Dispatches from the Creation Wars

One of the prominent ways that the anti-evolution movement, in all of its various forms, has attacked evolution for over a century is by framing the issue as science vs religion, or more often, atheism vs religion (with science assumed to be synonymous with atheism). From a PR standpoint, this is a smart move. The vast majority of Americans know very little about science, but they do have a deeply ingrained notion that religion is not only a good thing, but a vital component of any healthy society. As a result, they respond with a great deal of fear and emotion when religion is threatened. And PR campaigns are all about pushing emotional buttons.

Atheists are among the most reviled groups in this country, for reasons that have never been clear to me. There is not a shred of evidence that atheists behave any worse than the religious, yet the public is firmly convinced that to not believe in God is to be a horribly immoral person. Surveys show that atheists are the most distrusted minority group in America. A recent study at the University of Minnesota concluded:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past–they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy–and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

There is particular irony in that last notion, that atheism is associated with cultural elitism. Virtually every cultural institution in the United States is dominated by the religious and it has been so forever. This is, quite simply, an irrational view that is astonishingly popular despite having no evidence at all to support it. It’s an irrational fear of Them, the same type of fear that has long been aimed at Jews, a small minority that is alleged to control virtually everything.

With such a powerful emotional response to atheism, the opportunities for demonization and demagoguery are virtually limitless. And the anti-evolution movement has, from the very beginning, exploited this fear to demonize their opponents. Evolution isn’t simply wrong, they argue, it’s evil. It leads to atheism and immorality and even Adolf Hitler. The ID movement, the latest label applied to the anti-evolution effort, is no different.

The Wedge Document, for example, laid out the goals and tactics of the ID movement and announced in no uncertain terms that the enemy was “materialism”, a fancy word for atheism. The very first paragraph begins by immediately pushing the emotional button of fear of atheism:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art

The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.

Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.

It’s a remarkably simple formula: Darwin —-> atheism —-> immorality and the collapse of everything good. And never mind that the story is ridiculously exaggerated and simplistic. But it’s an emotionally powerful frame, one that feeds on and exploits the deep seated fear that so many surveys have uncovered among Americans. And it echoes decades of similar pronouncements from creationists, who have always framed the issue in that manner.

The reality, of course, is not nearly so simple. Historically, it simply isn’t true that evolution is synonymous with atheism. From the earliest years after Darwin published Origin of Species, the idea has been embraced by a sizable number of adherents in every major religion. Among evolutionary biologists you will indeed find a much higher percentage of atheists than the general population, but you will also find deists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and virtually every other religion.

And as much as the anti-evolution crowd would like to portray all those who fight against their creationist agenda for public schools as atheists bent on destroying Christianity, the reality is quite the opposite. The plaintiff in Epperson v Arkansas, Susan Epperson, was a Presbyterian whose father taught at a Christian university (and the fact that she got deluged with hate mail and threats from the anti-evolution crowd suggests that the notion that rejection of evolution supports moral behavior is utter nonsense).

Likewise, the plaintiffs in McLean v Arkansas included the resident Arkansas Bishops of the United Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and African Methodist Episcopal Churches, the principal official of the Presbyterian Churches in Arkansas, and other United Methodist, Southern Baptist and Presbyterian clergy. Edwards v Aguillard likewise was brought by a number of Christian clergy. And the recent Dover case, Kitzmiller v DASD, was brought by a group of parents and teachers, most of whom are normal churchgoing folks. A couple of them even taught Sunday school every week.

Thus, it’s rather absurd to pretend that supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools, or opposing the introduction of creationist alternatives, is tantamount to supporting atheism. The fact is that these plaintiffs are not Richard Dawkins acolytes, they’re normal folks. They’re parents, teachers, ministers and ordinary citizens who don’t accept the idea that evolution is in eternal conflict with their religious views. Thus, the attempt to paint them as evil ‘Darwinists” out to destroy god and morality just does not stand up to reality.

But countering that frame should not stop here. We also need to attack the basis as well, the notion that atheism leads to some horrible collapse of morality. There is not a shred of evidence that atheists behave any worse than religious people. Indeed, there is substantial cross-national evidence that the more religious belief a nation has, the more they have a wide range of problems, from teen pregnancy to violent crime.

Gregory Paul of Creighton University published a comprehensive comparison of rates of religious belief with various measures of social problems among the developed democratic nations. Some of the findings of that study:

Despite a significant decline from a recent peak in the 1980s (Rosenfeld), the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy that retains high homicide rates, making it a strong outlier in this regard (Beeghley; Doyle, 2000). Similarly, theistic Portugal also has rates of homicides well above the secular developed democracy norm. Mass student murders in schools are rare, and have subsided somewhat since the 1990s, but the U.S. has experienced many more (National School Safety Center) than all the secular developed democracies combined. Other prosperous democracies do not significantly exceed the U.S. in rates of nonviolent and in non-lethal violent crime (Beeghley; Farrington and Langan; Neapoletan), and are often lower in this regard…

Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies (Aral and Holmes; Panchaud et al.), rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the U.S. than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies (Figure 6). At all ages levels are higher in the U.S., albeit by less dramatic amounts. The U.S. also suffers from uniquely high adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, which are starting to rise again as the microbe’s resistance increases (Figure 7). The two main curable STDs have been nearly eliminated in strongly secular Scandinavia. Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data. Early adolescent pregnancy and birth have dropped in the developed democracies (Abma et al.; Singh and Darroch), but rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. where the decline has been more modest (Figure 9). Broad correlations between decreasing theism and increasing pregnancy and birth are present, with Austria and especially Ireland being partial exceptions. Darroch et al. found that age of first intercourse, number of sexual partners and similar issues among teens do not exhibit wide disparity or a consistent pattern among the prosperous democracies they sampled, including the U.S. A detailed comparison of sexual practices in France and the U.S. observed little difference except that the French tend – contrary to common impression – to be somewhat more conservative (Gagnon et al.)…

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly…

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.

The same patterns can be found within the United States, where the so-called “red states” – those states where the population tends to hold strongly traditional Christian beliefs – tend to have much higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, divorce, violent crime and many other negative social effects than those states with lower rates. So again, the evidence simply does not support this simplistic notion that religion leads to moral behavior and acceptance of evolution leads to immoral behavior. If anything, the evidence points strongly in the other direction.

Comments

  1. #1 GH
    November 17, 2006

    1:A couple of thoughts. There are way, way more than 3% of the population that are atheists. There are so many in the closet that I honestly don’t know what the number actually is in the USA. But I know many in the churches I attend are functional atheists with at best a lukewarm never think much about it God belief.

    2: I think it’s high time we stop looking at divorce as a moral failing. Many divorces are actually positive for both parties and while some are bad the majority of divorcees I know see better off after a bad marriage ends.

    3: All one needs to do to see the vacous nature that a specific God belief is necessary for a productive society is look at countries with differing or no God beleif. It seems to me as a species we have behaviours we all think benefit us and some that harm. These exist independently of supernatural ideas.

    And yes the creationists have played the PR game on this very well. It is time to give atheists the positive press they deserve and frankly rebuke those who speak against them.

  2. #2 camanintx
    November 17, 2006

    Why is it surprising that people who hold irrational beliefs would also be subject to irrational fears?

  3. #3 John Farrell
    November 17, 2006

    Yes. One of the reasons I think a lot of religious people fall for this PR junk is that they assume that if you don’t belief in God then it follows that you also don’t think life has any meaning or purpose. Not so.

    An excellent post.

  4. #4 Royale
    November 17, 2006

    Agreed. Excellent post. I have a lot to say on this topic, but I would be repeating what you wrote here. Well done and keep up the good work.

  5. #5 Craig Pennington
    November 17, 2006

    Link to G. Paul’s full report:

    http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html.

  6. #6 NAL
    November 17, 2006

    1) Frame the debate as Religion vs Science, not Science vs Religion.
    2) Frame the debate as Religion vs Science, not Religion vs Evolution.
    3) Point out the benefits of Science, medicines to keep our children healthy, weapons to keep our country safe from our enemies. Hence, an attack on Science is an attack on our children and our country.

  7. #7 Zeph
    November 17, 2006

    Bear in mind the Minnesota study was based on a telephone survey. Of course the results will skew towards the crazy – clearly all the rational people would have cut off the questionner well before getting to the opinion poll.

  8. #8 DragonScholar
    November 17, 2006

    The study you bring up is something I’ve heard about for months, and frankly I’m surprised (and yet not) that more people aren’t talking about it. I’d like to see the word spread as it were.

    One analysis I read of this (sadly, link not on this computer), was that religion in the US is a divisive element overall. People are more interested in following “orders” than results, and focus more on conversion or excluding non-believers than actual useful ends.

    And I agree on the red/blue thing. Having moved from a reddish state (now fortunately much more blue) to a very blue state, the change is more than a bit jarring.

  9. #9 llDayo
    November 17, 2006

    Great post, Ed! I can definitely agree that morality has nothing to do with beliefs. As a former Lutheran, my morals didn’t change once I became an atheist. In fact, since I was thinking more for myself my rationalizations of others’ beliefs (not just religious) became more open. To me, keeping an open mind serves our society better than any religion could ever do!

  10. #10 Ted
    November 17, 2006

    Having moved from a reddish state (now fortunately much more blue) to a very blue state, the change is more than a bit jarring.

    Jarring? Can you buy child porn at the lunch counter of the neighborhood diner in this dark blue utopia? I would have thought the change would be welcome or articulated positively in some way.

    I’m curious to the observable changes as one goes over a state line (or several) since we reputedly share a government and values.

    My standard for backwardness index is counting the churches along a stretch of secondary road. When two churches appear across the street from each it other it’s a value multiplier indicating the unity of Christian belief.

  11. #11 Alan B.
    November 17, 2006

    I think that it least some of the prejudice against atheists is semantics. I suspect that if you substituted the word “agnostic” or “nonreligious” for atheist, the negative connotations would be a lot less. For many decades the word atheist was effectively associated with communism and with people who wanted to destroy religion rather than being seen as a private and personal belief system. Ask people for a list of atheists and I’d bet that Chairman Mao and Uncle Joe would be near the top of many of those lists.

  12. #12 bsci
    November 17, 2006

    Continuing on Alan B.’s comment, there is something wrong about athesism. It is closer to a fundamentalist idealogy. Someone who is agnostic or nonreligous doubts or doesn’t believe in god, but doesn’t necessariliy care about other people’s beliefs. An atheist publically states that anyone who follow a religion is wrong. That’s bound to generate a lot of dislike. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are two examples of the fundamentalist atheist.

  13. #13 GH
    November 17, 2006

    there is something wrong about athesism. It is closer to a fundamentalist idealogy. Someone who is agnostic or nonreligous doubts or doesn’t believe in god, but doesn’t necessariliy care about other people’s beliefs. An atheist publically states that anyone who follow a religion is wrong. That’s bound to generate a lot of dislike. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are two examples of the fundamentalist atheist.

    I think is a basic misunderstanding of the atheist position and what in fact an atheist actually thinks. There is simply not enough evidence to believe. Thats it, nothing more, nothing less.

    You can’t be a ‘fundamentalist atheist’. It’s almost ridiculous to put the two words together. There is nothing to be fundamental about with atheism. It is certainly not closer to fundie ideology.

  14. #14 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    bsci said:

    An atheist publically states that anyone who follow a religion is wrong.

    I would definitely disagree. There are several people that fall into the category of what I call evangelical atheism, and they do exactly what you’ve stated. However, that is not a basic tenet or characteristic of most atheists.

  15. #15 Russell
    November 17, 2006

    Ed Brayton says:

    Virtually every cultural institution in the United States is dominated by the religious and it has been so forever.

    One obvious and significant exception is science. To find a roomful of atheists, one need merely attend a faculty meeting in any science department of a major research university. Even in the Bible belt, the physics, geology, biology, astronomy, and other science departments at, say, Duke or University of Texas, are chock full of atheists.

    And that presents a problem some of the desire to shift the framing from science vs. religion. Yes, it is true that many who are religious also support science. But you cannot escape the fact that many scientists are atheist, probably most at the higher levels of scientific research. The fundamentalists work that fact into their story as an elite that has insinuated itself into the halls of academe for the purpose of spreading their ungodly doctrine. Just saying “no, no, that’s not so” isn’t effective, because there is that stubborn fact. I think the explanation is simple, but it likely doesn’t serve the purpose of framing things in a friendlier fashion for the religious: religious belief is irrational, and it requires a great deal of psychological compartmentalization to make it compatible the kind of critical thought required to become a research scientist.

    Sounds elitist, doesn’t it?

  16. #16 PennyBright
    November 17, 2006

    I read Mr. Paul’s study when it was first published, and have followed the discussion of it casually since then. While it is a very provocative bit of research, I think that drawing any strong conclusions about the relationship (or lack thereof) between religiosity and moral misbehavior based on it is premature.

    Mr. Paul’s examination of the raw data is suggestive, but there are several major flaws that need to be ironed out in further research before any strong correlations can be drawn.

    First – while Mr. Paul makes generalized claims about religiosity, his data is specific to Christianity – hence the extremely low reported rates of religiosity in Japan, for example. This make his general conclusions weak.

    Second – Mr. Paul hasn’t accounted for societal differences such as racial/ethnic diversity and type of government — a broadly diverse popular democracy such as the US is a very different beast then a considerably less diverse constitutional monarchy such as Sweden, for example. This is a set of variables that may also strongly influence moral misbehavior rates, and which will need to be controlled for in future studies.

    Third – Mr. Paul hasn’t accounted for poverty. Given the well known correlation between poverty and moral misbehavior, this is a vital variable to control for. I cannot fault Mr. Paul for not attempting to address it – he clearly describes his paper as an ‘initial examination’, but I believe that he should have explicitly recognized this weakness in his procedures.

    Overall, I think this is a valuable piece of research – it opens the floor to questioning the value of religiosity by demonstrating an interesting correlation between Christian religiosity and social disfunction. But there is a lot more work that needs to be done before anything can be considered proven.

    Just one potential confounding element that needs to be considered — what if people increase their religiosity in response to social disfunction? This would create exactly the correlations Mr. Paul suspects and has begun to sketch out, while the causal relationship would be the exact opposite of what he implies.

  17. #17 Uber
    November 17, 2006

    what if people increase their religiosity in response to social disfunction?

    Very good point.

    Given the well known correlation between poverty and moral misbehavior,

    Wouldn’t this be irrevelant if the religion had any meaning at all?

  18. #18 Royale
    November 17, 2006

    re: atheism

    One thing that scares people about it I think is best elucidated from Voltaire.

    To Voltaire, atheism is bad, not in itself, but it’s affect if combined with power. For if the police don’t believe in God, then they would feel they could get away with anything, which would make the political system corrupt.

    For, as bad as it is to combine religion with politics, at least the religious politicians feel they must answer to SOMETHING, which in theory reigns them in from doing anything. In theory, I cannot emphasize more.

    Now – does the atheist believe in a moral system? I’m sure many do. But for an outsider (i.e., religious people), it’s hard to figure that out.

    And hence, atheists get bad publicity.

  19. #19 GH
    November 17, 2006

    Royale-

    That entire post was just silly. I doubt many police are doing or not doing actions based on a supernatural belief.

    Now – does the atheist believe in a moral system? I’m sure many do.

    No more or less than any other. This atheism equals nihilism is a vacant idea.

    A politician answers to those who elected him and the law that governs the land.

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    I think bsci is listening to Dawkins and Harris and presuming that all atheists are like them; that’s an untenable position. Yes, there are people who can reasonably be called evangelical atheists, and Dawkins and Harris are certainly among them. But that doesn’t mean that atheism demands such zeal to convert. My father is an atheist and, while he’s happy to discuss the issue, he makes no attempts to dissuade anyone from their religious views. He has in fact been married to a fundamentalist Christian for nearly 30 years. There may well be something wrong, or at least frequently annoying, to those with an evangelical zeal for atheism, but that is intrinsic to their personality, not to atheism itself. Atheism, in and of itself, is nothing more than a lack of belief in god(s). And I suspect most atheists don’t much care what anyone else believes as long as they are left alone.

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    PennyBright-

    I agree with you on not taking the conclusions of the study too far, and I do not offer Paul’s study as proof that religion leads to bad things. I think the inputs to such measures of social distress are far too complex for such a simple conclusion. I offer it merely as disproof of the opposing argument, that lack of religion leads to bad things. Given the very consistent cross national data, that simply is not a tenable position.

  22. #22 Royale
    November 17, 2006

    GH –

    That was Voltaire’s argument, not mine. I was not defending it, just offering suggestion as to why people feel atheism is nihlism.

    You are free to reject it or not.

  23. #23 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    You can’t be a ‘fundamentalist atheist’. It’s almost ridiculous to put the two words together. There is nothing to be fundamental about with atheism. It is certainly not closer to fundie ideology.

    Yes, actually, you can. I’ve seen it done repeatedly: the fundameltalist mindset (only One True Path, all other paths and their followers are false and evil, all knowledge comes from the One True Path and no other, etc. etc.) can flourish within atheism just as easily as it can within any religion. For a REALLY silly example, read the bit in the Wired article where some atheists daydream of making a “religion” out of “reason.” Also notice how easily Dawkins and Harris overgeneralize about beliefs and people of which they clearly know nothing, and lump religious moderates with extremists based on the lamest guilt-by-association rationales. Isn’t that how the demagogues of each religion slander and demonize all others?

    And speaking of Dawkins and Harris, why are atheists even trusting these people to tell us about something that is clearly well outside their fields of expertise? We don’t allow ministers and evengelists to teach us about science; so why should we allow biologists to teach us about religion? If you atheists really cared about UNDERSTANDING religion and spirituality (instead of just hearing your prejudices validated), shouldn’t you be listening to people who actually know something about religion and spirituality? Haven’t Dawkins and his ilk misled you into enough idiotic mistakes already?

  24. #24 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    An atheist publically states that anyone who follow a religion is wrong. That’s bound to generate a lot of dislike.

    Well, it looks like we atheists are in a double blind, doesn’t it? Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.

    Why are atheists so despised by society? Is it because no matter where a Christian turns, no matter where he goes — coffee shop or grocery store or just walking down the street – wham! Arguments against the existence of God. The Argument from Incoherence, Argument from Evil, Argument from Non-belief — what child can’t rattle these off, Christian or not? People who believe in God are told, again and again, on television shows and popular books, by newspaper columnists and advice gurus, exactly how morals can be derived and explained through purely naturalistic human interactions and motivations. Heck, you can’t find a woman’s magazine which doesn’t have something on it at least 3 or 4 times a year. In their lifetime, the average Person of Faith will run into at least a dozen capable atheists eager to explain nontheism and metaphysical naturalism, clearly and simply. And let’s not even talk about family reunions! Mention your guardian angel or how you’ve prayed about something and the point by point skeptical rebuttals start up and last till Aunt Tillie’s potato salad is gone.

    This — of course — is nonsense. Atheists are despised by society because most people have absolutely no idea what atheists are thinking – why they doubt, what they doubt, and above what they don’t have to doubt. The average person has never really examined, thought about, or even encountered atheist arguments or discussions, and thus has only a cartoon character version of atheist in his head. Many of them have never encountered an atheist at all — and will then brag about that as if were another obvious sign of God’s existence.

    To the mind of most folk, an atheist is someone who publicly states that religion is wrong, while having of course no right to do so, because he has no reason to not believe in God. What reasons could he have, other than wanting to be a bad person, or be arrogant, or something? Atheists make no sense. None at all. They’re spoiling everyone’s party for no good reason.

    So you try to be a sport and play along with live and let live, and hey, surprise — look at those polls! Everyone dumping on atheists because they can’t figure out how come atheists don’t believe in God, and how in the world people who don’t believe in God can reason or love or want to do good.

    Explain yourself, and you generate a lot of dislike as people get defensive. FAIL to explain yourself, however, and you’ll never budge the general dislike, ignorance, and prejudice that already exists.

    Who would ever think of telling someone who belongs to an unpopular, poorly understood political party that the way to gain acceptance and respect is to make sure you don’t come out with a coherent public platform. Don’t speak up and explain your views. If you do, people will realize you don’t approve of the way they vote, and you’ll make them feel bad and then they won’t like you.

  25. #25 mark
    November 17, 2006

    With regard to red states, strongly-held traditional Christian beliefs, and teen pregnancy rates–could this be an indication of ignorance (abstinence-only sex ed) rather than an actual difference in teen sex? If so, it suggests wishful thinking trumps taking responsibility.

  26. #26 DuWayne
    November 17, 2006

    I have to disagree with the assertion that there is no such thing as fundamental atheists. Anyone who takes their religious belief, or lack thereof, to the extent of absolutely refusing to accept anyone who dissagrees, is a fundamentalist.

    That said, this is not indicative of the opinions of all atheists. While atheists are as capable as any person of any religion of being fundies, few of them are. Just as fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews are a fringe element of their respective religions, fundy atheists are a fringe element among atheists. Certainly, it is not legitamate to claim any sort of connection of belief among atheists, excepting a lack of belief in the supernatural.

  27. #27 DuWayne
    November 17, 2006

    Mark -

    By and large, I imagine that it is the result of ignorance and willful misrepresentation. Look at it this way, a kid in a fundy Christian household is likely told that sex out of wedlock is a sin. That condoms have a large failure rate and birthcontrol is a sin. Now, a kid might be convinced to use a condom, if it is likely to prevent pregnancy – but they aren’t told that. If it isn’t going to help and it compunds the sin, why use it?

    Too, I imagine that many young ladies are willfuly trying to get pregnant, so as to marry their sweet-heart.

  28. #28 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Explain yourself, and you generate a lot of dislike as people get defensive. FAIL to explain yourself, however, and you’ll never budge the general dislike, ignorance, and prejudice that already exists.

    Depends on what, exactly, you mean by “explain yourself.” There are helpful and unhelpful ways to do this. If “explaining yourself” means attacking and belittling beliefs of which you know nothing, then, yes, you’ll get a lot of dislike. It takes a certain amount of political and social skills to honestly explain your views and minimize insult at the same time, and involves such common-sense tactics as appealing to common values and interests, showing respect for other opinions while stating your own, patiently responding to questions (informed and uninformed), making nice with local authorities BEFORE disputes arise (this is particularly applicable to Pagans trying to organize rituals), and reframing arguments on the fly to defuse (rather than try to refute) one’s enemies’ talking-points. None of these guarantees that bigotry will disappear, of course, but they’ve certainly been helpful to another persecuted minority, Pagans.

  29. #29 DonM
    November 17, 2006

    I strongly recommend that everyone buy a copy of Julia Sweeney’s new CD “Letting Go Of God”. It’s a very well spent 20 bucks and 2 hours.
    More info and a few audio clips here:
    http://www.juliasweeney.com/letting_go_mini/index.html

  30. #30 GH
    November 17, 2006

    While atheists are as capable as any person of any religion of being fundies, few of them are.

    Atheism is not a religion. What exactly would an atheist be a fundie about? Folks like Sastra have it correct. Tell people they have no evidence for a supernatural belief and you become equated as fundie by some people who clearly don’t know what the word means.

    Abscence of belief is just that, nothing else need be added.

  31. #31 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    What exactly would an atheist be a fundie about?

    There are a number of people that run around screaming that anyone that follows any sort of religion is just plain wrong, or mentally imcompetent, or any other number of derogatory things. Dawkins and Harris are two prime examples.

  32. #32 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Abscence of belief is just that, nothing else need be added.

    I totally agree. So why are so many atheists in the Dawkins-Harris camp adding so many ignorant and insulting statements about religion, and religious people, in general? Can’t they be content simply not to believe, and avoid making themsleves look stupid with needlessly insulting misstatements of fact?

  33. #33 GH
    November 17, 2006

    Can’t they be content simply not to believe, and avoid making themsleves look stupid with needlessly insulting misstatements of fact?

    That comment almost made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of the chair. The atheists look stupid? They don’t go around seeing virgins in tree stumps, making museums with men on dinosaurs, make a big deal out of closing invisible places, have practicing exorcists, use ‘holy’ water, and on and on and on.

    That doesn’t even include the irrational thoughts that try to put into the laws of this and other nations.

    Oh yeah the atheist saying the king has no clothes are the problem.

    There are a number of people that run around screaming that anyone that follows any sort of religion is just plain wrong, or mentally imcompetent, or any other number of derogatory things.

    Ok, they think people who follow supposed supernatural ideas for guidance in life are wrong. And? Show them evidence your belief system is the correct one out of the 1000′s that exist and that’ll be the end of it.

  34. #34 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    GH’s last post pretty much proves my point about atheists making themselves look stupid. Yes, theists say dumb things too — that’s not an excuse for atheists to do the same thing; nor does it absolve atheists of any responsibility for the consequences of their own conduct. If people already think you’re stupid, the LAST thing you need to do is reinforce that prejudice. We Pagans have been dealing with prejudice for CENTURIES, so you might want to take a few tips from us on the importance of adult social skills.

  35. #35 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    GH said:

    Show them evidence your belief system is the correct one out of the 1000′s that exist and that’ll be the end of it.

    You honestly have no idea what my belief system is, so try asking before you make judgements. I’m an agnostic. I was raised Lutheran, but I no longer follow an organized religion. I have seen no empirical evidence for a god or gods, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing in science that conflicts with the possibility of there being a supernatural being.

    Ok, they think people who follow supposed supernatural ideas for guidance in life are wrong. And?

    Show me evidence that anyone that believes in a supernatural being is wrong. Prove to me that a supernatural being doesn’t exist. Lack of evidence does not make something automatically false. And it’s not just a matter of saying they’re wrong for believing in God. Guys like Dawkins and Harris rail against the evilness of religion and the way that anybody following an organized religion leads their lives.

  36. #36 Randi Schimnosky
    November 17, 2006

    Speaking as an atheist, I oppose religion because religious people have been overwhelmingly harmful to me. Religion is almost solely responsibly for the unjust repression of gays.
    In particular when it comes to gays religion fails to follow the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Morally speaking one has no right to oppose any behavior that does not hurt others. Religion is overwhelmingly immoral in opposing gays who harm no one.
    Dawkins is also correct to observe that its child abuse to teach children that they will be tortured eternally for crossing contradictory and ambiguous boundaries.

    Raging Bee, when it comes to judging what is likely and scientifically provable, scientists are eminently qualified to speak about the overwhelming lack of evidence to support religious beliefs. Science is based upon he assumption that there are no supernatural causes and behavior consistent with that assumption has given us virtural miracles like modern medicine, transportation, and systems of justice. Relgion has given us nothing comparable and I certainly wouldn’t put much faith in any religious persons opinion on the validity of religion

  37. #37 Greco
    November 17, 2006

    If you atheists really cared about UNDERSTANDING religion and spirituality (instead of just hearing your prejudices validated), shouldn’t you be listening to people who actually know something about religion and spirituality?

    Except for the tiny, minor, minuscule, insignificant detail that many or most atheists were once religious, and so have an insider’s view of “religion” and spirituality. But don’t let tiny details and reality stop you.

  38. #38 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Jason I: I agree with you on the non-proof of the non-existence of gods.

    I would also add something that atheists totally refuse to even discuss: SPIRITUALITY is real, whether or not the Gods themselves are real; and its effects are very real, and not always evil. Automatically trashing all religion as “bad” because it’s “irrational” or “unscientific” is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater — not to mention confusing allies with enemies in some extremely important political struggles that we can’t afford to lose.

  39. #39 Jeff Hebert
    November 17, 2006

    Raging Bee Said:

    I totally agree. So why are so many atheists in the Dawkins-Harris camp adding so many ignorant and insulting statements about religion, and religious people, in general? Can’t they be content simply not to believe, and avoid making themsleves look stupid with needlessly insulting misstatements of fact?

    Am I the only one who sees that statement as incredibly insulting? You’re basically telling atheists to stfu and quit saying what they believe, while theists are free to run around the country holding their belief up like some kind of supernatural shield of blessing. Following the “Sit down, shut up, and pretend you don’t exist” philosophy has worked out real well so far, making atheists the most hated minority in the country by a wide margin. Theists like Dobson and Swaggart are free to stand in front of millions of people and call atheists the scum of the earth who are driving our country to hell, and yet Dawkins is the one you call out for having the audacity to call their bullshit?

    Any community trying to break out of majority-enforced negative stereotypes needs people out there on the edge, challenging authority and refusing to be silenced. Martin Luther King heard the same crap, being urged to just wait, to be quiet, to not cause a fuss. The British pushed the same tired arguments on Gandhi. Women never would have gotten the right to vote had not some taken the slings and arrows of standing up for an unpopular position in public, and sometimes in very rude or abrupt ways. You need someone out there on the edge, getting in peoples’ faces, refusing to be shoved to the back of the bus. If you don’t shock the majority out of their complacence, there’s no room for moderates to come in and make nice down the road.

    Personally I’m much calmer, I prefer engaging in thoughtful, civilized discussion, but that’s awfully hard to do when the other side controls every lever of power and thinks you’re worse than terrorists. I appreciate the risk the Dawkins and Meyers of the atheist world take, being proud of what they believe and being willing to take on the majority. That takes guts, and I for one am glad they are out there fighting the good fight. I’m sick of being quiet and trying to pretend I don’t exist just so the theist majority in our country doesn’t get uncomfortable. I get a vote, too, and have just as much right to engage in the public debate as Jimmy Swaggart or James Dobson, even if you hate me for it.

    We’re Americans too. If you don’t like it, take it up with the guys who wrote the First Amendment. We’ve got a right to state our views.

  40. #40 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Religion is almost solely responsibly for the unjust repression of gays.

    Did religion cause that bigotry? Or did pre-existing bigotry warp the religious doctrine? (The fact that said bigotry is justified by stretching an otherwise obscure bit in Romans, despite the fact that Jesus himself never mentined homosexuality, implies the latter option.)

    …when it comes to judging what is likely and scientifically provable, scientists are eminently qualified to speak about the overwhelming lack of evidence to support religious beliefs.

    They are NOT AT ALL qualified to speak about those beliefs that have nothing to do with factual claims about the physical universe, but instead concern morals, ethics, values, priorities, and feelings of individuals.

    Except for the tiny, minor, minuscule, insignificant detail that many or most atheists were once religious, and so have an insider’s view of “religion” and spirituality. But don’t let tiny details and reality stop you.

    In the case of the Dawkins faction, their “insider’s view” was clearly incomplete, hobbled by faulty logic, and observably at odds with MY insider’s view, not only today, but even when I myself was an atheist. But don’t let the observations of others here (not just me) stop you from…what are you trying to accomplish again?

  41. #41 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    Jeff, I agree that being expected to take a “sit down and shut up” attitude would be ridiculous. However, I don’t think guys like Dawkins and Meyers do atheists any favors by making outright attacks on people simply because they are religious. They are part of the reason for current perceptions of atheists, just as Dobson and Swaggart are part of the reason that religious fundies have a bad name.

  42. #42 Jeff Hebert
    November 17, 2006

    I don’t want this to get personal or to devolve into a flame war, but I’d encourage you to read your own posts, Raging Bee. They come off as incredibly ironic. You say:

    you might want to take a few tips from us on the importance of adult social skills.

    One would presume that your postings would be good examples to follow on how to show “adult social skills”, so let’s use just the ones in this thread so far as a guide.

    Raging Bee’s Guide to Adult Social Skills

    First, characterize an entire community of people (all of them, every single one, no exceptions) as being completely close-minded about even discussing a subject:

    I would also add something that atheists totally refuse to even discuss:

    Then, imply that this self-same entire community, every one of them, is not only prejudiced but is completely uninterested in anything but blind bigotry:

    If you atheists really cared about UNDERSTANDING religion and spirituality (instead of just hearing your prejudices validated),

    Advise the other side, using very adult-y and sensitive verbiage, to shut the hell up already and quit bothering everyone with their silly beliefs:

    Can’t they be content simply not to believe, and avoid making themsleves [sic] look stupid with needlessly insulting misstatements of fact?

    Finally, use helpful and friendly words like “ilk” and “idiotic” to describe specific individuals in that community:

    Haven’t Dawkins and his ilk misled you into enough idiotic mistakes already?

    Given these sterling examples, I can certainly see the benefits of not being rude, antagonistic, condescending, or stereotypical in my characterizations of another group of people, and hope to one day achieve the grown up status so movingly displayed here.

  43. #43 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    You’re basically telling atheists to stfu and quit saying what they believe, while theists are free to run around the country holding their belief up like some kind of supernatural shield of blessing.

    This statement is typical of the utter immaturity I’ve seen in to many vocal atheists: inability (or refusal) to distinguish between being tactful and repressing one’s own opinions altogether. Do you really not understand the difference? Are you really unable to express your opinions without making needlessly insulting misstatements of fact? Do you really think such misstatements help your cause? On the contrary — they merely reinforce your enemies’ stereotypes of you at every turn. This is why Dembski sent a profuse thank-you note to Dawkins, but not to Dennett.

    There’s a difference between censorship and adult social skills. Learning the difference is an importnat part of growing up.

  44. #44 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    Raging Bee said:

    They are NOT AT ALL qualified to speak about those beliefs that have nothing to do with factual claims about the physical universe, but instead concern morals, ethics, values, priorities, and feelings of individuals.

    So who gets to speak to those things? Only people that are part of an organized religion? There is not one thing in that list that falls strictly under the purview of religion. Each and every one of those things is something people, regardless of religions affiliation or lack thereof, deals with on a daily basis.

  45. #45 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    Why oh why can’t I ever write a single post on this subject without having it be descended upon by people who insist that all religious belief is inherently stupid and thus so are all religious believers? There are certainly a great many stupid religious beliefs; I spend a great deal of time on this blog disproving them and even mocking them. But it does not follow that therefore all religious belief is stupid or that all religious people are stupid. There are lots of stupid ideas in philosophy as well; that doesn’t mean that either philosophy or philosophers are stupid. This is exactly what people like me mean when we talk about evangelical atheists (and no, I’m not implying that this applies to everyone who has commented above, just some of them).

  46. #46 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    There is not one thing in that list that falls strictly under the purview of religion.

    Where did I say that any of those non-material considerations “falls strictly under the purview of religion?” I merely said that SCIENCE was not equipped to handle them.

  47. #47 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    I would also add something that atheists totally refuse to even discuss: SPIRITUALITY is real, whether or not the Gods themselves are real; and its effects are very real, and not always evil. Automatically trashing all religion as “bad” because it’s “irrational” or “unscientific” is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater — not to mention confusing allies with enemies in some extremely important political struggles that we can’t afford to lose.

    Ironically, Sam Harris could be the poster boy for “Spirituality is real and good.” And atheists like Dawkins and Dennett readily admit that religion is worthy of study and often used to motivate acts of heroism and virtue. But the fact that one can examine and appreciate religion for its social, historical, and psychological effects shouldn’t exempt religion from being examined as to its truth claims. Take the belief seriously — not the belief in the belief, but whether or not the picture of reality it promotes is consistent with what our science is discovering.

    Is there nothing in science that conflicts with extra sensory perception? Or psychokenesis, the presumed ability to move objects through an act of will alone? Are those kinds of forces being confirmed and included into the Big Picture? What about vitalistic “life forces?” Consciousness as a type of energy? Mind as an entity separate from and causal upon the matter in the brain? Is mind-body dualism really outside of scientific investigation? Or is it only outside of “what science can study” if the results are negative? A positive result shows science CAN study it after all.

    Put them all together and they give us God — and a moral, human-concerned universe which operates like a giant value-laden mind. Religion is pseudoscience at bottom, with all sorts of valuable and not-so-valuable stuff built up over it. Calling it “irrational” and “scientific” isn’t insulting, it means someone is paying *attention* and taking it seriously enough to point out that it’s probably not really accurate.

    Oh yeah — and what Jeff says :) Well put.

  48. #48 Randi Schimnosky
    November 17, 2006

    Raging bee said “[scientists] are NOT AT ALL qualified to speak about those beliefs that have nothing to do with factual claims about the physical universe, but instead concern morals, ethics, values, priorities, and feelings of individuals.”

    That’s profoundly arrogant of you, a scientist is just as qualified to speak of morals, ehtics, values, priorities, and feelings as any religious person. In fact I would make the argument that religious people who accept parodoxes, and falsehoods like the bible being inerrant, or a that a god can torture non-believers and those who’ve harmed no one for an eternity and be just and loving are less fit to speak on those issues.

    I agree that pre-existing bigotry warped the bible. Man created god in his own image, but now that bigotry is almost solely justified by religion.

  49. #49 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    Please change the word “scientific” in my penultimate sentence into “unscientific.” Thank you.

  50. #50 Jeff Hebert
    November 17, 2006

    Jason I Said:

    However, I don’t think guys like Dawkins and Meyers do atheists any favors by making outright attacks on people simply because they are religious. They are part of the reason for current perceptions of atheists, just as Dobson and Swaggart are part of the reason that religious fundies have a bad name.

    The Dawkins approach certainly isn’t the one I personally am most comfortable with, but I do think there’s value to the “movement” (I hesitate to even use that word with respect to atheists, as it’s almost like calling the “non-stamp-collectors of the world” a “movement”) in someone being aggressive and confrontational. He’s not like PETA, breaking laws and threatening anyone with harm. He just speaks his mind and states his views, and that aggravates some people.

    The people on the edge of a movement, the ones who are actively engaging the other side, invariably generate friction. People hated Martin Luther King, and while his message was nonviolence, he certainly didn’t avoid views which, when espoused in public, aroused anger and condemnation.

    This is not unique to atheism vs. theism — every major political movement in history has been a fight between the “moderates” and the “radicals” within the movement, between how far is too far and how far is safe. Some want to get it done all at once and others favor the slow, cautious, incremental changes that don’t upset things too much. Each can be right or wrong, depending on the situation, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to declare that the fringe is wrong simply by virtue of being the fringe.

  51. #51 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    I merely said that SCIENCE was not equipped to handle them.

    That may have been what you intended to say, but what you actually said was that scientists were not equipped to handle them. Many scientists deal with morals, ethics, feelings, values on a daily basis, and indeed are scientists who study those things for a living. I would disagree that science is not equipped to handle them, given that there are scientific disciplines dedidcated to them.

  52. #52 GH
    November 17, 2006

    GH’s last post pretty much proves my point about atheists making themselves look stupid.

    Being called stupid by Raging Bee is almost a badge of honor and this despite the fact that I have told her/it that I am not an atheist. Nothing I said makes atheists look stupid.

    Yes, theists say dumb things too — that’s not an excuse for atheists to do the same thing; nor does it absolve atheists of any responsibility for the consequences of their own conduct.

    So since my post highlighted atheist ‘stupidity’ exactly what do atheist do that compares to the venerated and very partial list I provided. Also where did atheists get absolved of their conduct and exactly which conduct do they need absolved of? Does anyone else notice that Raging Bee never actually answers any comments?

    You honestly have no idea what my belief system is, so try asking before you make judgements.

    Listen dude you sound as defensive as this Raging Bee person. I never made a personal comment to you, we’re discussing religion here not your personal stance on anything.

    I’m an agnostic. I was raised Lutheran, but I no longer follow an organized religion. I have seen no empirical evidence for a god or gods, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing in science that conflicts with the possibility of there being a supernatural being.

    Ok fair enough so why did you get your panties all wadded up above? Please define supernatural and how we would detect such a thing.

    Did religion cause that bigotry? Or did pre-existing bigotry warp the religious doctrine? (The fact that said bigotry is justified by stretching an otherwise obscure bit in Romans, despite the fact that Jesus himself never mentined homosexuality, implies the latter option.)

    Do what you can to shield religion from anything negative RB, but most people get their thought about gays being sinful from their religious upbringing.

    They are NOT AT ALL qualified to speak about those beliefs that have nothing to do with factual claims about the physical universe, but instead concern morals, ethics, values, priorities, and feelings of individuals.

    Please there is a fellow Bush just appointed openly touting your feelings and bonding to another are caused by a hormone. A scientist has plenty to say about these items and if they don’t why does a preacher or priest have any more sway?

    In the case of the Dawkins faction, their “insider’s view” was clearly incomplete, hobbled by faulty logic, and observably at odds with MY insider’s view, not only today, but even when I myself was an atheist.

    How then do you not know your view is not the incomplete one? Does your view provide evidence for a God being real and if so please let the information out and end the discussion. If not Dawkins version has it all over yours. But you haven’t even read him so your irrational attacks on his ideas will continue I suppose.

    Raging Bee,
    You do everything in this and other threads that you say you despise. So you are either a. inconsistent or b. unable to see your own flaws in you wanton desire to discredit atheists.

    However, I don’t think guys like Dawkins and Meyers do atheists any favors by making outright attacks on people simply because they are religious

    So what should they do then? Should the Pope sit down and shut up? How about all the local preachers?

    I call BS. These men make people uncomfortable for 1 reason and one reason only, they state what many think but are afraid to say and in doing so let the fear into alot of people. Is that good or bad? I don’t know but it is honest.

  53. #53 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Ironically, Sam Harris could be the poster boy for “Spirituality is real and good.” And atheists like Dawkins and Dennett readily admit that religion is worthy of study and often used to motivate acts of heroism and virtue.

    Ironically, that’s not how either Dawkins or Harris came off in the interviews I read. And don’t confuse either of them with Dennett — what little I’ve read of Dennett indicates he’s a LOT wiser, more open-minded, and less bigoted than the other two. (BTW, there are atheist leaders who have explicitly disowned Harris.)

  54. #54 GH
    November 17, 2006

    Ed,

    There are certainly a great many stupid religious beliefs; I spend a great deal of time on this blog disproving them and even mocking them. But it does not follow that therefore all religious belief is stupid or that all religious people are stupid.

    Where was this in this thread? I was thinking that idea had been avoided.

    merely said that SCIENCE was not equipped to handle them.

    Why? They start from a biological source and not thin air. Science may not be equipped to handle them yet.

  55. #55 bsci
    November 17, 2006

    I think bsci is listening to Dawkins and Harris and presuming that all atheists are like them; that’s an untenable position. Yes, there are people who can reasonably be called evangelical atheists, and Dawkins and Harris are certainly among them. But that doesn’t mean that atheism demands such zeal to convert.

    I know Dawkins and Harris don’t represent all (most?) atheists, but they are unquestionably the most prominant and vocal atheists. Dawikin’s has been the atheist posterboy for decades. I agree there are other types of atheists, but they don’t seem to get screen time and I’ve never heard an atheist publically criticize Dawkins. (blame the media?) While atheist used to be a more general word, I suspect it’s becoming more and more associated with the Dawkins/Harris strain and classifications like “non-religous” are gaining ground for non-evangelical atheists.

  56. #56 GH
    November 17, 2006

    Ironically, that’s not how either Dawkins or Harris came off in the interviews I read.

    Yeah, don’t go read the entire book there RB just use snippets. What was mentioned above by the other poster is much closer to their actual position than what you spew about them on these threads.

  57. #57 GH
    November 17, 2006

    but they are unquestionably the most prominant and vocal atheists.

    Again, so what? If the Pope has a spokesman whats wrong with atheism having a spokesman? Why is one ok to many but not the other? Answer that and get the real answer.

  58. #58 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    Part of the reason some atheist leaders look askance at Sam Harris is that in “End of Faith” he gives tentative endorsement to ESP and other paranormal claims, while implying that Mind and Consciousness as fundamental components of reality is consistent with current science. He also appears to endorse mystical meditation experiences as methods of discovering not just how the brain works, or how to improve one’s life, but the nature of reality. That fits a reasonable definition of supernaturalism, and naturalists are reasonable to question it.

    Interviews tend to bring out easy attention-getting sound bites. My readings of Dawkins and Harris show a much more subtle, nuanced approach than they are usually given credit for.

    One trouble I have with calling them “fundamentalist atheists” is that I’ve know atheists who really WERE intolerant and rude, with black and white divisions between the Enlightened and the Stupid and no sense of style, compassion, timing, sensitivity, or tact. Compared to them, Dawkins and Harris are forthright, but tempered Voices of Reason.

    I think Jeff makes a valid point. The sh*t-kickers allow the middle ground to shift to the actual middle. And I’d actually put D & H somewhere in the middle.

  59. #59 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    GH said:

    I never made a personal comment to you, we’re discussing religion here not your personal stance on anything.

    How was I supposed to interpret:

    Show them evidence your belief system is the correct one out of the 1000′s that exist and that’ll be the end of it.

    Certainly seemed like you were making a preconceived judgement about what my belief system was.

    so why did you get your panties all wadded up above?

    I “got my panties all waddled up” because I think people that attack others for being religious (Dawkins, Harris) are just as bad as the religious whackos that attack others for being atheist.

    Please define supernatural and how we would detect such a thing.

    I was just using the word you used in your post. Supernatural, supreme being, higher power, whatever you like, my point is that just because we can’t detect it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    Personally, the presence or absence of a “higher power” has no major impact on the way I live my life or treat others. If people want to believe in a higher power, and participate in rituals and ceremonies that express that belief, I have no problem with that, as long as their actions aren’t harming anyone else. It’s when the nuts like Dobson, et. al. start attacking the rights of others that it becomes a problem that needs to be dealt with. The religious fundies call atheists a bunch of amoral materialists, the evangelical atheists call religious people a bunch of blind, stupid sheep, and all of it gets us where, exactly?

  60. #60 GH
    November 17, 2006

    I agree with Sastra(again) I find Dawkins and Harris very nuanced and thoughtful. I find those that attempt to make them no so seem to have motivations I don’t get or have not read them.

  61. #61 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    If the Pope has a spokesman whats wrong with atheism having a spokesman?

    Absolutely nothing, provided the spokesman is competent, honest, and has the adult social skills most people and organizations rightly expect in their spokesmen.

    Interviews tend to bring out easy attention-getting sound bites.

    That’s no excuse for making uninformed statements in an interview — which Dawkins and Harris did in wretched excess. Interviews “bring out” what the interviewee CHOOSES to say, no more and no less.

  62. #62 GH
    November 17, 2006

    Certainly seemed like you were making a preconceived judgement about what my belief system was.

    It was a general comment but after review I can see how you mistook it. It was not my intention.

    my point is that just because we can’t detect it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    The religious fundies call atheists a bunch of amoral materialists, the evangelical atheists call religious people a bunch of blind, stupid sheep, and all of it gets us where, exactly?

    To a message board passing some time in conversation? What is supposed to happen? Obviously religious people are not stupid but equally obviously they are not using great logic in maintaining a belief most get from their childhood. I personally like some aspects of religion other aspects I find horrific.

    Correct but thats the entire point. This can be anything you dream up and if you can’t even prove it’s not there why take it seriously?

  63. #63 Randi Schimnosky
    November 17, 2006

    Jason l. said “I have seen no empirical evidence for a god or gods, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing in science that conflicts with the possibility of there being a supernatural being…Show me evidence that anyone that believes in a supernatural being is wrong. Prove to me that a supernatural being doesn’t exist. Lack of evidence does not make something automatically false.

    By the same token Jason, if I tell you I have magical powers you have no evidence that that isn’t true. The fact that I refuse to prove it to you and that you could have observed me for a lifetime and never witnessed such powers is pretty solid evidence that I don’t have them. There aren’t and have never been any examples of the supernatural. The supernatural is not typical of what we find in nature or our daily lives. This makes the idea of the supernatural so incredibly unlikely as to be completely dismissable for all practical intents and purposes.

    It is impossible for a god to exist that is loving and just who tortures non-believers for an eternity and refuses to indisputably demonstrate his existence so people will honestly know that Christianity, or Judaism or Islam is the one true way. The paradoxical conditions most religions apply to “God” is absolute proof that no such specific “God” can exist.

  64. #64 GH
    November 17, 2006

    RB,

    What uninformed statements are you referring to? And Dawkins is more than competent, honest, and seems to have done pretty well with his social skills also. In short I think he is an excellent spokesman far superior to Dobson or Pope Ratz. I’d take him any day over those fellows.

  65. #65 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    This truly is one of the things that annoys me most. I cannot write anything about science and religion without getting inundated with this nonsense where one side thinks that Dawkins represents all atheists and the other side thinks that all religious people are like Pat Robertson. And in neither case is the argument relevant to the point of what I wrote. Whether religion is true or false is irrelevant. Whether Dawkins is or is not an asshole is irrelevant. The subject of this post was how to counter the framing of the ID movement.

    I fully agree that it is important to dispute nonsense, whether religious or otherwise. I do so on this blog every single day. What I don’t agree with is Dawkins’ insistence that religious belief makes one inherently less intelligent (and yes, he says precisely that. At least twice he has said publicly that someone is “too intelligent” for religious belief). It’s that kind of arrogance that I find objectionable, especially from someone with whom I tend to agree on most things. But again, none of that is really relevant to the point of this post. And for once, I’d really like to write something on this subject that doesn’t lead to the same arguments between the same people.

  66. #66 Jason I.
    November 17, 2006

    Randi and GH, I agree with you. As I said earlier, the presence or absence of a higher power really has no impact on my day-to-day life. I just don’t find fault with people that want to believe in that sort of thing. Until, of course, it starts being hurtful, like Dobson’s gang or the American Family Association.

    It is impossible for a god to exist that is loving and just who tortures non-believers for an eternity and refuses to indisputably demonstrate his existence so people will honestly know that Christianity, or Judaism or Islam is the one true way. The paradoxical conditions most religions apply to “God” is absolute proof that no such specific “God” can exist.

    I don’t see how that’s proof at all. If I were a god, I would mess with people’s heads like you wouldn’t believe. :D

  67. #67 Jeff Hebert
    November 17, 2006

    Ed Said (am I the only one who thinks of “Right Said Fred” when I read that?):

    Why oh why can’t I ever write a single post on this subject without having it be descended upon by people who insist that all religious belief is inherently stupid and thus so are all religious believers?

    I re-read the entire thread, and I count maybe two posts that if you read them a certain way could be construed as falling into that category, but even those are a stretch. I don’t think you’re reading the same thread I am here, Ed. I didn’t see anything that comes remotely close to taking the position that “all religious belief is inherently stupid and so are all religious believers.”

    What I have seen are multiple posts claiming that all atheists are idiotic, blind, foolish, childish, churlish, stereotypical fools who refuse to think coherently about any theistic position. I honestly haven’t seen the opposite, though, and I’d be curious what posts specifically you’re referring to.

  68. #68 Jeff Hebert
    November 17, 2006

    Ed Said:

    the other side thinks that all religious people are like Pat Robertson.

    If anyone took from anything I’ve posted that I think all religious people are like Pat Robertson, I apologize and would like to emphatically state that I do not believe that to be the case.

    I do, of course, think Pat Robertson is a jerk, but certainly not all (or most or even a large minority of) religious people are like him. Far from it. I work for a Young Earth Creationist and think the world of him, he’s a great guy, and my entire family are very religious Catholics. They’re wonderful people whom I love dearly, every one, and about as far from the kind of idiotic drivel that a Robertson puts out that I can imagine.

    And for once, I’d really like to write something on this subject that doesn’t lead to the same arguments between the same people.

    My apologies for hijacking the thread, it’s your blog and you’ve certainly got a right to talk about whatever you like. I’ll bow out of the discussion before I outstay my welcome any more :-)

  69. #69 Ghanja
    November 17, 2006

    [i](BTW, there are atheist leaders who have explicitly disowned Harris.)[/i]

    Who are these mythical “atheist leaders” who have excommunicated Sam Harris?

    That claim is preposterous on its face, for oh so many reasons.

  70. #70 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Actually, Ed, this is kind of relevant to your original post, at least to the extent that certain atheists’ mindless trashing of religion, and fevered insistence that science and religion are irreconcilable, allows the Christofascists to continue pretending that all science is atheistic and hostile to all those sweet innocent put-upon little Lambs of God. The sooner atheists stop reinforcing the Christians’ worst stereotypes about them, the less power the Christofascists’ rhetoric will have in public policy.

  71. #71 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    Ed wrote:

    Whether religion is true or false is irrelevant. Whether Dawkins is or is not an asshole is irrelevant. The subject of this post was how to counter the framing of the ID movement.

    Whether religion itself is true or false may be irrelevent to the framing issue re science and religion, but whether atheists can or should try to make a reasonable case for religion being false (and how to do it) seems to directly address one of the your main points above:

    “But countering that frame (that evolution = atheism) should not stop here. We also need to attack the basis as well, the notion that atheism leads to some horrible collapse of morality.”

    The first crime atheists are accused of — the major crime which defines them as immoral — is “refusing to acknowledge their Creator.” If atheism is philosophically untenable, if it just makes no sense at all because God’s existence is obviously true, then not believing in God is a sign of childish arrogance and rebellion. Everything else follows.

    In my experience, Christians who think that atheists are mistaken, but have a reasonable case anyway, seldom demonize or pidgeonhole them as being inherently immoral. And as far as I know I have yet to meet anyone who believes nonbelievers are inherently wicked and yet there are actually some rather good reasons to doubt the existence of God.

    Of course, this is the internet, so I’m sure there are exceptions. But in general I suspect that the statistics on morality aren’t going to make much of an impression if the public at large continues to view atheism as The Incomprehensible Loony Fringe.

  72. #72 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2006

    Ghanga: according to the Wired article titled “The New Atheism,” the founders of the group that first proposed calling atheists “brights” have said “We don’t support anything Harris does.” Read it online if you don’t believe me.

  73. #73 Davis
    November 17, 2006

    What I have seen are multiple posts claiming that all atheists are idiotic, blind, foolish, childish, churlish, stereotypical fools who refuse to think coherently about any theistic position. I honestly haven’t seen the opposite, though, and I’d be curious what posts specifically you’re referring to.

    I’m going to have to agree with Jeff here. Having just read the entire thread, I’m seeing a whole lot of vitriol directed at atheists, and maybe one or two comments actually attacking religion. (Perhaps because the strident anti-religionists mostly hang around PZ’s place?)

    And Raging Bee, whether you intended it or not, you come across as making broad generalizations about atheists — in fact, you seem to be doing more or less what you accuse them of.

  74. #74 Randi Schimnosky
    November 17, 2006

    Jason l. a loving and just god wouldn’t mess with people’s heads just as it wouldn’t allow his existence and religious preferences to be disputable and then torture people for an eternity for not believing correctly.

    A god as described in the bible, torah, or koran is paradoxical and cannot exist anymore than a square sphere can exist. A god that’s evil and hateful, yes that would be consistent with eternally torturing non-believers, but this is not what any traditional religion would have you believe “God” is.

  75. #75 Greco
    November 17, 2006

    But don’t let the observations of others here (not just me) stop you from…what are you trying to accomplish again?

    I’m not trying to accomplish anything, you idiot. But I do know what you are accomplishing: being an arrogant, idiotic, condescending, bigoted and generally unpleasant fuckwit. We will all learn to be civil from you, surely!

  76. #76 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    Ghanga: according to the Wired article titled “The New Atheism,” the founders of the group that first proposed calling atheists “brights” have said “We don’t support anything Harris does.”

    Not totally sure, but my guess is Mynga and Paul dislike Harris because he supports military aggression and torture “in some cases” and is too willing to define Islam according to its extreme elements. They fear his stance will add to the violence. I think they would agree with many of his arguments, though.

    James Randi wondered why Harris seemed rather “cool” on the skeptic groups, and then figured out the paranormal connection. But neither he nor other atheist leaders/groups are outright rejecting him on that basis. Most atheists are well used to agreeing with the speaker on some things, and disagreeing on others. We don’t expect gurus.

  77. #77 Kate
    November 17, 2006

    Ed wrote: “This truly is one of the things that annoys me most. I cannot write anything about science and religion without getting inundated with this nonsense where one side thinks that Dawkins represents all atheists and the other side thinks that all religious people are like Pat Robertson.”

    I think that people are missing the point there. He’s not talking about this thread and this thread only, instead he’s talking about this blog, and the various threads that pop up on this issue. This is far from the first thread I’ve read that has people taking sides on whether any religion is tenable or whether aetheists are the only onew who know what’s what.

    And to having read this thread in its entirity I think taht both sides could easily feel that they were being “attacked” because they are using the same tried and true “talking points” that say one thing and have a whole host of other meanings attached to them.

    It’s rather like having a conversation with my mother actually… she says one thing, I hear another, we both come away offended. But if I was to record the conversation we’d have to admit that neither of us said what we thought had been said, and that, in fact there were two parallel, one-direction conversations going on at the same time….

  78. #78 kehrsam
    November 17, 2006

    If it helps the conversation, I’m a religious person who admits to being stupid and irrational.

    Getting back to Ed’s point, I think he is correct that the frame needs to be changed. The focus needs to be on the rights of everyone taken as a whole, not as rights belonging to my group — but not yours. For instance, if the “War on Christmas” meme could be converted into a”Freedom of Thought for Everyone.” I just don’t see how that is going to happen any time soon.

    Somehow, we are still locked (as a society) into the notion that rights are a zero sum game. Obviously, this is terribly misguided, but try convincing Bill O’Reilly.

  79. #79 Ted
    November 17, 2006

    Not totally sure, but my guess is Mynga and Paul dislike Harris because he supports military aggression and torture “in some cases” and is too willing to define Islam according to its extreme elements. They fear his stance will add to the violence. I think they would agree with many of his arguments, though.

    Bingo on the military/violence element.

    I saw Harris on the Today show a few days ago representing the “atheist/godless” view in a round table discussion. Like it or not, he’s the goto poster child for atheism to mainstream America. They either couldn’t book Dawkins or wanted an American atheist perspective – Dawkins being too contaminated by the elitism of un-American foreign academia.

  80. #80 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    The real problem here is that I absolutely could not care less about the theism vs atheism debate. It means nothing to me. I can scarcely imagine a subject that interests me less (and that was not always the case, I used to delight in such debates). But I care a great deal about some of the subtopics that sometimes fall under that debate, like church and state questions and evolution vs creationism, so I attract a lot of readers whose overriding concern seems to be proving that theists or atheists are idiots, bigots, or generally evil people. That’s why every time I write about this subject, it inevitably is descended upon by those who want to shift the debate to the larger meta-debate that I just don’t care about at all. And you can go back and look at previous threads with similar subjects to this, absolutely anything suggesting that science and religion aren’t necessarily in conflict over every single thing, and you’ll see that they tend to get hammered with comments, often well over 100 of them, rehashing the same thing every time. It really does irritate me, but I’m not inclined to do anything about it other than be irritated.

  81. #81 Keanus
    November 17, 2006

    No where in the comments have I seen anyone mention Frans De Waal, the Dutch primatologist, whose ground breaking studies support the argument that moral systems are products of evolution. Why is this important? Because, if valid, and I suspect it is, the claim eviscerates the basis for so much hostility to atheists. In other words, moral conduct derives not from god but from its value to the survival of a species. I don’t have the time nor the knowledge to explore it here, but, perhaps, others do. I’d be interested in the views of others on De Waal’s work.

  82. #82 Sastra
    November 17, 2006

    You can believe in supernatural causation, but accept evolution anyway. You can believe in supernatural sovereignty, but accept separation of church and state anyway. Absolutely. Valid points both. Hammer them home. There’s no reason people who believe in God can’t draw a line and say “from now on it’s what science discovers” and “from now on it’s law derived from We The People.” Many, many of them do. For which I am grateful and appreciative. And relieved.

    Those are important topics, and yes, this blog is one of the best I’ve read on trying to get supernaturalists to draw their lines as faaaar back as possible, and still retain their foundation. Keep to topic. Agree.

  83. #83 PennyBright
    November 17, 2006

    I said: Given the well known correlation between poverty and moral misbehavior…

    Uber replied: Wouldn’t this be irrevelant if the religion had any meaning at all?

    Uber,

    Not necessarily. Keep in mind that population level statistics don’t tell us which cohorts of that population are doing what. Moral misbehavior in one cohort could increase religiosity in another cohort, driving the over all population level of religiosity up, while not affecting the religiosity of the people who are misbehaving, or their misbehavior.

    ps. can you tell that I’m just itching for an excuse start playing jazz here? ;)

    Ed,

    I agree with your point, I just think that Paul’s study is too weak to argue from. I wish he’d left out Japan, for example.

  84. #84 royale
    November 17, 2006

    re: EVOLUTION

    In the original post, you’re right, creationists have won a crucial propoganda campaign – albeit an internal one to Christianity.

    Basically, they’ve convinced themselves that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 IS the Christian position. But as you pointed out, it is not the case.

    I think a crucial weapon in this Culture War – perhaps the key to countering them – is to prove that it is NOT the Christian position.

    This will be the work of Christian moderates.

    I know there are a lot of atheists who read this blog (I can tell from the comments). But the key to a political solution, at least as evolution in public schools is concerned, is to be ally with Christian moderates to be a voice against the fundamentalists.

  85. #85 Gene Goldring
    November 17, 2006

    Telephone surveys aren’t trustworthy. Gregory S. Paul, a freelance scientist and scientific illustrator specializing in dinosaur evolution, did a comparative data survey of many countries comparing religiosity with societal health. The Data was accumulated through censes information. I would accept censes as more credible. The beginning tells how the data was put together and what they cross referenced to see if the data supports,

    The Belief that Religiosity is Socially Beneficial.

    It gets interesting at the “Results” section. The U.S. isn’t looking to healthy for all their religiosity.

    Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies
    http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html
    ——————————————————————
    Now put that together with some interesting work in genetics with finding the altruism gene.
    http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/060529_altruism.htm
    ——————————————————————
    And support the altruism gene article with observed effect through the eyes of a former Catholic Priest, Joseph McCabe and the Little Blue Book No 1061 The Human Origin of Morals as published back in 1926. (This guy has a very good handle on the development of morals in society and on the individual level.)
    http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/mccabe02.htm

    I think religion can drop the claim to the best set of morals going any time now.

    I think that dropping the deity routine would solve a lot of problems for religion. Religion needs a new paint job IMO.

  86. #86 Ramsey Wilson
    November 17, 2006

    Ed,

    I wonder whether you’re asking too much of the Paul study and your red state/blue state comparisons. While you describe Paul’s study as a “comprehensive comparison,” Paul unassumingly describes his study as a “first, brief look” at the subject, which presents “basic correlations” of data. In other words, he presents no actual statistical analysis; the descriptive correlations he presents ought not be confused with statistical evidence of causation.

    Moreover, as I understand it, Paul was attempting to study the proposition that greater “popular religiosity” is a net positive for a society as a whole. That is an interesting question concerning the success (or lack thereof) that religions have had in reforming societies. But Paul did not study the incidence of “societal ills” within the religious community as compared to the rest of the society. Because of this choice, the study offers no evidence that these “societal ills” are more or less common among members of the religious community, which seems to be the question your interested in here, isn’t it? From what I recall about your red/blue state comparison, it suffers the same weakness.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

  87. #87 Ed Brayton
    November 17, 2006

    Ramsey-

    As I’ve said several times, I’m not arguing that there is a positive causal relationship between religious belief and societal ills; there are simply too many variables to make such a claim. Paul does not make such an argument either. But we are both arguing that the consistency of the results is a strong argument against the opposite position, that lack of religious belief leads to societal ills. Such results are very difficult to explain by reference to the almost universal notion that lack of religious belief causes a wide range of negative outcomes, especially when those outcomes are consistently correlated with the opposite situation.

  88. #88 kehrsam
    November 17, 2006

    I think Ed’s evaluation is correct: While we cannot argue that religion is a negative force in a culture, we certainly cannot argue that lack of religion is a negative. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the methodology.

    While surveys can determine a general sense of the religiousity of a given community, there really is no good way of determining the depth. Lets face it, many people who consider themselves “good Christians” only attend on Christmas and Easter; of those who attend weekly, there is one rule for behavior Sunday morning and another for the rest of the week. So I would be susrprised if a ‘religious” country like the US scored any different than secular states — based upon religion. Since (as several commenters have noted) the US is different from Europe in other regards, the negative correlations all make sense — and have nothing to do with the religiousness difference.

    For the same reason, arguments that blue states score higher on “social cohesion” tests than red ones are also flawed: The per capita income is higher in blue states, which more than explains the social discontents. The same for comparisons of homosexual-friendly churches vs anti-gay ones; the Episcopalians are wealthier than methodists, who are wealthier than Baptists. Income and social status explain the difference much better than theology.

    For all that, the negative conclusion of this study and sociobiological work on the subject is convincing: Morality does not require a supernatural source, and atheists can live a moral life as easily as theists: In both cases, an unexamined life is not a moral one. That observation was first made by a pagan, as I recall.

  89. #89 GH
    November 18, 2006

    weapon in this Culture War – perhaps the key to countering them – is to prove that it is NOT the Christian position.

    But it is a Christian position and it is consistent. Those that accept evolution have some pretty big problems to overcome and seem to do a little hand waving and just say it’s God plan.

    And no to be problematic but how exactly are faith and the process of science compatible. I think you can scream and yell and type all you want but these are two polar opposites and frankly I don’t see how to honestly reconcile them.

  90. #90 JS
    November 18, 2006

    weapon in this Culture War – perhaps the key to countering them – is to prove that it is NOT the Christian position.

    I think your emphasis is wrong. In my considered opinion, it should read … is not THE Christian position.

    Evidently, creationism is a Christian position. Equally evidently, it is no less consistent than most other Christian positions. The crucial lever that the creationists have managed to pull is not that they represent Christianity – they evidently do, no matter how much many of their brothers and sisters in faith would like it to not be so.

    The crucial lever that they have (to some extend) managed to pull is that they are the only ones who represent Christianity. Making theistic evolution the Official Position Of All True Christians(TM) would be no less totalitarian than having Creationism in that role.

    - JS

  91. #91 Russell
    November 18, 2006

    Jason writes:

    I have seen no empirical evidence for a god or gods, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

    No. But it does mean that it is irrational to believe that they are there. What you’re saying is that gods have the same evidentiary status as fairies, vampires, unicorns that live on some remote planet, and assorted other things that go bump in the night. There are people who choose to believe in all sorts of things, and for their chosen belief, concoct all sorts of explanation for the lack of evidence. We have a word for this: fantasizing. The problem is that there is a vast political difference between the Pope’s fantasies, and the vampire fantasies of goths. Merely pointing out that they are equally irrational is enough to mark one as a “radical” atheist.

    I would point out one other thing: there are facts that one can conclude from lack of empirical evidence. If fairies exist, they’re not easy to spot. If a god exists, who is capable of revealing himself to you, she or he or it very clearly has little desire that you or I know that. While that doesn’t disprove all gods, it disproves a large set of gods, including most Christian versions of god. Those who believe in fairies have the plausible explanation that fairies don’t want to be seen, and are more adept than ocelots at keeping themselves unseen. Most Christians believe in a god who wants to be known by man, and their theology turns itself into a pretzel that never quite manages to explain then why he fails to reveal himself to one and all. Such religion isn’t mere fantasy, it is nonsense.

  92. #92 kehrsam
    November 18, 2006

    Russell: Your post is a good example of why Ed hates this type of thread. As a Christian, you say that I am not merely irrational, but believe in fantastic nonsense. Fortunately, I have already admitted to being stupid and irrational, so I take no offense.

    The problem with this argument is that I do derive great personal benefit from my beliefs. So it is rational in that sense. I still believe that religion offers social benefits as well, althought the study at the center of this thread suggests there are other ways of gaining the same benefits. Peace.

  93. #93 J. J. Ramsey
    November 18, 2006

    The problem I see is that for Christians, accepting evolution involves serious complications.

    A Christian may accept it by finding a way to interpret the Bible so that it is consistent with evolution. This, however, involves questionable exegesis, such as treating the creation accounts as allegories, even though the genealogies that follow them would indicate that the accounts were a part of a historical timeline. One might say that the days are really ages, but that is not evident from the text itself, and the phrasing “and there was evening and there was morning, the (first|second|…) day,” tends to suggest that a literal day fits the context here. Fitting evolution and the Bible is very forced.

    A Christian may accept that the Bible is simply fallible. This is not necessarily a slippery slope, but if one starts accepting the Bible’s fallibility, then questions like “How good is the history of the Bible in general?” or “Do I know that the Bible is trustworthy on spiritual issues?” are no longer off limits, and if one pursues them, the answers aren’t too pretty.

    Many Christians have indeed accepted the complications, of course.

  94. #94 kehrsam
    November 18, 2006

    A Christian may accept it by finding a way to interpret the Bible so that it is consistent with evolution. This, however, involves questionable exegesis, such as treating the creation accounts as allegories….

    Hellenistic Jews were treating the opening chapters of Genesis as allegorical long before the birth of Jesus. And as many of the geneologies explain later relations between the Children of Israel and their neighbors, it is easy to see allegory here, as well.

    As for: A Christian may accept that the Bible is simply fallible. This is not necessarily a slippery slope, but if one starts accepting the Bible’s fallibility, then questions like “How good is the history of the Bible in general?” or “Do I know that the Bible is trustworthy on spiritual issues?” are no longer off limits, and if one pursues them, the answers aren’t too pretty.

    Well, as a Christian, I had assumed that I already had the responsibility to ask those questions. Frankly, I would be surprised if the texts hadn’t been affected by the culture and history of the peoples it portrays. Admitting all that, I can still call it the Word of God; other people using that phrase may mean something different, which is I tend to avoid it in discussion. Good post, J.J. Ramsey.

  95. #95 J. J. Ramsey
    November 18, 2006

    kehrsam: “Hellenistic Jews were treating the opening chapters of Genesis as allegorical long before the birth of Jesus. And as many of the geneologies explain later relations between the Children of Israel and their neighbors, it is easy to see allegory here, as well.”

    It’s one thing to see allegory as an additional layer of meaning. It’s another to say that the meaning of the creation accounts is allegorical and not historical. Furthermore, the fact that the Hellenistic Jews came up with allegorical interpretations does not mean that those interpretations were what the author of Genesis had in mind.

    kehrsam: “Well, as a Christian, I had assumed that I already had the responsibility to ask those questions. Frankly, I would be surprised if the texts hadn’t been affected by the culture and history of the peoples it portrays.”

    As for the question, “How good is the history of the Bible in general?”, it’s not so much whether the Bible is affected by the culture and history of the peoples it portrays, but rather whether it is reliable enough that its more extreme claims can be supported. If the errors I tended to see were few and were obviously the product of niggling accidental errors made in good faith, that would be one thing. If I see red flags like the many historical problems in the Lukan census, that’s another issue.

    As for the question, “Do I know that the Bible is trustworthy on spiritual issues?”, it’s one thing if the texts are slanted a bit by the culture and history of the peoples it portrays, but here we have a book that is such a mixed bag that it praises charity and compassion but also shows the genocides committed by the Jews as a good thing. The coherence of the Bible on the issue of salvation is underwhelming. On the one hand, there is some support in the Pauline epistles and John 3:16 for a Jack Chick-like position where God condemns one to hell for not believing the right things, but on the other, there are speeches by Jesus where the righteous are rewarded for doing the right thing and again, there are some things in the Pauline epistles that support this as well.

    The Bible looks less like the Word of God and more like a book written by fallible humans who got some things right, some things wrong, were credulous about some things, and fuzzy on others.

  96. #96 kehrsam
    November 18, 2006

    Yes, the Bible contains bad history, both in the sense of being slanted, and in the sense of being wrong (Senecherib and 144,000 men did not die in front of Jerusalem in 701 BCE). As pointed out, there are also irreconcilable contradictions, including the apparent fact that none of the early Christians knew anything about the birth and early life of Jesus.

    The Bible was written by men, and some of those men acted as men do. That means some of the book’s claims of truth are questionable. Does this impact my faith? Yes. Does it lessen it? No. We fundamentalists are often guilty of worshipping the Bible, rather than God. This is unfortunate.

    I rather like the treatment Robin Lane Fox gives the subject in “The Unauthorized Version.” As you say, we humans are all too fallible. That does not prevent me from viewing the Book as the word of God.

  97. #97 Russell
    November 18, 2006

    Kerhsam, I don’t dispute that you derive great personal benefit from your beliefs. How could I, not knowing you? I also don’t dispute that there may be social benefits to religion.

    Whether that makes religious belief rational turns on an amphiboly. “Rational” has several meanings. One meaning is “pursuing a course of action that has a desired result.” A second meaning is “only believing that which has good proof or evidentiary grounds.” Those do not always coincide. Winston Smith behaved rationally in the first sense to adopt the beliefs of his torturer, even though we would say that belief was irrational in the second sense. More commonly, if one is happier for believing something for which one has no evidence, or even something that is manifestly false, that might be counted as rational in the first sense, even though such belief is irrational in the second sense.

    The curious thing is that people have a hard time admitting that that is what they do. If someone were to say, “oh, yeah, this is complete nonsense, but I believe it because it makes me happy,” we might doubt that their belief is sincere. People do make leaps of faith, of course. But their doing so requires a sort of psychological erasure of how that belief was acquired. So they don’t put it like that. It’s better to be phrased in more ambiguous tones. Many Christians want to paint over their leap of faith, and delve into all sorts of intellectual justifications for their faith, moving from one to the next as suits their current doubts, or the arguments they are meeting, none of which playing in role in how they came to believe, and all of which if shown false would not shake their belief. I have seen many Christians, in the same discussion, both put forth claimed proofs of their religion, and also claim it has to be left unproved so that its tenets are adopted as a matter of will, unperturbed that these two assertions conflict. All of this is psychological legerdemain, because people want both to believe what makes them happy, and also to believe that what they believe is true. But as Mick Jagger notes, you don’t always get what you want.

  98. #98 Leni
    November 18, 2006

    The only thing I find annoying about these threads is Raging Bee’s inevitable appearance to grind the axe against atheists. Usually by the 10th post Bee shows up to point out that atheists are childish bigots who say stupid things. Yawn.

    But I’m really enjoying pretty much everyone else’s comments. Especially Jeff Herbert’s post about Raging Bee’s stellar track record. LOL!

    Anyway, one quick remark:

    kersham wrote to Russell:

    Russell: Your post is a good example of why Ed hates this type of thread. As a Christian, you say that I am not merely irrational, but believe in fantastic nonsense. Fortunately, I have already admitted to being stupid and irrational, so I take no offense.

    That’s not quite right. Russell actually said it was an irrational belief that is no more or less justifiable than fairy belief. He didn’t call you or any other christian a stupid or irrational person.

    In fact, I’m going to guess that Russell will admit to having some irrational beliefs himself. We all have them. Recognizing them for what they are is the goal here- you needn’t regard it as a personal attack when there is none. Especially considering that (from your posts anyway) it’s apparent that you are a reasonable, intelligent and funny person, not an insane idiot. Even if you have some irrational beliefs. Try to keep that in mind.

    But your response does highlight that peculiar artifact of religiousity that leads people to regard their unjustifiable religious beliefs as sensible, while other beliefs are “fantastical nonsense”. Think about that for a second. Fairies and vampires are nonsense, but an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent god, Jesus rising from the dead, talking bushes and donkeys, pillars of salt and all that other stuff is somehow… not nonsense?

    Ok man. Whatever you say :)

    The problem with this argument is that I do derive great personal benefit from my beliefs. So it is rational in that sense. I still believe that religion offers social benefits as well, althought the study at the center of this thread suggests there are other ways of gaining the same benefits. Peace.

    And the problem with this response is that it does not address the truth value of the claims, which is what Russell was talking about. Because it makes you feel good is nice for you, and is of course entirely your prerogative. But it has nothing to do with the truth value of the particular beliefs in question. Even if it may be rational for you to behave in ways that make you feel better. Two separate issues, really.

    You know, I used to think I looked pretty good in a certain pair of jeans and that made me feel good. Unfortunately for me, that didn’t make it true ;) (As I later discovered from an unflattering photo)

  99. #99 Leni
    November 18, 2006

    Oh and as an afterthought:

    I still wear the jeans. I just no longer believe that they make my ass look any different than in my other pants :)

  100. #100 J. J. Ramsey
    November 18, 2006

    I rather like the treatment Robin Lane Fox gives the subject in “The Unauthorized Version.”

    So do I. He’s one of the few atheists I’ve seen that didn’t do a slapdash job when discussing the Bible. I’m just surprised that your faith survived reading his book.

  101. #101 kehrsam
    November 18, 2006

    In his “Confession,” Augustine notes that the contradiction between the birth stories in Matthew and Luke was one reason he was reluctant to accept Christianity. Late in life, he was to write that the Gospells are true, “To the letter.” It is, you see, a matter of which contradictions one is inclined to accept.

    As it happens, almost every generation since the time of “Maimonides the Fool” has believed a little less of the Bible than its predecessor (Maimonides was fool enough to suggest that not all of the Pentateuch was written by Moses). The process was slow, but picked up speed in the 18th Century until today there are those who argue that almost nothing in the book is historical, relevant, or of interest. Belief has survived.

    I don’t worship a book; if I did, that would be truly irrational. I worship a God who, in my estimation, is worthy of worship. Beyond that, I doubt that we can come closer to the position of the other.

    By the way, I was the one who called myself stupid and irrational. I did not mean to imply that anyone had called me such. Those are merely two terms that get thrown around on threads of this type when things get out of hand.

  102. #102 J. J. Ramsey
    November 18, 2006

    “I don’t worship a book; if I did, that would be truly irrational. I worship a God who, in my estimation, is worthy of worship.”

    You don’t worship the Bible, but it is through the Bible that you know about God in the first place. Certainly this is the case if you claim to be a Christian rather than a deist or a more general sort of theist. Yet you admit that the Bible is pretty unreliable, and the things credited to God are likely legendary. So what warrant do you have for believing in this God that you know through the Bible?

  103. #103 kehrsam
    November 18, 2006

    The fact that the Bible may be unreliable in large part does not prevent one from believing in revealed religion. Even professor Fox allows that some sections of the Bible are excellent history, while others are prophesy, wisdom literature, or other classifications not subject to the histoians analysis. There remains plenty for belief. As I stated earlier, it depends upon which contradictions one is prepared to accept. Cheers.

  104. #104 Joe G
    November 18, 2006

    “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Albert Einstein

    I would frame the evolution debate as reality, ie the observed wobbling stability vs. imagined reality, ie the untestable notion of Common Descent

  105. #105 Leni
    November 19, 2006

    kersham wrote:

    By the way, I was the one who called myself stupid and irrational. I did not mean to imply that anyone had called me such.

    Except that isn’t really what happened.

    What happened was that you told Russell it was fortunate you “already admitted” to being stupid and irrational. That clearly implies you think he said that you were those things. What else were you “already” admitting to? Being a good cook and having exquisite taste in drapery?

    Well, whatever. I don’t think it’s important. It’s just that your saying you never meant to imply something you clearly meant to imply is, well, kinda lame.

  106. #106 Russell
    November 19, 2006

    Joe G, “the untestable notion of Common Descent.”

    Say, what?! Common descent puts a wide variety of requirements on what we observe, any one of which would have derailed the notion in a long series of discoveries since Darwin. To look at just genetics, if it had turned out that different phyla have entirely different genetic codes, or if it had turned out that genomes didn’t organize life into a tree, common descent would have been disproved.

    There are a number of science fiction novels where some person or group of people are discovered to have a genome that isn’t remotely human, and that is the proof that they are alien, taken over by alien, a secret and separate near-human species, etc. Like many science fiction themes, it is based on a “what if” fantasy: What if, contrary to the biological understanding of evolution, not all people are related by common descent? There are also science fiction stories that apply this to other species, positing the discovery of some strange species that is outside earth’s common descent of life. I no more expect it to happen than I expect the discovery of matter that has inertial mass without gravitational mass. But in both cases, we know what kinds of observation would lead to that conclusion. And the respective theory is tested every time such observation fails.

  107. #107 Todd Sayre
    November 19, 2006

    An atheist publically states that anyone who follow a religion is wrong.

    A follower of any religion publically states that anyone who follows a religion other than theirs is wrong.

  108. #108 Ruth
    November 20, 2006

    “Show me evidence that anyone that believes in a supernatural being is wrong.”

    That’s easy.

    All you need is TWO people who EACH believe in a supernatural being that contradicts the other. Since they cannot both be right, we know that at least one of them must be wrong. Therefore, we have proved that ‘someone who believes in a supernatural belief is wrong’. It doesn’t matter WHICH of them is wrong, we have proved that ‘someone’ is.

    As far as ‘atheists arrogantly telling other people that they are wrong’ goes, isn’t that exactly what all Christians say to all non-Christians, all Muslims say to all non-Muslims and so on?

  109. #109 Ruth
    November 20, 2006

    “If the Pope has a spokesman whats wrong with atheism having a spokesman?”

    “Absolutely nothing, provided the spokesman is competent, honest, and has the adult social skills most people and organizations rightly expect in their spokesmen.”

    Guess that rules the pope out then :o)

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