like to say it. I politely said no, that I’m not a Christian so perhaps someone else was more appropriate than me for that duty. They said their prayer while I politely stood there quietly, and afterwards it launched a bit of a discussion with a couple others who were helping out. One asked me why I had come to help if I didn’t believe in their mission. I said that we just have different reasons for reaching the same end. They did it because they believe that Jesus is God and that Jesus told them that they have an obligation to help others and feed the poor. I did it because I think it’s the right thing to do. Should it make any difference at all why we were there? I don’t think so. Should I have refused to take part because, in addition to the food they were also handing out Bibles and therefore spreading their “delusional” belief in “petulant sky fairies”? Should they have refused to let me take part because I didn’t believe everything they believed? No and no. And after a few minutes of discussion, the others just smiled and said, “Hey, we’re glad you’re here to help, whatever the reason.” Are we really going to get so focused on fighting over matters of ideological purity that we destroy healthy alliances that are doing much good? If so, we’re in more trouble than we realize.

  31. #31 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    the mere fact that someone believes in God is not proof that they are delusional or that they’re idiots or that they should be made into enemies when they are in fact on our side in these important battles

    No, you’re quite right, and this is certainly something I struggle with. I think, as I said earlier, I would like a religious person to admit that their beliefs sound a bit preposterous. I am happy to admit that this Big Bang bit sounds rather crazy.

    However, believing in god is a completely irrational belief based on nothing but self-contradicting hearsay and no actual evidence at all. So I know it doesn’t make people idiots on its own but I can’t help but find it deeply suspicious, especially when the vast majority of religious people deny that there is anything unreasonable about believing in god in the first place.

  32. #32 Henry Neufeld
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,

    That’s an exceptionally good post.

    I also am wondering what some commenters are reading. I don’t recall you giving me a free pass in any of our debates in those good old days. Not calling one’s opponent deluded is simply a way of reflecting the fact that we might both (or all) be wrong, and that we’re open to new things. Logically I imagine that if I’m wrong I’m deluded, but in that case I’ve spent most of my life deluded about many things, as I’ve changed my mind on them–I had to have been deluded either before or after.

    BTW, I’ve commented on a few more things here from my blog, but I’ve never had a successful trackback to any blog on ScienceBlogs.com. My blog says it’s done the ping but they never show up. I don’t sweat it, as the point was to direct my readers to something here that might interest them, but it is mildly odd.

  33. #33 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Jordan wrote:

    Would you stick by your argument if instead of “religious people” I filled in “people who believe in leprechauns?” How about magic? UFO’s?

    Yes. Isaac Newton believed in alchemy, for crying out loud. Arthur Conan Doyle was taken in by stories of garden fairies and staked his reputation on it. Brilliant people can still be flagrantly wrong on things.

  34. #34 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Should I have refused to take part because, in addition to the food they were also handing out Bibles and therefore spreading their “delusional” belief in “petulant sky fairies”?

    Actually, I am not convinced. There are plenty of homeless charities around who do the same work without passing out the bible. Surely there are even christian ones? Medecins Sans Frontieres surely don’t go about healing people on the grounds that they then get to proselytise about stuff – secular or otherwise.

    Passing out bibles to homeless people is pretty harmless, and definitely does not offset the good you are doing by feeding them, but generally the act of linking charity and compassion to the dissemination of dogma is a bit dubious. I would personally have reservations about that one.

  35. #35 Julia
    September 12, 2006

    “Yes, Ed, but when was the last time you heard a religious person admit that they recognise that their beliefs sound rather ludicrous in the cold light of day . . . but that they believe them anyway?”

    How about today? I believe in the existence of God. I am a Christian. In the cold light of day, my beliefs sound rather ludicrous, but I believe them anyway. I had a personal experience so clear and compelling, that it would be a lie for me to say that I do not believe in God. After that experience, I find it impossible not to believe in the existence of God, and I’ve tried.

    No, I do not think there is the slightest scientific evidence for the existence of God. Yes, I agree that my belief must seem illogical and unexplainable to you. I believe in God anyway.

    I find science fascinating, and have no religious objections to any scientific findings. I very much enjoy reading science blogs and have learned a great deal from them, but I was surprised to discover how much time and energy is devoted on some of them to saying a thousand times the same thing, very loudly and often angrily: “There is no scientific evidence for the existence of God, and therefore there must not be any God, and anybody who disgrees with me on the question of God’s existence must be a moron because I am right!”

    OK. I hear all of you who say that. You think I’m a moron. I still believe in God. Can we talk about science now? I think maybe that’s Ed’s point, or part of it anyway.

  36. #36 thelemurgod
    September 12, 2006

    I agree, and I can relate, to just about everything you have said here. One of my life’s mantras is “Stupid is everywhere” — as a reminder to not get overly focused on relatively superficial difference, and focus on the real enemies of hate, ignorance and stupidity.

    Thank you.

  37. #37 jw
    September 12, 2006

    Nothing like a little ignorant bigotry to start the day. I’m always amused by the mute silence from atheists when you ask them how to explain why science as a self-sustaining activity developed in Western, Christian Europe. And nowhere else.

    Are you sure you’ve actually asked any atheists about this or the silence a result of asking this question when you’re alone in your bedroom? There’s a lot of explanations for the rise of science other than Christianity, and Christianity is a particularly weak explanation given how frequently and strongly the church has attacked non-religious forms of knowledge in the West from the burning of the Library of Alexandria to Galileo’s trial to modern creationism.

    I tend to favor geographic explanations myself and did so before Jared Diamond popularized them. The Eurasian landmass offers tremendous biological wealth and cultural transmission opportunities that Africa, Australia, and the Americas don’t. In Eurasia, Europe has the seeming disadvantage of many geographic barriers to unity, but this fact served as a tremendous advantage as it prevented Europe from being united under a powerful state that could suppress science and technology as China did at several points or from being united under a powerful religion that defined the law as the Caliphate was.

    Even so, the power of religion was sufficient to prevent the development of modern science in Europe until the Reformation shattered the power of the church to control knowledge. The Scientific Revolution didn’t start until after the church had lost its power to broadly suppress new ideas across Europe.

  38. #38 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    I believe in the existence of God. I am a Christian. In the cold light of day, my beliefs sound rather ludicrous, but I believe them anyway.

    Well quite, and I am not actually arguing about the existence or otherwise of god, just that it is a rather odd belief, given the evidence. Mind you so, given the evidence of our own eyes, is the belief that the Earth is round.

    I have no issue with religious folk saying ‘look at the glory of the world god made’. The instant I cross the line to ‘good grief, you idiot‘ is when religion crosses the line into debating the nature of the world that god (or whatever – who cares?) made. If god did make the world, which is a question I find so beyond my ability to answer I find it almost meaningless, then he/she/whatever did so a few billion years ago, with evolution, gravity, as part of a rather insignificant solar system, and so on and so on.

    What god simply did not do is create it 12000 years ago in the blink of an eye, at the centre of the universe, and with all current forms of life pretty much as they are today. It is when religion crosses, as it often has, into these sort of statements that I tend to become dismissive of the people who make or agree with the statements.

    Belief in god is odd, but honestly how do any of us have any idea whether it’s true or not? Or, as Ed said in either a previous thread or earlier in this one, how do we even think we are able to ask the right question, never mind provide an answer?

    Douglas Adams had a lot to say about that, but then he did equate belief in god with the belief that a giant teapot is orbiting the Earth…

  39. #39 David Sewell
    September 12, 2006

    Here’s what this all reminds me of. A few years ago I was helping out at a homeless shelter run by a church …

    Ed, your post and followups really resonate with me. Back home on my kitchen table are two mailers from organizations I support financially, the Secular Coalition and Mennonite Disaster Service. I don’t consider it self-contradictory to support the missions of both.

    There really does need to be a secular humanist equivalent of “love the sinner but hate the sin”. Religious beliefs may be self-delusional in some ultimate ontological way, but we all have millions of brothers and sisters out there who hold those beliefs, and calling them idiots is on the same moral plane as waving placards saying “God Hates Fags”.

  40. #40 David Heddle
    September 12, 2006

    Matthew Young,

    Yes, Ed, but when was the last time you heard a religious person admit that they recognise that their beliefs sound rather ludicrous in the cold light of day (virgin birth, resurrection, walking on water, talking snakes etc..) but that they believe them anyway?

    You are 180 degrees off. All of us (Christians, anyway) should readily agree that what we believe sounds like idiocy to you–this should not be rare at all. I believe in all those things you mentioned, and I am absolutely certain they sound nuts-o to you. In fact scripture tells us that the truth will, indeed sound foolish to you. I would be astounded if you were not a believer and yet the resurrection sounded sensible to you. Why, this borders on the obvious.

  41. #41 GH
    September 12, 2006

    Should I have refused to take part because, in addition to the food they were also handing out Bibles and therefore spreading their “delusional” belief in “petulant sky fairies”? Should they have refused to let me take part because I didn’t believe everything they believed?

    I think this is different from what I’m saying, I think people act the way they act because we are a group species who is geared towards cooperative behaviour. That is different from people actually making an argument for invisible beings, worshipping said beings, and then dictating how people should live and punishing them when it doesn’t work out as it should.

    I think Julia is an honest person and her perspective is one I can appreciate having heard what she said before. I believe whatever happened to her is purely biological. I’ve heard the same thing from people of all religions or none. This type of experience will be ascribed to whatever deity they choose(generally most culturally prevelant) to ascribe it. I can accept that when they see the fideism involved.

  42. #42 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    You are 180 degrees off. All of us (Christians, anyway) should readily agree that what we believe sounds like idiocy to you–this should not be rare at all. I believe in all those things you mentioned, and I am absolutely certain they sound nuts-o to you. In fact scripture tells us that the truth will, indeed sound foolish to you. I would be astounded if you were not a believer and yet the resurrection sounded sensible to you. Why, this borders on the obvious.

    Well this is why I tend to find religious people rather stupid. They should also sound nuts to you. Many scientific theories sound completely crazy to me, including the idea that self-aware lifeforms can have, and indeed, must have, evolved from a single self-replicating molecule (never mind what caused that self-replicating molecule to come into existence), but I believe they are true because this theory agrees with the available evidence and allows us to make many predictions which turn out to be correct.

    Religious people, on the other hand, believe things for no reason other than someone told them a fairy story and they swallowed it – a lot like the Father Christmas one. If they do not see the inherent oddness and groundlessness of their beliefs then they are idiots.

    That is not to say that believing makes you stupid, but not seeing that what you believe is rather fantastical, not to me, but by itself, as a story – that is what makes you an idiot.

  43. #43 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    I believe in all those things you mentioned, and I am absolutely certain they sound nuts-o to you. In fact scripture tells us that the truth will, indeed sound foolish to you. I would be astounded if you were not a believer and yet the resurrection sounded sensible to you. Why, this borders on the obvious.

    Perfect circular logic. Is it foolish? No because the bible says if you think it’s foolish you don’t get it. Not foolish, why of course the bible says you get it.

    Bishop Spong would of course disagree with you David. The real question is why do you think it doesn’t sound like idiocy and how much gump must you swallow to pretend it doesn’t?

  44. #44 razib
    September 12, 2006

    good post end.

    Einstein were all atheists and believed the notion that the natural world actually operates according to rational laws is completely self-evident.

    einstein believed in spinoza’s god, so by definition he believed in rational laws which were self-evident (if sometimes inscrutable). if you’re going to be snide, at least make sure to dot all your i’s.

  45. #45 Sastra
    September 12, 2006

    I feel like I’m in an interesting position — I find myself in basic agreement with your post AND I find myself agreeing with the Pharyngula critiques on Collins and Miller. I’m trying to figure out why I don’t find these positions in conflict.

    I suspect that one quick and dirty reason is that I tend to cut blog writers (and commentators) a fair amount of slack on the rhetoric. These are generally not supposed to be philosophical abstracts or public writings, but attempts to speak frankly and memorably, with style and wit and extravagance. I therefore usually interpret terms like “idiot” and “deluded” charitably, as hyperbole and exaggeration — and try to do it for both sides. Look at the entire piece, the whole critique. I’ve seen plenty of bigoted attacks — is this one of them? Real contempt would not be so careful to address the specific arguments — or give honor, credit, and endorsment here and there, when it is due. Which, in my (perhaps mistaken) opinion, I think PZ does.

    I cut you slack as well, bub. Yes, I confess. I have some Michael Bolton on my iPod. I’m a middle-aged female. So shoot me.

  46. #46 CaptainMike
    September 12, 2006

    “…worse yet, a supporter of James Watt, of all people.” -Ed Brayton.

    How can you not be a supporter of James Watt? Steam engines are kick ass!

  47. #47 Julia
    September 12, 2006

    Matthew,

    “The instant I cross the line to ‘good grief, you idiot’ is when religion crosses the line into debating the nature of the world that god (or whatever – who cares?) made.

    People everywhere and at all times have developed notions about how the world works, so it’s not surprising that religious people should also do so. But science has obviously done a much better job of describing how the world works than has these random opinions of random people. I often express this to religious people I meet who have confused belief in God with various assorted and often superstitious unscientific notions about how the world works. Very few of these people are idiots. Some are mostly uneducated and are making the best guesses they can, and others are mostly just wrong. Unfortunately, there are always those who become invested in a power struggle and refuse to separate their various how-the-world-works notions from their belief in God. They cause a lot of trouble. I’m sorry for that, and wish I could persuade more of the religious people I know to let go of anti-science attitudes.

    What god simply did not do is create it 12000 years ago in the blink of an eye, at the centre of the universe, and with all current forms of life pretty much as they are today. “

    Apparently not. Science seems to have firmly established this.

    GH,

    ” I believe whatever happened to her is purely biological.”

    I think it was biological, too. The “purely” part, I’m not sure about. If you convince me that it was a purely biological experience, however, to be the honest person you kindly say I am, I must add that it wouldn’t change the fact that the experience convinced me that God exists. In other words, my belief is based on the experience itself, not on any qualifying belief that the experience was a supernatural one. For all I know, the experience is equally available to everyone. I don’t really see why it wouldn’t be (except perhaps that mine was visual in nature and some people might be more inclined to something auditory or kinesthetic). In that case, I would only be able to say that my understanding of it is different from the understanding of one who had such an experience and remained/became an atheist.

  48. #48 Chuck
    September 12, 2006

    Awesome post, Ed. Spot on. I’m no apologetic for Christianity myself, and I will always follow reason and empirical evidence wherever they take me. But I’m a amateur philosopher plagued with big questions as well as a molecular biologist, and while science gives man awesome powers of understanding and control over nature, it tells us nothing of meaning or of what we should do with that power or of the ultimate questions of existence. Only metaphysics and ethics can even begin to play with these questions, although of course they could never answer them. For that reason, there is nothing irrational with engaging in a bit of Spinoza’s or Einstein’s religious sensibilities.

    Anyway, bravo, Ed!

  49. #49 David Heddle
    September 12, 2006

    Matthew Young,

    To be honest, I was being charitable, because the correct way to interpret what you actually wrote was, indeed, that Christians (you said religious, but I can only speak from the perspective of Christianity) should freely admit that they find their own beliefs ludicrous. I was hoping that wasn’t what you meant, but I guess it was.

    Why would you expect a Christian to think his own beliefs are ludicrous? That is, it seems to me, an impossibility along the lines of demanding that someone believe something they don’t really believe. If I found Christianity ludicrous then, then, here’s a surprise, I wouldn’t be a Christian. Instead I find Christianity to be the most rational possible choice.

    Let’s face it–your argument is no better than “if you don’t see the world as I do, then it’s because I’m smart and you’re dumb.”

    That is not to say that believing makes you stupid, but not seeing that what you believe is rather fantastical, not to me, but by itself, as a story – that is what makes you an idiot.

    If you reply to this post, try to use a different insult, something other than “idiot.” Repetition is rather boring.

    Uber,

    It is a circular argument as I have said many times. But there is nothing wrong with that, I am not offering “the bible says that unbelievers will find the bible foolish” as a proof of anything, but just an acknowledgment.

    Why I don’t think it sounds like idiocy is because when I did think it sounded like idiocy I was converted. After that, I no longer thought it sounded like idiocy. Then it was perfectly rational. But I understand that the same divine act has to occur before it won’t sound like lunacy to you.

  50. #50 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Julia, you seem to be a rational and intelligent person. I tend to hear this sort of thoughtfulness very rarely from religious people, but that is probably because the religious people I know tend to rather quickly grow tired of listening to my deranged ranting. ;-)

  51. #51 DragonScholar
    September 12, 2006

    This reminds me of a recent essay in The Humanist by Jeff Nall that had two points: 1) Intolerance of religious beliefs could quickly be corupted into bigotry and intolerance as sure as anything else. 2) A far healthier focus is building up what people have in common, so the points of division become less relevant.

    Caling religious people deluded misses the fact that religious belief varies highly, as do the ways, reasons, and methods people believe. Bluntly, some people may believe particuarly deluded things, but sometimes it’s because they literally don’t know any better. They won’t be convinced by someone telling them they’re stupid.

    Deciding we’re in a war of religion versus atheism is going to distract us from the goal of good science and good society. Worse, it plays RIGHT into the hands of the people wanting a culture war. And, frankly, atheists are the minority, so the odds of winning don’t look good to me, and I’m not enamored of the idea of my legacy being going down fighting – and loosing.

  52. #52 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    Or, perhaps we should have the courage of our convictions, and actually acknowledge that we will not tolerate an all-inclusiveness that hamstrings our capacity to make meaningful statements? Saying something requires ruling out other statements, after all.

    We most certainly shouldn’t tolerate people lying about the nature of science and rational thought. As people who care about and value truth highly, we can’t let falsehood go unchecked.

    I am a Christian. I do not lie about the nature of science and rational thought. In fact I rather believe that faith by it’s nature is irrational – in that it is not quantifiable, yet I have it just the same and it suits me just fine, thank you.

    As for hamstringing your ability to make a statement. I will stand right next to you and fight voraciously to keep religion out of the science class and in comparitive religion or other philosophy/mythology classes. I will fight to keep it out of the the state and state funded pervue – right along side you. My faith does not restrict me from accepting and enjoying the wonders that science has brought us – especialy new discoveries about how the world works.

    Arguing to throw out people like me because of my views that are entirely un-related to science is just stupid. That would be like me deciding to ignore everything Ed says and does in defense of gays and our civil liberties – simply because he is a libertarian. I can think of a host of issues that I am in polar opposition to Ed’s views on. But the simple truth is that I agree with him on a lot of other issues, I would be a fool not to stand beside him on issues we agree on. It makes me curious, where do you draw your line? I mean what can someone dissagree with you about and still be in your little club?

  53. #53 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Why would you expect a Christian to think his own beliefs are ludicrous?

    I expect them to recognise that they bear little relation to the mundane realities of the world around us and consequently appear, in the context of reality, rather bizarre.

    I am more scientifically inclined, myself, but I am still prepared to accept that many scientific claims sound rather preposterous when compared to the world we see around us.

    I also accept that I may possibly die and find myself at the gates of Saint Peter with an awful lot of explaining to do, while he casually reaches for the Big Flush In The Sky, although I find that rather unlikely.

    If you do not, as a religious person, accept that your beliefs sound a bit bizarre then you have no ability to see the world from any point of view other than your own, which means that your brain doesn’t possess a rather useful human faculty, and from which I infer a degree of stupidity.

    I believe in what science tells me because it leads to testable results such as succesful cancer treatments, space flight, and telescopes. I am not, however, so vain or stupid as to assume that my interpretation of the events and arguments around me is necessarily correct, nor that some of things I believe do not sound a bit crazy.

  54. #54 gwangung
    September 12, 2006

    Are we really going to get so focused on fighting over matters of ideological purity that we destroy healthy alliances that are doing much good?

    If so, the Republican party is way off to the right, there….

  55. #55 Skemono
    September 12, 2006

    Nothing like a little ignorant bigotry to start the day. I’m always amused by the mute silence from atheists when you ask them how to explain why science as a self-sustaining activity developed in Western, Christian Europe. And nowhere else.

    Simple. Because Europe was populated by white people, and, as any 18th- or 19th-century person will tell you, only white people are capable of creating civilization and scientific advancement.

  56. #56 David Heddle
    September 12, 2006

    Matthew Young,

    Sorry, I cannot make any sense out of your arguments.

    I expect them to recognise that they bear little relation to the mundane realities of the world around us and consequently appear, in the context of reality, rather bizarre.

    Why do expect that? I should think that you would expect that Christians recognize that biblical teachings bear substantive relation to the realities of the world around us. I cannot understand why you would think otherwise.

    I am more scientifically inclined, myself, but I am still prepared to accept that many scientific claims sound rather preposterous when compared to the world we see around us.

    I too am a scientist. I am prepared to accept that things like quantum mechanics sound preposterous to others, but that is because they haven’t studied quantum theory. But I thought your point was not that our beliefs sound preposterous to others, but to ourselves. Do the claims that you accept from science sound preposterous to you?

    If you do not, as a religious person, accept that your beliefs sound a bit bizarre then you have no ability to see the world from any point of view other than your own, which means that your brain doesn’t possess a rather useful human faculty, and from which I infer a degree of stupidity.

    But I freely admitted that they sound bizarre not just from any point other than my own, but indeed from every point other than my own. Again, I thought you were suggesting that I am an idiot because I don’t find my religious views somewhat idiotic to me.

    I believe in what science tells me because it leads to testable results such as succesful cancer treatments, space flight, and telescopes. I am not, however, so vain or stupid as to assume that my interpretation of the events and arguments around me is necessarily correct, nor that some of things I believe do not sound a bit crazy.

    Do some of the things you believe sound crazy to you? If so, why do you believe them? If not, why do demand that concession from Christians?

  57. #57 Herb
    September 12, 2006

    Great post.

  58. #58 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    I mostly agree with Brayton’s article, but there is a nit I would like to pick. J-Dog asked, if Christians are not deluding themselves, then what are the alternatives? “They are being deluded by others? I would think it’s got to be one or the other.”

    Brayton says, “The answer seems obvious to me: how about they’re just wrong? How about they just reach a different conclusion than you?”

    That response makes sense only for those Christians who claim their religious views are the result of the same kind of reasoning that causes some anthropologists to think there was interbreeding between modern man and Neanderthal, some astronomers to think there are blackholes, and some epidemiologists to think bird flu will soon mutate to a variant easily transmissible between humans. You work through a problem, and sometimes your answer is wrong.

    Many Christians, by my estimate the great majority, explicitly except their beliefs about god from ordinary reasoning, and explicitly assert that their belief is a matter of faith. After that, one can’t just say of their views that they simply came to a different conclusion. Their views are not a conclusion. Not in the sense that the other views I listed above are a conclusion. Any discussion about these views quickly falls back to the core fact, that they admit irrationality in the very process by which they acquired religious belief. If the word “delusion” is too strong, there’s still no use pretending that they “just reached a different conclusion.”

    The dangerous thing about faith is that it is self-justifying. That’s true for the liberal Christian who stands by Brayton’s side fighting for the Bill of Rights. It is equally true for the jihadist who flies airplanes into towers. Faith is where the person asserting it, by definition, has stopped rational examination of the issue. So there is the interesting question of what attitude to take with regard to faith. (1) If you accept it as a legitimate move, the problem, as I just described, is that it is no less legitimate and no less justifying for the jihadist than the liberal Christian. Those of us who have no evidence of gods, without faith, simply have no basis for saying that the “good god” of the liberal Christian is somehow more rational or likely than the “bad god” of the Mohammed Atta. (2) The other extreme, and I think this is happening more in the years since 9/11, is to point to faith itself as a large part of the problem. Sam Harris’s recent book is a good explanation of that. (3) The middle ground is less clear. Politically, of course, we can ally ourselves with those who are expedient allies. But beneath that, what do we say? “I’m glad your faith makes you a political ally, rather than someone who flies into buildings or who is trying to overturn the Bill of Rights”? Well, yes, that’s true. I am glad of that. But is it any more than a piece of luck that such a believer’s god is more to my liking, than some other believer’s god? One might surmise that the leap of faith wasn’t entirely a matter of faith, and that the “good” believer subconsciously created a god that would buttress their pre-existing views. That in some sense makes them less an alien and gives more opportunity for intellectual camaraderie. At the same time, the very notion demeans their belief. “Look, you obviously didn’t arrive at your religious beliefs by faith, but imagined a god who conformed to your preexisting outlook.” It’s the kind of thing you say quite delicately. If at all.

  59. #59 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    I should think that you would expect that Christians recognize that biblical teachings bear substantive relation to the realities of the world around us.

    Of course you think this, as do the muslim, the hinud etc. Why? Because they are written by folks who lived in this world. What other reality are they going to be speaking about? This is also why you can see the blending of prior mythologies into this particular religion. The people wrote what they knew and believed at the time. Some ideas made sense in these societies and no longer do now.

  60. #60 justawriter
    September 12, 2006

    I think part of the problem in this discussion is that the center position is misplaced. Posing the question as one of whether religious beliefs are rational I think cedes the ultimate arguement to religious believers from the outset. The core of the discussion, whether stated or not, has been one of morality.

    Once all the nonsense of miracles and lists of biblical contradictions are cleared away, the same question you faced at the soup kitchen remains, how can a person be moral without God. If humanity has a moral center, or can derive one from social and rational principles without the need of divine revalation, I feel the central core of theistic religion evaporates to nothing. Their divinely inspired texts then become guides, nothing more. And if divine revelation about morality is suspect, can questions about the reality of eternal salvation be far behind?

    I will cede to the religious their claims of rationality if they will cede to me that spirituality has no relevance to morality. Or to put it more crudely, I will stop swinging my rational dick if they stop swinging their moral dick. Then we can have a moderate and pleasant discussion.

  61. #61 Jeff Hebert
    September 12, 2006

    swinging my rational dick

    Now you’re REALLY dealing in fantasy-land! Like there’s any such thing as a rational dick.

    Jeff

  62. #62 tacitus
    September 12, 2006

    I think a lot of the disagreement in this discussion is caused by people’s different understanding of the definition of a delusion. From dictionary.com:

    delusion:

    (1) a false belief or opinion.
    (2) a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.
    (3) a false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness

    and so on.

    If you define a delusion as simply being a false belief or opinion, then obviously we’re all deluded to some degree or other. Many atheists would argue that, by definition (2), many religious beliefs are delusional–i.e. they are false beliefs that are resistant to reason.

    But I suspect when people object to associating religious belief with being deluded, they are thinking of definition (3); that it is in some way a symptom of mental illness. This is the position PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins take, I believe.

    Note, these definitions make no mention of stupidity or idiocy. Note also that the definitions do not say anything about how a person comes to buy into a delusion. It could be the result of deliberate trickery or through reasoned debate with well-meaning, honest people.

    So, in the case of religious beliefs, as an atheist I would argue that when using definition (2), many of them, if not all, are delusional. They are fixed false beliefs that are resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.

    But I don’t believe most people who believe them are stupid, idiots or mentally ill. The Christians I know are sane, intelligent, smart people. Even the Orthodox Jew who refused to sit next to a woman on the plane I was on for religious reasons was not stupid. Deluded, yes, but not necessarily a fool.

    Of course, they could all be right, and I am the one who is delusional about religion… but I don’t think so. ;-)

  63. #63 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    John Farrel writes, “Nothing like a little ignorant bigotry to start the day. I’m always amused by the mute silence from atheists when you ask them how to explain why science as a self-sustaining activity developed in Western, Christian Europe. And nowhere else.”

    Science was started by the ancient Greeks. They formalized geometry. They put astronomy on a mathematical basis, deduced that the sun, moon, and planets were spheres, calculated the size of the earth, invented an accurate geocentric model of the solar system, implemented these models as mechanical, analog computing devices, and theorized a heliocentric model. They developed the basic laws of static mechanics, for both solids and fluids, including Archimedes’s famous principle. They started the study of anatomy.

    The historical question isn’t why science was invented in 16th century Europe. The question is why it went into a decline about the 3rd. Ptolemy’s Almagest was the world’s standard astronomy text for over a millenium after he wrote it. A student can study Greek astronomy and math, then pick up with Galileo and Kepler, with no sense of interruption.

    The first period of science lasted about six or seven centuries. The current period has yet ot make it five centuries. You may fairly start to say that the current period is more “self-sustaining” than the first, after it has survived another two or three.

  64. #64 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    I too am a scientist. I am prepared to accept that things like quantum mechanics sound preposterous to others, but that is because they haven’t studied quantum theory. But I thought your point was not that our beliefs sound preposterous to others, but to ourselves. Do the claims that you accept from science sound preposterous to you?

    I think atomic theory sounds particularly nuts – a stone made up mostly of empty space? Come on! – but I believe it because it leads to thing like radiation-based treatments for cancer (I think – does it?) that I can see with my own eyes. I believe it because of things like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which every high school student sees the experiments for on the desk in front of them. Incidentally, that’s another theory that sounds bizarre, but without these theories a great deal of modern technology would not exist at all, so they must be true in some quantifiable sense. (Excluding arguments about Bill Hicks’ prankster god who allows us to believe things for his own amusement, not because the world actually works like that).

    But if you say that a solid object on which I can bark my shin is largely made up of empty space, then I think that should sound odd to human beings, given our cognitive abilities evolved to make sense of and be able to predict the behaviour of the world around us.

    However, religious people, I feel, should be able to acknowledge, in the absence of talking snakes around us in the world today, that the story about the talking snake sounds a bit silly.

    Equally, given that atomic physics allows us to carbon-date rocks to the age of a few billion years – and this science is pretty much shown to be valid through its ability to do things like produce nuclear power – then it seems rather peculiar to continute to insist that the world was created 12000 years ago.

    If people wish to believe these things then they are believing things that are as counter-intuitive as empty space making up the most part of all solid matter and they should acknowledge this. If they don’t see it, then I find it hard to take them seriously.

  65. #65 Corkscrew
    September 12, 2006

    Or, perhaps we should have the courage of our convictions, and actually acknowledge that we will not tolerate an all-inclusiveness that hamstrings our capacity to make meaningful statements?

    Hey, make all the meaningful statements you want – the more the merrier. Just don’t assume that anyone who doesn’t agree word-for-word with those statements is The Enemy. Save that label for people who attempt to enforce their views on you, whatever side they’re nominally on.

  66. #66 justawriter
    September 12, 2006
    swinging my rational dick

    Now you’re REALLY dealing in fantasy-land! Like there’s any such thing as a rational dick.

    Jeff

    So you think there is such a thing as a moral dick? ;)

  67. #67 Les
    September 12, 2006

    I see where you’re coming from, Ed, and I’m of a similar mind. I’ve also written on the issue of tribalism as the source of a lot of the conflict a couple of times.

    Though I must confess that I have used the label of delusional in some arguments I’ve had on my own blog, it’s usually something I reserve for people that appear (to me anyway) to be clearly demonstrating themselves to be such. Despite some folk’s impressions of me, I don’t honestly think everyone who believes in God is an idiot or delusional by default.

    Honestly I’m not overly concerned what people believe until they try to claim it as fact without anything to back it up or start trying to force it upon everyone else. If it makes you feel better to think that there’s some all-powerful being out there keeping an eye on things and you’re capable of agreeing to disagree then more power to you. Some of my best friends are exactly that sort of believer, many of which are Christian, and we get along just fine and are even capable of holding interesting discussions on the topic of gods without getting pissed with each other.

    I just wish there were more believers like that in the world rather than the Fundamentalist types or the ones who it seems are indeed being willfully stupid. Belief won’t be dieing out anytime soon to it behooves us to figure out how to get along to at least some degree.

  68. #68 Dave S.
    September 12, 2006

    So you think there is such a thing as a moral dick? ;)

    Sure, have you never read Moral Dick in high school? The moby of the story is that revenge is bad. Or something like that.

  69. #69 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    But is it any more than a piece of luck that such a believer’s god is more to my liking, than some other believer’s god? One might surmise that the leap of faith wasn’t entirely a matter of faith, and that the “good” believer subconsciously created a god that would buttress their pre-existing views. That in some sense makes them less an alien and gives more opportunity for intellectual camaraderie. At the same time, the very notion demeans their belief. “Look, you obviously didn’t arrive at your religious beliefs by faith, but imagined a god who conformed to your preexisting outlook.” It’s the kind of thing you say quite delicately. If at all.

    You only need say that delicately to those who have thin skin and weak faith – and then only if you fear offending someone. This is a very legitamate discussion and I, for one welcome it. In fact I think it fits nicely with another topic I think needs more discussion and a lot less delicacy – Daniel Dennett’s assertions in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea that evolution disproves religion. I obviously dissagree with him but this is a legitamate conversation to be having – delicate sensabilities be damned.

    As for your assertion on the origins of my faith. My response is somewhat paradoxical – one that I toss around and really am not sure of. First, I aproach my faith using an evolutionary paradigm. My faith has both evolved for me personaly, while over the centuries, Christianity over all has also evolved – into innumerable sects and subsects. As society has grown and changed, so has my religion. Likewise, as I have grown and changed, so has my faith and what I believe. But at the same time I am not immune to the possibility that man simply creates god in his own image – thus as the human condition changes, so does god.

    I would geuss that my approach to faith seems, if anything, more irrational than that of most people of faith. But such is the nature of faith. I have a lot of reasons for believing what I do – many of them very personal expieriences I don’t talk about. But suffice to say that one of two reasons for my survival today is true; either their is a higher power that intervened to keep me alive or my body is capable of metabolising huge doses of powerfull neurotoxins – believe me, I would love to believe the latter, but science tells me that is highly unlikely if not impossible. This is far from the only reason for my faith but it is a large part.

  70. #70 Sastra
    September 12, 2006

    So there is the interesting question of what attitude to take with regard to faith. (1) If you accept it as a legitimate move, the problem, as I just described, is that it is no less legitimate and no less justifying for the jihadist than the liberal Christian. Those of us who have no evidence of gods, without faith, simply have no basis for saying that the “good god” of the liberal Christian is somehow more rational or likely than the “bad god” of the Mohammed Atta.

    As usual, I think Russell states the problem quite well (one of the problems, that is.) PZ may be intemperate — and perhaps that is Ed’s main point here — but some people seem to be advocating not simply moderation in rhetoric, but a live and let live attitude in general. This translates into having no debate at all, and I think this is mistaken.

    In the past I’ve made the comparison with astrology. Certainly, bland and benign astrology readings which make recommendations like “today is a good day to get to those things you’ve been putting off” or “try to think before you speak” are much more reasonable than full-blown prophesies and sweeping claims like “start a war” or “quit your job” — but on what basis do we knock off the critique and throw our support behind “rational” astrology?

    When it is politically expedient and practical to do so? When it is kind and tactful? When it doesn’t seem to make any real difference between the life of a believer and the life of a nonbeliever? The answer seems to be ‘when nobody takes it too seriously, and keeps it only as the inspirational foundation for self-identity and decision-making.’ That’s safe.

  71. #71 David Heddle
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,

    I read and enjoy your blog all the time. Here is just a general observation. You’ll post something along the lines of:

    If one group is allowed to wear message on their t-shirts in school, the Christians should be allowed to wear t-shirts with a counter message.

    (That’s not a quote, just a hopefully accurate representative argument from memory).

    To which there will be numerous responses of the form: “yeah, you’re right, you’re right, freedom of speech being freedom of speech for everyone, yeah, sure, I know,” followed by “BUT! The Christian message is actually so hateful and so it’s not really the same, and though I agree with you, really I do,…”

    To me this fits the template: I’ll agree with you, for a little while, and in principle only, so as to establish my libertarian credentials, but as soon as I have safely secured my position I will tell you what I really think, which will turn out to be you are dead wrong–I just don’t want to admit it up front, because you are so damn reasonable.”

    I am seeing much of the same thing here. “Yes Ed, of course you’re right–not all theists are idiots, quite so…” but as soon as they have pushed themselves a comfortable distance into the “I’m reasonable just like you are Ed” camp, the message becomes “but the religious, you have to admit, really are quite stupid.”

    I think the commenters who simply say “the religious are morons” are, at least, honest.

  72. #72 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Well Julia, who posted above, is clearly religious and clearly not a moron. Yourself, David, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about ;-)

  73. #73 bourgeois_rage
    September 12, 2006

    Great post, Ed. I’m surprised that this has sparked such a heated debate. I read about halfway down the comments, and I have to agree that most here are reading a lot of things that aren’t on the page.

    P.S. I’m agnostic, so does that mean I’m the least wrong?

    P.P.S. I know, it doesn’t.

  74. #74 Sastra
    September 12, 2006

    I suspect many commenters here are not clear enough in distinguishing
    1.) the religious are stupid
    from
    religion is stupid

    and
    2.) religion is stupid
    from
    religion is an insufficiently supported hypothesis.

    Keep scratching and I suspect — for most — you will be right back to the original “yea, I agree with Ed” position.

  75. #75 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    but some people seem to be advocating not simply moderation in rhetoric, but a live and let live attitude in general. This translates into having no debate at all, and I think this is mistaken.

    I disagree, live and let live does not preclude debate – o me it simply means that while I disagree with a given position and may debate it, ultimately, “they” have their view and I have mine, yet we peacefully co-exist and may even be allies in some arenas. It is very much like my attitude about sexuality. Personaly, I have no understanding of how one can be sexualy stimulated by diapers. Yet there are people who are really enthusiasti about that fetish. Or trans-gender people, I don’t understand it, nor would it ever occur to me that I am the wrong gender. Yet some of my best friends are trans people. It’s their choice, it doesn’t interfere in any way with my right to be – live and let live.

    I take the same approach to creationism – though it’s trickier. I know a lot of creationists – very few of them think it’s appropriate to teach those beliefs in public schools, most of them want their kids to learn about evolution. I obviously dissagree with them but until they try to push their belief into publcly funded venues, such as public schools, I live and let live. I will debate them about it to be sure, but in the end I don’t pull my hair out at the idiocy – i let it, and them, be.

  76. #76 CPT_Doom
    September 12, 2006

    Fascinating post, and conversation in the comments (far more civil than many other sites I’ve seen). I am struck, though, with the seeming false dichotomy presented by many commentators between atheism/rational science and religious beliefs. A mere belief in God, in and of itself, does not imply irrationality. For one thing, as we all know, science can only currently bring us back to just after the “creation” or “beginning” of our universe – some 12 – 15 billion years ago. It is, IMHO, irrational to believe that moment was the start of everything in existence (which may very well include matter and energy in parallel universes). As we cannot know what is “bigger than” the universe, or what started it, a belief in a Supreme Being is understandable.

    The problem seems to be that most religions degenerate into an adoration of said God, and an attempt to appease him/her with human behavior. That is where rationality breaks down, for there is scant evidence to demonstrate the active working of any supernatural being in our world. That is also where we run into problems sociologically.

    When I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was part of a “cafeteria” Catholic family – you take the beliefs you want and ignore the rest. Not the most orthodox of belief systems, but certainly one that allows an individual to be both religious and intellectual. As an adult, I refuse to classify myself as either a believer or an atheist – because there is no evidence to conclusively prove either point.

    As for the “middle ground” we can hope to find, not only do I think Ed has it right, but in one way he is echoing the teaching of one of the religious leaders currently exalted into divinity – the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. Whether you believe he was divine or not (I am more and more on the “not” side), his teachings are a vital lesson in how to move beyond prejudice and stereotypes we all create about the “other” group we don’t like. I, in fact, was taught the most important lesson of the Gospels was the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the good rabbi made the point that just because someone does not agree with the superficialities of your religion, that does not mean they are a bad person, or cannot do good in the world.

    It is not the religious beliefs themselves that cause problems in our world, but the chauvanism that allows people to believe that their beliefs are not only correct, but that they have tapped into some amazing ability to completely and perfectly understand the mind of God – something no human could ever do. It is the moral superiorty and righteousness that leads to things like the Crusades, or Bloody Mary’s reign in England, or the Taliban, and that is something everyone can fight against.

    The key to living together then – the humility to admit any of us might be wrong, and all of us can learn from another. For instance, I may regard my Southern Baptist relatives as uneducated idiots for fervently believing in that theology, but I can also recognize that it was the moral grounding of their religious teaching that led them to get in a car and drive through the night, 12 or 15 hours, to stay by my mother’s side as she died – and she was only a relative by marriage.

  77. #77 Sastra
    September 12, 2006

    Treban wrote:

    I disagree, live and let live does not preclude debate – to me it simply means that while I disagree with a given position and may debate it, ultimately, “they” have their view and I have mine, yet we peacefully co-exist and may even be allies in some arenas.

    If this is what you mean, then I agree. My experience with those who advocate the “live and let live” approach is that it pretty much entails refraining from disagreement, criticism, or trying to change anyone’s views. “Isn’t it wonderful that that works for you; we all have our own truths” is as far as you’re supposed to go. Never tell anyone their “spiritual path” is wrong. It is sacred.

    From what I can tell, this stance seems to be particularly popular among women. I think Gretchen has pointed this out before. Perhaps I misinterpret because of this.

  78. #78 BAC
    September 12, 2006

    I support the separation of church and state, which to me means we should be teaching sound science in science class and allowing individuals to decided for themselves whether or not to follow a faith tradition. I have met some people of faith that I think are quite intelligent. Unfortunately, too many Americans think “people of faith” are all like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

    There is a public education campaign going on right now to change all this. It’s being organized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation. If you haven’t yet visited the web site I encourage you to go to http://www.firstfreedomfirst.org, and sign the petition!

    BAC

  79. #79 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    Never tell anyone their “spiritual path” is wrong. It is sacred.

    I think this is actually the source of the anti-gay bigotry of the religious right. They believe that their bigotry is sacred – so sacred that they believe codifying gay rights into law is a violation of their rights. To me it just shows they have weak faith and no self control. It certainly implies they don’t put much weight behind their conviction that what they believe is the “truth.”

  80. #80 Matthew Young
    September 12, 2006

    Unfortunately, too many Americans think “people of faith” are all like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

    Certainly as an atheist or agnostic or something inbetween I find it very rare to hear reasonable religious voices anywhere, with the most obvious reason being that a nice rational statement doesn’t create the same press buzz as apocalyptic, hyperbolic lunacy.

    To a large extent, I would say, the major religions are facing a major crisis of credibility and public image on account of the genocide of the Christian nations, the UK and America, in the Middle East, the insanity of Islamic fundamentalists everywhere, and the self-righteous butchery of the Jewish nation of Israel.

    I don’t know how best to get the reasonable and compassionate religious voices heard properly, but this sounds like a hugely important program, given ‘the state of the world’ at the moment.

  81. #81 Raging Bee
    September 12, 2006

    Wow, sixty-odd responses in, what, less than two hours? Who would have thought that such bland common sense could hit so many raw nerves?

    It never ceases to amaze me how brittle and thin-skinned some atheists are, and how rigid and intolerant they are of other beliefs, even as they rightly condemn certain religious zealots and demagogues for exactly the same character-flaws.

    I’m also amazed at these atheists’ seeming inability to deviate from their old standard talking-points (which seem not to have changed since I spouted them at the age of 12, thirty-four years ago) — no matter what statements they’re reacting to. Even the blandest talk of being nice to others is met with “You mean we should tolerate nonsense and irrationality and lies and supersitition and…?” Any mention of the role of religion in history is met with “Religion is responsible for all evil (but none of the good)!” Mention that the Bible might have some intelligent passages in it, and you get a long, tiresome quote-mine of every slash-and-splatter verse therein. Mention someone you know who’s both intelligent and religious, and it’s “He’s deluded himself! You can’t reconcile faith and reason! He must not understand science, if he did he’d blow a gasket for sure!”

    Point out that you’ve observed people whose lives and actions contradict the atheists’ assertions, and they merely repeat the same assertions, only louder. Point out that they’re acting like their alleged enemies, and they’ll shout “But atheism is not a religion!” and point out that they haven’t killed as many people as the theists — as if that’s the best they can say for themselves.

    Most hilarious of all (at least at first) is when an atheist insists that a believer is either ignorant or dishonest if he doesn’t think the way the atheist — having read all about religion — expects him to think.

    So many examples here…

    One can logically come to the conclusion that while religion has done some good – as a whole it is bad for society and has done more bad than good and for the betterment of the whole society – religion should be curtailed.

    Yes, I guess one COULD come to that conclusion, but all I’m seeing here is “one” making an assertion. There’s a difference. (And, of course, religion has to be “curtailed” ’cause religion curtails freedom of thought.)

    However, it must also be pointed out that enormous parts of religious teachings are patently false and that believing them is an act of willful stupidity – of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming ‘La la la la la’ at the top of your voice. Time after time the practical teachings of all religions are proved to be categorically wrong and they are forced to retreat – heliocentricity and the age of the Earth are a couple of examples and common ancestry will eventually follow.

    This assertion is only backed by two examples, which are, as most Christians admit, irrelevant to Christian doctrine — hardly an “enormous part” of any religious teaching. Notice this guy doesn’t specify which teachings of Jesus are “patently false?”

    The dangerous thing about faith is that it is self-justifying. That’s true for the liberal Christian who stands by Brayton’s side fighting for the Bill of Rights. It is equally true for the jihadist who flies airplanes into towers.

    Wrong: “faith” is what a person believes in regard to unprovable points such as moral right vs. wrong; and that is based on the person’s learning and experience; it is not, ipso facto, “self-justifying.”

    Ed, I understand your reasoning, and mostly your point, BUT isn’t it true that anyone that DOES believe in Unseen Mythical Figures (God) is, ipso facto, an idiot?

    Ed, wanna bet on whether this guy even read your post? IIRC, you didn’t “reason” that there were Christians who weren’t idiots, you “observed” it, and blandly stated your observations here. But this guy’s “reasoning” is too inflexible to accomodate a fact that you have observed; therefore the facts must be discarded.

    If you do not, as a religious person, accept that your beliefs sound a bit bizarre then you have no ability to see the world from any point of view other than your own, which means that your brain doesn’t possess a rather useful human faculty, and from which I infer a degree of stupidity.

    How many non-sequiturs can you pack into one paragraph?

    …but I just don’t get “Intellectual Christian” (or Intellectual Muslim, Fundy, Druid etc.)

    Maybe it’s the “intellectual” part he’s having trouble “getting,” no?

  82. #82 GH
    September 12, 2006

    I think the commenters who simply say “the religious are morons” are, at least, honest.

    Good to see people like Heddle will never get it.

    Daniel Dennett’s assertions in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea that evolution disproves religion.

    It does serious damage to the most popular versions minus much twisting and fantasy.

    As we cannot know what is “bigger than” the universe, or what started it, a belief in a Supreme Being is understandable.

    See this makes no sense. We can’t understand the beginning so we create an even larger problem and pretend a super intellect did it. And the intellect is a hominid. How can that be understandable by anyone?

  83. #83 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    I think the commenters who simply say “the religious are morons” are, at least, honest.

    Good to see people like Heddle will never get it.

    I see, so you would like to see people remain in what you see as ignorance? Explain the difference in logic between what you say here and a religious fundy saying “at least those queers aren’t accepted by my god?” The above dogmatic drivel you respond to aside, I am curious how you justify your own bigotry towards people of faith. Not how you feel about their religion, but how you feel about us personaly.

    Daniel Dennett’s assertions in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea that evolution disproves religion.

    It does serious damage to the most popular versions minus much twisting and fantasy.

    Thus why I welcome the discussion. And for the record I used Dennett as an eample because throughout his writing he treats me with respect and dignity. Not once does he claim that those with religious inclinations are any less intelligent because of it.

    As we cannot know what is “bigger than” the universe, or what started it, a belief in a Supreme Being is understandable.

    See this makes no sense. We can’t understand the beginning so we create an even larger problem and pretend a super intellect did it. And the intellect is a hominid. How can that be understandable by anyone?

    I don’t understand where you come up with the impression the intellect is a hominid – who claimed that?

    I find the dichotomy here intruiging. You have me, a person of faith, arguing for tolerance. Then there is you, arguing for a very intolerant position. I am curious where else your intolerance strikes. Where do you draw the line? What are we allowed to dissagree with you on and still be accepted as an ally in other arenas? How far does your bigotry extend?

  84. #84 Julia
    September 12, 2006

    “And the intellect is a hominid.”

    That’s a very interesting comment to me because, while I have heard/read many non-religious people refer to some hominid description (usually an old man with a long white beard), I’ve never actually known a Christian who thought that. I’ve also never heard a religious person say that Jesus taking a human form on earth to relate to people implied that God is a kind of human.

    I did, though, in a Southern Baptist church once hear an elderly and not very well educated woman say that she was embarrassed to admit that she sometimes envisioned God as a sort of grandfatherly person with a beard. The other elderly ladies responded that such an occasional thought-image was OK as long as she was clear that God is a spirit, not a kind of human or with any appearance of a human.

    Are there, in fact, Christian groups that believe that God is a hominid? (I suppose there must be some individuals that believe that, as there are some individuals somewhere who believe almost anything one can imagine.) Or is an inference drawn from phrases like “God said”?

  85. #85 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    This assertion is only backed by two examples, which are, as most Christians admit, irrelevant to Christian doctrine — hardly an “enormous part” of any religious teaching. Notice this guy doesn’t specify which teachings of Jesus are “patently false?”

    How about fig trees that don’t bear fruit out of season and being angry because it is so?:-)

    oh you said teachings not actions. But thats another rathole.

  86. #86 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    I’ve never actually known a Christian who thought that

    Good grief. I can’t go 2 blocks without hearing how God made man in his image and frankly I guess we move in different circles.

    All these discussions always end up as ‘One true scotsman’ type things. Christians will say this is a mischaracterization when ample quantities of those that believe this or that can be found in every town. The fact is the religion is so broad and diverse one hand likely doesn’t know what the other is doing.

    But if he is not hominid then what is he? Alien, spirit? And if he is spirit how does he see? And if it’s all spirit how can a human suffer or feel pain minus the body?

    It all quickly becomes nonsensical.

  87. #87 Julia
    September 12, 2006

    “God made man in his image”

    Are you sure the people you have heard say this are referring to a physical form? If so, then we must move in different circles indeed, as I have spent a lifetime involved in religion and have never met anyone who appeared to me to interpret that phrase to refer to our human form. As for “how does he see,” that may be a part of someone’s argument that any God must be a hominid in order to exist, but it isn’t my position or that of any religious person I know. The usual Christian view that God sees all thing past, present, and future doesn’t seem to me to suggest hominid eyes.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “if it’s all spirit how can a human suffer or feel pain minus the body.” We humans do have bodies. While I think there are some religions that would say the body and its suffering is an illusion, I don’t think that’s a common Christian position.

    But I can agree with you in so far as saying a hominid God makes no sense. And perhaps we would agree in saying that trying to figure out how a God would see is futile.

  88. #88 kate
    September 12, 2006

    Ed, thank you for your insight, and I have to agree with the commenter who said that he felt he was reading a different entry than some of the others… your comment about the expected argument seems closer to home than expected, they are following the script in their heads and not dealing with what was actually said.

    something to think about:

    “If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  89. #89 s. zeilenga
    September 12, 2006

    Well, someday I may just be working alongside Ed or any one of you. I don’t see any problem with the fact that I am a Christian or a creationist. In fact, it might open up some interesting debate to help pass the time.

    and what is intellegence? I might not know as much about science as you but I bet I can kick your butt in something else.

    by the way, where are you getting 12000? It should only be 6000. hmmmm…

    z.

  90. #90 ck
    September 12, 2006

    How about fig trees that don’t bear fruit out of season and being angry because it is so?:-)

    Actually, if you read the Old Testament and understand his actions in terms of a living “parable”, it does make sense. Whether he’s right about his views on the ‘kingdom of god’ is another matter…as is the resurrection, the virgin birth, etc.

    While there are certainly some problematic concepts and claims in Christianity (I’m not one), statements like the one above just show ignorance of textual interpretation. Stories are different than scientific abstracts. That doesn’t mean there aren’t truth claims in them, just that they often need to be unpacked differently. This requires a rational approach to language and literature…not faith-based “idiocy.”

  91. #91 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    I also have spent a lifetime in these circles including studying at a religious university.

    The usual Christian view that God sees all thing past, present, and future doesn’t seem to me to suggest hominid eyes

    So then what are they?

    Actually, if you read the Old Testament and understand his actions in terms of a living “parable”, it does make sense. Whether he’s right about his views on the ‘kingdom of god’ is another matter…as is the resurrection, the virgin birth, etc.

    I have read and studied it and I don’t think it at all applies here. I would argue that the textual interpretation your using is incorrect in this instance.

  92. #92 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    Ed Brayton:

    Wrong: “faith” is what a person believes in regard to unprovable points such as moral right vs. wrong; and that is based on the person’s learning and experience; it is not, ipso facto, “self-justifying.”

    Faith isn’t what you believe about unproved assertion, but choosing to believe that some are true despite that. You don’t think such choice is self-justifying? It’s hard for me to imagine what would be moreso, than that kind of decision.

  93. #93 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Russell:

    You’re replying to the wrong person. I didn’t write what you quoted.

  94. #94 Frito
    September 12, 2006

    Personally I see religion as being the same as having the delusion that you are Neopolian. I really don’t care if you like to dress up in a military uniform and wear a big hat… but the moment you invade Waterloo… well then we have a problem.

    I give no quarter to religious people that come to me, mostly because they are invading my space. They usually give me faulty logic that would not hold for anything other than their religious beliefs. I don’t see them as stupid, I see them as being culturally confined into a way of thinking. It does me no harm, what they believe, and until it does I let them have their belief. We have a world that can be explained through natural explainations. I have never seen modern documentation of a supernatural event. Therefor I infer that the supernatural does not exist. I would say this is a logical inference from the data available. However if you are brought up in a household where you are taught that miracles happen all the time and they are at the whim of a supernatural entity… well minus the selection bias, you will find logical reasons to believe. Never mind the deity’s hatred of amputees.

    I will be perfectly honest… there are a lot of things that happen in society dealing with religion that I would like to have done away with. Things like “under god” and “In God we Trust” are annoying as hell for a man that doesn’t believe in a god to be under… and finds the concept of a totalitarian dictator in any form to be distasteful, or does not trust in a god… since the god does not exist. But I let these issues go for the good of the cause. We can’t fight ever little battle, we sometimes have to wait for the battles to come to us. Things like Intellegent Design, School Prayer, Overtly Religious Displays and Faith based initiatives are the real issue. We are still a minority. We might be a minority with the law on our side… but if you piss off enough people the law changes. Personally I don’t want to live in a country with a raped 1st Amendment.

    Do I think someday we will move past the superstitions and into a better world? Sure I do. I think that what will win us the day won’t be in courts but instead by being good well educated people and cutting away at misconceptions.

    And sorry for the spelling, time is my natural enemy.

  95. #95 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    The Real Ed Brayton:

    Russell: You’re replying to the wrong person.

    Damn. I don’t know how I flubbed that. There’s the color-coding and everything. My apologies to both Raging Bee and Ed.

  96. #96 AndyS
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. It’s simply brilliant.

    This whole groupthink dynamic of detecting any unorthodox opinion in the group and purging it for the sake of ideological purity is simply kneejerk stupidity uttered in little more than gutteral grunts and endless rants of the “enemy within”. It’s McCarthyism, only this time by the left instead of the right.

    Sadly, though, it is just that sort of raving ideological purity that gets attention and tends to be a strange attractor for every ideological purist floating about. When I started reading Pharyngula I never thought it would evolve into a version of Little Green Footballs for atheists or see PZ become the Ann Coulter of scientists. As a leftwing atheist with a graduate degree in science I find it appalling. I don’t want the causes I feel deeply about to be identified with that sort of behavior.

    So, even though you don’t think the Cato Institute is evil, I love your blog and this post in particular.

    Andy

    BTW, the story about the soup kitchen buried in the comments above is worthy of a post of its own.

  97. #97 Rod
    September 12, 2006

    Ed,

    I agree with what you’ve said, and appreciate your taking the time to say it. It needed saying. I really liked the “rational dick” thing, a very colorful way of identifying the phenomenon. I’d like a little exposition on deism. I’m not sure what you mean.

  98. #98 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    I also have spent a lifetime in these circles including studying at a religious university.

    The usual Christian view that God sees all thing past, present, and future doesn’t seem to me to suggest hominid eyes

    So then what are they?

    I don’t know of one christian who has the impression that the judeo Christian God resides in a physical body much less a hominid one. Personaly, I liken spiritual sight to that of dream sight. Often when I dream I am observing in the third person – most people probably do. Based in part on biblical descriptives I imagine that God “sees” much the same way.

  99. #99 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    That’s why I react the way I do when I see people on my side making enemies out of people who are also on our side. I really believe that people like PZ make enemies where none need to be made, with his attacks on Miller and, prior to that, on Francis Collins. There are disagreements between them, obviously, on the issue of theism and faith, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing those things, critiquing each other’s position, and so forth.

    There’s the concept of ‘tolerance’ right there. Miller and Collins aren’t on our side. At least, they’re not on mine — I don’t know what side you think you’re on.

    People who make dishonest arguments, who use arguments that were shown to be invalid decades or even centuries ago, who ignore logical inconsistencies within their own positions, who outright lie about their opponents’ claims and the nature of philosophical concepts — are we now not permitted to call them out for what they are?

    Don’t you dare try to lower everyone to your level by pretending that arguing against insanity is just a social dominiance display.

  100. #100 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    While I’m at it:

    You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, Brayton. Should we show ‘respect’ to people who avow evolution but publically claim that they and thousands of people a year have been kidnapped by aliens? What about the people who insist that Penta water can cure AIDS? Or those who insist AIDS isn’t caused by the HIV?

    In rhetoric, we call this sort of confirmation-bias “special pleading”. You are making exceptions for people whose arguments you believe are politically useful to you while ignoring the other consequences of their arguments, and simultaneously you reject equally stupid positions that don’t benefit you politically.

    You disgust me.

  101. #101 kehrsam
    September 12, 2006

    Uber: As it happens, there is a natural explanation of the fig tree incident; the fruit is not the only edible object figs grow. However, I think CK is right, and Jesus is here acting out an allegory concerning the fate of Jerusalem and the Temple and understanding is to be, “No fruit now, no fruit ever.”

    Most non-evangelical scholars believe the story is far later than Jesus’ lifetime, for precisely this reason (ie, they think the story was created to explain the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD). I believe the Jesus Seminar participants rated the incident as “black,” meaning that it had no historical validity. Having a different conception of the nature of Jesus, I’m inclined to take the story as written, but in any case, the event is hardly one of the core tenets of the faith.

  102. #102 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Caledonian wrote:

    There’s the concept of ‘tolerance’ right there. Miller and Collins aren’t on our side. At least, they’re not on mine — I don’t know what side you think you’re on.

    I’m on the side of protecting science education from the attacks of creationists. In that battle, Ken Miller has done extraordinary and tireless work. No more than 3 or 4 people in the entire nation can even begin to claim to have done as much for the cause that I’ve devoted so much time and energy to. And I’m supposed to see him as an enemy because he believes in God? That’s too ridiculous for words.

    You disgust me.

    You are cordially invited to go outside and play a game of hide and go fuck yourself.

  103. #103 Patrick (gryph)
    September 12, 2006

    Religion is a strong factor that leads to those bad assumptions. For example – it is possible to hate gay people and want to restrict their rights because of reasons other than religion. However, it is much more common that people will use religion to hate gay people and want to restrict their rights. Yes, but some people don’t – but you don’t see organized groups of people that want to put the other group down outside of religion.

    Actually I think that to a certain extent that the Bible and Christianity get a bum rap for anti-gay prejudice.

    I think in truth, people who are prejudiced toward gay people would often be that way regardless of whether they have ever read a word of the Bible or gone to Church. Its used as justification, its not so much the cause anymore.

    Its a cultural prejudice and has a lot more to do I think with perception of gender in our society than anything else.

  104. #104 ck
    September 12, 2006

    Uber and kehrsam, my main point was just that there is rationality involved in religious beliefs. I’m not a Christian and don’t defend all things ‘religious’, but I think much of the dismissal that goes on carte blanche is unnecessary. NT Wright (with whom I don’t entirely agree on everything) has a good discussion of the fig tree event in his books.

    The point is that you can discuss the fig tree issue with regard to history, textual evidence, etc. That’s rational discourse. I’m not going to derail the thread any further; I tried to post this morning when Ed first put it up, but I think he took it down momentarily while I was posting.

    Having 100 some odd comments on what ought to be a sound ‘amen’ from rational thinkers everywhere confirmed what I would have written earlier today: Christians feel unjustly ‘persecuted’ not because the policies Ed is talking about defending (anti-creationism, gay rights etc.) actually persecute them, but because disagreement with Christians often tends to be irrational and unfair. I’ll concede the point that this goes both ways, though.

    Anyway, thanks Ed. Good stuff as usual–PZ confirmed his view of the world through bias when he fell for a parody article of Christians and wouldn’t admit it. It showed he was looking for confirmation rather than surveying evidence and critically evaluating it.

  105. #105 ck
    September 12, 2006

    Erg. “Post” should read “comment” above. Sorry.

  106. #106 Treban
    September 12, 2006

    In rhetoric, we call this sort of confirmation-bias “special pleading”. You are making exceptions for people whose arguments you believe are politically useful to you while ignoring the other consequences of their arguments, and simultaneously you reject equally stupid positions that don’t benefit you politically.

    Good lord, are you really so narrow minded as to throw out the work of anyone who supports your position on a particular issue – simply because they don’t share your world view? I have read a lot of your comments here and nearly always agree with you on a host of issues. We both support many more ideas than we would dissagree on, yet you would allow your bigotry to keep you from accepting me as anything but an enemy. That is incredibly sad. Or would you like to argue that there are so many people who are lining up to fight for our civil liberties, the rights of GLBTs, to keep religion out of the classroom, that you can just ignore anyone who doesn’t fit all your requirements to really fight the good fight? I have yet to get an answer from anyone I have asked but, where do you draw the line? What can someone dissagree with you about and still be a part of your own fight against, among other things, religious intolerance and religion in the classroom? I am not trying to be a dick with this question – I just want to know.

  107. #107 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    Patrick (gryph) writes:

    Actually I think that to a certain extent that the Bible and Christianity get a bum rap for anti-gay prejudice. I think in truth, people who are prejudiced toward gay people would often be that way regardless of whether they have ever read a word of the Bible or gone to Church. Its used as justification, its not so much the cause anymore.

    Hmmmm…

    And lesbians?

  108. #108 Uber
    September 12, 2006

    The point is that you can discuss the fig tree issue with regard to history, textual evidence, etc. That’s rational discourse

    I agree with you here, but I think this is different than what we is being discussed in general when one talks of religious belief.

    Most non-evangelical scholars believe the story is far later than Jesus’ lifetime, for precisely this reason (ie, they think the story was created to explain the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD). I believe the Jesus Seminar participants rated the incident as “black,” meaning that it had no historical validity. Having a different conception of the nature of Jesus, I’m inclined to take the story as written, but in any case, the event is hardly one of the core tenets of the faith.

    I’m not going to belabor this discussion further. I will agree it is not one of the tenets of the faith and I said that above. But dividing scholars into evangelical vs. non seems to me a nonstarter. An honest man should view the evidence with as little a prism of his own bias as possible.

    It is possible that the Jesus character is written into an old parable. I don’t think it is so and I think your apologetic about other edible objects is simply weak. I think it’s also possible the story was written by someone who simply didn’t realize what he had written and in the context of the narrative didn’t think it important when the sheep were running down the hillside.

    This is why much of what passes for ‘scholarship’ in religious circles is routinely trounced in the secular world. You can’t start from a different conception of Jesus(as in God) first.

  109. #109 Caliban
    September 12, 2006

    Russell, i think your comments about Ed’s post are spot-on. I think you did a very good job articulating the “nit-pick” point with Ed concerning “arriving at a different conclusion”. Cheers.

    As for theists being “idiots”; my mom is a theist, and no, i don’t think she’s an idiot. I do however, think belief in the supernatural is irrational. There are plenty of beliefs i hold as an atheist, which if put under scrutiny, probably wouldn’t be rational (strictly speaking) either.

  110. #110 Russell
    September 12, 2006

    Caliban, let me be clear that I don’t view believers as idiots. Faith is a necessary part of our mental development. We grow up believing what our teachers and parents and priests tell us, not because we then have a basis for evaluating much of what we learn, but because we do not. From there, people take different paths. I’m not saying that the faith adults practice is identical to that that children practice. Of course not. But everyone’s intellectual development is an entire history from childhood, and includes rationalizations and hidden beliefs and defenses, as well as open-eyed reexamination. Everyone. That doesn’t make any of us stupid, because of that. Much of that requires a lot of smarts. But that doesn’t make it valid. Nor when these practices are made public in discussion, that we should grant faith some sort of stature it doesn’t deserve.

  111. #111 raindogzilla
    September 12, 2006

    It’s fairly obvious to me, with just a cursory overview of the history of mankind and the evolution- or distillation- of religion to the monotheism prevalent today, that god(s) were created by man to soothe fears of the unknown and to answer questions far outside their collective knowledge. What is that big ball of fire that rises opposite the cave mouth and disappears behind the mountain, why is there water falling- or not falling as the case may have been, from the sky? That sort of thing.

    Today, I view religion as I do alcohol or any other recreational drug, a crutch that people, to varying degrees, lean on. Not harmful, in and of itself, but dangerous in the hands of the immoderate- and, ultimately, unnecessary. While I do not find the religious version of “social drinkers” mentally suspect, I do question their ability to operate the heavy machinery of science. I’m also considering whether it ought to be illegal to foist this psychoactive substance onto those under 21.

    But that’s just me.

  112. #112 Troy Britain
    September 12, 2006

    Caliban: There are plenty of beliefs i hold as an atheist, which if put under scrutiny, probably wouldn’t be rational (strictly speaking) either.

    I keep seeing comments like this, but they are always left in the abstract. Could some of the “tolerant” atheists/agnostics who are making these sorts of comments please give some specific examples of the irrational beliefs they have?

  113. #113 Caliban
    September 12, 2006

    As examples of irrational beliefs one could find fault with, several things sprang to mind: being lazy, making poor “life-choices”, not taking care of my health when i know i should, not saving for my retirement when i know i should, entertaining naive, romantic schemes that are unrealisitc, etc. You know, the every-day boring types of things that we do even though we know they are ultimitely bad for us.

  114. #114 Leni
    September 12, 2006

    Well, I’m an atheist and Ed doesn’t digust me. I thought the post was admirable, for the most part. (Especially considering how annoying Christians are. Ha! Joke. Sorry. It was totally irresistable.)

    Seriously though, I did. All except the part that Russell covered above about the equality of irrationality. I think you are dead wrong about that, but that’s not the point I wawnt to make.

    It isn’t so much that Miller believes in a god, or some god, that some of us find odd. It’s that he’s a devout Catholic who insists that humans are specially made by God, but who aren’t specially made by God but rather natural processes. Huh? I have to admit, it looks so bad that I am compelled to believe those critics who point out that this sort of thing does detract from the usual high quality of Miller’s work on evolution. Especially because the two are often coupled in a way that may lead people to think there may be some scientific connection between the two. Even if Miller doesn’t intend that to be the case. Think of, for example, all the shit Dawkins takes for saying saying that evolution implies that god, or at least certain gods who inhabit books that purport things in direct opposition to the evidence, doesn’t exist.

    That said, Treban, can you say who you’re quoting? It would be ever so helpful. Especially in these long, gorey shitstorm-like threads.

  115. #115 Fonzy
    September 12, 2006

    I think that one of the problems in this thread is that many people are conflating “tolerance” with “respect”. They’re not the same. When I tolerate something, it simply means that I will allow someone to do said thing without any kind of coercive intervention. When I respect something, it means that I view it as either legitimate or compelling (rough definitions, but you get the idea).

    I certainly tolerate beliefs like the virgin birth and the resurrection, the divine efficacy of Baptism, etc. However, I can in no way respect these beliefs because they are utterly silly and irrational. You don’t even need modern physics and biology to have solid grounds to reject the virgin birth and the resurrection, you only need your everyday observations: eryone else is born of a non-virgin and stays dead. Beliefs like these don’t deserve my respect because of the means by which they are come to and held. People accept not only despite the utter lack of evidence, but often the unambiguous availability of contrary evidence. And furthermore, people often accept them because they are emotionally comforting, not intellectually compelling.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with “scientism” or some such blather, it’s simply a realization that believing something without adequate reasons for doing so is irrational and deserving of respect. There is nothing scientific or empirical about Goedel’s second incompleteness theorem or Mangoldt’s function in number theory, but there are ways of reasonably demonstrating their veracity. Not so with religion.

  116. #116 Karl
    September 12, 2006

    I see that this discussion has been going on for hours now and everyone is getting tired, but I want to add my two cents.
    In support of Ed’s original statement I offer the following:
    I am a devout ATHEIST. A local branch of the Interfaith Alliance made me aware of Evolution Sunday. I immediately jumped into that. I made copies of the Clergy letter and took it around to some local churches. After that Sunday they (the Interfaith Alliance) invited me to join their board. Their meetings are held at the church where the board president had been pastor for 35 years. The first thing I told them was about my atheism. Their reaction was “we accept people of all faiths (immediately accepting atheism as my faith) who are interested in fighting to maintain separation of church and state, who are interested in fighting discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, who are pro-choice” etc.
    I have now been on the board for about a year. I have never know a more interesting, devoted group of people – all of whom are very religious, many of whom are also pastors/ministers. There are also on the board a Muslim and a Jew, and me – an Atheist, all fighting for common goals and not letting different religious beliefs, or non-beliefs, get in the way.

  117. #117 Fonzy
    September 12, 2006

    Karl,

    I don’t really think that the whole Myers/Miller controversy has anything to do with what you talk about in your post. Both I an most likely PZ are perfectly aware that religious people can be wonderful, compassionate and charitable people. They can also be great scientists (a la Francis Collins and Ken Miller himself). I think it has more to do with the nature of religious beliefs themselves and whether they are deserving of intellectual respect in a modern society. I have already explained why I don’t think they do.

    Although I agree that PZ’s rhetoric was way overblown, he didn’t completely misinterpret Miller. Miller clearly said he thought that atheism was the problem to an audience of creationists. He may have spouted some obscuritanist nonsense of “un-scientific philosophical interpretations”, but that was, as always, a euphemistic way of saying scientists should have to kow-tow to irrational beliefs as long as they fall under the umbrella of religion. I certainly think that that’s a horrible attitude to take, not to mention the very antithesis of science itself.

  118. #118 Karl
    September 12, 2006

    Ed said:
    “Here is the absolutely key point, so I’m going to put it in bold so no one misses it: In every one of those circumstances, standing by my side in those battles will also be a good many Christians. I work with them everyday in the battle to protect science education and, in many cases, I could only dream of contributing as much as they have in that regard. There will be Christians and Jews and probably people from every other religion standing shoulder to shoulder with me next to our gay brothers and sisters, marching for equality. And they will stand with me in opposing the imposition of authoritarian laws as well.”
    I am supporting that statement.

  119. #119 David Durant
    September 13, 2006

    For those interested in this debate I suggest having a listen to the podcast done by Sam Harris (writer of “End of Faith”): http://www.itconversations.com/index.html (scroll down a bit).

    I honestly don’t know whether the fact that issues like creationism in schools are coming more out into the open and coming to a head – along with religous-induced attacks such as 9/11 – are a sign that secularisation is starting to get a genuine hold and frightening the religous orthadoxy enough to need to fight back…

  120. #120 The Rational Fool
    September 13, 2006

    What is god?
    What is it that some of you believe in?
    What is it that some of you don’t believe in?

  121. #121 Troy Britain
    September 13, 2006

    Caliban: As examples of irrational beliefs one could find fault with, several things sprang to mind: being lazy, making poor “life-choices”, not taking care of my health when i know i should, not saving for my retirement when i know i should, entertaining naive, romantic schemes that are unrealisitc, etc. You know, the every-day boring types of things that we do even though we know they are ultimitely bad for us.

    That’s pretty weak Cali. Eating junk food and not exercising might in a broad sense (very broad) be considered to be irrational behavior, but unless one believes that junk food and being a couch potato is really good for them then they do not qualify as irrational beliefs.

    Are there any atheist/agnostics out there that really think that Twinkies and a Twilight Zone marathon are better for them than a couple carrots and 20 minutes of cardio?

    Anyone…? Anyone…? No, I didn’t think so.

    Why am I getting the feeling that this talk about how we all have irrational beliefs is really only some sort of appeasement tactic?

    Look, I also think PZ went way too far with some of his rhetoric about Miller, but I for one am not going to pretend that we all believe silly things just to make those who do feel better about themselves or to not feel threatened by those of us who don’t.

    That doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way to try and be insulting but we should all be honest about what we think, and I am sorry but when it comes to holding irrational beliefs we are not all equal.

  122. #122 Lance
    September 13, 2006

    Thank you for the thoughtful post, Ed! It is a wonderful example of what the big picutre should be, as we try to shape our culture. Cheers!

  123. #123 Gretchen
    September 13, 2006

    Hmmm. Amazingly, I have nothing to add…except that that was a truly wise post, Ed.

  124. #124 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    There is nothing scientific or empirical about Goedel’s second incompleteness theorem or Mangoldt’s function in number theory, but there are ways of reasonably demonstrating their veracity. Not so with religion.

    Actually, you are wrong about that, Fonzy: those findings are both scientific and empirical. The rest of your statement is accurate.

  125. #125 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    Good lord, are you really so narrow minded as to throw out the work of anyone who supports your position on a particular issue – simply because they don’t share your world view?

    Beg pardon? What makes you think that Brayton supports my position on this particular issue? I find your conclusion rather perplexing, especially considering that all of the evidence available to you strongly indicates that Brayton’s position and mine are NOT the same, and that Brayton is in fact working at cross-principles to my position.

    Brayton claims he is asking for rationality but makes apologetics for irrationality. He denies that he’s asking for tolerance yet suggests that we should ignore the beliefs of the religious as long as they further political acceptance of evolution. He implies that those who speak openly and critically about the inherent contradictions of religious faith and the scientific method are engaged in a social dominance competition and seek only to glorify their own intellectual capabilities.

    Which of these positions do you imagine I support?

  126. #126 Inoculated Mind
    September 13, 2006

    Ed, thanks for the level-headed post. I was wondering when you were going to comment on PZ’s outburst. I’m frankly shocked at his reaction, still trying to understand. I have yet to listen to the talk, but I plan on writing about this, and perhaps to Ken Miller as well. If he did indeed put blame on atheists, and not fundamentalism that refuses to budge in light of evidence, then I’ll tell Miller that I think he’s way off on that.

    PZ would be rightfully incensed, but to call Miller a creationist? That’s poor judgement and I think he should apologize with more than a mere dropping of an argument. Don’t be a Dembski – that should be a bumper sticker.

  127. #127 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    And I’m supposed to see him as an enemy because he believes in God? That’s too ridiculous for words.

    Yes, it IS ridiculous — that you’re using that strawman to deflect attention away from what I’m actually arguing.

    Miller is not “an enemy because he believes in God”. Miller is an enemy because he actively seeks to spread the idea that his religious beliefs are compatible with both rationality and the scientific method. It’s not just that they conflict with the current findings of science – then they could be at least potentially true, although no one would be rationally justified in holding them given the evidence – but that they are fundamentally incompatible with any kind of honest inquiry.

    The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. He’s not an ally. He isn’t even a neutral party. He can be any of those things, but he doesn’t have to be. He can also be just another enemy. The creationists argue that their delusions aren’t just religious doctrines but objective scientific statements, and if that were actually the case, then there would indeed be no reason for them not to be taught in school. They are misrepresenting the nature of science in order to further their religious goals. Miller argues that his deity has a series of logically incompatible properties that somehow makes concluding that he exists and has accomplished various historical actions rationally possible yet beyond the ability of the scientific method or rational inquiry to examine. He is misrepresenting the nature of science in order to further his religious goals.

    If you don’t care about the misrepresentation of science, and are willing to accept it as long as certain political goals are met, you’re an enemy of mine just as much as the creationists are.

    You are also equally disgusting.

  128. #128 Anonymous Coward
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian:

    Miller is an enemy because he actively seeks to spread the idea that his religious beliefs are compatible with both rationality and the scientific method.

    Where, exactly, does Miller claim to have scientific evidence or methodology which supports his religious viewpoints?

  129. #129 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    Miller claims that his religious viewpoints are compatible with science, not that he has scientific evidence that supports them, nor that scientific methodology does so either.

    And no, I haven’t stopped beating my wife. Thank you for asking.

  130. #130 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian: Ed made a post that contained simple observations and commom-sense advice regarding interaction with other people to achieve common objectives; and you responded with a lot of outrageously stupid and childish accusations and insults, and capped it all off with “You disgust me.” Then you come back and say that Ed “implied” some position that you, and apparently you alone, imputed to him. If you want to sit at the grownups’ table, you’ll have to act a bit more grownup than that. You’ll also have to take a bit more responsibility for your words.

    Fonzy: you’re not quite right to make a distinction between “tolerance” and “respect:” without at least a kernel of respect, there can be no real tolerance. “I’ll tolerate you if you don’t expect me to treat you as an equal” is NOT real tolerance.

    You should be making the distinction between “respect” and “agreement” — a distinction too many atheists refuse to make. It is possible to disagree with another’s beliefs or opinions and still respect him/her as a responsible person with rights, a mind, and a spirit, who may have good reason to believe what you do not — and (here’s the important point) whose belief may not, in fact, be what you understand it to be.

    Example: I have no intention of becoming a Muslim, it’s clearly not for me, but I understand that other people may have good reasons for adopting that faith; and I also understand that they may not believe exactly what my books tell me that Muslims generally believe.

    I also understand that since no one’s religious belief is provable (including atheism), and since other people have experienced things I haven’t, therefore there is a good possibility that someone else’s beliefs contain a bit of wisdom I missed — even if I consider most of his/her beliefs false. This basic respect — a.k.a. “humility” — is completely absent in the rhetoric of many atheists — hell, even some proselytizers (sp?) have shown me more respect, while trying to convert me, than the atheists I’ve encountered on Panda’s Thumb.

    As for all that stuff about virgin birth and ressurrection, you really need to chill out and get to the heart of the matter, which is not this or that miracle (which, I agree, could have been fabricated by propagandists); it is, more often than not, the deeper and less-literally-describable truths about human nature, life, and spirituality, which those parables and stories probably are told to illustrate. (Example: the Ressurrection can be interpreted as a parable/allegory/analogy to illustrate that spiritual life transcends the limitations of physical life, like death and daily physical needs; and that spiritual awakening/enlightnment, and/or doing the right thing, is more important than clinging to bodily life.)

    Karl: Thanks for your efforts with the Interfaith Alliance, and thanks also for mentioning them here. Good on ya, mate.

  131. #131 jw
    September 13, 2006

    The usual Christian view that God sees all thing past, present, and future doesn’t seem to me to suggest hominid eyes

    Of course Yahweh has magical powers that humans don’t have like most powerful mythical creatures and some of these powers are supposed to be mental ones (omniscience, for example.) However, Yahweh’s words or actions as recorded in the Torah are quite human, showing the tribal instincts and shortsightedness all too common in our species.

  132. #132 Ted
    September 13, 2006

    What are we allowed to dissagree with you on and still be accepted as an ally in other arenas? How far does your bigotry extend?

    and

    “If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
    -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    These quotes are just so cool.

    I wonder if the view that a (pragmatic) temporary alliance between the enemy of my enemy and me is a rational approach? It appears to employ moral relativism copiously.

    “I’ll tolerate you if you don’t expect me to treat you as an equal” is NOT real tolerance.

    Isn’t this the basis of nationalism?

  133. #133 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    Fonzy: you’re not quite right to make a distinction between “tolerance” and “respect:” without at least a kernel of respect, there can be no real tolerance. “I’ll tolerate you if you don’t expect me to treat you as an equal” is NOT real tolerance.

    This is incorrect. Tolerance merely requires a fair, objective, and permissive attitude. It does not require that the things tolerated be respected, liked, appreciated, or approved of.

    My evaluation of the rest of your statements is about on par with my judgment of this one. Going into particulars would be a waste of time – it is enough to say that you certainly aren’t deserving of anyone’s respect.

  134. #134 Gretchen
    September 13, 2006

    Miller is an enemy because he actively seeks to spread the idea that his religious beliefs are compatible with both rationality and the scientific method.

    I don’t see how that makes him an enemy. There are different senses in which we can talk about those beliefs being compatible, which have very different ramifications. It might be that Miller is claiming that they are scientifically compatible (in which case he is arguably wrong, and we could have a very long discussion about that, but I still don’t think it would make him “enemy” material), or it might be that he is saying that it’s simply possible to believe in both at once. A lot of theists, perhaps most theists who believe in both God and evolution, do this. I don’t think I know a single person whose entire belief system is both coherent and consistent, and some people do not even find those to be ideal qualities.

  135. #135 Matthew Young
    September 13, 2006

    it is, more often than not, the deeper and less-literally-describable truths about human nature, life, and spirituality, which those parables and stories probably are told to illustrate. (Example: the Ressurrection can be interpreted as a parable/allegory/analogy to illustrate that spiritual life transcends the limitations of physical life, like death and daily physical needs; and that spiritual awakening/enlightnment, and/or doing the right thing, is more important than clinging to bodily life.

    That is an awfully nice interpretation of religion, Bee, and one that of course several religious people would subscribe to.

    The problem is that there are an awful lot of them that don’t – really, lots and lots. I have live in the UK where making religious pronouncements and boldly stating your religious beliefs is considered in rather bad taste, in direct contrast to much of what I have experienced of America (of course, I am quite open to correction on this). Despite this I have heard the following statements from religious people, completely unprompted and without me mentioning anything religious at any time in the conversation:

    ‘Homosexuality is wrong because the bible is the word of god and the bible says it is wrong, so that’s the end of the discussion.’

    (Different person): ‘Homosexuality is just disgusting and completely wrong’
    Me: ‘It’s genetic – it’s not a choice – how can you describe something as wrong when the person isn’t making a choice and it’s a genetic state?’
    Him: ‘Genetic, yeah. A genetic defect.’

    And recently, on hearing that I have just married but that it was not a church ceremony:
    ‘Oh well you are not really married then.’

    And all this in a country where religious beliefs are considered best kept to oneself – I dread to think what would happen if it were considered good form to talk about these things in public.

    So as you say, yes, there are good Christians, and some relatively rational ones, but there are lots and lots of people who actualy think that the bible is the literal word of god, that it is to be taken completely literally and that everyone else is wrong and going to hell and so on and so on. That means believing in miracles, no dinosaurs, the inherent evil of those damn gays and so on.

    So I genuinely appreciate your nice rational description, but I do not think it is as widespread as you say.

  136. #136 Anonymous Coward
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian:

    Miller claims that his religious viewpoints are compatible with science, not that he has scientific evidence that supports them, nor that scientific methodology does so either.

    I don’t see what the problem here is. If Miller is claiming that his religious viewpoints are compatible with science, but are not scientific, where is the argument? How is this, to quote you again, “misrepresenting the nature of science in order to further his religious goals”?

    Maybe you need to restate your definitions. What do you mean by the phrase “compatible with science”, that makes it so objectionable?

  137. #137 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    On the issue of tolerance and respect, I think it is important to distinguish people from practices. It is perfectly reasonable for me to condemn smoking as unhealthy, even if I myself were a smoker. It would be a different thing altogether for me to want smokers relegated to an inferior legal status, or to treat them as lesser people because of their habit. I’m not a smoker, but I have other bad habits, so I don’t pretend any moral superiority to those who do smoke.

    In the same way, I think it is important in condemning the practice of faith, not to think that those who practice faith are somehow lesser people than those who don’t. It is one thing that a person does, not the overriding issue that divides the sheep from the goats. Even though some of the faithful might see it that way, that’s no reason for anyone else to borrow that trope. (There’s a very real sense in which a non-believer should be better able than the fundamentalist Christian to see the common humanity in the two of them. The non-believer has no reason to think that his lack of faith and the other’s practice of it will steer them for profoundly different destinies, or to view that as the one issue of ultimate importance. Not so, the fundamentalist Christian.)

  138. #138 kehrsam
    September 13, 2006

    Uber: Yes, I don’t agree with the various apologia associated with the fig tree incident either, that was my point. After all, the text goes out of its way to say,”And it was not the time for figs.”

    This only amplifies that the statement Jesus was making was not literally directed at the tree, but at those viewing the action (like all of his statements and actions). Trees have an excuse for not bearing fruit, if it is not the proper season; humans don’t have that out.

    So we are in agreement here, if not in the larger discussion of rational vs irrational decisions in our lives. I would argue that as none of live a fully examined life, the vast majority of things we do would not meet strict scientific scrutiny.

    Take the junk food argument. The test of living scientifically is not, “Do we think Twinkies are as good for us as brocoli,” but, rather, “Knowing what we do about Twinkies, do we eat them anyway?”

    Given that approach, I would suggest that the issue which set off this whole thread should be stated as something like, “Given what Miller knows about biology and Natural Selection, what should be our proper attitude, given that he also evinces a belief in a Creator God who has the power to — and does — intervene in the universe?”

    As I have stated before, I find this a tolerable contradiction, especiaslly coming from a man who has devoted so much of his life to science and the cause of science in public discourse.

    Caledonian: Must be lonely up there surrounded by nothing but principles. As Hume once put it, “But then in the evenings I play backgammon with the boys.” ;D

  139. #139 Treban
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian -

    Beg pardon? What makes you think that Brayton supports my position on this particular issue? I find your conclusion rather perplexing, especially considering that all of the evidence available to you strongly indicates that Brayton’s position and mine are NOT the same, and that Brayton is in fact working at cross-principles to my position.

    Brayton claims he is asking for rationality but makes apologetics for irrationality. He denies that he’s asking for tolerance yet suggests that we should ignore the beliefs of the religious as long as they further political acceptance of evolution. He implies that those who speak openly and critically about the inherent contradictions of religious faith and the scientific method are engaged in a social dominance competition and seek only to glorify their own intellectual capabilities.

    Which of these positions do you imagine I support?

    I am not implying, saying or otherwise giving any reason to believe that your position and Ed’s are anywhere near the same. My comment was direted to you and only you.

    I still want to know, just what people are allowed to disagree with you on and not be your enemy?

  140. #140 Julia
    September 13, 2006

    JW said:

    “Yahweh’s words or actions as recorded in the Torah are quite human, showing the tribal instincts and shortsightedness all too common in our species.”

    Yes, thanks for the comment. That’s an interesting addition to my original curiosity question about why so many non-religious people seem to think that Christians in general believe that God is actually hominid. These stories about what some early monotheists believed that God was saying and doing certainly do present Yahweh as quite human in attitude and personality, just as the Greek and Roman and Norse stories show gods with strongly human characteristics.

  141. #141 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    I think it is important in condemning the practice of faith, not to think that those who practice faith are somehow lesser people than those who don’t.

    First, WHICH “practice of faith” should we condemn — the gay-bashing bit or the sacrificing to make the world a better place bit? They’re not the same, y’know, and labelling them the same doesn’t make them the same — it only confuses and deceives.

    Second, this distinction sounds a bit like gay-bashers pretending they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” (They tried to beat up the sin, but all their blows missed and hit the sinner instead? I don’t think so.) It’s hard to condemn a “practice” without in some way affecting people, because it’s people who practice the “practice,” and people who, for better or for worse, are responsible for what they practice. How, in practical terms, so you plan to “condemn the practice of faith” without condemning the practitioners?

  142. #142 Matthew Young
    September 13, 2006

    Brayton claims he is asking for rationality but makes apologetics for irrationality. He denies that he’s asking for tolerance yet suggests that we should ignore the beliefs of the religious as long as they further political acceptance of evolution. He implies that those who speak openly and critically about the inherent contradictions of religious faith and the scientific method are engaged in a social dominance competition and seek only to glorify their own intellectual capabilities.

    Isn’t he just saying that we should bear in mind that whatever we disagree with Christians (or Muslims/Republicans/Belgians/whatever) about, we should bear in mind that we are likely to agree on many things as well, and should not cheapen that agreement by banging on about the things on which we disagree.

    I am sure I may even agree with Dubya on certain things (not found any yet, but there must be some) and the fact that he is a deranged, evangelical, homicidal maniac won’t stop me agreeing with him and supporting him should he decide to, say, increase support for disadvantaged students in paying their university tuition fees. This may be a poor example due to its rather optimistic nature, but you get my point.

    If christians say ‘thou shalt not kill’ then they are right and I shall support them, regardless of how they arrived at this conclusion or, indeed, their rather hilarious opinions on homosexuality or talking snakes. If the latter subjects come up then we should disagree with them then and only then.

    Does this sound about right to anyone?

  143. #143 Jason I.
    September 13, 2006

    I’ve been reading the comments here for the past two days with fascination. I think, for the most part, they have been both intelligent and entertaining. Unfortunately, I still get the impression that some are missing the point that Ed was trying to make. My interpretation of it is basically this (and Ed, do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong):

    Ken Miller is one of the top proponents and advancers of evolutionary theory on the planet. Should everything that he’s done to educate people about evolution and advance the TOE be disregarded because he is Christian? The answer is no.

    In this, I agree with Ed. I don’t subscribe to the whole “enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and I don’t think Ed does either. I think what he’s trying to say is that there’s not a need for enmity.

    Some people have also included their currently held beliefs. I’ll do the same here. I’d most likely classify myself as an agnostic. I really don’t know if there is some sort of “supreme being”. I also really don’t care, because it has no particular effect on my daily life. I do know that I don’t view the possibility of there being a supreme being as incompatible with evolutionary theory or science in general. I do happen to view many religious beliefs as incompatible with science, but I don’t view the people that hold those beliefs as idiots out of hand. I always give them the chance to prove to me they are idiots based on other things.

  144. #144 Treban
    September 13, 2006

    I don’t see this as any different than my attitude towards libertarians. I have some fundemental dissagreements with libertarian philosophy, yet I am on the same side as them on issues of liberty and rights. Should I decide to relegate libertarians to some enemies list simply because I find certain of their beliefs disgusting or should I ally myself with them on issues we agree on and fight them voraciously on those we don’t? I choose the latter and I think that it would be ridiculous not to.

    I realize that this takes the conversation out of the pervue of science v. religion but it is appropriate to do so. Because underlying this whole discussion is politics – as that’s where the discussion here turns to action. I am not asking anyone to join or even respect my religious beliefs. I am simply asking that I be given the tolerance I imagine most people here have for GLBTs. That and acceptance as a political ally when we have common cause – which with most people here is most of the time.

  145. #145 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    Raging Bee:

    First, WHICH “practice of faith” should we condemn — the gay-bashing bit or the sacrificing to make the world a better place bit?

    Neither. The “irrationally choosing to believe” bit. The results of faith are varied. Some things the faithful do I approve. Some things the faithful do I disapprove. Faith itself is a practice in intellectual shoddiness or dishonesty. That, I never approve. As a practice, I think it deserves no respect whatsoever.

    They’re not the same, y’know, and labelling them the same doesn’t make them the same — it only confuses and deceives.

    I have tried to be careful about what I mean by faith in this thread. Neither gay-bashing nor charity are the practice of faith, though some people might be led to one or the other or both because of their faith.

    Second, this distinction sounds a bit like gay-bashers pretending they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” (They tried to beat up the sin, but all their blows missed and hit the sinner instead? I don’t think so.) It’s hard to condemn a “practice” without in some way affecting people, because it’s people who practice the “practice,” and people who, for better or for worse, are responsible for what they practice.
    How, in practical terms, so you plan to “condemn the practice of faith” without condemning the practitioners?

    This isn’t an easy issue. Look at the furor that smoking has raised! (In my view, partly because it has given the puritans among us a new cause.) It remains the case, though, that smoking has significant health risk, and faith is irrational.

    One of the important differences between the religious concept of “sin,” and secular concepts such as “unhealthy” or “irrational,” is that the former has to do with ultimate status. Sin makes you wrong with God. By some sects, if you die in sin, you go to hell. I’m not sure what it means to love someone who you think is damned. Is it better to kick some sense in them than to let them suffer eternal fire? That’s how notions of transcendence wreak havoc with ordinary human interaction. The secular notions carry significantly less weight. If we sometimes do unhealthy things, that’s.. well, no great sin.

    Still. Smoking isn’t healthy. Faith isn’t rational. Those are facts. They don’t need stating when one has lunch with friends, among whom are smokers and the religious. But neither should they be set aside as facts never to be considered, because some people don’t want to hear them.

  146. #146 Caliban
    September 13, 2006

    “You disgust me”

    I couldn’t agree more. You’re either with us or you’re against us. It’s high time that those of us who are proud to proclaim our absolute rationality to make a stand for Rational Purity!

    Anyone who disagrees with us (or more specificly, me-) is the Enemey! These yellow-bellied psudo-rationalist atheists make me sick with thier cowardly appeasments and political expediencies.

    To even suggest that a non-thiest could cooperate with a theist in any way is utterly disgusting to those of us whose rationality is pure, constant and absolute.

    Only by combating the Enemy at every turn can our Great Dream of Rational Purity be realised!

    Onward rational soldiers!!

  147. #147 kehrsam
    September 13, 2006

    Russell siad: It remains the case, though, that smoking has significant health risk, and faith is irrational.

    This keeps being repeated in this thread, but it simply isn’t true in personal life: People of faith live longer on average, and studies that attempt the difficult task of measuring happiness seem to agree that we are happier than non-believers as well. These are tangible benefits, and it is not irrational for a person to seek them.

    What you mean to say is, “Belief in supernatural causes or events can not be scientifically supported by either confirmation or disproof, so statements about such are meaningless from the standpoint of science.” And this statement is correct. But science is not the only way to rationally examine the universe or some part thereof.

    I’m really not sure why this has created such of a row, seeing as everyone other than Chance and Caledonian seems to be in basic agreement. Peace.

  148. #148 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    I said: “It remains the case, though, that smoking has significant health risk, and faith is irrational.” To which kehrsam responds:

    This keeps being repeated in this thread, but it simply isn’t true in personal life: People of faith live longer on average, and studies that attempt the difficult task of measuring happiness seem to agree that we are happier than non-believers as well.

    You seem to be confusing health and rationality.

    These are tangible benefits, and it is not irrational for a person to seek them.

    If the very method by which one seeks those benefits requires irrationality, then yes, it is. There is nothing that guarantees that the pursuit of desirable things never leads to conflict. You’re merely pointing out one such a conflict.

    What you mean to say is, “Belief in supernatural causes or events can not be scientifically supported by either confirmation or disproof, so statements about such are meaningless from the standpoint of science.”

    No, I don’t mean to say that. I don’t even think it is correct, except for some entirely vacuous definition of “supernatural” to mean “something that has no observable evidence.”

    Science is not the only way to rationally examine the universe or some part thereof.

    This isn’t about science, but about faith. And faith is not a means to examine the universe or some part thereof. Faith is the purposeful exemption of some beliefs from such examination. It is irrational, not by virtue of its consequence, but by virtue of its intellectual dishonesty. I dissent from those who think that faith is merely a different “way” from reason. It isn’t. It is the abeyance of reason.

  149. #149 kehrsam
    September 13, 2006

    Arrogance, thy name is Russell. But that is rather off the thread topic.

    As it happens, I am not dishonest, intelectually or otherwise; I also dare call myself a fan of Reason; I imagine you had someone else in mind.

  150. #150 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    Faith is the purposeful exemption of some beliefs from such examination.

    Different people have differing degrees of fatih in different propositions. “Faith” means different things in different circumstances. Overgeneralized statements about a concept you don’t bother to define adequately are meaningless at best, and utter crap at worst. This debate cannot progress any further in any direction unless/until you define with greater precision what you mean by “faith.”

    It is irrational, not by virtue of its consequence, but by virtue of its intellectual dishonesty.

    IF you’re not specifying (and maybe don’t even know) whose faith you’re talking about, then you have no grounds for a charge of “dishonesty.” Lumping a huge — unspecified — mess of concepts and ideas under one word, and ignoring obvious differences among them, proves nothing.

    More important, though, “rationality” must be based or grounded in something — some basic assumptions, either positive or normative — otherwise it means nothing. “Rationality” alone, in diametric opposition to “faith,” is a ridiculous and misleading fiction dating back to Spock of old “Star Trek” fame.

    “Faith” is, often, what we are forced to believe/assume, either without evidence, or without even the possibility of evidence. (Where’s the evidence that it’s wrong to commit murder? Where’s the rational argument that says integrity is more important than wealth? How can you prove that your knowledge has “value?”) Once we’ve settled on our core assumptions, many of which are based on pure emotion, instinct, or immovable gut feeling, we base reasoning on those assumptions; and reasoning based on different assumptions leads to different conclusions.

  151. #151 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    Arrogance, thy name is Russell.

    Damn, how’d I capture the title from PZ?

    In my mind, this is about calling a spade a spade. If someone chooses to believe some claim about the nature of the world, from desire or for its ethical or health benefits or to win their true love’s heart or for whatever other motives guide such choice, rather than from evidence or proof that the claim actually holds, that is no more rational than thinking that a magic 8 ball predicts the future. If you shake it twice.

    That doesn’t make it a crime. I’m not going to pretend that all my thinking is rational. That would be foolish. But neither am I going to pretend that faith is something that it isn’t. It’s not an alternate way to learn about the world. It’s a way of not learning the world. Whether it has any health benefits is a different issue.

  152. #152 Kate
    September 13, 2006

    I’m reminded of some of Miller’s answers in the Dover trial (paraphrasing horridly here) about the answer “why is that pot boiling”.

    Science’s answer is that the water in the pot is boiling because heat is being applied and speeding up the individual molecules of water. It is a correct answer. A totally non-scientific answer could be “because I wanted tea”. it also answers the question, but at a totally different level for a totally different reason.

    I get the impression that most of the people who are most vocal on this thread are hearing the question, but are declaring that there is only one acceptable answer to it. This leaves everyone talking at cross-purposes.

  153. #153 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    But neither am I going to pretend that faith is something that it isn’t.

    Okay, Russell, you’ve told us what you’re NOT going to PRETEND that faith ISN’T. For the last time, can you tell us what you BELIEVE faith IS? Or are you going to keep your terms undefined to avoid being proven wrong?

    It’s not an alternate way to learn about the world.

    Who said it was?

    It’s a way of not learning the world.

    Are you sayng that people who have faith in something don’t learn about the world? If so, I’ve made lots of observations of people that prove you wrong.

  154. #154 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian wrote:

    The problem is that some of the ‘answers’ people are responding with are fundamentally wrong, and they refuse to acknowledge that their responses cannot even potentially be true answers to the question.

    Be specific — which answers are “fundamentally wrong” how? Or does having to elaborate and back up your claims “disgust” you?

  155. #155 Ed Brayton
    September 13, 2006

    Caledonian will no longer be commenting here. He has joined a short but distinguished list of assholes that includes Larry Fafarman, DaveScot and Robert O’Brien to be banned from this blog.

  156. #156 Aster
    September 13, 2006

    I looked for a comment to make about this article, and the only thing that came to my mind was : “Here’s the product of American education at its best.” Maybe that’s a subjective judgment, so be it. I would like my children to be able, some day, to reason for themselves like that. Not to reach necessarily the same conclusions, but to be able to reason by themselves about issues, independently of what people around them thought or said, and to be able to reach their own conclusions about them, without any pre-judgments, and without any preconceived ideas.

    When I was still in high school, we read a text by Montaigne , the 16th century philosopher, in which he observed that : “what is true this side of the Pyrénées mountains (i.e. in France) is wrong on the other side (i.e. in Spain).”

    He also observed that he was born in a practising Catholic family, and he saw nothing wrong with that. But he could have been born within a practising Protestant family, and there would have been nothing wrong with that either.

    At a time when Catholics and Protestants were at war with each other all over Europe, he observed that being born a Catholic or a Protestant was all a matter of accident. One should be happy with what he got, with the religion he was born in, but not consider it as superior to what the others believed in, nor try to impose it on them.

    I suppose this text was particularly influential in my life, because it taught me the relativity of things, even at the most absolute level (i.e. the religious level).

    That’s what education should do, among other things. That’s also what American and European education do, sometimes, when practised at their best.

  157. #157 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    Raging Bee:

    For the last time, can you tell us what you BELIEVE faith IS? Or are you going to keep your terms undefined to avoid being proven wrong?

    I thought I had, but perhaps I wasn’t clear. Faith is when one makes a choice to believe something about the nature of the world, such choice being applied because the belief does not follow from evidence or proof. I think this use of the term is very much in accord with western religious tradition. The preacher makes an altar call, and asks all in the audience to believe in the preacher’s god, hoping that some will choose to do so. This is the polar opposite of a geometry teacher presenting a proof of the Pythagorean theorem, and the student on understanding it realizing that that really is the nature of plane geometry. That belief doesn’t admit or require choice. It obviously depends on a prior choice to study geometry and to think on the subject. But once the proof is understood, one could no more choose to believe it wasn’t the case than one could choose to believe that the driven hammer didn’t just land on one’s thumb, on feeling the pain. Which presents another example of belief about the world where choice is absent.

    Obviously, this is not meant to belittle choice. We choose what we want to do. We choose who we want to be. We choose what moral commitments we will make. Various things we learn about the world may inform those choices. Ultimately, though, these areas require choice because they concern issues that aren’t determined otherwise.

    But choosing to believe in a god? That is completely and utterly irrational, as much as choosing to believe whether the Pythagorean theorem holds for plane geometry or not, and for the same reason: one’s choice has absolutely no bearing on the fact of the matter. (I recall a short story where gods would come into existence or fade into shadow depending on how many people believed in them. Interesting concept, obviously in conflict with most religions.)

    Which doesn’t mean the people who do it are stupid. Or evil. But when we talk about that particular act, that particular decision, I think it ought to be called for what it is.

  158. #158 David Heddle
    September 13, 2006

    Russell.

    Faith is when one makes a choice to believe something about the nature of the world, such choice being applied because the belief does not follow from evidence or proof.

    If that is your definition of faith, then it is not in accord with Christianity, and I can see why–given that you incorrectly think such a monstrosity is what the bible calls for–you might doubt the rationality of Christians. Your definition of faith, paraphrased, is “believing what for all intents and purposes you have no reason to believe.” In Christianity, faith is something closer to trust and in certainly never means “blind faith.” When a Christian is told to live by faith, it is not meant that he should abandon his intellect, but rather that, given God’s law has been written on his heart, he should live as if he trusts that obeying that law is not just the correct but also the wise thing to do. That is what biblical “faith” is.

    And your “preacher making an altar call” is representative of a minority of Christianity. Neither Roman Catholics nor reformed Protestants (such as me) would find an altar call a familiar experience.

    Here is some evidence that “faith” in the bible does not mean “choosing to believe in that for which there is no evidence:”

    1) In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. The bible doesn’t add: and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.

    2) When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God complied with the request. The bible doesn’t add: And Moses’ inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land.

    3) Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God’s glory. The bible doesn’t add: but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.

    4) When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. The bible doesn’t add: and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema, but rather Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

    5) When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them he was flesh and blood, and that he could even eat. The bible does not add: and their rewards in heaven were diminished because they relied on physical proof.

    6) Paul writes, in the letter to the Romans, that since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. The bible doesn’t add: but pay attention to that physical evidence at your own peril. Instead, Paul adds that the reason for this (scientific data) is so that men are without excuse.

    7) Even in the case of “doubting” Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, the bible does not add: and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.

    If the faith of the religious is the basis for concluding that they are bumpkins, then at least use the actual definition.

  159. #159 Aster
    September 13, 2006

    When I read that you had banned Caledonian from posting here, I went back to read all his posts in this thread to find out the reason. I fully support your conclusion that someone like that doesn’t add anything useful to an adult rational discussion of anything. He stands as a model for everything disreputable that one shouldn’t do or be on the web.

  160. #160 Raging Bee
    September 13, 2006

    Faith is when one makes a choice to believe something about the nature of the world, such choice being applied because the belief does not follow from evidence or proof. I think this use of the term is very much in accord with western religious tradition.

    I think not. A good bit of the things people are called upon to have faith in, are not about the “nature of the world,” but about what’s meaningful in the world, what’s morally right and wrong — and such faith does not “follow from evidence or proof” for the simple reason that such concepts, while indispensible in human lives, are not scientifically provable.

    But choosing to believe in a god? That is completely and utterly irrational…

    Not if one feels, subjectively, the presence of a “higher power,” and is inspired by this felt presence to do good or sensible things he/she would not otherwise do.

    Reason can be based on one’s subjective truth, and yield conclusions and results that are valid for that individual. This is something too many atheists simply refuse to comprehend, despite mountains of personal stories and anecdotes: a person’s subjective truth is real for that person, and that person can reason from subjective beliefs to reach conclusions that yield good or bad actions. Huffing and sniffing about how subjective reality isn’t “real” accomplishes nothing — except to make you sound like an uncaring dolt, whose ideas are irrelevant to that person’s life.

    To the extent that subjective reality — feelings and opinions about what’s “important” — affects people’s behavior in the real world, that old line from the Woody Allen movie really is true: “Subjectivity is objective.” The existence and importance of people’s subjective realities — their personal values and morals — is an objective fact, and if your reasoning isn’t based on that fact, then it will continue to lead to wrong conclusions.

  161. #161 decrepitoldfool
    September 13, 2006

    Holee mackeral… I started to read all these but didn’t have two hours to invest, only my coffee break. My apologies to anyone who has already made the point I am about to try and make:

    Tolerance will always feel unsatisfactory to the tolerated, but it is a fine thing nevertheless. To say; “I disagree with you but we live in a society together and it is desireable that we get along as we discuss and acknowledge our disagreements” gives us time to work out the answer. And, a decent society to live in.

    This is my biggest beef with PZ Meyers – I love all the scienc-y stuff but he acts like all Christians are just unforgiveably, impossibly stupid. I was a Christian, once, and now I’m not. But I had to drive down that road to get to where I am so the road was important to me all the same.

  162. #162 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    David Hedde:

    Here is some evidence that “faith” in the bible does not mean “choosing to believe in that for which there is no evidence: ..”

    The requirement of faith has been a problem for Christianity since Paul started spreading the word. The passages you give evidence of this. The story of doubting Thomas is telling in several regards. First, the story isn’t written by Thomas. It appears in John, the latest gospel. The immediate question is why anyone should believe that it is anything except a story designed to buttress faith? Second, there has been no such evidence since. Whatever argument one might make that Thomas’s belief was rational, it in no way extends to why anyone else’s, who wasn’t there. Third, as you yourself note, the story has Jesus encouraging precisely the kind of faith that I described and that Thomas lacked:

    Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. [John 20:29 RSV]

    If faith, as I described, were not being recommended here, why wouldn’t Jesus just say this: As I have shown myself to you, I will show mywelf to everyone, so that all will know I am. The reason, of course, is that this was a one time apologetic trick.

    Paul’s claim in Romans adumbrates official Catholic doctrine: that reason is adequate to prove the existence of God. The Church wisely refrains from saying what proof of God is valid. It is in the nature of proof and evidence to be specific. When a Christian claims that really their belief is based on reason, not on the kind of faith I describe, it is telling to ask the following: Which arguments, if shown fallacious, and which evidences, if untethered from their evidential moorings, would cause you to stop believing? Some cannot or will not say, which undercuts their prior claim. Others will offer a list, but the aftermath is just as telling: after that list is done, they will offer yet a different set. And eventually, many fall back on an explicit statement of faith. As I defined it.

    If the Church were to declare that Aquinas’s cosmological argument were a proof of God, or Anselm’s ontological argument, then its game would have been exposed some time ago. Or it would be caught in an embarrassing circle of continually trying to fabricate the next proof to be exploded, to uphold its doctrine that reason does indeed prove God. Embarrassing, because if it is continually wrong about such proofs, how does it know there is one? And if it cannot name the proof that actually works, then why does it assert that reason will prove God?

    Paul’s statements is much like the Church’s. He claims:

    Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

    See how it works. He doesn’t say why the world is evidence for god. If you don’t see god around you, if you don’t “clearly perceive” through the world, then it is because your mind is senseless and darkened. Are you really going to claim that that verse contains a reasoned argument for God? To my reading, it contains an excuse for not having one: if you can’t see it is because your mind is darkened.

  163. #163 Caliban
    September 13, 2006

    This is the actual, biblical, defintion of faith:

    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).

    Of course, as with any religous text, one is free to interpret the rest of the text in any way one chooses. If you don’t want to subscribe to the explicit biblical defintion of “faith” posted above, then one can simply interpet other passages to come up with whatever conclusion one wishes to arrive at.

    That’s one reason why faith is invalid. It’s very defintion is whatever you want it to be. If you asked 100 xians what they think faith is, you can get 100 differant answers. Unfortunately, if they’re not Catholic, one has no “objective/authoritative” means of determing which defintion is the correct one.

  164. #164 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    Raging Bee:

    The existence and importance of people’s subjective realities — their personal values and morals — is an objective fact.

    Of course. More, I think it is only in people’s subjective realities that values and morals exist. And they’re vitally important.

    But the issue we’ve been discussing isn’t about only what originates in our own mind, about what we value and about how we judge. It’s about the larger world, the one we mutually inhabit. The chief religious question, for western religions at least, is whether that world includes a god. If the answer is “as far as we know, gods exist only subjectively, only in the minds of those who believe in them,” then I agree with that also. ;-)

  165. #165 Uber
    September 13, 2006

    Unfortunately, if they’re not Catholic, one has no “objective/authoritative” means of determing which defintion is the correct one.

    And even then it isn’t the case. The party line is what it is for now but there divisions within the church on all major issues. There is what is said for now and what will likely be said in the future.

    Here is some evidence that “faith” in the bible does not mean “choosing to believe in that for which there is no evidence:”

    1) In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. The bible doesn’t add: and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.

    2) When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God complied with the request. The bible doesn’t add: And Moses’ inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land.

    3) Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God’s glory. The bible doesn’t add: but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.

    4) When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. The bible doesn’t add: and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema, but rather Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

    5) When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them he was flesh and blood, and that he could even eat. The bible does not add: and their rewards in heaven were diminished because they relied on physical proof.

    6) Paul writes, in the letter to the Romans, that since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. The bible doesn’t add: but pay attention to that physical evidence at your own peril. Instead, Paul adds that the reason for this (scientific data) is so that men are without excuse.

    7) Even in the case of “doubting” Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, the bible does not add: and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.

    Not a single one of these would amount to an even decent counterargument to what Russell is saying. Your statement about trust as opposed to faith is simply a word game designed around the fact that you have no evidence for the belief.

    I think Russells comment at 5:38 was pretty darn good.

  166. #166 David Heddle
    September 13, 2006

    Caliban,

    The single verse doesn’t make your case. Representative of the poorest practice of exegesis, you plop down a verse and say, in effect, “gotcha.” However, you need to examine all of Hebrews 11, which is the hall of fame chapter. The “unseen” for which their faith is being honored is the finished work of Christ–which would have been impossible for them to see, given that the writer is referring to Old Testament saints. Among those being honored for their faith in this passage include Moses, Abraham, Jacob and Gideon–four of the most famous saints for whom God provided direct physical evidence of himself. The message of this chapter is: Abraham (for example) was saved (as any Christian) by his faith in Christ, even though he could only look forward to a messiah rather than back. He did, however, speak to God, and he is one of those about whom the faith in Hebrews 11:1 is being credited, so, in context, it obviously is not referring to “blind faith in God”.

    Russell,

    John 20:29 is a bit stronger at making the case, in fact it is the only verse that I am aware of that can legitimately be used for that purpose. However, given that Jesus just allowed Thomas to touch his wounds (without casting him out) and given the preponderance (but not exhaustive) list of examples I gave of God willingly and without admonishment providing physical evidence, a reasonable (in light of the bulk of scripture) interpretation is: How easy it is for you to believe, but blessed are the millions who will believe without the benefit of seeing my body. Although the unseeing blessed do not see his body, it does not follow that they are devoid of all evidence.

    As to why Jesus doesn’t show himself to everyone–or for that matter why God doesn’t save everyone–I haven’t a clue.

    As for Romans 1:20, I would not claim that it contains a reasoned argument for God. The bible in toto does not contain a reasoned argument for God. From the first verse it assumes God rather than attempting to prove God. Paul’s argument (and the Psalmist’s) is that creation (not the bible) is sufficient evidence for, if you like, intelligent design. You are correct, however–you will not perceive it as such if, as you put it, your mind is darkened. More accurately, I would say if you haven’t been reborn. Perhaps you are getting at the fact that the argument is circular. Indeed it is. It is something like this:

    1) Because of the fall, natural man will not see the evidence of creation as evidence for God, but nevertheless he is condemned for his lack of faith
    2) If God regenerates a man, then (a) creation speaks to that man of God’s glory and will be viewed as physical evidence and (b) scripture will seem rational to that man

    You can shift the argument to the perceived lunacy or unfairness of the theology, but it remains, relevant to this discussion, that this schema of Augustinian theology results in believers who believe rationally, not on the basis of blind faith.

    Uber,
    To me your post is impenetrable, so I don’t know how to respond. The most I get out of it is “here is what you wrote; you’re wrong, and Russell is right” but I don’t see any argument as to why. Maybe that’s all you intended, to show that you think Russell is correct without adding anything substantive.

  167. #167 Caliban
    September 13, 2006

    David, Not to be glib, but your response to the Hebrews quote only proves my point about competing religous defintions of faith. Everything you’ve said about biblical faith so far has been nothing more than repeated attempts to avoid using the “obvious”, “common sense” defintion of faith that is regularily invoked in matters of religon.

    Your personal interpretations of various verses are a little embarrasing to read. Imagine having a similar discussion with a Muslim about the “true” definition of “Jyhad”. Would you be impressed reading a litany of quotes with his own explanatory interpretations?
    It simply isn’t compelling. Quote-mining simply fails to produce the intended affect the miner intends it to have because it’s self defeating. (for instance, if belief in the xian God is rational then it has to be demonstratable outside of the bible.)

    The bare facts are that if someone has rational reasons to maintain a belief then “faith” has no function. It litteraly becomes meaningless. It is only in the absense of reason or evidence that faith can be invoked.

  168. #168 David Heddle
    September 13, 2006

    Caliban,

    First of all, though I guess I should take it as a compliment, these are not my personal interpretations, but rather commonplace.

    Secondly, I don’t really know how to respond to

    Everything you’ve said about biblical faith so far has been nothing more than repeated attempts to avoid using the “obvious”, “common sense” defintion of faith that is regularily invoked in matters of religon.

    It seems to say: you can provide all the evidence to support what you mean by faith, but nod-nod wink-wink, we both know what it really means. Hardly the basis for any further discussion.

    If you use a Greek Lexicon, you’ll find that faith (pistis) is in fact related to trust, as I stated, and is never described as “believing in things for which there is no evidence.”

  169. #169 Uber
    September 13, 2006

    Representative of the poorest practice of exegesis, you plop down a verse and say, in effect, “gotcha.”

    Not to be snide but how do you think your ‘exegesis’ comes out?

    these are not my personal interpretations, but rather commonplace.

    It doesn’t matter if they are commonplace or not they still sound very, very weak as arguments and I’m a baptist albeit with a universalist bent. I agree with both Caliban and Russell. David I think your arguments essentially make Christians look foolish and I have never read any apologetics(and it’s a bunch) that doesn’t have glaring holes in logic and reason.

    There is simply no evidence whatsoever that the bible is the word of God anymore than is the Koran or any other religious book. I think religion rots the brain. If you wish to have faith have faith. But don’t go around pretending it’s remotely logical or rational or for that matter biblically endorsed.

    Simply put if you believe an invisible part of you exists that survives death you are not using trust in any normal way but rather irrational faith. If you buy into any number of religious dogmas including but not limited to virgin birth, biblical infallibilty, Pope infallibilty, miracles and so on you again are not trusting because all evidence points away from the validity of such ideas but rather embracing irrational faith. This is just the honest truth.

  170. #170 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    David Hedde:

    It seems to say: you can provide all the evidence to support what you mean by faith, but nod-nod wink-wink, we both know what it really means.

    David, it’s not so much about getting the right definition of faith, according to some exegesis, but about what you and other Christians demonstrably practice. You have already admitted that what you claim as evidence isn’t, except to those who already believe.

    the argument is circular. Indeed it is. It is something like this: (1) Because of the fall, natural man will not see the evidence of creation as evidence for God, but nevertheless he is condemned for his lack of faith. (2) If God regenerates a man, then (a) creation speaks to that man of God’s glory and will be viewed as physical evidence and (b) scripture will seem rational to that man.

    That leaves you practicing faith exactly as I have defined it. And didn’t I explain above that it was self justifying? It simply doesn’t matter whether or not that is exactly what Paul or other Biblical writer meant by faith, whether or not the Bible discusses such a notion, and whether or not Christians realize that is a necessary part of what they are doing. There’s no nudge-nudge, wink-wink. There’s just the question of what is proof or evidence to the person who doesn’t already believe. If you admit, as you seem to have done so, that there is none such, then belief is either chosen or a matter of god reaching into one’s mind and turning on the belief switch, and that is faith as I’ve described. And irrational. In the alternative, if there is such proof, then stop the talk about non-believers having darkened minds. There is no need for special reason in math. There is no need for special reason in the sciences. There is no need for special reason in history. If there is a need for special reason in religion, the flaw is religion, not the minds of unbelievers.

  171. #171 Treban
    September 13, 2006

    In regards to defining faith.

    I define “faith,” in the context of religion, as a belief in something that is not quantifiable. To me, the reasons for my faith are entirely rational – to me. I know quite a few people who would find them rational, I know a lot more who would not – because those reasons have no known measure. So from the perspective of someone who will accept only that which is quantifiably true, faith is irrational. I accept and respect that – even as I find it a little sad. Probably the same way others might find it a little sad that I insist on my “delusions.”

    Caliban – Spot on with the quote from Hebrew. I am far from being a bible literlist but I think that sums it up nicely.

  172. #172 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    David Hedde:

    It seems to say: you can provide all the evidence to support what you mean by faith, but nod-nod wink-wink, we both know what it really means.

    David, it’s not so much about getting the right definition of faith, according to some exegesis, but about what you and other Christians demonstrably practice, by your own words. You have already admitted that what you claim as evidence isn’t, except to those who already believe.

    the argument is circular. Indeed it is. It is something like this: (1) Because of the fall, natural man will not see the evidence of creation as evidence for God, but nevertheless he is condemned for his lack of faith. (2) If God regenerates a man, then (a) creation speaks to that man of God’s glory and will be viewed as physical evidence and (b) scripture will seem rational to that man.

    That leaves you practicing faith as I have defined it. And didn’t I explain above that it was self justifying? It simply doesn’t matter whether or not that is what Paul or other Biblical writer meant by faith, whether or not the Bible discusses such a notion, and whether or not Christians realize that is a necessary part of what they are doing. There’s no nudge-nudge, wink-wink. There’s just the question of what is proof or evidence to the person who doesn’t already believe. If you admit, as you seem to have done so, that there is none such, then belief is chosen independent of that. In the alternative, if there is such proof, then stop the talk about non-believers having darkened minds. There is no need for special reason in math. There is no need for special reason in the sciences. There is no need for special reason in history. If there is a need for special reason in religion, the flaw is religion, not the minds of unbelievers.

  173. #173 kehrsam
    September 13, 2006

    David Heddle: I’m normally with you on these issues, but I’m really not sure where you’re going here. If blind “faith” isn’t good enough, then many Christians are in trouble. Yes, faith need not be blind, but that is a different argument.

    Russell: My only complaint is with the term “irrational.” Unless your definition is rational=scientific method, then I suggest you are over-reaching. As you have noted, no one lives their lives scientifically; that does not mean that they are irrational when they are not scientific.

    Science is a model of some aspect of the universe; to the extent that it makes the universe easier to understand, well and good, but the model is not the universe and there is knowledge to be had outside the model (Goedel again). Even the sense data I take in is not scientific; it is subject to alteration before it reaches me and mistaken assumptions or interpretations after I have it. “There is more under heaven and earth than is drempt in your philosophy, Horatio.” Sorry, I mangled the quote. ;)

  174. #174 Uber
    September 13, 2006

    To me, the reasons for my faith are entirely rational – to me. I know quite a few people who would find them rational, I know a lot more who would not – because those reasons have no known measure. So from the perspective of someone who will accept only that which is quantifiably true, faith is irrational. I accept and respect that – even as I find it a little sad.

    Oh good grief. It’s not that it is only quantifiably true but because there is no evidence it’s even remotely real. Why is that so sad? People are not sad because they don’t believe in Allah or Santa or Vishnu or Zeus. And those that do think the previous are real aren’t sad because they don’t buy into the Christian version of the same.

  175. #175 Uber
    September 13, 2006

    Unless your definition is rational=scientific method, then I suggest you are over-reaching

    He’s not overreaching at all. He’s spot on. Or if you prefer nonrational. Nonrational being a belief in a proposition that is contrary to the sum of evidence for that belief.

  176. #176 Leni
    September 13, 2006

    Wait wait wait.

    Treban:

    I define “faith,” in the context of religion, as a belief in something that is not quantifiable.

    How are you justified in thinking your belief is rational given that you describe the object of your belief as “unquantifiable”? I have beliefs about things, but I can tell you exactly what they are, how they relate to the objects of said beliefs and, most of the time, why I have them. Except, basically, when they are irrational.

    I’m not so sure it’s justified to call a belief rational if you can’t even adequately describe what it is you believe in. I’m not saying that to be mean. I used to have the same, or very similar beliefs, and frankly, I’m not concerned about what your beliefs are, nor do I wish to convince you not to have them. I just though your remark was incongruous.

    And I think Russell’s definition of faith was spot on. Maybe a little too clinical for some (not me though). I thought it was about as good as one could get without invoking a lot of superfluous terms like “trust”, “love”, or “morality”.

    Not that I have anything against those things, or that I do not believe they are are vital to the people who have such faith, I just don’t think they are germane to the simple fact that faith in things unseen implies faith in things… well, unseen. However one feels about that is really beside the point.

  177. #177 David Heddle
    September 13, 2006

    Russell,

    Evolution is rational to those who believe it, because they see the evidence, evaluate it, and accept it. Christianity is no different: I see the evidence, evaluate it, and accept it. It matters little (for the sake of this discussion) that I could not do that if I hadn’t been regenerated, it only matters that I am making a rational choice. At no point in the process do I say to myself: this it nuts, but I’m going to believe it anyway. That would be blind faith, which the bible doesn’t ask of anyone, and that would be irrational. The assumption here is that since you don’t see the evidence (because you can’t, but that doesn’t matter) you assume that Christians are not using their heads when they choose God. But that is wrong–we chose God because, given our understanding, it’s the smart, and the only rational, decision.

  178. #178 Dave L
    September 13, 2006

    The assumption here is that since you don’t see the evidence (because you can’t, but that doesn’t matter) you assume that Christians are not using their heads when they choose God. But that is wrong–we chose God because, given our understanding, it’s the smart, and the only rational, decision.

    I have no doubts that Christians are using their heads when they choose God, but it seems that with this definition of ‘rational’ is very loose. A schizophrenic sees evidence (but you can’t) that he is being watched by the CIA and he ‘rationally’ believes that and acts in ways that seem irrational to others; is that person rational?

    David, when you talk about this evidence, are you talking about evidence that we all can examine and you have simply come to the conclusion from it that Christianity is true, or are you talking about evidence that is truly invisible to someone who doesn’t believe? I would guess both, but if so, would you still believe, rationally at least, without the invisible evidence? In your view, is the evidence that we all have available to examine enough?

  179. #179 Russell
    September 13, 2006

    David Heddle:

    The assumption here is that since you don’t see the evidence (because you can’t, but that doesn’t matter) you assume that Christians are not using their heads when they choose God. But that is wrong–we chose God because, given our understanding, it’s the smart, and the only rational, decision.

    No. My beliefs about how Christians believe come from what they themselves say. Christians are the ones who write thousands of volumes of badly reasoned apologetics, in order to convince themselves that their thinking is rational. Christians are the ones who write inspirational literature about how to “keep the faith,” when they start to have doubts. It was some early Christian who wrote the story of doubting Thomas. It was Paul who wrote that God’s nature should be “clearly perceived” in the fact of the world around us, unless our minds are clouded. There is no reason to make assumptions about how Christians think. They are hardly shy about explaining that.

    Now, obviously, I cannot indict you — or any other individual Christian — for words that are not your own. You are not responsible for Paul’s empty arguments, the apologetic trickery of whoever wrote the Johanine gospel, the bland sophistries of C. S. Lewis, or the recent nonsense by Joseph Ratzinger. It’s perfectly fair for you to say, “yes, I know a lot of Christians have written a lot of nonsense, but I have better reasons. My belief is rational.” But it’s not fair for you to say that rational critics are making assumptions about how Christians think. The world’s libraries have been filled for millenia by Christians themselves explaining this.

    Arguments are public by nature. Even ones made entirely to oneself, if sensible, can be expressed for others to read, though most such private arguments are immediately revealed to their author as not nearly as sensible as they first seemed, in the very attempt to so express them. (At least, that’s the case for me. Perhaps you have a better success ratio.) You’re right that evidence can be private. If, for example, an angel visited your room one night, as Pascal said happened to him, then indeed it is fair for you to say that you have evidence that I can’t see. But the reasoning from that evidence to the end conclusion is something that can be made public. And my views about how Christians think are formed by those who have ventured to do so.

  180. #180 Treban
    September 13, 2006

    Leni -

    I am not claiming it is rational – at least to anyone who isn’t me and hasn’t had my life expierience. I know what has happened in my life that has led me where I am today – to me it makes perfect sense and that’s what matters. I think that folks just put to much concern on whether or not faith (as I defined it for this context – above) is rational. Faith is rational to the individual – not neccesarily those around them.

    When I say unquantifiable, I am talking from a scientific standpoint. There is no gauge or devie that can prove my belief – thus it is not quantifiable. That does not mean I am incapable of stating my beleifs or explaining both them and how I came to them. Certain expieriences that led me here I will not discuss due to there very personal nature – not just to me but another individual as well. Other than that I am happy to discuss what I believe and why.

    Uber -

    Oh good grief. It’s not that it is only quantifiably true but because there is no evidence it’s even remotely real. Why is that so sad? People are not sad because they don’t believe in Allah or Santa or Vishnu or Zeus. And those that do think the previous are real aren’t sad because they don’t buy into the Christian version of the same.

    There is no evidence that you would accept that it is true. I have had plenty of evidence in my own life that makes it clear to me that it is. It is sad to me because I enjoy what I have and wish that same joy for others.

  181. #181 Beth
    September 14, 2006

    If you admit that you do not know everything, doesn’t it seem rational that there is a being (God) who does in fact know everything? And if you don’t know everything, then how can you claim to know where to draw lines or even if lines should be drawn in the first place?

  182. #182 Nebogipfel
    September 14, 2006

    Just having read through the first few comments excoriating (wrongly, IMHO) the original post for being soft on religion… The point they seem to be making is that it’s not good enough to do good works – one must do good works for the right reasons. That’s the view of the the inqusition, the fundamentalist and the thought police. Fundamentalists are the enemy; what they’re fundamentalist about doesn’t really matter much.
    As for the latter discussions on whether faith is rational or not; well, I think it points out the futility of trying to stamp out religious beleif. Personally, I think the world would be a better place if everyone took their religions far less seriously , but if someone wants to practice a faith in a way that neither picks my pocket nor breaks my legs*, that’s fine by me.

    *Sorry – I forget what the exact quote is.

  183. #183 Matthew Young
    September 14, 2006

    If you admit that you do not know everything, doesn’t it seem rational that there is a being (God) who does in fact know everything?

    No, that doesn’t follow at all. The two are completely unrelated.

    Why are people so intent on proving their beliefs to be rational. My love for my wife is totally irrational, but it doesn’t devalue it at all as far as I’m concerned.

    Belief that rape is wrong is irrational in most ways, particularly in the sense that from a purely biological point of view it is a legitimate way of passing one’s genes on to the next generation and is quite common in the animal kingdom. I don’t think people would argue that rape should therefore be allowed.

    Irrational beliefs are fine, but we shouldn’t pretend either that they are rational or that they are somehow cheapened because they aren’t.

    Some French philosopher (I think) once converted to Christianity on the basis that if he were religious and wrong he just rotted anyway, but if he were an atheist and wrong he rotted in hell, which was worse. Now I actually prefer irrational Christians who simply believe in God because it’s in their hearts and they can’t stop themselves (not that they’d want to, obviously), to that sort of rational Christianity which I would classify as cynical self-interest and which somehow feels rather wrong.

  184. #184 David Heddle
    September 14, 2006

    Dave L,

    Of course I am not talking about invisible evidence. I am talking about evidence that is plainly seen, so that none are without excuse.

    A schizophrenic sees evidence (but you can’t) that he is being watched by the CIA and he ‘rationally’ believes that and acts in ways that seem irrational to others; is that person rational?

    A fair question. I am using “rational” only to mean that their (my) position is not based on blind faith. It could be that what they see is not what they think they see.

    Russell,

    Christians are the ones who write thousands of volumes of badly reasoned apologetics

    The fact that you simply assert their reasoning to be faulty means you are begging the question. The fact that you personally find their reasoning to be faulty is consistent with what I have been arguing. As is the fact that they write volumes of apologetics, just like the fact that there are many volumes of evolution books: if faith meant “blind faith” then there would be only one theology book: “just believe, don’t ask why.”

  185. #185 Beth
    September 14, 2006

    On the contrary Matthew, belief that rape is not wrong is irrational, and human beings thankfully do not live like the creatures in the animal kingdom.

  186. #186 Russell
    September 14, 2006

    David Hedde:

    The fact that you simply assert their reasoning to be faulty means you are begging the question.

    This is a blog, not a book. Point to a valid argument that underlies your Christianity, and I will be glad to examine that one. But tell me, were we to the end of the list of arguments that persuaded you, and were I to be successful in convincing you that those arguments are not valid, would your belief then disappear?

    What we have been having so far is mostly a meta-discussion, about what terms like “rational” and “faith” mean. You’re right, that we have not been much diving into individual arguments. It is my experience that Christian faith makes that largely irrelevant.

  187. #187 kehrsam
    September 14, 2006

    Bennie Ratz joins in!

    http://zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=94748

    We seem to have reached a point of dimishing returns in the overall discussion. I appreciate all the thoughtful responses over the last few days, and our host’s excellent essay for kicking it all off.

  188. #188 Dave L
    September 14, 2006

    I am talking about evidence that is plainly seen, so that none are without excuse.

    -and-

    The assumption here is that since you don’t see the evidence (because you can’t, but that doesn’t matter)

    What evidence is plainly seen but some can’t see it? When I referred to ‘invisible’ evidence, I mean things such as God talks to you in your head, which would of course be evidence to you but is inscrutable except by yourself. I think you are referring to conclusions reached from the evidence, some of which would be rational and some that would not. These conclusions, and how one ‘rationally’ arrived at them, could be examined by all though.

  189. #189 Uber
    September 14, 2006

    As is the fact that they write volumes of apologetics, just like the fact that there are many volumes of evolution books: if faith meant “blind faith” then there would be only one theology book: “just believe, don’t ask why.”

    Evolution books actually discuss evidence. Apologetic books do not. They seek to rationalize ideas. The simple reason there are so many apologetic works for a variety of ideas and faiths is simply because they are based on no discernable evidence and people desperately want to create some so that they, at least a little, can pretend they are on firm rational ground when in fact they are not.

    Evolution books do not do this. Sure there are ideas put forth and debated but to pretend that these are of a similiar nature is simply less than honest. If even 1 apologetic work made a completely convincing argument we would no longer have anything to discuss. But there aren’t any that cannot be pushed aside easily by virtually anyone with common sense.

    And Treban:

    There is no evidence that you would accept that it is true. I have had plenty of evidence in my own life that makes it clear to me that it is. It is sad to me because I enjoy what I have and wish that same joy for others.

    So what evidence would you accept that the FSM is real? What evidence have you had to prove an invisible being exists and not just any invisible being but the one of your choosing? How is this different from the person who has the same evidence for Allah? or Zeus?

    What makes you think others don’t have the same or more joy with or without your chosen deity? Isn’t that abit arrogant?

  190. #190 David Heddle
    September 14, 2006

    Russell,

    As I said, you are begging the question. You are arguing that Christianity is not supported by rational thinking, because all Christian apologetics displays poor reasoning. Who can argue when you assert your conclusion?

    Yes, if you were to convince me that my Christianity were not rational, my belief would disappear. If you could prove to me that the bible made no sense, then I would recant my Christianity. But you can’t, because the bible is rational as far as I am concerned. You can no more convince me that the bible is not rational than I can convince you that it is. The best we can argue is self-consistency. This is not without analogy in the scientific world. Physicists look at the same evidence. Some say it points to String Theory. Others say that’s nonsense, it points to quantum loop gravity.

    Again, the issue here is whether I believe on blind faith. I don’t. I will interpret the same evidence differently than you, but nevertheless I am basing my faith on evidence: creation, man’s ability to reason, morality, arguments for the inerrancy of scripture, arguments for God, arguments for the deity of Christ, biblical self-consistency, biblical verification in history and archeology, biblical compatibility with science, etc.

    Dave L,

    Good catch, my leaving too much assumed in my sentences. To clarify:

    The evidence (in this case creation) is plainly visible to all. However, not all will accept this as evidence for the existence of God; indeed some cannot accept it–they don’t “see” it. But all see it in a literal sense.

  191. #191 GH
    September 14, 2006

    you are begging the question. You are arguing that Christianity is not supported by rational thinking, because all Christian apologetics displays poor reasoning. Who can argue when you assert your conclusion?

    He is not begging the question. He is asserting a claim based on an external examination. You can show him how apologetics displays good reasoning but he is not question begging.

    This however is circular:

    If you could prove to me that the bible made no sense, then I would recant my Christianity. But you can’t, because the bible is rational as far as I am concerned.

    Once one accepts global floods, people flying, towers of babel, and such your correct your version of rationality likely can’t be modified into any usually used sense of the word.

    but nevertheless I am basing my faith on evidence: creation, man’s ability to reason, morality, arguments for the inerrancy of scripture, arguments for God, arguments for the deity of Christ, biblical self-consistency, biblical verification in history and archeology, biblical compatibility with science, etc.

    The first two are not evidence for an invisible man in the sky. The rest are simply poor at best and really, really shallow forms of ‘evidence’ at best. Arguments for the deity of Christ? I would say you may have no faith at all. Certainly not rational and perhaps not even irrational.

    I’ve encountered people like this before, they want to think everything proves them out so badly that they tend to make the kind of arguments you have here and all over the net.

    But you do the apologetic two step pretty well.

  192. #192 Ed Brayton
    September 14, 2006

    Beth wrote:

    If you admit that you do not know everything, doesn’t it seem rational that there is a being (God) who does in fact know everything? And if you don’t know everything, then how can you claim to know where to draw lines or even if lines should be drawn in the first place?

    Simple answer: no. And that may be the dumbest thing anyone has said here in weeks.

  193. #193 Treban
    September 14, 2006

    So what evidence would you accept that the FSM is real?

    FSM? – please excuse my ignorance, if this was bandied about earlier, sorry, I’m not even an inch into my morning coffee.

    What evidence have you had to prove an invisible being exists and not just any invisible being but the one of your choosing?

    First, I am alive – I have, in the past, ingested many plants with certain alkloyd content. On more than one occasion I ingested more than what should have been fatal doses. At least I am told they were considerably higher than fatal doses by a neural toxicologist – at the least he thinks I should be a vegetable. I also quite regularly find myself in posession of the exact resources I need to make it – often before I know I will in fact need them. And I often find myself meeting people who have a huge impact on my life in regards to things that are relevant to me at that time.

    How is this different from the person who has the same evidence for Allah? or Zeus?

    I never claimed it was.

    What makes you think others don’t have the same or more joy with or without your chosen deity?

    I generaly tend to think that life is greatly enriched by an openness to the spiritual – or indeed anything “irrational.”

    Isn’t that abit arrogant?

    Yes. Arrogance runs in my family – just ask Ed.

    But let me ask you, isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that because something has no real world measure right now that it is simply absurd to even consider it?

  194. #194 Treban
    September 14, 2006

    Sorry, I forgot to mention the above was directed to Uber.

    And I wsa less than clear on joy. I would not claim anyone else has no or less joy – I just can’t imagine that someone who denies the “irrational” or consderation thereof, having the joy that I do. Therein lies the arrogance.

  195. #195 Uber
    September 14, 2006

    FSM = flying spaghettie monster :-)

    Ok on your experiences. I’m glad your alive. Of course this has nothing to do with supernatural causes and I’m more than sure that science could have figured that one out.

    isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that because something has no real world measure right now that it is simply absurd to even consider it?

    Who says you don’t consider it or that it hasn’t been? But the ‘in the future’ we’ll understand line is pretty thin considering science and it’s methods have made the world progress far more than thinking about supernatural beings.

    would not claim anyone else has no or less joy – I just can’t imagine that someone who denies the “irrational” or consderation thereof, having the joy that I do. Therein lies the arrogance

    So personal iccreduilty. How does the consideration of it bring more joy than not? I’m happy because I enjoy life to the fullest. I don’t see whether my accepting this or that absurd claim would have much bearing there. But to each his own.

  196. #196 Uber
    September 14, 2006

    oops I made a mistake on spaghetti

    Not a good typist.
    :-)

  197. #197 Treban
    September 14, 2006

    FSM = flying spaghettie monster :-)

    Yeah, I got that when I re-read it after more coffee. Kind of an amusing aside. I was sent a pictoral of a huge church out of legos by a friend. A week later I found links to a pictoral of “the church of the FSM” out of legos at Majikthise’s blog.

    But the ‘in the future’ we’ll understand line is pretty thin].

    I don’t claim we will – but I imagine it is possible.

    But to each his own.

    Exactly.

  198. #198 Treban
    September 14, 2006

    Ok on your experiences. I’m glad your alive. Of course this has nothing to do with supernatural causes and I’m more than sure that science could have figured that one out.

    I am not convinced your wrong. I have two other theories about that. The first being that my body built up a tolerance/ability to metabolize those substances, due to my earlier expierimentation with them. The problem with that one is that, according to my toxicoligy friend, alkloyds build up in the body and can have a cumalitive effect. The other is that the mind has the ability to control how much of a given substance is integrated into our system – flushing the rest away – or even breaking down the toxins to something less harmful.

    And, I for one don’t knock bad typing – I do it often enough.

  199. #199 Uber
    September 14, 2006

    Treban-

    You and I have much in common but not the coffee thing.:-)

  200. #200 Treban
    September 14, 2006

    Uber –

    Just curious, are you a Frank Herbert fan? How about Aldous Huxley?

  201. #201 Leni
    September 14, 2006

    Treban wrote:

    I am not claiming it is rational – at least to anyone who isn’t me and hasn’t had my life expierience. I know what has happened in my life that has led me where I am today – to me it makes perfect sense and that’s what matters. I think that folks just put to much concern on whether or not faith (as I defined it for this context – above) is rational. Faith is rational to the individual – not neccesarily those around them.

    I understand what you are saying, but I’m afraid it’s the very same thing that made people wonder what the difference between this sort of belief and the belief that wearing tin-foil hats keeps the aliens from reading for mind. Which is also rational…or at least is a rational response… if you think that aliens can and are reading your mind for nefarious purposes. What makes tin-foil hat belief ultimately irrational is that that it is based on faulty premises.

    When I say unquantifiable, I am talking from a scientific standpoint. There is no gauge or devie that can prove my belief – thus it is not quantifiable. That does not mean I am incapable of stating my beleifs or explaining both them and how I came to them. Certain expieriences that led me here I will not discuss due to there very personal nature – not just to me but another individual as well. Other than that I am happy to discuss what I believe and why.

    That’s quite alright. I’m not asking you to justify your particular belief, at least I didn’t mean to. Although I think what you’ve described is closer to having an irrational belief for rational reasons than having an irrational belief. I think one can have irrational beliefs for perfectly rational reasons. Maybe. Actually I need to think about that some more but I gotta go back to work.

    Basically I’m thinking along the lines of perfectly valid logical steps that produce wildly false conclusions. Usually this is because of a faulty premise. [And I didn't mean to be rude with the tin-foil hat analogy- I of course do not think you or other believers are crazy, irrational people. Nothing of the sort. At least not any moreso than I consider myself to be...I just have a juvenile sense of humor and things like tin-foil hats amuse me.]

    With regard to “unquantifiable”, what you previously said was:

    “I define “faith,” in the context of religion, as a belief in something that is not quantifiable.”

    Apparently I misunderstood you, but I think it’s understandable. The way it is written makes it seem as if unquantifiable refers to “something”, not “belief”. My internal grammer nazi informs me that “unquantifiable belief” might have been better.:)

  202. #202 Leni
    September 14, 2006

    Oh for fuck’s sake. I’m the last post in this shitstorm?

    Yes I suppose when it comes down to saying your beliefs are as rational because you feel like they are… it probably is time to call it.

  203. #203 Treban
    September 15, 2006

    It’s ok, I’ll be the last – your right, I really could have worded that better. But, I likely wouldn’t have responded if you hadn’t gotten upset about being the last poster. . .

  204. #204 freedomofthought
    September 15, 2006

    Everybody seems to be arguing over whether christians are adiots and/or deluding themselves. I’d like to get back to the article. Maybe you used to go into christian forums to flex your atheist penis, I don’t (being female, that would be difficult). I do go into joint forums to debate sometimes. I do have issues with christians invading atheist groups to be rude and demand answers for questions that have been asked and answered numerous times. They come in to call us heathens, infidels, sinners and many more graphic names. I suppose when they can’t win a debate, they resort to name calling. Some of the groups I am in have 1/4 of the active threads started by one of these hostile christians. Don’t go blaming the hostility on the atheists. Turn on the evangelist network for five minutes and learn otherwise.

  205. #205 Felix
    September 16, 2006

    Apposite cartoon: http://xkcd.com/c154.html

    The Senator is the cartoon is what we may call a Young Earth creationist. But that does not necessarily matter.

    If he chooses to keep his religious views seperate from his policies that is good and we could still support him regardless of his personal beliefs.

    If however he attempts to have creationism taught in schools, or gives unthinking support to Israel because the Bible says that it is the “promised land” then we should oppose him.

  206. #206 Bruce
    September 19, 2006

    I hear what you are saying. Myself and another Australian Blogger have had an ex-Fundamentalist Christian trying to out-Atheist us in the past few weeks.

    Comes of a culture of conflict me thinks, but also of insecurity and excessively bagging Christians, along with dictating a (often naive) philosophical line (e.g. argument from dictionary definition), seems to be the main way these insecurities are acted out.

    Not that I’m singling out Americans per se, but I’ve found at least in online discussions that this does seem to happen more with American Atheists, and I’m thinking it may have to do with the greater degree of proselytism they are subjected to by the religious right. Persecution breeds defensiveness of a sort.

    Not that I think “American atheism” is flawed in any way or that said defensiveness is the norm. I just think more American atheists have jumped camp from relgious fundamentalist backgrounds (motivating some to proove themselves by slandering the other side, the way they did to atheists when they were Xtians) than elsewhere and those who have been life long atheists have suffered some of the worst persecution in the western world.

    I’ve had some of these thoughts given the nod by some of the more militant atheists in the US, but not by a lot of them. Mainly just at “Atheism Online.” I’m curious as to what perspective the US readers here take on the matter.

    Incidentally, Australia’s apparently peak body for atheists, has been pushing a pretty crappy anti-religion line itself. I’m all for secularism (pretty understandable considering I’m an atheist) but mounting slippery slope arguments wrapped up as argument from fear, supposedly in representation of atheists, doesn’t sit well with me.

    Bruce

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