Dispatches from the Creation Wars

My Letter to Richard Dawkins

This is an email I sent a few moments ago to Richard Dawkins. Much of the sentiment in it is a result this post by my friend Nick Matzke at the Panda’s Thumb and the more detailed and well considered response of Dr. Dawkins to his inquiries. I will post the full text of my email to Prof. Dawkins below the fold, which I hope will bring this whole thing to a close with some bit of grace and dignity.

Dr. Dawkins-

I have many things to say to you in light of the controversies of the last couple of days and I hope you will accept them in the true manner they are intended, which I assure you is with great respect and sincerity. First, I want to thank you for your gracious replies to my postings in reaction to the petition about which so much has now been said; I only wiish now that Prof. Myers and I had behaved as graciously. Second, and more importantly I think, I want to thank you for so quickly recognizing the error of having signed that petition and for not being the ogre I had made you out to be in regard to what you and I both now agree to be its coercive and appalling nature. I believe that your response to my good friend Nick Matzke, which was much more detailed than the brief responses left on my blog, brings the whole controversy to and end. And frankly, I am really quite relieved to find out that you reject the kind of intrusion into individual families that I reject.

I am very passionate about civil liberties, as anyone who has read my writings over the years can tell you. I am a Jeffersonian to the core, meaning that I reject wholesale the notion that any government has the authority to police our thoughts or interfere in our lives without an absolutely clear warrant to protect another person against direct, tangible injury or deprivation of their equal rights. I have long been concerned with your statements about parental religious teaching (not teaching about religion in a comparative sense, but teaching their children that their religion is true or “indoctrinating” them) being tantamount to child abuse; child abuse is universally considered to be a moral evil and a justification for government intervention (as it should be, of course) and so calling it that, however justified you may think it is, will reasonably be viewed as a call for the government to intervene and decide what parents may and may not teach their children about their own religion.

The irony is that I only found out about the petition and your promotion of it in the process of defending you against the charge that you favored such coercive policies. An ID advocate accused you of that in a reply to me on another subject and I came to your defense, saying that despite your statements about parental religious instruction being child abuse, I had seen nothing at all to indicate that you would support coercive policies to end such a practice. My correspondent then provided a link to that petition whose text, I am glad you now recognize, goes far beyond regulating what government can and can’t do and implicates what parents and churches can and can’t teach to children as well. I really was taken aback by that, but in light of your prior statements regarding child abuse, which I already feared would be seen as a call for such laws, the only conclusion I could reach at that point was that you must, in fact, favor such government intervention.

As you recognized clearly in reply to Nick Matzke, such a law would be, to use the same words we both used, coercive, horrifying and appalling. Once I made that conclusion that you favored such a law, everything that followed was, again, quite reasonable; I truly do regard any advocacy of such a policy to be the equivalent of what the theocrats would do in requiring religious instruction if they had the power to do so. If I saw a petition claiming that not teaching one’s child Christianity was a form of child abuse and calling for the government to make it illegal not to do so, I would have an even more animated reaction, believe me. I sincerely believe such a policy to be a repressive, totalitarian measure and, despite my own personal lack of religious belief, I would fight against such a law as strongly, perhaps more so, as I fight today against creationism in all of its forms and against the oppression of gays and lesbians.

I simply cannot abide the thought of giving such power to any government, and I am glad to see that you are in full agreement with me on both the principled and practical objections to doing so. You say that you are “horrified by the thought” of having the government do so and I take you at your word. You also recognize the great practical danger in allowing the government to make such laws. As you would know probably more than most, atheists are an astonishingly unpopular group in much of the world, particularly here in the US. Numerous surveys have shown that atheists are the most maligned and distrusted group in the United States; give to government the power to decide what parents may and may not teach their children about religion and atheists will be the first ones in line for punishment. And though anti-atheist bias appears to be less of a problem in the UK, you do have a government that requires mandatory religious instruction in schools and has an official state church; I doubt the results there would be any better for atheists than they would be here. Like you, I am horrified by the thought of what would happen if any government has this particular authority.

Let me address, as well, a more general subject. You and I agree on a great many things and disagree on a few. We are both staunch defenders of evolution against the ignorant attacks of creationists of every stripe, but I genuinely do believe that your aggressive anti-theism makes it more difficult for those of us engaged in the daily fight to protect science education to make our case. I hope that you understand what I believe to be the single most important aspect of this dispute, which is that the vast, vast majority of those who reject evolution do so solely because they believe it disproves their religion. The average person knows as little about evolutionary biology as I know about Sumerian architecture, which is to say virtually nothing. The only thing they know, on an almost reactive level, is that evolution = no god = no morality. Now, I think it’s important to attack this misconception at the levels you do as well, by pointing out that atheism does not lead to immorality, and I make that argument loudly and often. But I assure you that for those of us “on the ground” in the battle, so to speak, every anti-theistic statement you make is amplified by our opponents and used as a sort of prophylactic to guard against the infiltration of not only evolution but of virtually all scientific thought.

I am in full agreement with Dr. Tyson, in his admonition to you at the recent Beyond Belief conference, that if you would just be more circumspect in your hostility toward religion, at least in regards to those who are largely on our side in the evolution conflict, it would help a great deal. I hope you will accept that criticism from me as graciously as you accepted it from him at the time ( and I say that with full recognition that I could also learn a thing or two about being more reserved and less bombastic from time to time). I can tell you with no hesitation that it would make my work in this regard a good deal easier and would help avoid the kinds of emotional distractions that are fed and amplified by the anti-evolution movement.

But having said all of that, I want to clear up what I think is a popular misconception. I’m quite sure that Prof. Myers believes, and I think many of my readers do as well, that I have some sort of general antipathy to you and your work. Let me put that myth to rest. In most ways, I am a great admirer of yours. You are a man of clear and extraordinary talents and I consider you one of the finest writers I’ve ever read. Your ability to explain how evolutionary theory works to a lay audience is all but unrivaled in the world, and for that we should all be, and I very much am, extremely grateful. You are also, as a science popularizer, one of the few who can do what Carl Sagan did so effectively: capture and express the romance, for lack of a better word, of science. The Blind Watchmaker is as good a popular treatment of evolution as has ever been written and it has had a huge influence on me since the day it was published. I am, in nearly all ways, a great admirer of yours and, frankly, my admiration of you has actually grown through this last little tempest because of the gracious way you handled it; I can only say now that I wish I had been as gracious myself, as I hope Prof. Myers does as well.

If I was uncharitable in my interpretations of your position, I do apologize for that. I am extremely relieved to find out that my conclusions, though logical and reasonable given the situation, were wrong and I am happy to welcome you back to what I consider the pro-Enlightenment side (a side you never really left except in my own mind, if only briefly). I thank you again for your gracious responses to both me and Nick Matzke. If, in the future, I have similar concerns I will, with your permission, seek out your reaction before venting mine.

Sincerely,

Ed Brayton

Comments

  1. #1 Perry Willis
    December 31, 2006

    Good job Ed.

    I want to add a personal comment about Dr. Dawkins’ anti-theist comments. I agree with almost every point he makes in this regard. I think many of the things he says need to be said. I only wish that he would find a more generous way to say them so that those who most need to hear his arguments and consider them would be more likely to listen. In short, I wish he would change his tone, so that his arguments would have more impact.

    I understand the frustration he must feel. Believers don’t play fair when discussing these issues. Their standards of evidence shift with dizzing rapidity. This can cause us to want to shout. But we would be better heard if we spoke softly.

  2. #2 Orac
    December 31, 2006

    As much as I admire Dawkins for other things (popularization of science, defense of evolution, advocacy of skepticism and rational thought), it is his frequent claim that religious indoctrination is akin to child abuse that bothers me the most about him. The main reason is that, as you hinted at in your letter, there is an apparent logical inconsistency in his position. Dawkins has at times claimed that the psychological effects of religious indoctrination are as bad or worse than the effects sexual abuse by Catholic priests. (Most famously, he did this in response to a question about child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, as he recounted in The God Delusion itself.) Yet, his answer to what he apparently views as an evil on par with child abuse is “consciousness-raising” and education in comparative religions. Given what an evil child sexual abuse is virtually universally agreed to be in Western societies, I keep asking myself the question: Why would Dawkins settle for such a tepid response to such an evil if he really, truly believes that religious indoctrination and labeling of children is often as harmful as child abuse? (And, no, I certainly do not believe in government coercion in such issues. I find the thought as repugnant as Ed does; I simply consider Dawkins’ comparison to be overblown.)

    Or am I missing something here?

  3. #3 Scott Belyea
    December 31, 2006

    Believers don’t play fair when discussing these issues.

    Well, this is an example of the type of sloppy writing that inflames things.

    All believers act this way? I simply don’t buy it. In fact, it’s inflammatory nonsense.

  4. #4 writerdddd
    December 31, 2006

    I’m so fracking sick of everyone bitching about the way Dawkins says what he has to say. If you can do it better, by all means write your own book.

  5. #5 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Yes, it might have been better if Perry Willis had written “True Believers(TM) don’t play fair”

  6. #6 Perry Willis
    December 31, 2006

    I think “playing fair” should be at the heart of the conversation we have with our believing friends. What would happen if Christians applied the same standards of logic and evidence to their own beliefs that they apply to the beliefs of others? I believe, and have experienced, that this can be a very productive line of conversation. It helps to keep things civil. Of course, it is still easy to astray, because the issues involved are highly emotional, but it can be done.

  7. #7 Don
    December 31, 2006

    That was much delightful to read than “you said so and so”, “I did not”,…

    Very gracious and well said.

  8. #8 Andrea
    December 31, 2006

    Thanks, Ed. I knew you would set this straight.

  9. #9 Don
    December 31, 2006

    “much more delightful”, old age setting in!

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    December 31, 2006

    I agree with the others here, very well said and gracious. I keep reading this blog because Ed (like very few others) has been able to admit when he’s wrong on an issue (not that he’s wrong very often), which in my mind is the absolute cornerstone of true intellectual and moral integrity, and sadly it’s all too rare in the blogosphere.

    I’m also very impressed with Dr. Dawkins, and plan on ordering a copy of “The Blind Watchmaker” today as a result of all of this to-do.

  11. #11 decrepitoldfool
    December 31, 2006

    You won’t be disappointed by “The Blind Watchmaker”, Jeff. I have a fat Dawkins’ section on my shelves but where he has made atheism into a movement he really does seem to be, as he said in his response at The Panda’s Thumb, out of his depth.

    Dawkins is a genius at understanding complexity, and I don’t doubt he’ll learn something about communicating with the religious public from all this. I know I have.

  12. #12 Russell Miller
    December 31, 2006

    Orac:

    I think a distinction needs to be made between child abuse that the government should get involved in and child abuse that the government shouldn’t. I believe that forced religious indoctrination of a child *is* child abuse, considering what I had to go through as a child and am still recovering from now as a member of a cult from birth. (if you want to hear about these experiences, I’m generally pretty open with them.) The question is whether it’s the kind of abuse the government should get involved in, and I agree with Ed (and now Dawkins) that it is not. However, I do think it is the kind of child abuse that should cause the community to rise up and express broadly their disapproval. There is a lot of power in society, even if there is no governmental or institutional oppression.

    We do the same thing as a society in other circumstances. Witness Michael Jackson dangling his child over a balcony. The argument could be (and probably was) made that the child was not in any real danger, as he had a good grasp on him, but still, that action is almost universally reviled and he knows it (and hasn’t repeated it, going on to actions that *are* legally considered child abuse…).

    The problem comes in the fact that religious indoctrination as a ritual is seen as “good” and not only socially acceptable, but desirable, by most of the population. It is completely appropriate to try to change hearts and minds – by manners that do not involve governmental coercion. I, for one, don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking, “well, it’s legal, so it’s OK.”

    Just my two and a half cents.

  13. #13 Rob Knop
    December 31, 2006

    I can only say now that I wish I had been as gracious myself, as I hope Prof. Myers does as well.

    Let me say something uncharitable and rude and generally out of the rational and bury-the-hatchet tone of this post:

    PZ probably already thinks he has. Or, at any rate, he’s so convinced that he’s absolutely right that he feels no need to excuse (or, perhaps, even recognize) his own obnoxious behavior. He will say merely that he has been blunt, not that he has been unfair or that he has behaved in an unjustified manner. Rarely have I met a person so utterly convinced in his position and so utterly arrogant as PZ… at least, one who wasn’t a convinced fundamentalist preacher.

    -Rob

  14. #14 Rob Knop
    December 31, 2006

    Russell — I’m sure that religious indoctrination *can be* abusive.

    Just as just about anything else can.

    Heck, civil libertairans like Ed and like, as I’m coming ot understand, myself, would probably think that it’s fine for a parent to raise a kid in pretty much any kind of household. However, a household that’s just fine and reasonable for adults — consider adults who are, say, very sexually open, and have many partners coming through, and live that way because they want to — can, potentially, leave psychological scars on children.

    You and PZ would outlaw religion because it leaves psychological scars on some kids. The religious right would outlaw any but their definition of appropriate sexual relationship because it leaves psychological scars on kids. All of these things are tantamount to outlawing kids’ travel in cars because kids die in car accidents. These would be overbroad laws that don’t address the real problem, but address some much larger thing of which the real problem is a subset. What’s more, by asserting that religious “indoctrination” is child abuse, you are asserting (effectively) that driving kids around in cars is the same as getting them into accidents.

    It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

    I was “indoctrinated” as a child in a form of Christianity, but I have no psychological scars whatsoever from that. (I have psychological scars, assuredly, but not from that.) It helps that I was in a very theologically liberal deomination, that there was a Nobel Prize winner in Physics in my congregation, that nobody had any trouble with evolution, that for the last 30 years the organists (two of them) and music directors have been gay, that for the last decade the pastor has been a woman, etc. (Indeed, I got annoyed at the Church’s politics because they would sometimes preach from the pulpit that socialism was the obvious consequence of the Christian message.)

    Religions education is not necessarily scarring.

    Indeed, a colleague of mine, who I’m pretty sure is an atheist (although he is historically Jewish), attends church with his wife and kids. He said that he and his wife decided that they wanted to get their kids some religious education– so that they would have some foundation to fall back on when they went out into the world as impressionable young adults (college age). Their thinking was that without some grounding, they might be too much attracted to the wacky and dangerouns cult-like things out there that appeal to the natural human desire for what many call spirituality (although that is a loaded word). Too little religious education, perhaps for some, may be as dangeorus as the wrong kind. In any event, pretending it doesn’t exist, and pretending that its power is all smoke and mirrors, is wishful thinking.

    -Rob

  15. #15 Stuart Coleman
    December 31, 2006

    One thing I’ve never understood is the seeming feud between you and PZ. It seems that any time one of your names appears in the other’s blog it’s surrounded by insults, assumptions, and nastiness. What you said to Dawkins is largely true about PZ too, you just disagree about tactics. It seems to absurd that you’re more charitable to some of the charlatans you regularly debunk than someone who’s actually on your side.

    I just wish that both of you would act with some civility when dealing with each other.

  16. #16 Russell
    December 31, 2006

    Orac writes:

    Given what an evil child sexual abuse is virtually universally agreed to be in Western societies, I keep asking myself the question: Why would Dawkins settle for such a tepid response to such an evil if he really, truly believes that religious indoctrination and labeling of children is often as harmful as child abuse?

    There are many ways that people harm each other. A moderately skilled novelist, or anyone who pays much attention to family dynamics, can easily paint a picture of parental lies or internal feud that, in some cases, does as much psychological damage to the children involved as an overt case of sexual abuse. I have known people who, coming to their majority, disowned their parents for such psychological abuse. And their reason was good. Nor does this occur only to children. There are all sorts of ways that adults, unrelated, can wreak harm on other adults.

    The state cannot make all social interactions fair, or even to prevent all that are harmful. In a liberal nation, we make crimes of only certain kinds of acts. We want to be able to well-define the act. If it is an act banned because of the harm it does to others, we want the act to be something that is always harmful, or to seek a narrower definition. The harm needs to be something objective. We also balance that harm against potential benefits. And even when harm is clear, we also look at the relationship between the people involved to make sure the law is not infringing too much on how people order their personal lives, and even that enforcing such law wouldn’t be too intrusive on those who aren’t violating it. As people pointed out in another thread, parents should be free to tell children what they truly believe, even if that belief is deluded and horrifying.

    And therein lies the conundrum. I think Dawkins is correct that certain kinds of religious indoctrination can be every bit as harmful to children as sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to pass a law against it. Not only is there the definitional problem of specifying what kinds of indoctrination are objectively harmful, but it’s just not the kind of thing liberal law can regulate. Political freedom will always put some kinds of abusive relationships outside purview of the law, even abuse between parent and child. Unlike Orac, I see no tension in saying, “yes, this is abusive, and yes, it should remain legal.” Speaking as a civil libertarian, I am quite comfortable with the notion that freedom allows many social interactions that are ugly and harmful. And even when the harm is done to children, I’m not always ready to see the law intervene.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    “I am in full agreement with Dr. Tyson, in his admonition to you at the recent Beyond Belief conference, that if you would just be more circumspect in your hostility toward religion, at least in regards to those who are largely on our side in the evolution conflict, it would help a great deal.”

    Careful here. I realize that what Dr. Tyson prescribed was sensitivity, not silence, but there are those who would interpret your words as a way of saying that atheists would just be quiet.

    I’m not entirely sure what can be done here. Dawkins clearly believes that the theory of evolution demolishes certain design arguments for God and that its success casts doubt on the viability of design arguments in general. He also clearly believes that without these arguments, the reasons for believing in God are, to put it kindly, very thin. Now while I think that Dawkins did a so-so job of explaining why those reasons were thin, I believe that he happens to have been right. I suspect that many creationists believe likewise, which is why they fight so hard against teaching evolution. I don’t think that there is any way around the idea that evolution does undermine a good chunk of the case for God.

    About the only thing that Dawkins might be able to do here is to approach theists with the attitude, “You’re wrong, but you’re not stupid, and I’m blunt with you because you’re adult enough to handle it.” However, that would still offend quite a few.

  18. #18 plunge
    December 31, 2006

    I don’t think ya’ll are quite being fair to Dawkins on his child abuse comment. While it troubles me too in the abstract, as far as I can the specific usage Dawkins was talking about was threatening children with hellfire. It’s undeniable that this is, for many children, a terrifying and traumatic experience, and thus I’m not sure it’s really so wild to call it abuse of some sort. While it’s psychological, and we can of course debate whether or not any sort of psychological abuse can ever match physical and sexual abuse or justify any state action, and thus calling it as bad as the priests is highly highly suspect and perhaps even morally tone-deaf, saying that it’s out of line to talk about as being abuse strikes me as a little overly conciliatory.

    It’s no small thing, to discover that what your parents mean by “love” is: believe the right things as we say, or else we and everyone else and all the supposed justice of the world will countenance your eternal horrible torture. Many many former theists and even some current theists (many of whom later rejected hell) describe their reaction to this doctrine as being extremely traumatic and harmful. Comparing it to sexual abuse may, again, be far too glib, but I don’t think we can just toss out the debate over whether it is abuse just because we don’t like the possible legal implications. Perhaps there is simply a level of psychological abuse we are prepared to allow parents to wield in the forcing of their beliefs on their children and that is simply the pragmatic needs of allowing parents the reasonable liberty they deserve to try pass on their cultures and beliefs and values.

  19. #19 Kevin
    December 31, 2006

    [quote="Rob"]Or, at any rate, he’s so convinced that he’s absolutely right that he feels no need to excuse[/quote]

    But wasn’t he right in the end? He agreed with Ed that the more totalitarian reading of the petition was terrible and wrong (which is counter to what one person said in the above comments that PZ wants to use the government to outlaw religion. He doesn’t. He just wants the freedom to tell those people that their beliefs are stupid and hopefully make his position the dominant one. No force needed or espoused.) PZ then went and did a very rational thing (something that sadly Ed didn’t do) and asked Dawkins for clarification. He got this clarification and even got Dawkins to post on this blog to clarify things.

    The remainder of PZ’s involvement in this issue was to point out that Ed had not actually backed off his more extreme claims when accepting Dawkins explanation of his error. Only now in this letter does Ed do this. The entire time, that was PZ’s point. That Ed didn’t say “now that I know your position, I see that you shouldn’t be dismissed from rational thought and that you aren’t a totalitarian wanting the government to ban religion by force”.

    Maybe PZ was kinda dickish about it all, but I can’t see where he was wrong.

  20. #20 Orac
    December 31, 2006

    here are many ways that people harm each other. A moderately skilled novelist, or anyone who pays much attention to family dynamics, can easily paint a picture of parental lies or internal feud that, in some cases, does as much psychological damage to the children involved as an overt case of sexual abuse. I have known people who, coming to their majority, disowned their parents for such psychological abuse. And their reason was good. Nor does this occur only to children. There are all sorts of ways that adults, unrelated, can wreak harm on other adults.

    True enough, but that’s not the analogy that Dawkins is using, at least not from my reading of him. He’s saying that religious indoctrination can be as bad or worse than childhood sexual abuse, and the specific example he used was by priests. He has intentionally chosen the analogy of childhood sexual abuse, a crime that, few would argue, should not be prevented and punished by the state. I suspect that he does it for its shock value to some extent. However, even leaving the logical inconsistency in Dawkins’ position aside, his choice of that particular example is so inflammatory that it completely overshadows all of the subtleties that you and Russell try to discuss that it almost certainly does more harm than good as far as promoting Dawkins’ position that children should not be labeled as “Christian,” “Jewish,” or “Muslim,” etc. before they are old enough to choose their religion for themselves.

  21. #21 David Heddle
    December 31, 2006

    On PT Dawkins weirdly asserts that his only intent is “consciousness raising.” He again used all caps so that the little people would know he was serious. He is even horrified by the prospect making this parental right illegal and putting such power in the hands of the government. (At least Blair’s government.) His intention has, in spite of the obnoxious things he has written, which so many people of lesser intellect have clearly misunderstood, only been to make the label “Christian Child” as socially unacceptable as the N-word.

    Ed, I am saddened that you are buying this sack o’ crap. I have to speculate that you are under intense pressure to ease up on your Dawkins criticism.

    I’ll remind you that on your blog he wrote:

    I [Dawkins] signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

    On PT, he is only interested in consciousness raising. In his first retraction on your blog, he admitted that he signed the petition after only reading the portion quoted above. Now, if the PT comment is to be believed, he wants nothing concerning a religious education provided by parents to be illegal (oh heavens no!) But the motivation (by his own admission, in his own retraction) for signing the petition included the demand big brother get into the business of deciding what constitutes illegal religious indoctrination.

    He’s a snake-oil salesman. Dawkins and Dembski are two peas in a pod.

  22. #22 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    Heddle said:

    But the motivation (by his own admission, in his own retraction) for signing the petition included the demand big brother get into the business of deciding what constitutes illegal religious indoctrination.

    …in public schools (by the American definition of “public”). As he has clearly pointed out at Panda’s Thumb, which you clearly have read. And which is exactly what opponents of ID in America, including Ed, have been working for all along. Stop allowing your hatred of Dawkins to get in the way of understanding what he actually says.

  23. #23 kehrsam
    December 31, 2006

    About the only thing that Dawkins might be able to do here is to approach theists with the attitude, “You’re wrong, but you’re not stupid, and I’m blunt with you because you’re adult enough to handle it.” However, that would still offend quite a few.

    The funny thing is, I have never experienced Dawkins in any other sense. His manner of expressing himself is so natural and genial that I always get the impression that many of his claims are being made with a gleam in his eye, so I let the more provacative statements go. For some reason when I say things like this I get accused of not having read Dawkins, so maybe that’s just me.

    That is not how I would describe the furor of the last several days, which would have done the Arrian controversy proud, particularly the comments sention over at Pharyngula. Well, minus the mobs of crazed homocidal monks.

    Breathe deep, the year is ending, and let’s put it all behind us. Ambrose Bierce told a story (I paraphrase) of a legislative debate where various and sundry insults were being tossed. One insult, surprised to meet an inkwell going the opposite direction, asked, “But surely your master has already insulted mine?, to which the inkwell replied, “Yes, but he wanted to be a little ahead.”

    A happy New Year to all.

  24. #24 Gerard Harbison
    December 31, 2006

    The entire affair would not have occurred had you not initially reacted with such extreme rhetoric. Your letter is conspicuously missing a repudiation of the 1984/Rushdoony hysteria of your original post.

    That’s too bad.

  25. #25 kehrsam
    December 31, 2006

    I fail to see how Ed owes Rushdoony an apology.

  26. #26 David Heddle
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen — where does it specify “only in public schools” in the part of the petition quoted above–the only part that he claims a) to have read and b) motivated him to sign?

    He’s a liar and a fraud, but his followers will grant him a Grand Canyon sized benefit of the doubt. It’s very convenient that, after following what appears to be a genetic algorithm, he has, after several generations, arrived at an acceptable minimum as presented in his latest incarnation on PT. What he wrote before? Eh… who cares? Only his enemies will be so mean as to point out his egregious inconsistencies.

  27. #27 Russell
    December 31, 2006

    David Heddle harumphs:

    It’s very convenient that, after following what appears to be a genetic algorithm, he has, after several generations, arrived at an acceptable minimum as presented in his latest incarnation on PT.

    Well, that’s often how written communication goes. Far from being convenient, it’s the usual back and forth involving slips between what one intends, what one writes, and what others read from that, compounded as those go round and round. That’s precisely why there is the rule about reading generously. Of course, if you prefer to think you know what goes on in Richard Dawkins’s mind, by virtue of some special psychic power or new advance in remote neurological instrumentation, you’re free to criticize him on that basis. Just don’t complain when you get likewise treated.

  28. #28 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    Heddle says:

    Gretchen — where does it specify “only in public schools” in the part of the petition quoted above–the only part that he claims a) to have read and b) motivated him to sign?

    It doesn’t, and I didn’t claim it did. He claimed that that’s what he understood it to mean, and was why he signed it. Ergo, as has been plainly explained, his motivation was not to “big brother get into the business of deciding what constitutes illegal religious indoctrination” anywhere except in schools.

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    Ed, I am saddened that you are buying this sack o’ crap. I have to speculate that you are under intense pressure to ease up on your Dawkins criticism.

    Your speculation would be wrong. Not a single person has said a single word to me against what I wrote that you have not seen in the comments. And even if they had, do I really seem like the kind of guy who would bow to such pressure? I write many things that irritate people on my own side and it’s never bothered me before. Frankly, I think all this talk about whether someone should refer to a child as a “Christian child” is pretty silly; I could scarcely care any less about it. But that has nothing to do with whether Dawkins genuinely does care about it, nor does it have to do with the question of whether the government ought to be so labeling kids in schools (and on that, I agree with him completely, they certainly should not). I also agree with commenter above who says that there is a tension between calling religious indoctrination “child abuse” but then not wanting to make it illegal. But the fact that there is such inconsistency is hardly unusual; it does not mean someone is lying about either.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Gerard Harbison wrote:

    The entire affair would not have occurred had you not initially reacted with such extreme rhetoric. Your letter is conspicuously missing a repudiation of the 1984/Rushdoony hysteria of your original post.

    There are two parts to my original position:

    A. Did Dawkins support a policy that government make it illegal for parents to “indoctrinate” (again, a word that simply means “teach them it’s true”) their children into their religion

    B. Is such a policy repressive and totalitarian.

    The answer to A thankfully turns out to be no, but given his equation of the same with child abuse and given his current agreement that the petition does prescribe such a policy, my conclusion was justified at the time (just like Genie Scott’s conclusion that Sternberg was a YEC, though ultimately shown to be false, was a logical and justified conclusion from the available evidence). But that certainly does not make B false, it just means it no longer applies to Dawkins. The comparison with Rushdoony were over policy, not personality. I absolutely stand by that comparison – any policy which does what that petition prescribes IS as bad as what Rushdoony would put in place if he had the power; it is repressive and totalitarian, descriptions I absolutely do not back down from. Point B remains 100% true, it just doesn’t apply to Dawkins because A turned out not to be true. If he doesn’t support those policies, then obviously the conclusions about how heinous the policy is do not apply to him. The moment I accepted his retraction, it seemed obvious to me that the rest of it no longer applied to him, but the conclusions about how bad the policy is were, and are, 100% justified.

  31. #31 Gerard Harbison
    December 31, 2006

    Rushdoony’s dead. Rushdoony’s lunatic ideas, alas, are alive and well, publicly disavowed but privately still powerful, among the Christian Right.

    Still, the good news is that Dominionism/Reconstructionism must have been soundly and finally defeated, since we are spending our time going after Dawkins instead.

  32. #32 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Me: “About the only thing that Dawkins might be able to do here is to approach theists with the attitude, ‘You’re wrong, but you’re not stupid, and I’m blunt with you because you’re adult enough to handle it.’ However, that would still offend quite a few.”

    kehrsam: “The funny thing is, I have never experienced Dawkins in any other sense.”

    When I saw him on a YouTube of an Irish talk show, I thought he came off in the manner I described, and the first time I read through TGD, he seemed to come off in the same admirable sense. The carelessness that Chris Heard pointed out when looking at TGD more closely didn’t fit with that, though. Nor did his stock reply, “How many learned books of fairyology and hobgoblinology have you read?” It’s as if he didn’t take theists seriously enough to research them seriously.

  33. #33 Gerard Harbison
    December 31, 2006

    “indoctrinate” (again, a word that simply means “teach them it’s true)

    No, not really. My little widget dictionary says ‘teach to accept a set of beliefs uncritically“, which is about as succinct a description of modern usage as I have heard.

    I spend a substantial amount of my time teaching. I assure you most of it is spent teaching people things that are true. Yet I’ve not ever heard my sublime reflections on thermodynamics described as ‘indoctrination’. And while I agree ‘child abuse’ is a bit over the top on Dawkins’ part, surely we agree that kids should not be taught to accept ideas of any stripe uncritically. Provisionally, sometimes; open-mindedly, certainly; with due weight given to the opinion of experts, absolutely; but uncritically? Never.

    Several of us read the petition, looked at Dawkins’ website, and manage to come up with an interpretation that was actually pretty darn close to Dawkins’ later explanation. Why was that?

  34. #34 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Dawkins’ current interpretation of the petition is identical to mine, that it prescribes a legal change that is horrifying. He says that the author likely didn’t intend it that way, but I have no way of knowing that. I only know what the text says and the text supports my reading, which Dawkins now agrees with. And remember, the issue is not whether parents SHOULD teach their children their religion “uncritically” (how many parents teach ANY subject using the socratic method?), but whether the government should make it illegal not to. I would much rather have parents teaching their kids, the way my father did, by exposing them to a wide range of beliefs; I just don’t want the government do require that. I’m glad Dawkins agrees with me, but the petition does not support that agreement, as he has now realized.

  35. #35 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    I spend a substantial amount of my time teaching. I assure you most of it is spent teaching people things that are true. Yet I’ve not ever heard my sublime reflections on thermodynamics described as ‘indoctrination’.

    That’s because nobody has moral objections to the existence of thermodynamics.

    My little widget dictionary says ‘teach to accept a set of beliefs uncritically”

    So do you think something is only indoctrination if a person says “You should accept what I’m saying uncritically”? Or could it perhaps be the case that people’s perceptions of uncritical vs. critical acceptance depend largely on whether they themselves accept the beliefs being taught?

  36. #36 Russell
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen:

    So do you think something is only indoctrination if a person says “You should accept what I’m saying uncritically”?

    I always consider an appeal to faith, and the notion that believing is somehow a moral issue, as pretty big clues that what is being done is indoctrination, not more ordinary teaching of a subject. There is no hypocrisy so great as the religious believers who simultaneously pretend to rationality and call to faith.

  37. #37 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen,

    So do you think something is only indoctrination if a person says “You should accept what I’m saying uncritically”?

    Since he didn’t say anything like that, I doubt he thinks it. If a teacher tells his students something like “You should believe with all your heart and mind that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of mankind,” I’d say that qualifies as indoctrination. In fact, I’d say it’s indoctrination even without the explicit “You should believe…” part, especially when it is drummed into the child’s head through rote repetition, writing exercises, collective chanting of creeds, and the other techniques of indoctrination commonly used in churches and religious schools.

    Or could it perhaps be the case that people’s perceptions of uncritical vs. critical acceptance depend largely on whether they themselves accept the beliefs being taught?

    Well, it could, yes, but I think people are more likely to have difficulty distinguishing critical from uncritical teaching of beliefs they hold themselves when those beliefs are matters of religious faith than when they are matters of reason or scientific evidence.

  38. #38 Russell
    December 31, 2006

    Jason writes:

    ..especially when it is drummed into the child’s head through rote repetition, writing exercises, collective chanting of creeds..

    An excellent description of how we teach children the alphabet.

  39. #39 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    An excellent description of how we teach children the alphabet.

    Not to mention things that they may not properly understand but ought to know anyway, such as not to cross the street without looking, to stay away from the creek where there is poison ivy and possibly snakes, to avoid strange people who ask them to go with them, etc. I’m sure for many people, “If you don’t say your prayers and believe in Jesus, you’ll go to hell” belongs on that list just as much as the rest.

    Jason says:

    but I think people are more likely to have difficulty distinguishing critical from uncritical teaching of beliefs they hold themselves when those beliefs are matters of religious faith than when they are matters of reason or scientific evidence.

    As can be seen with the ID folks, beliefs aren’t necessarily held to fall neatly into only one of those categories. And even when they are, they might be viewed as falling other than where you would put them. For example, I’ve talked to plenty of people who view evolution as a matter of faith but Jesus’s resurrection as plain empirical fact. Those people would object to what they perceive as “indoctrination” that species evolved from a common ancestor.

  40. #40 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Russell,

    An excellent description of how we teach children the alphabet.

    Unlike religious indoctrination, teaching children language is not teaching them to uncritically accept claims of truth. If the teacher gets the alphabet wrong, the child is likely to find out rather quickly.

  41. #41 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Not to mention things that they may not properly understand but ought to know anyway, such as not to cross the street without looking, to stay away from the creek where there is poison ivy and possibly snakes, to avoid strange people who ask them to go with them, etc. I’m sure for many people, “If you don’t say your prayers and believe in Jesus, you’ll go to hell” belongs on that list just as much as the rest.

    Nice try, but as I’m sure even you realize, every teaching on your list except the last is based on evidence and reason and enjoys near-universal assent. We may indoctrinate children with certain teachings for their own physical safety before they are old enough to understand the evidence that justifies those teachings, but that is obviously not the same thing as religious indoctrination.

    As can be seen with the ID folks, beliefs aren’t necessarily held to fall neatly into only one of those categories.

    On the contrary, I think the beliefs of ID folks are pretty clearly in the religious faith category. If they weren’t, ID would be a respectable scientific theory. It isn’t. Of course, ID folks themselves claim that their beliefs are serious science, and some of them may even truly believe that, but the rest of us know they are fooling themselves.

    For example, I’ve talked to plenty of people who view evolution as a matter of faith but Jesus’s resurrection as plain empirical fact. Those people would object to what they perceive as “indoctrination” that species evolved from a common ancestor.

    Well, they can object all they like, but they’re wrong. Evolution is not a matter of faith and Jesus’ resurrection is not plain empirical fact. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here, anyway.

  42. #42 SLC
    December 31, 2006

    Re Gretchen

    To quote the creationists literature, how do you know that Joshua of Nazareth was resurrected? You wern’t there.

  43. #43 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    J.J.Ramsey,

    Nor did his stock reply, “How many learned books of fairyology and hobgoblinology have you read?” It’s as if he didn’t take theists seriously enough to research them seriously.

    Not this again. I do not need to keep up with the latest articles in the Journal of Astrological Methodology to be serious in my rejection of astrology as irrational nonsense. Likewise, Dawkins does not need to research the details of theological debates to be serious in his rejection of theism. The only question relevant to that position is, “Is belief in God justified?” Only a small part of the literature of theology relates to that question, and I see no indication that Dawkins is not sufficiently familiar with it to hold a serious opinion. The vast bulk of theological literature is concerned with other, arcane issues of sectarian theistic doctrine, and Dawkins is under no obligation to study it.

  44. #44 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    Jason, you insist on interpreting other people’s beliefs in terms of your own categories, completely ignoring the fact that they do not necessarily do so. That’s my whole point– that “indoctrination” is such a fuzzy word because it is commonly used to refer to “the instillation of beliefs that I find morally reprehensible.” Even highly educated and intelligent people use such rhetoric. You might think that indoctrinating children with the belief that they should not cross the road without looking is based on evidence and reason, and another parent might think that teaching their child to pray every night so as to avoid going to hell has the same foundation. I’m not saying they’re right. I’m saying that your sense of “dangerous indoctrination” is by no means universal.

  45. #45 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen, I don’t think indoctrination is fuzzy at all – I know when I use it, Dawkins et al. uses it in regards to religion, it’s 2. here in this unabridged definition. Teaching evolution isn’t indoctrination, because it’s not partisan. The facts and evidence revealed themselves under observation, and they are still revealing themselves – the same can not be said of Jesus’s resurrection. I think this distinction is plain to see. Ironic the quote used in definition 1.

    Main Entry: in·doc·tri·nate
    Pronunciation: ndäktrnt, usu -d.+V
    Function: transitive verb
    Inflected Form(s): -ed/-ing/-s
    Etymology: probably from indoctrine + -ate, v. suffix
    1 a : to give instructions especially in fundamentals or rudiments : TEACH (the function of indoctrinating youth was given to and accepted by … the family and the priesthood — L.O.Garber & W.B.Castetter) (the recruits were indoctrinated for a month and then sent to specialist schools) b : to imbue or make markedly familiar (as with a skill) (indoctrinated themselves with the teamwork of attack — Ira Wolfert)

    2 : to cause to be impressed and usually ultimately imbued (as with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle)

    (had to be indoctrinated with the will to win — J.P.Baxter b.1893) (indoctrinating young people with alien ideologies> : cause to be drilled or otherwise trained (as in a sectarian doctrine) and usually persuaded (indoctrinate the immigrants in a new way of life)
    - in·doc·tri·na·tor \-d.(r), -at-\ noun -s

  46. #46 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Jason, you insist on interpreting other people’s beliefs in terms of your own categories, completely ignoring the fact that they do not necessarily do so.

    Yes, I insist that science is science and religion is religion, even if some people falsely claim that their religion is in fact science. I don’t know why you think I am wrong to do this. If I didn’t, I guess I would have no basis for opposing the teaching of “scientific creationism” in public school science classes.

    That’s my whole point– that “indoctrination” is such a fuzzy word because it is commonly used to refer to “the instillation of beliefs that I find morally reprehensible.”

    Huh? So the word “indoctrination” is very “fuzzy” because in common use it has a certain fairly precise meaning (namely, “the instillation of beliefs that I find morally reprehensible)? I really have no idea what this is supposed to mean, or what relevance it has to anything I’ve said. I don’t really agree with your claim about how the word is commonly used, either, but that’s another issue.

    You might think that indoctrinating children with the belief that they should not cross the road without looking is based on evidence and reason, and another parent might think that teaching their child to pray every night so as to avoid going to hell has the same foundation.

    Yes, he may. Yes, some people may sincerely believe that their irrational beliefs are justified by reason and evidence. So what? I don’t understand what you think this observation has to do with anything I have said.

    I’m saying that your sense of “dangerous indoctrination” is by no means universal.

    Again, so what? I never claimed it was universal. Most of the things I believe, and I’m sure most of things you believe too, are by no means universal. What’s your point?

  47. #47 Gretchen
    December 31, 2006

    Observer, one man’s indoctrination in definition #2 is another’s in definition #1.

    Teaching evolution isn’t indoctrination, because it’s not partisan.

    I don’t see anything in your definitions which says it has to be partisan in order to qualify.

    The facts and evidence revealed themselves under observation, and they are still revealing themselves – the same can not be said of Jesus’s resurrection. I think this distinction is plain to see.

    Why, there’s plenty of facts and evidence to support Jesus’s resurrection! Have you not read the Bible, man?

    I certainly hope you’re not going to say that the truth or falsity of a thing ought to determine whether teaching it constitutes indoctrination.

  48. #48 Gretchenq
    December 31, 2006

    Jason, I’m pretty well convinced by now that you’re not going to get my point, no matter how clearly I attempt to explain it.

  49. #49 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Thank you, Observer. I think the definition of “indoctrination” you just quoted above is much more useful and much closer to how the word is generally understood than either Gretchen’s definition or the one provided earlier by Gerard Harbison.

    If someone wants to say that we “indoctrinate” young children with the alphabet or with common-sense rules intended to protect their safety, I won’t object strongly, but I don’t think it’s really a proper use of the word.

  50. #50 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Why, there’s plenty of facts and evidence to support Jesus’s resurrection! Have you not read the Bible, man?

    You’re playing Devil’s Advocate here, right? I assume you don’t really believe that there’s plenty of facts and evidence to support Jesus’ resurrection. So again, it’s hard to know what your point is. If you agree that Jesus’ resurrection is an example of a sectarian religious belief rather than a reason-and-evidence-based belief, like belief in evolution, then I don’t understand why you object to the distinction Observer just described.

  51. #51 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    Observer, one man’s indoctrination in definition #2 is another’s in definition #1.

    It’s understanding context and how language has subtle differentiations in definition within context. (I really don’t mean to be pedantic, but I don’t think I’ve ever misunderstood when the partisan or sectarian aspect of the word is used.)

    Me: Teaching evolution isn’t indoctrination, because it’s not partisan.

    I don’t see anything in your definitions which says it has to be partisan in order to qualify.

    It’s right up there.

    Me: The facts and evidence revealed themselves under observation, and they are still revealing themselves – the same can not be said of Jesus’s resurrection. I think this distinction is plain to see.

    Why, there’s plenty of facts and evidence to support Jesus’s resurrection! Have you not read the Bible, man?

    You’re joking right? When I first read that sentence I almost spit out my coffee. So, if I write a story about the green alien in my bedroom that will be facts and evidence. ;-)

    I certainly hope you’re not going to say that the truth or falsity of a thing ought to determine whether teaching it constitutes indoctrination.

    No, the partisan and sectarian part in the context I use it regarding religion constitutes indoctrination. Teaching evolution is not partisan or sectarian.

  52. #52 kehrsam
    December 31, 2006

    Jason: Gretchen is a good atheist, so you have no worries there. At the same time, she is making a valid point. Generally, the only difference between indoctrination and teaching is that the indoctrination is in something we don’t like. It is rather like my Torts prof said back in the day, “What is Gross Negligence? Nothing more than ordinary Negligence with an insult attached.”

    Now it is often argued that only those issues with a very high degree of probability should be taught, and that all else is indoctrination. This is rather like Observer’s definition, so we’ll accept that. What then of all the fields of knowledge this does not cover?

    Gretchen and I had this discussion last weekend, in the context of whether public universities should teach courses in religion. You’ll be happy to know that she took your side, something about my “poor epistemology.” Be that as it may, science only covers a small fraction of the human experience. There is real knowledge in history, and art, and literature. The fact that this knowledge cannot be readily quantified is irrelevant.

  53. #53 Pseudonym
    December 31, 2006

    I’m glad you mentioned Carl Sagan. I think The Demon-Haunted World shows exactly how you can show the awe-inspiring nature of science, and attack the worst of religion, while still being respectful to the best of religion in a way that doesn’t compromise your own beliefs (or lack thereof).

    I’m always in a quandry when I read Dr. Dawkins’ anti-theism. On one hand, I know it’s counter-productive to the cause of defending science education. On the other hand, I firmly believe that just because a scientist (or science populariser) is atheist, they should not talk about that fact.

    Perhaps the correct solution is that different people need to attack different sides of the argument. As you say, some people think that evolution = no god = no morality. Dr. Dawkins has done a good job attacking the second non-equality, but the first non-equality can only really be done by religious people who agree that evolution is a fact of nature. Coming from anyone else, it would be seen as an attack.

  54. #54 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Observer -

    Gretchen said -
    Why, there’s plenty of facts and evidence to support Jesus’s resurrection! Have you not read the Bible, man?

    The point she is making (having read everything she has said) is that we need to keep in mind the notions we are up against. To raise the consciousness of society to actually make substantive changes, we must understand the make up of the attitudes we are trying to change. I am not talking about learning specific dogma, I am talking about realizing that these people raise their kids the way they do, because they believe their child will burn in eternal torment if they don’t. Simply calling them irrational morons, is not going to change anything, it will simply steele them to foster stronger faith in their kids – making it harder to foster real change in society.

    I geuss it comes down to goals. My goal is to foster a society that does not teach it’s children these horrible notions. I would also like to see everyone, regardless of belief or disbelief, feel equal, free and safe from persecution. Using religous fundimentalist tactics is not the way to achieve that. That only works if the goal is to turn a few folks around, but alienate and anger everyone else.

  55. #55 James
    December 31, 2006

    Jason, you make sound points, but I beleive that Gretchen is making a point about realpolitik, not the logical basis for deciding what indoctrination is (feel free to shoot me down if I’m wrong Gretchen).

    I think you are right Jason about your definitions of indoctrination, for all i know Gretchen may agree as well. But remeber we are talking about a proposed law and that means you need to think politics not science. In science reality gets the only vote (and a good thing too), but in politics reality doesn’t get a vote at all.

    In practice, were a ban on religious indoctrination to be imposed the political majority at the time would get to decide what counts as religious indoctrination and I’m betting that they won’t agree with you, no matter how right you are.

  56. #56 GH
    December 31, 2006

    The funny thing is, I have never experienced Dawkins in any other sense. His manner of expressing himself is so natural and genial that I always get the impression that many of his claims are being made with a gleam in his eye, so I let the more provacative statements go. For some reason when I say things like this I get accused of not having read Dawkins, so maybe that’s just me.

    Ahh kersham spot on in my view.

    As to education vs. indoctriantion I suppose in a general sense the words are similiar but the actions different. One doesn’t indoctrinate a child into most things simply because there is no organized, continous reinforcement designed to ensure the child learns one way and one way only. The Chrurch of Christ doesn’t usually say positive things about catholic dogma and vice versa. These ‘views’ are reenforced through the social network weekly.

    Thats alot different than sitting in a class for a section of a course.

  57. #57 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    kehrsham,

    Generally, the only difference between indoctrination and teaching is that the indoctrination is in something we don’t like.

    Not according to the definition provided by Observer, or to the way he and I understand the word as generally used. It carries the connotation that what is being taught is a partisan or sectarian point of view, like a religious doctrine or a partisan political ideology, but not necessarily one that the speaker doesn’t like.

    Be that as it may, science only covers a small fraction of the human experience. There is real knowledge in history, and art, and literature. The fact that this knowledge cannot be readily quantified is irrelevant.

    I strongly disagree, but I suspect you and I have very different ideas about what qualifies as “knowledge.” I define it, more or less, as the standard philosophical formulation of justified true belief. The only source of knowledge is science and reason. History and art and the study of literature can produce knowledge only to the extent that they involve science and reason. Otherwise, although they may record or communicate knowledge, they don’t create it. I think the common refrain that things like religion and art and mysticism are “other ways of knowing” is nonsense.

    I think this is pretty much the view of Dawkins also.

  58. #58 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Pseudonym,

    I’m always in a quandry when I read Dr. Dawkins’ anti-theism. On one hand, I know it’s counter-productive to the cause of defending science education.

    Well, of course, you don’t know that. You may believe it, but that’s not the same thing. Dawkins’ position, with which I totally agree, is that the creationism-evolution thing is ultimately just a skirmish or battle, and that the larger war is between naturalism and supernaturalism, between reason and faith, between scientific thinking and magical thinking. As long as religion continues to occupy a privileged place in the marketplace of ideas in our culture, as long as we continue to discourage the rational scrutiny of its claims of truth, we’ll always be fighting these battles.

  59. #59 Russell Blackford
    December 31, 2006

    I’ll be interested to see whether there is any public response from Dawkins.

    Ed, I understand where you’re coming from, and though I think you goofed more than you think you goofed, I also commend you for the concessions you do now make about your handling of the issue, and for your detailed explanation of how you look at these things. Well done, in that sense, and I hope this will be the end of it.

    Although I admire Dawkins more than almost any other current writer, I do think he sometimes overreaches in The God Delusion. Ironically, the references to child abuse are not so much what worry me – I have enough life experience of fundamentalist Christianity to think that his claims are actually about right. But there are certainly places where I wish he’d toned things down slightly. On the other hand, to change him in that way would mean turning him into a different person, and we need Richard Dawkins just as he is, even if it would be undesirable for everyone to be so outspoken. It takes all kinds to create an intellectual milieu.

    On the “no God = no morality” thing, the religionists actually have a point, but not one that helps them in the long haul. The point is that much of their specific morality would be nonsense outside of their total worldview, even though some kind of morality (based on mutual-advantage thinking, human sympathies, and other naturalistic foundations) would certainly survive the death of religion. My own view is that we should, indeed, get rid of a lot of traditional morality – that it does more harm than good.

    I don’t see how people like me can avoid being in conflict with religious social conservatives without adopting a policy of massive self-censorship. I’m nowhere near as talented or forthright as Dawkins, but I agree with what I take to be his sense that we have no choice but to criticise the total worldviews of our intellectual opponents. Then again, I have an agenda that goes far beyond opposition to creationism and intelligent design.

  60. #60 kehrsam
    December 31, 2006

    The problem, Jason, (and this is probably closer to gretchen’s complaint than my last post) is that indoctrination involves a “partisan or sectarian point of view.” Then we discover that “the only source of knowledge is science and reason.” Ergo, indoctrination involves the teaching of anything else.

    Okay, we agree to disagree as to whether there is value and truth to anything which is not science or reason, even admitting that my definition of reason is probably broader than yours. But I protest the use of the term “indoctrination” (together with its negative connotations) if I choose to teach a child what I believe to be true.

    If what I teach is clearly contrary to reason, that is one thing. I don’t go around teaching a literal interpretation of Genesis, so that’s not a concern. But if I draw a value of the historical veracity of the Gospel of John, the fact that you have a priori decided that it has a different value does not turn what I teach into indoctrination. It merely means we disagree.

    There do exist different levels of truth. If you doubt me, work for a time in criminal law

    And now for some champagne. Cheers to all.

  61. #61 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    kehrsham,

    One of things that is so frustrating in talking with people like you is that your statements are often so vague and murky that half the time I cannot even understand what you’re trying to say. Your statement “There do exist different levels of truth” is a good example.

    By the way, I didn’t say that I believe there is no “value and truth to anything which is not science or reason.” I said I believe there is no source of knowledge other than science and reason. I certainly believe that art and history and the study of literature have value, but their value does not lie in the creation of knowledge. I think the value of art, for example, is that it provides a unique way for expressing or communicating knowledge, or of other kinds of mental experience such as emotional states.

  62. #62 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Russell Blackford -

    I don’t see how people like me can avoid being in conflict with religious social conservatives without adopting a policy of massive self-censorship. I’m nowhere near as talented or forthright as Dawkins, but I agree with what I take to be his sense that we have no choice but to criticise the total worldviews of our intellectual opponents. Then again, I have an agenda that goes far beyond opposition to creationism and intelligent design.

    The problem is not criticising religion. The problem is using the same tactics that the most offensive and ineffective religious proselytizers. Many people will be offended, even when one is polite while explaining their quite reasonable views of religion, some will appreciate the attitude, reject what you believe, but respect you. Finaly, some will hear what you have to say and decide you are right. Only the first group is likely to continue their animosity towards atheists. When the more offensive tactics are used, only the last group will have any respect for you and there will be a much smaller group of people in that.

  63. #63 Russell Blackford
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne, I don’t really disagree with anything you actually say.

    However, if the sub-text is that Dawkins uses offensive tactics, I don’t agree. He may sometimes overreach and be unnecessarily impolite, as with references to appeasement, but by and large his “tactics” simply consist of using language to argue his case. Though he doesn’t write with the wit of, say, Bertrand Russell, he writes very well indeed, with a great flair for communicating difficult concepts – and the world is better for the fact that we have him. It seems to me that much of the flack he is receiving is because the message itself is unwelcome to many people, for whatever reason(s), even to many people who are not themselves religious believers.

  64. #64 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Russell Blackford,

    I agree completely. I’ve seen Dawkins appear to lose his temper and make rude comments a couple of times, but for the most part he is a model of politeness and civility. He doesn’t mince words, he doesn’t feign a respect for beliefs he considers unreasonable, but the idea that he is habitually rude or unpleasant towards his opponents is simply ridiculous. I think the only plausible explanation for the magnitude of hostility he arouses amoung many people who themselves are (or at least claim to be) non-believers (the hostility from believers is to be expected) is that so many of them believe really strongly that religion, in the broad sense, should be off-limits to criticism. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone, at least in a direct, immediate, demonstrable way, leave it alone. But Dawkins is having none of that. And he’s right not to.

  65. #65 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Me: “Nor did his stock reply, ‘How many learned books of fairyology and hobgoblinology have you read?’ It’s as if he didn’t take theists seriously enough to research them seriously.”

    Jason: “Not this again. … Dawkins does not need to research the details of theological debates to be serious in his rejection of theism.”

    He needs to know enough details of theology to defend the points he tries to make in TGD. As pointed out by Heard, Dawkins did not appear to have taken the effort to have done so.

  66. #66 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Russel Blackford -

    I am actually becoming less critical of Dawkins as I learn more about his actual views and how they correlate with life in Britain. I must admit that I have based my criticism of him, in part, on the attitudes of those who defend him. I have read very little that he has written about religion, because I have a huge reading list and what little I have read turned me off. I much prefer to read Dennett, who takes a very critical view of religion, but does so while taking into account the mindset of the Believer.

    FYI, I am a Christian, with some rather deist leanings. I had my pastor (a member of the religious right), read a portion of Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. While he absolutely dissagrees with evolution and therefore believes Dennett ultimately, sadly mistaken, he really appreciated Dennett’s treatment of religion. Rather than dismissing him out of hand in offense, he simply disagreed.

    What I have such distaste for and so many people of Faith find so offensive, is that many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer – scoffing at the suggestion that they need consider it. The probelm is, that you cannot change someones mind without attempting to understand where they are coming from. Not specific dogma, just the basic make-up of Belief. Dennett has studied the mindset that makes up Belief and understands it well, treating it with the respect of someone who genuinely wants to help people progress out of their “delusions.” Dawkins, on the other hand, is a brillian populiser of science and I really appreciate him in that role, the way I do Asimov (in his non-fiction), Sagan, Clarke and hords of others at various levels of fame. But when it comes to his treatment of religion, he is exceedingly abrasive and unable to take the mind set of Believer, into consideration.

    Ultimately it is a fine line that moves depending who your dealing with, impossible to stake. But statements that people like him make, directly effect people on the ground, as it reflects on them – theists like myself included. Rational or not, many in the church, equate things like safe sex and science, with atheism. When atheists make statements that can easily be construed as an attempt to stamp out religion through coercion, it makes it harder for me to get away with telling a teen in my church that while they probably shouldn’t have sex right now, if they are going to, use a condom. I’ve done that twice now, my pastor is aware of it and knowing that I was soundly speaking out against them having sex, continues to have me working with the kids and youth in my church. When harsh statements come out, people freak and it becomes very hard to get it through their heads that I am not trying to make an immoral, godless pervert out of their child by encouraging them use of a condom, that I am simply trying to save their life.

    In the macrocosm, it also makes it harder for people who have to deal with Believers in positions of authority in our society, on a regular basis. Believers who have power over school curriculums or make decisions for their local, state, national/federal government.

  67. #67 Gary Carson
    December 31, 2006

    That didn’t read like a letter to Dawkins. It read like an essay intended for the public.

  68. #68 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    My goodness, I haven’t seen Gary Carson around in a long, long time. Not since the good old days of RGP.

  69. #69 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    J.J.Ramsey,

    He needs to know enough details of theology to defend the points he tries to make in TGD.
    As pointed out by Heard, Dawkins did not appear to have taken the effort to have done so.

    No, Heard doesn’t “point out” that, he asserts it, and I find his argument in support of that assertion weak. He simply assumes that Dawkins has not “researched” a particular document because Dawkins does not discuss or quote something from the document that Heard considers relevant to what Dawkins is saying. The possibility that Dawkins didn’t mention it because he doesn’t consider it relevant to his point never seems to have occurred to Heard.

    Perhaps there are places in TGD where Dawkins addresses arcane theological disputes without having sufficiently researched the relevant literature, but I have yet to see anyone clearly show that. In any case, it’s a quibble. I see no indication that Dawkins is insufficently versed in the literature relating to the central subject of the book, belief in the existence of God.

  70. #70 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    What I have such distaste for and so many people of Faith find so offensive, is that many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer

    I have no idea why you think atheists have any obligation to address “the mindset that makes one a Believer,” rather than simply explain and justify their own beliefs as atheists. If an atheist were talking about the psychology of belief and disbelief, then presumably part of what he would discuss is “the mindset that makes one a Believer,” but he has no responsibility to do so simply because he is an atheist.

    Given that you’ve identified yourself as a Christian, I have to wonder whether what really bothers you is not that “many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer,” but rather that many atheists think that theism, in any of its traditional forms (e.g., Christianity), is not merely false, but wildly implausible and unreasonable. I often get the sense from Christians that they feel atheists should at least agree that belief in the Christian God is reasonable and intellectually respectable, even if they don’t share it. What really seems to anger many Christians is not so much being an atheist as being (as they see it) insufficiently respectful of Christianity. Well, I don’t think belief in the Christian God is reasonable and I’m not going to lie and pretend that I do simply because that is what some believers want to hear. The only form of theism that I consider plausible at all is a kind of scientific deism that involves a distant, impersonal, uninvolved God that is nothing like the God of Christianity.

  71. #71 Russell Miller
    December 31, 2006

    Jason:

    I don’t think “belief in the Christian God” is reasonable either. But you’re not going to convince anyone if you don’t first try to figure out what motivates them. You can use your method if you want, but you’ll just end up arguing with yourself, because the “true believers” will tune you out right quick.

  72. #72 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    Jason -
    I have no idea why you think atheists have any obligation to address “the mindset that makes one a Believer,” rather than simply explain and justify their own beliefs as atheists. If an atheist were talking about the psychology of belief and disbelief, then presumably part of what he would discuss is “the mindset that makes one a Believer,” but he has no responsibility to do so simply because he is an atheist.

    He or she does if they wish to affect positive change, by reducing adn eliminating the impact of religion on society. They do if they have any desire to raise consciousness and make people more open minded. They do if they wish to bring society to reason. If they just want something cathartic, then by all means, alienate the people who need to change to make society a better place.

    Given that you’ve identified yourself as a Christian, I have to wonder whether what really bothers you is not that “many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer,” but rather that many atheists think that theism, in any of its traditional forms (e.g., Christianity), is not merely false, but wildly implausible and unreasonable

    Given that you have accused me of being a liar, I am not surprised you would insinuate it again. But rest assure, damned well meant exactly what I said. There is absolutely no reason for you to wonder anything. I have been clear on my position and views. You are entirely unwilling to comprehend that where I stand really isn’t far from where you do. I imagine we have many of the same goals for society.

    I am stating my opinion, that being an asshole towards everyone religious, is not the way to achieve those goals. Do you think Christians who scream at people that they are vile fornicators, heading for hell if they don’t stop sinning and accept jesus, get many converts that way? If you dissagree with me, fine, do so. But you have absolutely no evidence that I am in any way dishonest. Instead, you attack me with your own intellectual dishonesty, pulling quotes out of their context. I honestly pity you.

  73. #73 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    One more minor clarification, lest anyone misunderstand. I do not believe in the Judeo Christian notion of God. I would not and could not worship a God such as the one described in the Christian bible. As I said, I have a strong deist bent, I merely believe that soemthing that is easiest to call god, that intervenes in our universe, could very well exist. I identify as a Christian, because I like what he had to say, or at least what is attributed to him. I like his priorities and do my best to live like he suggested. I go to church because I love the community there and the opportunity to relate to people whom I have varying degrees of religious and political dissagreements with.

    Anyways, happy new years to those back east by three time zones or more. . .

  74. #74 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    DuWayne,

    He or she does if they wish to affect positive change, by reducing adn eliminating the impact of religion on society. They do if they have any desire to raise consciousness and make people more open minded. They do if they wish to bring society to reason.

    Huh? Why is it necessary for atheists to address “the mindset that makes one a Believer” in order to contribute to any of those goals? Why aren’t atheists contributing to them simply by coming out as atheists and explaining why they don’t believe in God, or why they think it’s good to be open-minded, or by drawing attention to negative influences of religion on society, or in any number of other ways that do not involve talking about “the mindset that makes one a Believer”?

    I am stating my opinion, that being an asshole towards everyone religious, is not the way to achieve those goals.

    Well make up your mind. The opinion you stated before, and that I am responding to, is: “What I have such distaste for and so many people of Faith find so offensive, is that many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer.” Are you now saying that “ignoring the mindset that makes one a believer” constitutes being an asshole? I think that’s absurd.

    Do you think Christians who scream at people that they are vile fornicators, heading for hell if they don’t stop sinning and accept jesus, get many converts that way?

    No, probably not. “Screaming” at people probably isn’t a very effective way of persuading them of anything. I don’t know what I have said to make you think that I would approve of screaming at people.

    But on the subject of Christianity, I would note that the conservative Christian denominations and groups, the ones most likely to preach about vile fornicators and burning in hell, seem to be doing much better than the liberal ones. Pretty much all the vitality and growth in Christianity seems to be occurring amoung its conservative wings. The liberal and moderate wings of mainline protestant Christianity are in apparently irreversible long-term decline. The leadership of the Catholic and Orthodox churches is dominated by conservatives. And this trend seems likely to continue as an ever-larger fraction of the world’s Christians consists of people who live in the developing world, where the conservative varieties of Christianity are dominant. And yet I keep being told that Christianity (and religion more broadly) itself isn’t the real problem, just those nasty creationists and fundamentalists.

  75. #75 Russell Miller
    January 1, 2007

    Well make up your mind. The opinion you stated before, and that I am responding to, is: “What I have such distaste for and so many people of Faith find so offensive, is that many atheists ignore the mindset that makes one a Believer.” Are you now saying that “ignoring the mindset that makes one a believer” constitutes being an asshole? I think that’s absurd.

    I’d say that maybe it doesn’t make you an asshole. I’d also say that it’s completely counterproductive and makes your argument completely ineffective, whatever it is.

  76. #76 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    I don’t think “belief in the Christian God” is reasonable either. But you’re not going to convince anyone if you don’t first try to figure out what motivates them. You can use your method if you want, but you’ll just end up arguing with yourself, because the “true believers” will tune you out right quick.

    I was (and still am) objecting to DuWayne’s claim that atheists have an obligation to address “the mindset that makes one a Believer.” I don’t think atheists have any particular obligation regarding their beliefs about God or religion beyond being honest about what they believe and why they believe it. Some atheists may choose to go further and make proactive efforts to “convert” believers to atheism, and I generally support such efforts, but I strongly disagree that atheists as a group have a duty to do this.

    Of course, this is all pretty ironic, given the level of hostility directed by religious believers (and their anti-Dawkins allies in the secular community) towards Dawkins for having the temerity to actually promote atheism, and criticize religion, in his books and TV shows. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Dawkins angrily denounced as an “evangelical atheist” or a “fundamentalist atheist.”

  77. #77 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Russell Miller,

    I’d also say that it’s completely counterproductive and makes your argument completely ineffective, whatever it is.

    I still don’t understand what either you or DuWayne even really mean by “ignoring the mindset that makes one a believer,” or why this is supposed to be some kind of moral failing on the part of atheists. You seem to think that every atheist has a positive duty to proselytize atheism and try to win over believers. I think that’s ridiculous. The vast majority of atheists have little or no interest in doing that. I applaud the efforts of atheists like Richard Dawkins who do, but I see no reason to think that he or atheists like him are “ignoring the mindset that makes one a believer.”

  78. #78 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    I am loathe to respond to someone who has accused me of lying twice now. But we have hit on an interesting point and one that lends my belief that it is important to change people’s views without being an ass.

    While liberal and mainstream churches decline, more are just staying home, than are joining more conservative denominations. The ones joining more conservative sects, are doing so for two reasons. First, they see their church falling apart, and want a more stable church family, which the conservative churches provide. Second, they are stable new churches, for people who’s church just closed. Instead of just looking at figures for people who have some religious belief, look at figures for people who regularly attend church or practice some religious expression on a regular basis.

    Religous fervor comes in waves in societies. soemtimes are worse than others. But if you look at the trends over the last hundred years alone, religion is steadily losing it’s grip on society. We are in an unprecedented place in human history. Religion is in a bumpy decline, while education and our understanding of natural laws are steadily increasing. Certainly religious violence has a horrendous presence on our planet, and may yet destroy us. But if we can continue to educate, continue to improve public education world wide, we may well survive and prosper.

    When I say asshole, I mean asshole. I mean being condescending, telling them they are irrational or stupid. Recognizing that this person has reasons that they see as perfectly rational, for believing as they do. Understanding they are not inherently irrational or stupid because they believe as they do.

    This does not preclude telling someone that their beliefs are irrational, but it is important to back it up with facts that disprove their world view. In fact, I think it is very important to offer something in exchange for letting go of erroneous notions that are a signifigant part of their grasp on reality.

    Every person of faith has their degree. Extremists, will dismiss this out of hand. But moderates on down will often, at the least, alter their view to accept the explanations of science. Leaving their kids less likely to have a fear of eternal damnation and far more likely to have parents supporting their science education, including an understanding of evolution. This also leaves most “converts” less likely to be dogmatic in their political leanings – more open to equality. This doesn’t mention the people who will let go of their faith altogether.

  79. #79 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    For my final note

    I still don’t understand what either you or DuWayne even really mean by “ignoring the mindset that makes one a believer,” or why this is supposed to be some kind of moral failing on the part of atheists.

    I would think you would like to see society become a better place for everyone and more accepting of atheists. I don’t care if you wish to support that, I just have serious dissagreements with people who undermine that.

    Happy New Years for those one time zone to the east or further.

  80. #80 Russell Miller
    January 1, 2007

    Jason:

    I’m not saying it’s a moral failing. I’m saying that there are many more Christians than there are atheists, and if you expect to be understood and expect to have others understand you, you have to speak their language. Like it or not, they don’t have to speak yours – they control most everything.

    If you’re not trying to convert, cool. But then what’s the point of being vocal about your beliefs, if you don’t expect to convince anyone that there is merit to them? Just general obnoxiousness?

  81. #81 anon
    January 1, 2007

    think many of the things he says need to be said. I only wish that he would find a more generous way to say them so that those who most need to hear his arguments and consider them would be more likely to listen. In short, I wish he would change his tone, so that his arguments would have more impact.
    *************************************

    Yeah right. Yeah right. Are those the people that scared the freaking shit out of me as a kid by making me and my friends watch movies about the disbelievers being beheaded for not believing???? And then having altar calls and BEGGING us to come up so we would not burn in the fiery pits of hell. And then 25 years later we still have flashbacks- that terrify us. One of my friends brothers did not sleep in his own room for two months – and he was 13 when he saw these movies. I found that out recently.

    Yeah, those people who most need to hear it are too f*cking busy terrifying their kids and other people’s kids with visions of hellfire dancing in their heads.

    Unless you have lived this, you have no idea how entrenched they are in their beliefs and how rude, arrogant and unyeildiong they are. Maybe someone needs to spit in their eyes and keep them up at nights in order to get their attention- let alone change their mind.

    Dawkins may not be nice in what he says, but neither are they, and never forget that. Ever. The difference is there are more of them to distort his message.

    Honestly I could spit right now. Some of you just do not get it — there are people out there who will terrify children into ignorance just to maintain their own position in the world. I cannot believe how blind some are to that.

  82. #82 Russell
    January 1, 2007

    Russell Miller writes:

    I don’t think “belief in the Christian God” is reasonable either. But you’re not going to convince anyone if you don’t first try to figure out what motivates them.

    Rationalists have a rather tough row to hoe. If we merely want to get people to adopt a set of views, a gestalt, then we would indeed apply practical psychology to sell that. We would turn ourselves into preachers and motivational speakers, pushing what now seems rational. Having done that, we would have created another movement, belief, or cult. Even if the ideas propagated really were by some measures more rational than the ones that the adherents left, they still would be adherents, believers, the faithful, because of how those beliefs were acquired.

    On the other hand, if we really want people to become more rational, then in part it is a matter of pointing to the fact that that means trying to set aside what motivates belief, that belief that is motivated (in the ordinary sense of the term) simply isn’t rational, that what constitutes reason is the much harder process of studying epistemological connections. I am, of course, drawing a distinction somewhat different from the theist/atheist divide. Yes, theists are irrational. But that doesn’t mean atheism is a hallmark of rationalism. There were millions in the last century who were atheists because that was part and parcel of what a communist state taught. There are Objectivists who believe that Ayn Rand’s ideology is somehow the antithesis of religion, rather than an ideology that simply enshrines different icons. Worshiping something named Reason is not the same as reasoning, and there are irrational ideologies whose objects of faith are not called gods. Everyone assents that 2+2 is 4. But I have heard Christians claim that this is so because their god ordained it. Those who say this clearly don’t have a good understanding of arithmetic, and their belief in it is hardly more rational than their belief in Jesus.

    So the question becomes: are we eager to get people to say that 2+2 is 4? Or are we eager that they become more rational? These questions are not quite the same. The communist movement that swept Russia created hundreds of millions of atheists. But that didn’t make people more rational. It merely installed a different ideology.

  83. #83 J. J. Ramsey
    January 1, 2007

    Jason: “No, Heard doesn’t ‘point out’ that, he asserts it, and I find his argument in support of that assertion weak. He simply assumes that Dawkins has not “researched” a particular document because Dawkins does not discuss or quote something from the document that Heard considers relevant to what Dawkins is saying.”

    Let’s see. Heard points out that Dawkins description of the Catholic Encyclopedia (CE) as dismissing atheism in an “insouciant breath,” is inaccurate because (1) it is contradicted by the very next line of the paragraph that Dawkins partially quotes, “But there are several varieties of what may be described as virtual Atheism which cannot be dismissed so summarily,” and (2) the fact that the CE has a whole article on atheism. This is not just a complaint of “Dawkins doesn’t quote what I want him to quote,” but rather a complaint to the effect that the facts do not support Dawkins’ contentions.

  84. #84 ERV
    January 1, 2007

    “Us on the ground”? “Us on the ground”??

    Mr. Brayton, I am a microbiology grad student in Oklahoma, and I can whole heartedly assure you that your personal views on Dawkins ‘aggressive anti-theism’ are in no way connected to all of “us on the ground”.

    Your “Dawkins is a big fat meanie” defense could have been written by any of the Creationists I have spoken with here in OK. “Dawkins is a big fat meanie” is a radical theists excuse for not reading a word Dawkins writes, or listening to a thought he speaks, which evidently, is precisely what you have done yourself. Like I said in an earlier post, if you had even perused Wiki, Dawkins position on this topic would have been clear to you– even more so if you had actually read his ‘aggressively anti-theistic’ The God Delusion.

    Your blog is one of the ones I regularly check during the day, but this ‘graceful and dignified’ letter of yours has pissed me off.
    Even if I grant you the title of being “on the ground” like real biologists in real battleground states – You do not speak for all of “us on the ground”.

  85. #85 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    Russel -

    Not to nit-pick, but having an irrational belief, is not the same as being an irrational person.

    Personaly, my goal is not to make everyone atheist. My goal is to make people look at their faith rationaly. As well as the rest of their life, especialy their politics. With many of the people in my church for example, I don’t even try to get them to accept a reasonable concept like evolution. I am too busy trying to convince them that they should make sure that their kids know about safe sex – trust me, that is challenge enough with some of those folks.

    Ultimately, I would like to see religion have less and less impact on secular society – including the terrorizing of children with conceptions of hell.

  86. #86 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    Anon -

    I spent most of my childhood, terrified that my dad and some of my siblings were going to burn in eternal torture, in hell. That fear often manifested itself as physical pain, not disimilar to stomach cramps, because I knew, that if my dad didn’t change, he was doomed. The cavalier attitude that he and a couple of my brothers took about it, just made it that much worse. I subsequently became quite enthusiastic about the drugs and alchohol, after being slapped in the face with the diabolical hypocrasy of the church I attended.

    Mine may have been a less severe expierience than yours, it probably was. But I have been there and I have scars and issues from it that still affect me today. What I have taken from that is the desire to stop it. The desire that kids growing up not be inundated with a terror of friends, family or themselves, being tortured throughout eternity. The desire that kids not fear they are compounding the sin of having sex, if they use protection. The desire to see an end to religious wars that kill hundreds of thousands a year, world wide.

    Nothing I have suggested is going to change the minds of fundies, in any overt way. The best I have achieved with any of them, is making clear that not talking to there kids about safe sex, is gambling with their childs life. What those suggestions will change is the minds of non-fundies and moderate fundies. Dissagree with my methods if you will, but the only “positive” effect “spitting in their eyes” will have is cathartic. I’m not interested in catharsis, I am intersted in fostering real change that will eventualy stop kids from being raised the way you and I were.

  87. #87 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    ERV wrote:

    Mr. Brayton, I am a microbiology grad student in Oklahoma, and I can whole heartedly assure you that your personal views on Dawkins ‘aggressive anti-theism’ are in no way connected to all of “us on the ground”.

    I think you misunderstand what I mean by “us on the ground.” I’m not talking about biology students or scientists, I’m talking about those of us who are involved in the day to day battle with the creationists in front of school boards and legislatures and the like. This is a fight I’ve been deeply involved in for years and I can tell you that my position is shared by the vast majority of the other activists involved in it (not all, of course; that split among evolution advocates is clear to all of us). Most of the prominent voices among us say exactly the same thing and have for years.

    And it isn’t that I don’t want Prof. Dawkins to advocate for his atheism; I’m absolutely fine with that. Nor do I think he should stop pointing out the many false and dangerous ideas in religion;I do that myself on a daily basis on this blog, often with all of the ridicule and mockery such ideas deserve. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to argue that all religious people are either stupid or delusional, or that one can be “too intelligent” to believe in God (something Prof. Dawkins has said on more than one occasion). If you go around telling religious people that they are either stupid or deluded and that they are abusing their children by teaching them that their religion is true, you cannot be surprised when they tune you out on virtually everything else. Worse, those views then get foisted upon everyone else who agrees with him about science and evolution, meaning we have to spend a great deal of our time and energy trying to explain that those ideas are not intrinsically tied to evolution and science, that they are an entirely separate issue. That’s one of the reasons why I have tried so hard to publicly distance myself from them.

    But here’s the more important part: the disagreement here is genuine. I do not object to those claims merely because they are inconvenient, but because I truly do not believe them to be true. There are many imbecilities in religion, to be sure, and I point them out and make fun of them all the time. But I do not believe that all religious people are stupid, nor do I believe they are deluded; there is a difference between being wrong and being deluded or stupid. Every smart and rational person, you and I and Prof. Dawkins undoubtedly included, hold irrational and false beliefs. I simply know too many brilliant and well educated Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and work with many of them closely in the battle against creationism, importantly) to believe that their belief in God makes them any of those things. So the disagreement is genuine, not manufactured, and I appreciate that Prof. Dawkins is being sincere in expressing his beliefs; but I am as well. I don’t take this position because it’s politically expedient but because I genuinely believe it’s true.

  88. #88 Russell
    January 1, 2007

    DuWayne, I think part of what causes the pissing contest between Brayton and Myers is precisely that their goals are not the same. There are a variety of worthwhile goals, including teaching kids about safe sex, keeping religion from deterring science education, teaching about evolution, fighting the religious right’s impact on politics, and battling the general irrationality of religion. No two of these are the same, and different focus by different people, who mostly agree on underlying issues, can lead to conflict in their respective efforts.

    I’m not sure what it means to look at faith rationally. Of course, one can study the practice and history of different faiths, compare the content of different faiths, categorize and relate what different teachers in one faith have said, look for commonalities on how different faiths are practiced, etc. But when all that is said and done, the bottom line is that faith is irrational. I mean that in much the same way as saying that squids are molluscs. Yes, there are many different religious faiths, and yes, there are many forms of irrationality that wouldn’t count as faith, but no, there is no more way to practice faith rationally than there is to learn mathematics by shooting yourself through the head. At its core, a call to faith is a call to leave reason behind.

  89. #89 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Here’s what Dawkins says at the beginning of The God Delusion concerning his choice of words:

    The word “delusion” in my title has disquieted some psychiatrists who regard it as a technical term, not to be bandied about. . . But for now I am going to stick with “delusion,” and I’ll need to justify my use of it. The Penguin English Dictionary defines a delusion as a “false belief or impression”. . . The dictionary supplied with Microsoft Word defines a delusion as “a persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.” The first part captures faith perfectly. (pg. 5)

    I know of no place where Dawkins claims that simply telling your children your religion is true constitutes child abuse, or that religious people are stupid. I have heard/seen him describe two different people as “too intelligent” to be religious (his daughter and Stephen Colbert).

    I recently finished reading The God Delusion. I hadn’t been looking forward to it, honestly, and left it on my desk for nearly a month before picking it up. I figured it would just be one long rant– nothing I hadn’t heard before, nothing profound to add to the conversation. But I was pleasantly surprised. It seems to me that if one wants to have an accurate understanding of Dawkins’ position on religion and belief in God, they really ought to read the book– especially since it seems that every statement Dawkins makes which is critical of religion seems to be inevitably magnified in the re-telling. If he says that some people are too intelligent to be religious, that means that all religious people are stupid. If he says that scaring your children with stories of hell is child abuse, that means that all religious instruction is child abuse.

    This is partly, I suspect, his own fault– Dawkins in public minces no words about how happy he would be to see religion eradicated. But he’s frequently not as he is portrayed– the best way I could describe it is that he sees hardly any motivation to consider strategy or public relations, which is a crime. I honestly don’t think he has a duty to “tone it down” or do anything but speak his mind as he sees things– Dawkins doesn’t represent atheists or evolutionists as a whole any more than Pat Robertson represents all Christians (and how much luckier would we be to get someone who is merely blunt and occasionally caustic than a full-on nutter, if he did represent us!) and there’s no way I would criticize him for telling it as he sees it. Rather, I am happy to criticize the content of some of his claims, which is a different matter entirely. I think we should give nothing but scorn to the idea that the ID lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins, as Dan Dennett does. If IDers and creationists are too dim to realize that Dawkins does not speak for all of us, then the solution is education on a broad scale rather than asking Dawkins to change in any way.

  90. #90 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    Russel -

    When I say looking at faith rationaly, I do not mean that faith is rational. For example, I do not have any rational basis for believing it is quite possible that some sort of god takes an interest in the affairs of humans, yet I do. But I also accept and believe what reason tells me, that evolution is how life on this planet and on any other plantary body had to develop. What that means for other people of faith may be completely different, Ken Miller, for example, believes in a different, stronger theism than I do. Yet he has ammended his beliefs in the face of scientific evidence, that too, is what I mean by taking a rational approach to one’s faith.

    The thing about all the different goals you listed, is that they all tie together. Spitting in their eyes, as anon put it, is not going to further any of those goals. It is cathartic, I have done it myself, but ineffective. The major exception is when confronting people spewing hate and bile, such as those who scream at people outside gay pride festivals. Personaly, I like to throw their faith right back at them, with biblical scripture to back up my points. But I have no quams about belittling their bigotry, in very harsh terms. But the minute you tell someone they are itrrational and/or stupid, or get condescending, they stop listening.

  91. #91 Russell
    January 1, 2007

    Ed, there is a subtle but important difference between telling someone that they are stupid or delusional, and saying that they are delusional in some particular belief that they hold. Admittedly, these may sound quite the same to many who hear it and hold the belief. But the first categorizes those who hold the belief, perhaps moving them beyond the realm of reasonable people, while the second categorizes the belief, calling on those who hold it to be more reasonable, and is able to recognize that we all are human and are susceptible to stupidities and delusions.

    The rather large elephant in the room is that religious believers demonstrate their belief delusional by the way they propagate and defend it. Begging people to believe, presenting belief as a moral choice, issuing calls to faith, presenting the decision to believe in metaphorical stories, are all ways of propagating delusion. We know what different kinds of reason look like. You go out to the field, you dig up bones, you bring them back, and you present them for people to study. You sequence DNA and publish the results. You step up to the blackboard and present a step-by-step proof or argument. It is what gets done in graduate departments and research labs throughout the world. We know what propagating delusion looks like. And it gets done by preachers throughout the nation each Sunday, in churches and on TV. As well as Scientology buildings and Unification Churches and mosques on other days of the week. There may be a lot of smart people in the pews. But the way they are propagating that particular belief marks it as delusional. I agree fully with Dawkins that it’s time to stop pretending about the presence or nature of that elephant.

  92. #92 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Sorry, that should’ve read “which is not a crime.”

  93. #93 Poly
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen:

    There is indeed a thin line between stating your own views forcibly and abusing those who disagree with you. But it is a line nonetheless.

    Does Dawkins cross that line in public? Sometimes he does. Does Pat Robertson cross that line? Sometimes – maybe even more than sometimes. Does Dawkins do it less often than Robertson, and therefore should be given a pass for the times he does do it? That’s asking too much.

    The bottom line is that this abusive mindset – a mindset that leads to fundamentalism – is wrong. It is uncharitable toward other persons, and treats those other persons as something less then oneself.

    Whether one’s belief system is theistic, pantheistic, atheistic or anything else is not the issue. Whether one’s belief system is naturalistic or not isn’t the issue either.

    What is very much the issue is how abusive one can be to other people by implying they are stupid, irrational, delusional, indoctrinating, indoctrinated, un-intelligent, incapable of moral action, incapable of critical thinking, mindless automatons, or whatever other dehumanizing calumny you want to throw their way. Because that dehumanization is also what the fundamentalist mindset is all about.

    Dawkins may not want to admit it, but words convey more meaning than what one finds in a dictionary. And the word “delusion” conveys the implication of a certain sort of elitism or judgmentalism, i.e., our “undeluded” protagonist knows the truth that the deluded others can’t or don’t want to know. That sounds about as fundamentalist as you can get.

    If you or Dawkins or Robertson or anyone else want to talk about your own belief system – fine. I might even want to join in that conversation with you.

    But if anyone wants to abuse other people because they have different beliefs – or doesn’t see anything wrong with someone else doing that – not fine at all.

  94. #94 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Russell Miller,

    I’m not saying it’s a moral failing.

    Good. But DuWayne does. He says its “offensive.” That’s what I am objecting to.

  95. #95 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    DuWayne,

    While liberal and mainstream churches decline, more are just staying home, than are joining more conservative denominations. The ones joining more conservative sects, are doing so for two reasons. First, they see their church falling apart, and want a more stable church family, which the conservative churches provide. Second, they are stable new churches, for people who’s church just closed. Instead of just looking at figures for people who have some religious belief, look at figures for people who regularly attend church or practice some religious expression on a regular basis.

    I have. The liberal and moderate churches are in very serious decline. Attendance is falling, and the average age of members of their congregations is increasing. They are finding it increasingly difficult to replace the members they lose through death, defection to more conservative churches, or abandonment of organized religion altogether. As I said, almost all of the growth and vitality in Christianity is occurring in its conservative denominations and sects. I think the reasons for this are complex, but that a big part of it is the intellectual bankruptcy of liberal religion. When Christianity is reformed to the point of being almost fully reconciled with secularism, when it becomes little more than a vague belief in a creator God of some kind, a vague admiration for the historical figure of Jesus Christ, and a humanist moral code that any liberal atheist could share, it’s not surprising that large numbers of people find it empty and irrelevant and either defect to more traditional forms of Christianity that have some distinctive substance or fall away from organized religion altogether. The values of pluralism and non-exclusivity that liberal Christians tend to embrace also feed this decline. When you take the position that it doesn’t really matter whether people are Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists or anything else, you have little incentive to put a lot of effort into recruiting new members to your religion (including your own children) or retaining your existing ones. Virtually all the evangelism and missionary activity in Christianity today is occurring in the conservative wings. Liberal Christians tend to view any kind of aggressive evangelism to be at best in poor taste and at worst as a form of cultural imperialism. That is another way in which liberal religion is self-defeating.

  96. #96 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Poly, what you call “abusive,” I would simply call rude. Dawkins has not, to my knowledge, called anyone stupid (or un-intelligent, incapable of moral action, incapable of critical thinking, mindless automatons, etc.). He has talked about indoctrination– with ample explanation of what he means by it– and delusion, in the sense of having mistaken beliefs which are contrary to evidence. I agree that his terms are unnecessarily inflammatory. I don’t, however, consider him anywhere near Pat Robertson, who has blamed world tragedies on feminists and homosexuals and compared “liberal America” to Nazi Germany. If there is any religious individual who fully deserves the label “deluded,” it is he, and it is a harmful delusion indeed. If Robertson were awarded a dictatorship of America I fully expect he would make it a crime to be non-Christian. If Dawkins were awarded the same, I expect he would legalize same-sex marriage. Clearly these two are on nowhere near the same moral level.

  97. #97 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Ed Brayton,

    It’s hard to figure out exactly what you want Dawkins to do. On the one hand, you don’t seem to want Dawkins to stop speaking the truth as he sees it, but on the other, you say things like:

    “If you go around telling religious people that they are either stupid or deluded and that they are abusing their children by teaching them that their religion is true, you cannot be surprised when they tune you out on virtually everything else,”

    which seems to imply that you think Dawkins should stop saying those things even though he thinks they are true (I’ve never seen him say that he’s “surprised” if some people stop listening to him after they find out he thinks their beliefs are delusional or that indoctrinating children with certain religious beliefs is a form of abuse).

    Really, what exactly would you have Dawkins do? He apparently believes sincerely that belief in God, at least in the traditional sense of that word, is a kind of delusion. I share that belief. He also apparently believes that indoctrinating young children with, for instance, the Christian belief in hell and damnation is a form of abuse. I share that view too. I completely agree that many Christians may find these views very offensive. Many of them may ignore everything else said by someone who expresses them. But, I’m sorry, our first duty is to tell the truth as we understand it, not to lie about what we believe because some people don’t want to hear it.

  98. #98 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    He has talked about indoctrination– with ample explanation of what he means by it– and delusion, in the sense of having mistaken beliefs which are contrary to evidence. I agree that his terms are unnecessarily inflammatory.

    What word would you have Dawkins use in place of “delusion” without changing his meaning? It seems to me that “delusion” is precisely the right word for what he means, given his explanation of the nature of belief in God as he understands it.

    I agree with what Russell Blackford said yesterday: Behind most of these complaints about Dawkins’ supposedly excessive or inflammatory language, the real objection is to the message itself, to the message that pretty much all religious belief, not just the “extreme” forms, is fundamentally unjustified and unreasonable. I’m not saying that’s necessarily what you think, just that it seems to be the subtext behind most of the criticism Dawkins gets from people who say they have no problem in principle with him promoting atheism or criticizing religion.

  99. #99 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Jason– the term “delusion,” as Dawkins himself acknowledges, is commonly connoted to refer to a psychiatric problem. Religious belief is not, however, a disorder. It is not abnormal. It is not problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society. Hundreds of scientists are at work right now studying how religion has evolved to exist in rational people, as a byproduct or adaptation. I have no real problem with Dawkins calling religious belief mistaken or unjustified (even grossly so), but if he honestly wants to conduct a fruitful dialog with believers, then calling them deluded in the title of his book was not the brightest way of going about it. I have similar criticism for Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell, though I don’t think it’s as bad.

  100. #100 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    You didn’t answer my question, unless I am to understand that your proposed alternative to “delusion” is something like the awkward phrase “grossly unjustified or mistaken belief.” Well, sorry, but I don’t see a whole lot of difference between those terms. Dawkins clearly believes that belief in God is erroneous in a way that goes beyond the ordinary sense in which people may be mistaken about something, so calling it merely a “mistake” would not capture his meaning. As for the connection with mental illness, delusions aren’t necessarily signs of psychiatric disorders, and the phrase “grossly unjustified belief” might also be interpreted by some to imply a belief that is symptomatic of a mental illness or deficiency. And I don’t think Dawkins would reject the idea that there may be a connection between theism, at least in its more extreme and dogmatic forms, and mental illness anyway. There is already a recognized form of clinical mental illness that involves symptoms of hyperreligiosity. Our understanding of the mind is an evolving science, many mental conditions that were in the past considered to be mere moral failings or personality quirks are today recognized as mental disorders, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in the future at least certain kinds of religious belief are considered to be symptoms of mental illness. I expect Dawkins believes something similar. So I don’t agree that replacing “delusion” with “mistake” calling the book The God Error or somesuch would be true to Dawkins’ meaning.

  101. #101 Russell
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen writes:

    ..”delusion,” as Dawkins himself acknowledges, is commonly connoted to refer to a psychiatric problem. Religious belief is not, however, a disorder. It is not abnormal. It is not problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society.

    Psychiatrists mostly use behavior to determine when someone’s involvement in an idea becomes a disorder. Someone being a fan of vampire fiction is not a psychological problem. Their friends or family might pressure that someone to see a psychologist if she has lost his job, because of an insistence on wearing talismans to work that protect her from vampires. The psychologist might call it a delusion, if the stories start to bleed over into her perception of reality. Similarly, being Catholic isn’t a disorder. Refusing sex with one’s wife, to “live like the angels,” is a problem. (Real case, by the way.) Hearing the voices of the angels is.. what? Spiritual? Delusion? Revelation? What about seeing the Madonna? How many people of centuries past whose visions are now venerated by Catholics as miracles would, if there living today, be dismissed as delusional by Catholic priests and ordered to psychiatric treatment by Catholic physicians? You will find a large discussion of religious delusion in the psychiatric literature. The lines drawn are pragmatic; there is no way to tell what is or isn’t authentically religious.

    The difference between the two cases, and what makes drawing the boundaries a bit different, is that our culture recognizes vampires as a fiction, a mere superstition, yet resists saying the same about Yahweh, Gabriel, and the Holy Spirit. The moment someone starts to talk about vampires as real, the psychiatrist writes down “delusion.” For the religious patient, he is loathe to do same, merely because the patient takes the Holy Spirit as real. Instead, the psychiatrist has to focus on different criteria, and treat as if perhaps there really is a Holy Spirit.

    There is no reason to think of the Holy Spirit as any more real than Thor, aliens that abduct people in the night, or vampires. It is solely the number of believers and the conventions of our culture that cause us to give more respect to those who believe one than to those who believe the other. Part of the cultural inertia that religion carries is that there is no way to point that out without someone saying you are being rude. Catholics think their beliefs “deserve” more respect than that. Well, no, they don’t. People deserve respect, believers in vampires as well as believers in the Holy Spirit. But there is no reason at all to treat one of those beliefs as being more reasonable than the other. It isn’t. They are equally superstition. However we propose to discuss such things, however you propose to say that without being too offensive, the one thing that is being proposed is that we not pretend to a difference that isn’t there. Tell me how we should discuss belief in vampires, and I will say that we should discuss belief in the Holy Spirit exactly the same. Let’s stop the pretense that the latter is somehow more reasonable. It isn’t. It’s just more common.

  102. #102 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    Religious belief is not, however, a disorder. It is not abnormal. It is not problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society.

    Those are very tendentious claims. I suspect Dawkins would strongly dispute the claim that religious belief is “not problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society.” It is at least a plausible hypothesis that greater religiosity in a society causes greater social dysfunction. The most dysfunctional societies in the world often seem to be amoung the most religious (e.g., the Islamic states of the middle east). The least dysfunctional societies often seem to be amoung the least religious (e.g., the Scandinavian nations). The relationship also seems to largely hold on the basis of comparisons between the industrialized democracries, and between regions within an individual country (e.g., the American south is both the most religious part of the country and the most dysfunctional). I think all of this tends to undermine your claim that religious belief is not “problematic” for societies.

  103. #103 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    How many people of centuries past whose visions are now venerated by Catholics as miracles would, if there living today, be dismissed as delusional by Catholic priests and ordered to psychiatric treatment by Catholic physicians? You will find a large discussion of religious delusion in the psychiatric literature.

    Yes, indeed. Another facet of this issue is the association between “religious experiences” and hallucinations, which Carl Sagan, for example, discusses in his book The Demon-Haunted World. Experiences that religious believers attribute to encounters with God, demons, angels or other supernatural agents often seem to occur under conditions that we know are associated with hallucinations. In fact, religious people sometimes try to create those conditions for the purpose of inducing such an encounter. Examples of this include fasting, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, ritualized chanting or infliction of physical pain, and ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs. We also know that the brain naturally produces certain chemicals that induce hallucinations and others that suppress them. Many people who believe in God claim to have had some kind of vivid experience they interpret as an encounter with God, and these experiences often seem to play a major role in their belief in the existence of God. None of this means that these people are mentally ill, it just suggests that hallucinations may periodically occur among even normal, functional people.

  104. #104 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Jason says:

    Our understanding of the mind is an evolving science, many mental conditions that were in the past considered to be mere moral failings or personality quirks are today recognized as mental disorders, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in the future at least certain kinds of religious belief are considered to be symptoms of mental illness. I expect Dawkins believes something similar. So I don’t agree that replacing “delusion” with “mistake” calling the book The God Error or somesuch would be true to Dawkins’ meaning.

    But Dawkins is clearly not, in The God Delusion, referring merely to “certain kinds of religious belief” being “symptoms of a mental disorder.” He’s not talking about temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia. He’s talking about plain ol’ belief in God(s), belief that the vast majority of humankind has.

    As for the connection with mental illness, delusions aren’t necessarily signs of psychiatric disorders, and the phrase “grossly unjustified belief” might also be interpreted by some to imply a belief that is symptomatic of a mental illness or deficiency.

    That may well be true, but then I didn’t suggest that he should’ve called his book “The God Grossly Unjustified Belief” either. I think “The God Mistake” would’ve been a vastly superior title. Ordinary people make mistakes. Good people make mistakes. Rational people make mistakes. Mistakes are not always negative, and do not always produce calamity (though they are not to be recommended, because presumably it is always better to perceive the world accurately). Mistakes can be corrected. Saying someone made a mistake doesn’t imply that they’re crazy.

    Russell says:

    But there is no reason at all to treat one of those beliefs as being more reasonable than the other. It isn’t. They are equally superstition. However we propose to discuss such things, however you propose to say that without being too offensive, the one thing that is being proposed is that we not pretend to a difference that isn’t there. Tell me how we should discuss belief in vampires, and I will say that we should discuss belief in the Holy Spirit exactly the same. Let’s stop the pretense that the latter is somehow more reasonable. It isn’t. It’s just more common.

    I think you’re making huge assumptions about my beliefs concerning rationality, religion and cordiality that just aren’t true. I don’t propose that beliefs in the Holy Spirit should be any more respected than beliefs in vampires. I propose that a) people generally should be respected, and b) people are much more likely to listen to you, and perhaps understand your point of view, maybe even convert to it, if you don’t treat them like idiots. Especially considering that if they are idiots (which cognitive and evolutionary understandings do not support as a main cause of religion) then almost the whole world is with them.

    Jason speaks again:

    I suspect Dawkins would strongly dispute the claim that religious belief is “not problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society.”

    What I mean is that most people live productive, happy lives while being religious. Most people do not become suicide bombers, Catholic priests, or martyrs. People have most likely been religious since not long after we started using language. Religion is not something that breaks down the barriers of rationality that people usually apply to existence and forces its way into their mind– there is strong evidence that actually belief in the supernatural is something that comes intuitively, and may even be adaptive. Now, one may well then ask “Why should believing in something which is fictional, while costs time, energy, and resources besides, be adaptive?” Costly signaling theory is one answer, and we’re continuing to work on it.

  105. #105 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    But Dawkins is clearly not, in The God Delusion, referring merely to “certain kinds of religious belief” being “symptoms of a mental disorder.” He’s not talking about temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia. He’s talking about plain ol’ belief in God(s), belief that the vast majority of humankind has.

    I think you missed the point of the text of mine you quoted. Just as beliefs and behaviors that in the past were attributed to character flaws or personality quirks are now recognized as symptoms of mental disorders (depression, paranoia, attention deficit disorder, addictive disorders, etc.), so belief in God, especially in its more extreme and dogmatic forms, may in the future be linked to mental illness of some kind. I’m not saying that will necessarily happen, just that it is not unreasonable to suggest a possible association between belief in God and mental illness. But as I also said, the word “delusion” doesn’t necessarily refer to mental illness anyway. See my discussion of the link between “religious experiences” and hallucinations too.

    That may well be true, but then I didn’t suggest that he should’ve called his book “The God Grossly Unjustified Belief” either. I think “The God Mistake” would’ve been a vastly superior title.

    But that would be a misrepresentation of what Dawkins believes and wishes to say. He doesn’t think belief in God is merely a mistake, he thinks it’s totally unreasonable and, to use your phrase, “grossly unjustified.” To call it merely a “mistake” would be to massively dilute Dawkins’ message about the nature of theism as he understands it. But that is what you now seem to want him to do, on the grounds that his real message freaks some people out.

    Ordinary people make mistakes. Good people make mistakes. Rational people make mistakes.

    And ordinary, good and otherwise-rational people can be deluded about certain things too.

    Saying someone made a mistake doesn’t imply that they’re crazy.

    Now you really are being ridiculous. He didn’t call the book If You Believe In God, you’re Crazy, and nothing he says in TGD can reasonably be interpreted to imply that he’s saying that. If you or anyone else falsely believes that to describe a particular belief as a delusion is to imply that people who hold that belief are “crazy,” that’s your problem, not Dawkins’. He’s obviously not saying that.

  106. #106 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    What I mean is that most people live productive, happy lives while being religious.

    Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean religiosity has a neutral or positive impact on societies. There is considerable evidence, as I described, that it has a negative influence. So being religious may indeed be “problematic toward maintaining a productive existence in society.” Most Americans who live in the south probably live happy, productive lives, but that doesn’t mean there’s no causal link between the south’s social dysfunction (disproportionately high rates of crime, racism, teen pregnancy, abortion, poverty, etc.) and its religiosity.

    there is strong evidence that actually belief in the supernatural is something that comes intuitively, and may even be adaptive.

    I think it most likely does come intuitively to many people, and it may have been adaptive in our ancestral environment. That obviously doesn’t mean it’s true, or rationally justified, or harmless to modern industrialized societies. If the rise of science has taught us anything, it’s that our intuition, our “common sense,” is a very unreliable guide to the nature of reality beyond our ordinary, everyday interactions with the world. The notion that religiosity provided important social benefits in pre-technological human and pre-human cultures seems quite plausible to me, and I can readily believe that a propensity to religious belief was selected for by nature selection, but that obviously doesn’t mean religious beliefs are true, or beneficial in modern human societies.

  107. #107 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean religiosity has a neutral or positive impact on societies.

    I’m not saying it does. I am saying that, for the individual, it does not typically inhibit their ability to function in society (such as normally is expected for something to qualify as a disorder or disability). I fully agree that the aggregate effect of a religion on a society can be negative.

    I also agree with the rest of your comment.

  108. #108 Jason
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen,

    I think you’re making huge assumptions about my beliefs concerning rationality, religion and cordiality that just aren’t true. I don’t propose that beliefs in the Holy Spirit should be any more respected than beliefs in vampires.

    Then I continue to be mystified by your objection to Dawkins’ use of the word “delusion.” If someone believed in vampires, I mean really believed in vampires, and exhibited the same kind of very strong attachment to that belief that religious believers typically exhibit with respect to their belief in God, would you really consider it unreasonable and inaccurate to characterize that belief in vampires as a delusion? I think “delusion” is precisely the right word for it. As Russell said, just because belief in the Holy Spirit is more common than belief in vamprires doesn’t mean it’s any more justified.

  109. #109 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    Jason -

    My point was that the percentage of people going to church at all, has been on a steady decline for the last hundred years, markedly so in the last thirty. While the liberal churches are in serious decline and the conservative churches are on the rise, the overall percentages are still going down. There are a lot of people who claim religious belief, who either never go to church, or do so once or twice a year.

    I agree with you as to the reasons for that. Though there is also a number of people joining more conservative churches, who are not conservative Christians. I can only use own reasons for being in a conservative church to explain, but they have been echoed by others in my church. I considered going to a Unitarian/Universalist church, as it would better suit my beliefs. But for me the point of going to church is the community and that was not very solid in any of the U/U churches I visited. I then visited the church of a close friend, a Nazerene church. There I found the solid community I was looking for, that accepts me as I am and has even put me in a couple of leadership roles.

    My church has a spectrum going from fairly extreme right, to the moderate left, on to me – politicaly speaking. And while the teaching is somewhat religiously conservative, not so with the membership – again, it runs the spectrum, though I am the only member who does not believe in the god described in the Christian bible, that I know of. This has been par for the course with the other area churches that we have had joint events with, all of them conservative churches. Point being that people go to the conservative churches because they offer a solid sense of community that the mainstream to liberal churches just can’t offer any longer. Not necessarily because the teaching is more dogmatic, though of course some want that too.

  110. #110 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Jason– A belief being nearly universal doesn’t make it any more true, as I’m sure you’d agree. So the fact that belief in gods is vastly more widespread than belief in vampires doesn’t make a difference in my eyes as to the respectability of the belief, however I also don’t think that just because an erroneous (or just unsupportable) belief isn’t as widespread means that it is a delusion, whereas the more popular one is not. I apparently am just not willing to apply the term “deluded” as you are– that is, I will not apply it to someone who is not mentally disturbed, or someone I am not entirely comfortable offending.

  111. #111 melatonin
    January 1, 2007

    I think ‘false belief’ is a good substitute for ‘delusion’.

    But ‘The God false belief’ just doesn’t have the same snappy title.

    I discuss religion with a few people on a forum I use, I see all kinds of people, some claiming to see demons, auras and related stuff. I reckon these people are probably the Ramachandran category of temporal lobe dysfunctional or some other neural dysfuntion. The more ‘normal’ believers also seem to have emotional attachment to religious belief.

    The temporal lobe contains the amygdala, a major emotional area of the brain. A lot of the conditions that show false beliefs, such as anosognosia/confabulation can be due to right hemisphere damage – which has been suggested to be the emotional hemipshere.

  112. #112 DuWayne
    January 1, 2007

    That should have read that the teaching in my church is very conservative, not somewhat.

    melatonin – I’m just a little curious why you use that handle as I use melatonin on weekends, to help manage my insomnia.

  113. #113 melatonin
    January 1, 2007

    I’m a grad student in neuropsych and ‘melatonin’ is both a neural hormone and a song by my fave band – radiohead.

  114. #114 Larry Moran
    January 1, 2007

    Ed brayton says,

    I think you misunderstand what I mean by “us on the ground.” I’m not talking about biology students or scientists, I’m talking about those of us who are involved in the day to day battle with the creationists in front of school boards and legislatures and the like.

    Richard Dawkins is “on the ground” in the fight against superstition. He is “on the ground” in the fight against the anti-science forces. Dawkins is a scientist who knows about evolution and defends it against attack from the IDiots.

    Why should he care about the peculiar American struggle to keep creationism out of the schools by claiming that it violates the Constitution? That’s a fight for lawyers, not scientists. It has very little to do with the fight he is engaged in or, for that matter, the fight that I am engaged in. Furthermore, I think it’s the wrong strategy and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawkins thinks so as well.

    I think you look foolish when you lecture Richard Dawkins on how scientists should behave when science is under attack and I’ve said so in Appeaser Ed Brayton Asks Dawkins to Back Off. I think your letter is insulting because you imply that you know more about the fight between evolution and creationism than Dawkins does. You owe him an apology.

    BTW, several people have mentioned that you haven’t read The God Delusion. Please tell me this isn’t true.

  115. #115 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    Yes Larry, I saw your post, which was highly predictable. I know, I know, I’m an “appeaser”; keep repeating that and it might become true. You think my letter is insulting; you can’t imagine how little I care. Goodbye.

  116. #116 Poly
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen:

    Dawkins has not, to my knowledge, called anyone stupid (or un-intelligent, incapable of moral action, incapable of critical thinking, mindless automatons, etc.).

    Can we please avoid the indignant sputtering at straw men – I never implied that Dawkins personally used all those terms.

    In fact, I would doubt that any fundamentalist uses all of them.

    However, every one of them – and more – have been used by some fundamentalist in refering to those who disagree with them. In other words, they are all representative of the mindset.

    He has talked about indoctrination– with ample explanation of what he means by it– and delusion, in the sense of having mistaken beliefs which are contrary to evidence.

    I’ve already said that words convey implications over and above their dictionary meanings. You’ve admitted as much when you yourself said somewhere that certain words are “laden”. That’s a fact, although you don’t seem to like it. So let’s not rehash that over again.

    However, in addition to his books, I have heard Dawkins speak on more than one occasion. Oh, he was rude all right, but to my ears, it sounded like he was being something more than merely rude when referring to those who disagreed with him.

    I don’t, however, consider him anywhere near Pat Robertson, who has blamed world tragedies on feminists and homosexuals and compared “liberal America” to Nazi Germany.

    Not even all religious fundamentalists are over-the-top dominionists like Robertson, so don’t go getting all lovey about Dawkins by saying he isn’t “near” to that state of nuttery. He isn’t, but he is quite near enough for me, thank you very much.

    On another note, I see you’ve got yourself tied up with still another atheist fundamentalist. One of the characteristics of fundamentalism – one that I didn’t make a big deal about in my previous message – is that it is invincible to reasonable dialogue. Do you really think that your friend in these threads is all that much different from any tract-pushing, Bible-thumping, know-it-all, Christian fundamentalist? Not at all.

  117. #117 Paul Christopher
    January 2, 2007

    I’m with Larry. You appear to be trying to patronise someone who is far better qualified to talk about this subject than you are. It’s like Joe Bloggs trying to lecture Robert Ingersoll, quite frankly.

  118. #118 Daniel Morgan
    January 2, 2007

    There have been cycles of anti-religious sentiment among public voices in science before, and I do agree that they spurred a major backlash of religious fundamentalism. The most obvious example and evidence involves the Scopes trial and what ramped up to it — the original publication of The Fundamentals in the early 20C.

    It is hard to read the tea leaves of what effect Harris, Dawkins, and others have/will have had on science education, if any. Consider that the court cases are now decades old which settled the legal issue of teaching creationism, and that Kitzmiller laid precedent to treat ID the same way. It is not the same now as it was back then. People won’t be holding their breath waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides. The power of the RR to get in radical Justices seems now [esp in light of the Nov 06 elections] only a delusion of grandeur.

    I think most of America is slowly, SLOWLY coming to grips with evolutionary theory as a part of science. Those who will never accept it just: i) homeschool; ii) indoctrinate their children against it from early on; iii) tell them to leave/skip class or in some other way prevent learning about it. I don’t think that this group of people really read Dawkins, or really need Dawkins. I think all they need is a “man of god” to tell them how to believe Genesis. And there always have been and always will be lots of those around to stir up trouble.

  119. #119 asdf
    January 2, 2007

    That letter was biggest load of shit I have ever read. It is child abuse, and how the hell would him saying this cause the “government” to intervene. I’m sorry but I think you are either paranoid or looking for some “Dawkins’ attention”.

    Get a life.

  120. #120 Andrea Bottaro
    January 2, 2007

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think Ed’s statement is patronizing, though I don’t agree with it at all.

    Ed is saying that for the immediate goal of defending the teaching of evolution in US schools the support of the general public would be more readily gained if Dawkins toned down his anti-religious rhetoric. As far as I understand it, even Dawkins himself has agreed this may well be the case. Why shouldn’t Ed say what he thinks on the issue? It’s not like Ed is telling Dawkins his philosophy is all wrong, or he doesn’t know crap about evolution. It’s a difference of opinion on strategic matters, and as such Ed can say whatever he pleases.

    The other face of the coin is of course that regardless of Ed’s opinion, Dawkins is entitled to do whatever he pleases, and well he should. Besides, if Ed had read more of Dawkins’s arguments, he’d know he is fully aware of the issue and has already explicitly motivated his refusal to back off religion. No one is breaking new ground here.

    As far as I am concerned, as a general rule I think it is short-sighted and possibly even counterproductive to demand people to withhold their strongly-held opinions for some short-term goal that, even if successful, will only be temporary and precarious. (It’s not like Creationists will ever give up, and if that’s the case, should atheists just shut up forever?)

    Also – call me cynical – but in the hypothetical scenario in which there were a substantial and organized minority of atheists in the country who expressed their discomfort at having people like Collins and Miller speak about their religiosity and evolution and threatened to back off from supporting the latter in schools (say, by resigning en masse from the NCSE and school boards, or stop voting in local elections etc) unless the theistic evolutionists toned it down, I can hardly imagine Ed, or anyone else for that matter, supporting that absurd demand.

    And finally, I think it is perfectly fine for this argument to exist and be out there in the open, and for all sides (atheists, theistic evolutionists, activists of all stripes) to continue doing exactly what they are doing. The strength of the pro-science camp is that it is pluralistic. There is a reason why liberals, conservatives, Marxists, libertarians, theists, agnostics and atheists are perfectly comfortable with the scientific findings of evolution, and it’s because they are scientifically sound. Compare that to the Creationist camp, in which the agreement is only about vaguely worded theism, but as soon as you get into scientific detail all hell breaks loose, and they are forced to support every position in the same breath (as when Luskin says ID is comfortable with common descent, while arguing that transitional fossils are nothing of the sort, or when Dembski has to equivocate on something so obvious as the age of the Earth).

    As long as we argue, and yet clearly agree on the fundamentals, it just shows the general public that supporting good science does not necessarily pin anyone down to any metaphysical or political position, as it should be.

    So everything’s fine, despite the bruised egos. Keep up the good work.

  121. #121 Soren Kongstad
    January 2, 2007

    I can only recommend that people read the God Delusion, before talking about it.

    It is true that Dawkins retells a story of a woman who claims that she received more harm from the religious teaching of the church, than from the sexual abuse she received from a priest.

    If you actually read the book, you would find that Dawkins goes a long way to relate that it is not a generalisation he makes, but just an anecdotal example of one person who feels this way.

    He explicitly states that she was only abused once, whilst sitting in a car, where the priest fondled her. She said it was uncomfortable at the time, but the thought of a dead dear one burning in hell traumatized her.

    The anecdote only shows that one woman who is in a position to judge only her own experiences, saw the sexual abuse as less traumatizing than the psycological. This anecdote is used as an example as to how indoctrination CAN be abuse.

    Dawkins never ever makes any statements implying that indoctrination always, or even more often than not is as or more harmful than sexual abuse.

  122. #122 Kongstad
    January 2, 2007

    I agree 100% with Andrea Bottaro on the fact that this “fight” between Dakwins, Myers and Ed are in fact a good thing.

    In the wake of the “Appeaser” skirmish, I debated with a creationist who claimed that the Darwinian lobby did not allow any disputes to be publisized – you know the argument.

    Well I just directed him towards the battle concerning how one should conduct oneself, and asked him why we haven’t seen Behe publicly chastizing Dembski for his stupid attempt to disprove common descent by misrepresenting how genetical likeness is measured.

    Why no old earth creationists fight to show that YEC’s arguments for a young earth are just silly, and try to make them change their way, so that the “sensible” creationists does not have to be ashamed.

    Meanwhile the “Darwinists” agree on the basics in the science, but even those who devote large parts of their life to spreading “Darwinist” propaganda rip each other apart on the slightest disagreements.

    As long as we see these fights we can all be proud.

  123. #123 Ed Brayton
    January 2, 2007

    Paul Christopher wrote:

    I’m with Larry. You appear to be trying to patronise someone who is far better qualified to talk about this subject than you are. It’s like Joe Bloggs trying to lecture Robert Ingersoll, quite frankly.

    This is precisely the kind of absurd hero worship response that one expects when they dare to say anything critical of someone who is famous. You haven’t actually engaged the argument I’ve made, all you’ve done is dismiss me out of hand, and on the basis of an obvious misunderstanding. You’ve changed the subject to Dawkins’ scientific credentials vs mine which, while an obvious disparity that I certainly wouldn’t deny, simply have nothing to do with my position. There is no question that Dawkins is far more qualified than I am to speak on the science of evolution, but my argument was not about science it was about politics and society. And on that measure, I dare say that I’m actually in a better position than he is, at least with respect to the primary battleground over creationism (the United States), to comment. Because while Dawkins writes, often brilliantly, on the scientific issues, I’m one of the people who actually has to deal with school boards, state boards of education and state legislatures. That’s what I meant by being “on the ground”. There is a difference between fighting these battles from the ivory tower and fighting them face to face with the people who control the policies, and on that ground it is not Dawkins who is on the front lines it’s people like Genie Scott, Patricia Princehouse, Ken Miller, Steve Case, Nick Matzke and a few dozen others around the country, including me.

    The other problem with your snide dismissal, as opposed to reasoned analysis, of my argument is that, while you may be able to dismiss me as a mere plebe in the presence of Dawkins, I am hardly the only one who takes this position. In fact, after many years of discussing this issue with virtually all of the prominent evolution activists around the country I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that my position is by far the dominant one. Yes, there are those who think we’re wrong and that split has become obvious over the years, but I would bet that opinion among our group runs about 80% on my side on this one. At a meeting last year I was with a group of 25-30 activists from around the country and this very discussion came up many times. Despite the fact that this group was predominately made up of atheists, I don’t recall there being a single person who didn’t take essentially the same position I take on this issue. Indeed, one of the primary topics of conversation was how we go about overcoming the difficulties it presents for us. So while you feel safe in exercising what amounts to a cognitive shortcut that allows you to merely dismiss my argument, you still haven’t engaged the position at all, and it is a position taken not just by this lowly foot soldier but by the vast majority of the prominent evolution activists in this country as well.

  124. #124 Ed Brayton
    January 2, 2007

    Andrea-

    For what seems like the 10,000th time, let me make it as clear as possible that I do not, and have never, advocated that atheists “back off religion” or that they not express their disagreement with those who believe in God. What I have advocated is that when they claim that religious people are, merely by virtue of believing in God, stupid or deluded, they are both A) wrong (because a great many of them are obviously not stupid or deluded) and B) providing a perfect cognitive shortcut (something people who have not thought deeply about an issue – meaning practically the entire population – are always on the lookout for) for those with who might otherwise be persuadable on evolution to dismiss it out of hand because it is automatically associated not only with atheism, but with what, to them, is a very visceral anti-theism. If you begin a dialogue by declaring that the very people you wish to reach are stupid and delusional, you simply aren’t going to be listened to. I know that because I was one of those people, and I’ve also been the person on the other side as well. I went through a period after I left Christianity when I said things just like what I’m objecting to now, when I actually believed that all religious people must be stupid or crazy. And I was wrong on both levels, principle and practicality; religious people are not necessarily stupid or deluded (though many of them are; then again, so are many of any large group), and saying so only demeans them and makes them tune you out completely.

    People can, of course, disagree with my position. Prof. Dawkins obviously does and, in all likelihood, still will even after I offered my opinion to him. Many others do as well. We can debate these things, but there is no debate with people (and I do not aim this at you specifically, Andrea) who either just sniff at it and dismiss it out of hand (like Moran and Paul Christoper do above) or who pretend that my position is that atheists should stop advocating atheism (as PZ does in his stunningly idiotic accusation that I “loathe atheists and want to see them silenced”). I’ve never said any such thing and I never will.

  125. #125 Jason
    January 2, 2007

    Ed Brayton,

    How is it “obvious” that “a great many people,” or in fact anyone at all, who believes in God is not deluded in holding that belief? How is it “obvious” that belief in God is ever anything other than a delusion? Dawkins isn’t calling theists crazy or saying that they are necessarily mentally ill, he’s saying that that particular belief is a delusion, just as you might say that people who believe they have been abducted by aliens or that they can communicate with the spirits of the dead are suffering from a delusion.

    And I’ve never seen Dawkins claim that people who believe in God are “stupid.”

  126. #126 Andrea
    January 2, 2007

    Ed:
    well, it seems to me you fail to appreciate that, for Dawkins, PZ, Larry, etc, failing to call (what they see as) a spade a spade as far as religion goes is precisely “backing off religion”. They feel that way, and say what they feel. And that’s what they should do, even if it makes your (ours, theirs as well, I should say) job with respect to the teaching of evolution in schools harder at times. So be it.

    As I said, if the public is concerned about the metaphysical implications of evolution, one only needs to point out that a “deluded” evangelical like Collins and a “rabid” atheist like Dawkins can look at the same evolutionary biology textbook and agree 100% about its contents to demonstrate that the issue has to do with science, not metaphysics. That the two can also vehemently disagree about metaphysics seems to me a plus, not a drawback in this case.

    And if someone still doesn’t get it, well it’s their problem, because there is a point at which “dumbing down” the message means changing it altogether, and we should really avoid to do that.

    I guess it may just be a matter of proper “framing”.

  127. #127 doctorgoo
    January 2, 2007

    One of the things that PZ does that’s counterproductive to his (and Ed’s and all of our) goals of fighting ID/creationism is that he is often overly critical of those who don’t agree absolutely 100% with him all the time. Take Derbyshire for example:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/its_not_enough_to_be_just_an_a.php

    Out of thin air, he manages to find a hidden insult against liberals, and focuses on this instead of the fact that a conservative voice (who might convince those who PZ and Ed probably cannot reach easily) is fighting for our side.

    I think somewhere along the way, PZ has lost his proper perspective.

  128. #128 Ed Brayton
    January 2, 2007

    Andrea wrote:

    well, it seems to me you fail to appreciate that, for Dawkins, PZ, Larry, etc, failing to call (what they see as) a spade a spade as far as religion goes is precisely “backing off religion”. They feel that way, and say what they feel. And that’s what they should do, even if it makes your (ours, theirs as well, I should say) job with respect to the teaching of evolution in schools harder at times.

    And I feel what I feel and also express it; same thing, right? I recognize that there is a genuine difference of opinion here. But to turn my criticism of that into the claim that I “loathe atheists and want to see them silenced” – well that’s not just ridiculous, it’s dishonest and moronic.

  129. #129 Andrea
    January 2, 2007

    And I feel what I feel and also express it; same thing, right?
    Absolutely. As long as the same standards are applied all around, there’s no problem at all with you complaining that Dawkins makes your interactions with Creationists at the local BoE awkward (he knows, of course). That’s why in my opinion your letter to Dawkins is not patronizing or offensive in any way, just shortsighted.

    Embrassez la difference! ;-)

  130. #130 DuWayne
    January 2, 2007

    I think that Andrea expresses this well. But I would add that the methods Dawkins uses are not nearly as contraindictive to the battle he is engaged in, in his own country. While it has unfortunate results here in the states, the more I come to understand the nature of the situation in Britain, the more I come to realize that the tactics he uses are likely quite effective there.

    I think that this whole blow-up has been a net positive, the personal issues between Ed and Proff. Myers not withstanding. I daresay that I am not alone in learning a lot more about the nature of the battle going on in Britain. Learning that Proff. Dawkins tactics are actually fairly effective for battling the religious issues that pervade British society – in quite a different way than they do ours.

  131. #131 gregonomic
    January 2, 2007

    Ed.

    Really, the only thing I have to add is that if you really believe that your work “on the ground” is hampered by people like Dawkins, perhaps you shouldn’t be so hasty to paint people like Dawkins as being totalitarian monsters. Seems a bit like shooting one’s self in the foot.

  132. #132 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2007

    Dawkins wrote:

    No wonder lawyers and diplomats need special training. I’m out of my depth here.

    Reading something and thinking about it before signing it is “out of his depth?” What a joke! It was surprisingly sensible of him to admit an error, but this incident still leaves yet another huge dent in his credibility as an “expert” on religion. For a scientist of Dawkins’ caliber, this sort of mistake is inexcusable. Aren’t those Old Europe academics supposed to be smarter than us provincial colonial rubes?

    Dawkins’ war on theism is almost as incompetent as Bush’s war on terrorism.

  133. #133 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2007

    Wow, this Moran guy doesn’t learn, does he? Same tired-ass name-calling, same refusal to admit a mistake even after his hero himself admitted it.

  134. #134 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2007

    DuWayne wrote:

    Learning that Proff. Dawkins tactics are actually fairly effective for battling the religious issues that pervade British society – in quite a different way than they do ours.

    Please give specific examples of positive effects of Dawkins’ words and/or actions in the UK, distinct from the effects of other activists.

    And don’t fall back on some vague blithering about how the extremists were necessary to force the moderates to do something. That’s the standard excuse of all extremists, of all persuasions, in all issues.

  135. #135 DuWayne
    January 3, 2007

    Raging Bee -

    I can’t give specific examples. It is more to do with cultural context than anything else. Taken in the context of a government that labels chidren by their parents religion, for the purpose of determining their religious instruction in school, Dawkins comments equating labeling children by their parents religion as abusive, makes far more sense. He could have used better wording, but the fact is that the government labeling them as such is abusive in my opinion.

    The other aspect would be that the general population, as a whole, is a lot more receptive to what he says, than the population here is. They all live in the same cultural context that he is coming from. As such, most of the Brits that I have read comments by, communicated with, over the last few days, concerning this issue, have all been a lot more positive about the tactics Dawkins uses. And not just the rabid fundies like Moran, people who have an attitude more like Ed’s also feel that he gets a bad rap, mostly from cultural misunderstanding.

    This is not to say that they (or I) think that he couldn’t tone it down a lot. But there is a world of difference between how he is recieved here, compared to his reception at home. Especialy when you consider that Britain has a state religion and requires religious instruction in many of it’s tax-funded schools.

    Re-reading my comment above, I realize that I sound much more in agreement with Dawkins tactics than I am. What I should have said was, his tactics do not come off nearly so negatively in Britain as they do here. Sorry, I have been learning a lot and absorbing a lot about this over the last few days. As such, my usual focus in semantics has taken a back seat. I am usualy a lot more clear about what I mean.

  136. #136 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2007

    Ed: You may want to have a look at this Salon interview with a somewhat more sensible critic of ID and creationism (A former Seventh-Day Adventist turned non-theist):

    http://www.salon.com/books/int/2007/01/02/numbers/

    Here’s an interesting excerpt:

    If science and religion aren’t really historical enemies, why do so many people think they are?

    Because it serves the needs of two different groups. Scientists who are beleaguered today by creationists and by opponents of stem cell research like to dismiss religion as something that has been an eternal impediment to the progress of science. And the conservatives — whether they’re creationists or intelligent design theorists — probably represent a majority in our society. But they also love to present themselves as martyrs. They’re being oppressed by the secularists of the world. The secularists may only amount to about 10 percent of American society, but of course they do control many of the papers and the radio stations and TV stations of the country. So clearly these ideas serve some intellectual need of the parties involved, or they wouldn’t persist, especially in the face of so much historical evidence to the contrary.

  137. #137 Jeff Hebert
    January 3, 2007

    If science and religion aren’t really historical enemies, why do so many people think they are?

    I think the comment made in the link is true, but it’s also true that science and religion have at times historically been enemies. Not necessarily so, and not more often than they’ve been friends, but there absolutely are some religious ideas that are at odds with good science — flat earth, planet carried by giant turtles, geocentrism, 6,000 year old creation, the sky is a dome covering a square flat plane, etc. etc. For believers who hold positions that are belied by scientific evidence, there absolutely is a conflict.

    What confuses people is thinking that these specific conflicts are necessary and inherent to the nature of the two different enterprises. That would be like saying because sometimes the United States and Britain have trade disagreements or have come into armed conflict in the past, they are necessarily enemies and inherently at odds.

    I think the link makes an excellent point, though. I just wanted to clarify that it’s no more accurate to say that science and religion have never been enemies as it is to say that they must and always have been so.

  138. #138 Russell
    January 3, 2007

    Superstition and knowledge are not always been enemies. There are good reasons, after all, not to walk under ladders. I’m comfortable with that statement. Are you comfortable with the fact that Yahweh is a superstition no more reasonable than leprachauns? In all this discussion of how religion relates, or should relate, to the rest of the world, there’s always the desire to separate it from other superstition. Here’s a simple idea: let’s not. I have nothing against people throwing salt over their shoulder, or looking for leprachauns in the woods, or taking the eucharist on Sunday. Harmless practices all. Just don’t expect me to take one more seriously than the others.

  139. #139 Raging Bee
    January 4, 2007

    Are you comfortable with the fact that Yahweh is a superstition no more reasonable than leprachauns?

    No, not really; and neither are the billions of people who seem to have more reason to believe in Yahweh than in leprachauns. I’m no big fan of Yahweh myself, but it’s perfectly obvious that belief in him is qualitatively different, in many important ways, from belief in leprachauns. I can prove that if you want, but you’ll have to wait until i’m done proving that the sky is blue.

    In all this discussion of how religion relates, or should relate, to the rest of the world, there’s always the desire to separate it from other superstition. Here’s a simple idea: let’s not.

    It’s not a “desire,” it’s a fact: not all religious beliefs are the same. Ignoring the obvious differences is a simple idea, but so are racism and flat-Earth-ism. “Simple” isn’t always “right.”

    How would you feel if a Christian said: “In all this discussion of how other religions relate, or should relate, to the rest of the world, there’s always the desire to separate one non-Christian from another. Here’s a simple idea: let’s not.”

  140. #140 Raging Bee
    January 4, 2007

    Harmless practices all. Just don’t expect me to take one more seriously than the others.

    No one expects you to. We do, however, expect you to understand that just because you treat them all the same, does not make them the same. I have equal contempt for Pinochet and Castro, but that does not make them identical in any practical sense.

  141. #141 Russell
    January 4, 2007

    Raging Bee:

    It’s not a “desire,” it’s a fact: not all religious beliefs are the same. Ignoring the obvious differences is a simple idea..

    Fortunately, I didn’t propose that. I recognize that superstitions differ, and that these differences can be important. I didn’t say that belief in Yahweh and belief in leprachauns was the same. I said that they were equally reasonable. If you want to argue otherwise, what you need to cite is not hundreds of millions of believers, but better evidence. Tell us how to test the existence of the Christian god. The fact that Christianity is much more popular than belief in leprachauns and other fairies, at our time, is simply irrelevant to that question.

    It is relevant, of course, to other issues. It’s why, for example, we have millions of Christian shrines, and so few to the fairies. Those hundreds of millions of believers join their efforts and resources to build shrines and churches. And that’s appropriate and how it should be, just as our culture devotes more resources to football than to lacrosse. Popularity matters to many things. And just as there are reasons that football is more popular than lacrosse, there are reasons Christianity is more popular than belief in fairies. And those are worth discussing, but shouldn’t be confused in any form or fashion with actual likelihood that the superstition is true.

    People who think rationally about religion will treat them as equally superstitious. Not equally popular. Not equally important to the culture. But in the one regard I described, yes, they are equal.