Effect Measure

A Jewish website has an interesting critique of the new popularity of
the current spate of books on atheism (I refuse to call it the New
Atheism; there’s nothing new, different or unusual about it except
that a lot of people are reading it). The argument is this: the
“militancy” of the new books is a ready-made scapegoat for a
“crumbling moral landscape.” The germ of a good idea is never
followed up, however. Instead of discussing the crumbling moral
landscape itself (an idea we shouldn’t take for granted but examine
critically), Rabbi Steven Pearce instead turns his venom on the
scapegoats. Irony lives.

But what distinguishes today’s best-selling amateur
theologians from those of the past is their combative brand of
atheism. They are humorless, aggressive, mean-spirited and cruel, and
their line of reasoning is stale, unoriginal and coarse.

For them, religion is irrational, a “virus of the mind,” a pious
fraud, unalloyed nonsense, overwhelmingly pernicious, a vestigal
artifact. Nevertheless, their excessively bold assertions and
rhetorical flourishes are attractive to their readers. [Etc., etc.]
(jewishsf.com)


Dawkins, PZ, etc., are not “amateur theologians” any more than
theologians are amateur scientists because they talk about science.
If Dawkins were trying to be a theologian he would be open to the
charge he was a bad one. Someone who criticizes quackery could well
be a bad quack himself. Not relevant. Pearce then adopts the usual
defense of the liberal believer: what Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc.
say about religion is a caricature of real religious belief
(meaning what he and his friends believe):

Unlike these authors, Judaism has long read the Bible
metaphorically, taking it seriously but not literally. In his essay
“Law and Love,” Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik suggested that both
literalists and skeptics are wrong because they only read the text
literally and not as a metaphor with a deeper and richer meaning.

Meaning what? The Bible should be read as fiction? Fine with me,
since it is fiction. That doesn’t mean it can’t be
interpreted in ways to draw moral, political or social statements,
the way a novel or poem can. What sets the Bible apart from other
works of fiction is it comes with an authority that gives terrible
potency to the many hateful ways its text are interpreted. There may
be warfare over interpretations of Moby Dick but fortunately it is
bloodless and confined to academic literature departments.

Pearce’s further argument is just as incoherent, at least in terms of
his project to attack Dawkins and company and defend his little
community of liberal believers:

Furthermore, strident atheists do not address today’s
rising tide of spirituality among most religious groups, proof that
people continue to seek deeper religious meaning especially because
atheism does not replace lack of belief with a viable rational
alternative, leading to what Michael Novak calls “a leap in the
dark.”

Insofar as this rising tide exists at all (separate from a resurgence
in fundamentalism, which is also a form of “spirituality”), today’s
atheism writings certainly address this. But if they didn’t, so what?
The weirdest point Pearce makes is about Mother Teresa:

The newly released book “Come Be My Light: The Private
Writings of the Saint of Calcutta” provides stunning revelations that
Mother Teresa doubted God’s existence for her entire career. In spite
of her decades long darkness, melancholy, lack of faith and
theological misgivings, she continued to minister to the poor and
lost. She believed that her sullen, brooding soul and her sense of
personal abandonment by God allowed her to enter the dark lives of
the truly abandoned, identifying with and scrupulously serving them.

For Mother Teresa, the real issue was not one of God?s existence or
lack thereof, but rather whether it is possible to utilize disbelief
for the greater good of humanity, a notion that finds resonance in
Judaism.

Let’s see if we can parse this. The thing that validates Mother
Teresa’s belief is her lack of belief. The wonderful thing about
Mother Teresa’s good works are that they were based on a hypocrisy.
Her disappointment in not finding God allowed her into the lives of
other, more profoundly disappointed people. You call this an argument
for faith? Or is it an argument that even people with no faith do
good works? Or something else?

Aren’t atheists the ones who say to do good we don’t need to a reward
in heaven or the approbation of a non-existent Father Figure? If some
Jews and Mother Teresa say so, that’s fine. It just means they agree
with atheists on that count.

Pearce concludes by quoting something from the Gates of Prayer: “Pray
as if everything depends on God; act as if everything depends on
you.” Why pray at all, is the question to ask in that case.

The upside down nature of Pearce’s straw man attack on Dawkins and
company is revealed in his conclusion:

From the Jewish perspective, doing is as important as
believing. What Rabbi Lieb and Mother Teresa teach that the today’s
atheists miss is that it is possible to doubt and still serve.

Two responses: (1) Doesn’t his argument imply that doing is more
important
than believing? Indeed, what argument has he made for
believing at all? (2) Isn’t the lesson the says “today’s
atheists miss” their very argument? And isn’t it the believers who
most often miss it?

Pearce’s screed smacks of a gratuitous, contradictory and self
implicating attack that says nothing about atheists, today’s or
yesterday’s, and quite a bit about today’s liberal believers.

Comments

  1. #1 Watt de Fawke
    October 28, 2007

    The bible as metaphor? Metaphors do not give anything a deeper meaning. Metaphors are shallow comparisons. A metaphor made explicit, we call a simile.

    Try this simile: An introductory calculus book is like an introductory chemistry book, in that it has a few important ideas which are examined in great detail.

    Now this simile: The bible is like any other collection of old stories, in that there may be truth to some of them, but the rest is fiction.

    So, this guy’s Judaism takes the bible metaphorically, taking it seriously but not literally? How do you take seriously what you don’t believe to be true? He’s talking pure nonsense and I think he knows it.

    As for atheism being “stale, unoriginal and coarse”, so is arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, carpentry, bricklaying, and bowling. Does he have a point to make here or is he merely babbling?

  2. #2 Thinker
    October 28, 2007

    Great post!

    Regarding the value of the Bible, Pearce runs headlong into the problem with any “holy” text. Either

    1) you read it literally, and then you must critically examine any claims made in the text, or

    2)you read it metaphorically, in which case the interpretations and discussions the text gives rise to are more valuable than the text itself, and there is nothing objective that sets the text apart from any other text. It’s all a subjective value judgment of how good the text is at helping inspire discussion which leads to an understanding.

    Some religionists try to have it both ways, meaning some parts should be taken as god’s literally true words, while others should be seen as metaphor. However, there is no objective way to decide what is what…

    (BTW, I think you forgot to close the blockquote towards the end.)

  3. #3 revere
    October 28, 2007

    Thinker: Thanks. Yes, I did mess up the blockquote (actually there was a space after the slash). I am stuck with a weird connection in an Italian hotel that won’t let me post anything so I couldn’t correct it. The heavy lifting has been done stateside by my wiki partner, DemFromCT. I send him the posts by email and he puts them up. He has now corrected my goof. If all goes well I start the 17 hour trek back to the states tomorrow and will be able to do my own posting.

  4. #4 Ex-drone
    October 28, 2007

    Pearce writes:

    They are humorless, aggressive, mean-spirited and cruel, and their line of reasoning is stale, unoriginal and coarse. … their excessively bold assertions and rhetorical flourishes are attractive to their readers.

    Actually sounds like the fundie crowd to me.

  5. #5 Oran Kelley
    October 28, 2007

    Pearce then adopts the usual
    defense of the liberal believer: what Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. say about religion is a caricature of real religious belief (meaning what he and his friends believe)

    You believe in science? Me, too.

    There’s research out there as to what religious belief might be–as opposed to what Richard Dawkins might like it to be.

    Come with it. There’s good sociology out there as to what religion means to people and thoughtful interpretations of the data, but apparently neither you nor dawkins nor harris . . . care to know anything about it.

    “Religion:bad” is science to you guys?

    You think Pearce’s idea of actually existing religion–religion as it exists as a cultural, sociological and psychological phenomenon–is skewed? Let’s see the research that shows it. NOT for god’s sake an anecdote or a quotation from scripture which few believers know, fewer care about and even fewer internalize.

    And let’s start comparing it to what Dawkins et al. say about religion.

    If you have something to contribute to the discussion from an actual scientific standpoint, let’s see it. All I ever see from your side is the sort of BS sophism one’s sees among creationists. Let’s see dome actual effort to understand the phenomenon, please. That’s what “science” is supposed to be about, no?

  6. #6 Joseph j7uy5
    October 28, 2007

    They are humorless…

    Them’s fighting words! Arrr! Make him walk the plank, me mateys!

  7. #7 herman
    October 28, 2007

    What explains near death experiences, where the individual floats above his or her body, and can observe the doctors trying to save her. Then she goes into a tunnel, and when she arrives at the other end of the tunnel, she encounters friends who have died; and these friends tell her she must return to life, because it is not time for her to die yet.
    And then the person returns to her body and wakes up. I have know 2 elderly persons who claim they had this experience during heart operations.
    Some theoretical physicists, familiar with string theory, claim there may be 5 or more dimensions, instead of just the three we can perceive. Does a person during a near death experience enter for example, the 5th dimension, and perceive eternity?
    And then there is the question of miracles. How does a scientist know for sure miracles do not exist? For example,
    in the story of Moses, where he encountered the burning bush that continued to burn long after any other bush would have burned up, and heard the voice of God. Can a scientist claim this really never happened, because the bush would have burned up completely, and because God does not exist?
    If, as these physicists claim, there are perhaps 5 or 10 dimensions, how can scientists be sure Moses did not encounter God in one of these dimensions, which we cannot perceive directly, or measure?
    Be careful when you attack theoretical physicists, and their insistance there may be 5 dimensions, or you may be accused of attacking scientists for their beliefs. If you find string theory repulsive, you may be accused of being a dogmatist.

  8. #8 STH
    October 28, 2007

    herman, those “near-death” stories are indeed dramatic. However, there’s no reason to believe there’s anything supernatural about them and some evidence that they are simply a hallucination. For example, a high percentage of people who have these experiences are not actually near death. Also, the “visions” are not equally associated with different kinds of trauma; they usually occur when there is a lack of oxygen to the brain, suggesting a kind of hallucination.

    And let’s not ignore the impact of social pressures. My mother came close to death twice and had hallucinations both times, none of which involved a tunnel or a light. What she saw wasn’t very interesting or noteworthy, so she doesn’t talk about it to people very often. If she had seen the tunnel and the light, you can be sure she’d be talking about it (she has a “spiritual” bent) and we all know how stories tend to grow in the telling.

  9. #9 Troy
    October 28, 2007

    What explains near death experiences, where the individual floats above his or her body, and can observe the doctors trying to save her. Then she goes into a tunnel, and when she arrives at the other end of the tunnel, she encounters friends who have died; and these friends tell her she must return to life, because it is not time for her to die yet.
    And then the person returns to her body and wakes up. I have know 2 elderly persons who claim they had this experience during heart operations.

    Everything I’ve heard about research into this seems to claim that their hallucinations pieced together from sense data your brain collects during the operation. Kinda like when you have a dream about a TV show that someone was watching in the room while your asleep. I’ve had the latter happen to me several times so I tend to accept this explanation.

    Some theoretical physicists, familiar with string theory, claim there may be 5 or more dimensions, instead of just the three we can perceive. Does a person during a near death experience enter for example, the 5th dimension, and perceive eternity?

    Why do all mystic types love string theory? String theory posits extra dimensions but these are not higher planes of existence, their just additional dimensions to the three spacial and one temporal that we experience.

    And then there is the question of miracles. How does a scientist know for sure miracles do not exist? For example,
    in the story of Moses, where he encountered the burning bush that continued to burn long after any other bush would have burned up, and heard the voice of God. Can a scientist claim this really never happened, because the bush would have burned up completely, and because God does not exist?

    Um, I haven’t heard of anybody trying to disprove this. Mostly because there is no evidence it actually ever took place. Its one gents account of what he saw. If I busted into a bar claiming that a flaming petunia bush just had a gentlemanly chat with me would you really worry about it?

    If, as these physicists claim, there are perhaps 5 or 10 dimensions, how can scientists be sure Moses did not encounter God in one of these dimensions, which we cannot perceive directly, or measure?
    Be careful when you attack theoretical physicists, and their insistance there may be 5 dimensions, or you may be accused of attacking scientists for their beliefs. If you find string theory repulsive, you may be accused of being a dogmatist.

    So because you don’t understand string theory those who disagree with you are filthy heathens… Got it… Wait a minute…

  10. #10 herman
    October 28, 2007

    Troy,
    You are a victim of scientism:
    The term scientism can be used as a neutral term to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences. It also can imply a criticism of a perceived misapplication or misuse of the authority of science in either of two directions:

    1. The term is often used as a pejorative[1][2] to indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims.[3] In this sense, the charge of scientism often is used as a counter-argument to appeals to scientific authority in contexts where science might not apply,[4] such as when the topic is understood to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.
    2. The term is also used to pejoratively refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,”[2] with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience”.[5][6] It thus expresses a position critical of (at least the more extreme expressions of) positivism.[7][8] (Compare: scientific imperialism.[9])
    Troy please grow up. There are other interpretations besides nihilism, materialism, and irrationalsim.

  11. #11 herman
    October 28, 2007

    troy,
    Please read this and think about before you make any further comments in regard to my post.
    Positivism is a philosophy that states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method. It was developed by Auguste Comte (widely regarded as the first sociologist [1]) in the middle of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, logical positivism–a stricter and more logical version of Comte’s basic thesis–sprang up in Vienna and grew to become one of the dominant movements in American and British philosophy. The positivist view is sometimes referred to as a scientist ideology, and is often shared by technocrats who believe in the necessity of progress through scientific progress, and by naturalists, who argue that any method for gaining knowledge should be limited to natural, physical, and material approaches. As an approach to the philosophy of science deriving from Enlightenment thinkers like Pierre-Simon Laplace (and many others), positivism was first systematically theorized by Comte, who saw the scientific method as replacing metaphysics in the history of thought, and who observed the circular dependence of theory and observation in science. Comte was thus one of the leading thinkers of the social evolutionism thought. Comte was heavily influenitial to Brazilian thinkers. They turned to his ideas about training a scientific elite in order to flourish in the industrialization process. Some Brazilians were intrigued by this modeled that was present in the French revolution and Enlightenment ideas. However, this created issues with the church because these positivist ideas were secular and encouraged the separation of Church and state. Brazil’s national motto, Ordem e Progresso (“Order and Progress”) was taken from Comte’s positivism, also influential in Poland. Positivism is the most evolved stage of society in anthropological evolutionism, the point where science and rational explanation for scientific phenomena develops.

  12. #12 McDuff
    October 29, 2007

    Yeah, and I had a dream that I was flying, and I know a guy in a mental institution who claims to be Julius Caesar. I can also talk a lot about William James, who was a philosopher who didn’t reject God! And if I wanted to, I could tediously define every single word I used in this comment. Explain all that if there isn’t a God, you dumbassed atheist types! Honestly, you’re such children!

  13. #13 STH
    October 29, 2007

    You know, I wrote this long comment with all this nice reasoning, a little Bertrand Russell, yadda yadda, but what’s the point? This herman person is just going to whip out his Webster’s again and wave his arms around some more.

    It all boils down to this: if you have some evidence that your god exists, let’s see it. Anything else is just hot air.

  14. #14 revere
    October 29, 2007

    herman: I’m not sure you have kept up with the current philosophy of science. Scientists do give primacy to rationality, which is a stable and widely shared system for making inference and explaining things that crosses cultures, historical periods and political systems. There are other systems of thought. You are welcome to them but they don’t share those characteristics.

  15. #15 revere
    October 29, 2007

    McDuff: the problem with your comment is that it is hard to tell if it is parody or self-parody. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. LOL.

  16. #16 traumatized
    October 29, 2007

    rev,
    you’re asserting that rationality is a system of thought? One that is not practiced by the religious? not practiced by those in the humanities? Huh?
    Or is rationality a quality of reasoning–as in ‘I.D. is an irrational science’. You would accuse descartes, aquinas or maimonides of being irrational?

    Watt de Fawke,
    Here is a new term for you: Root metaphor–an underlaying worldview that shapes how humans produce meaning and interpret experience.

    One final observation. Pearce’s discussion of mother theresa was pointing out that religious doubt is an ingrained part of the religious establishment and of religious life. Finding/creating meaning is a complex and lifelong process for religious people and atheists alike.

    Well. Mabye not. Some people don’t struggle with finding meaning I guess. And a few of them make buckets of money writing about how teaching creation myths is tantamount to child-abuse. These are the “New” atheists.

  17. #17 Dylan
    October 29, 2007

    traumatized: Disingenuous often? “I.D.” is not a science. “Appeals to authority” do not constitute valid arguments. “Teaching creation myths” is not what goes on within the more aggressive, rabid religions (can you say “Christianity?”) that now clearly dominate the planet. What takes place is sheer indoctrination; applied very early, very frequently, and very, very effectively.

    When the indoctrination has been particularly successful, which in some denominations is almost a certain outcome, then the victim is left with a crippling, pathologically oppressive, ineradicable condition that is virtually complete, and for all practical purposes largely indistinguishable from some form of organic brain disorder, in its observable effects on the victim’s psychological health. The victim becomes a remarkably “devout,” ambulatory vegetable; capable of functioning, with a marginal display of independence, in an environment that his indoctrination has rendered almost unrecognizable to any stable, rational being that happens to inhabit the same landscape. Only the fact that the ambient environment itself imposes physical restrictions, and constraints, on the various practices of the “devout” works to ensure that their behavior must at least mirror, to some extent, the behavior of the more rational creatures among them.

    The universe does not impose conditions on the various ideas that you might choose to embrace; because of its “seamless” nature, though, it does insist that you comply with certain of its very arbitrary laws. You may “think” however or whatever you wish; you do not have the same degree of latitude where your actions, here, are concerned, however. And it is the rational mind that apprehends, understands, and appreciates these fundamental distinctions.

  18. #18 sapo
    October 29, 2007

    The victim becomes a remarkably “devout,” ambulatory vegetable; capable of functioning, with a marginal display of independence, in an environment that his indoctrination has rendered almost unrecognizable to any stable, rational being that happens to inhabit the same landscape. Only the fact that the ambient environment itself imposes physical restrictions, and constraints, on the various practices of the “devout” works to ensure that their behavior must at least mirror, to some extent, the behavior of the more rational creatures among them.

    could this not be said for those who believe in science as well as those who believe in the more traditionally recognized religions?

    could it not be said that we who are raised in public schools in the US also undergo a process of indoctrination whereby we are taught that a certain view of the world is the only “rational” (read: correct) view of the world.

    i happen to buy into that view more than i buy into the view of traditionally recognized religions (e.g., christianity, catholicism, judaism), but i try to recognize that i buy into that view because i was taught in the methods that were designed to perpetuate that view. that is, from within a perspective we develop tools to examine that perspective and then comment on that perspective.

    are our tools not inherently limited by that perspective?

    for example, i can remember from about 3rd grade being taught the “law” of cause and effect. you push a cup off of a table (cause) and it falls (effect). now i struggle trying to understand public health from a systems perspective, and the best i can do is to break down each link in the system of influences into individual causes and effects, even going so far as to agree that we should describe the system as a (two-dimensional) spider web. i must wonder how i would view public health were i never taught that cause and effect is the law of the world.

    hopefully that illustrates how the way we are taught about the world biases the way we investigate the world and therefore the way we name the world. this does bring up a problem: it creates a perpetuating cycle. but somehow we got out of the era where we believed a lake in central mexico was the center of the universe.

    nevertheless, allowing that i buy into this view because i was taught in this view, i attempt to meet people where they are and recognize that they have been indoctrinated (like me) from a different root metaphor. that’s all fine and well…until the $$ comes into play. with limited resources available, and our youth being one of our most valuable resources, we must determine a way to decide where the resources should be directed.

    democracy seems to be the answer. populations should vote on how to educate their children. i wouldn’t want children in my community to be taught that we all came from Adam and Eve, so i would vote not to have that be so.

    i would respect others for voting differently and allow the diversity to continue.

    ponder this: how long would it take pharmaceutical companies to develop certain medications (if ever) without consulting the “irrational” beliefs of shamans and elderly women in remote “uncivilized” villages?

    suppose that all human beings were indoctrinated in the same scientific perspective or in a particular form of shamanism, would we ever progress?

    without the clashing of different root metaphors and therefore understandings of the world, would we not remain stagnant in our own oyster shell believing that lake in central mexico were the center of the world?

    i’m sure there are flaws in my posting. please point them out, as i greatly value this discussion and continually developing my own view of the world.

    based on what “Thinker” said about the bible, you read it metaphorically, in which case the interpretations and discussions the text gives rise to are more valuable than the text itself, and there is nothing objective that sets the text apart from any other text. It’s all a subjective value judgment of how good the text is at helping inspire discussion which leads to an understanding,

    i think we should consider revere’s posting here a little bible, for it has generated discussion far outweighing the original text!

    thanks

    8)

  19. #19 Caledonian
    October 29, 2007

    democracy seems to be the answer.

    If democracy is the answer, what’s the question?

    Reality isn’t democratic, and democratic systems in which the participants are not first vetted in their ability to recognize and respond appropriately to reality don’t thrive for very long.

  20. #20 sapo
    October 30, 2007

    Caledonian-i’m assuming your not being philosophical. right above democracy seems to be the answer, i wrote with limited resources available, and our youth being one of our most valuable resources, we must determine a way to decide where the resources should be directed.

    while this is not an explicit interrogative, i implied a problem: in what way should we determine how to allocate resources? to that implicit problem, i responded: democracy seems to be the answer.

    maybe you were being philosophical, in which case, i’d like you to be more explicit. perhaps you were just being an a**.

    here i take you to imply that there is only one reality, and that reality is of course the one that you subscribe to. how incredibly humble of you! and how incredibly courageous of you to take on the task of defining reality for the rest of us mere 6.6 billion blind souls.

  21. #21 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Revere,
    My inference from your post, is that you honestly believe that the scientific method of the natural sciences produces superior knowledge to any other way of thinking. And that this method can be applied to religion to arrive at a superior truth.
    This is scientism, plain and simple. And your conclusion is false. Scientism does not give you the power to claim you have superior knowledge in regard to whether or not God exists. The instant you generalize that the methods used in the investigation of the natural sciences can be used to obtain superior knowledge in all other fields of reason, you are wrong.

  22. #22 revere
    October 30, 2007

    herman: I understand why you inferred that from my post. This is a science blog and the mode of discourse is science oriented and the diction informal. This isn’t an academic forum. However that doesn’t mean anything goes, so although this isn’t a good place for academic argument I am not excused from addressing serious comments within the confines of the form, so I’ll give it a whirl.

    I consider science one way of knowing. I also partake in other ways of knowing that aren’t science, e.g., music, art and various disciplines sometimes classed as “the humanities.” Indeed I once taught the “humanities” to freshman at a famous unversity. The question whether science, as one way of knowing, is superior to the others depends on a prior question: for what purpose? For the things we talk about here — how the world works, what are the fundamental categories of things in the world, how do we explain natural phenomena (including human behavior) I confess I do consider science a superior way of knowing. So what are other ways of knowing telling us? It’s a good question and I don’t have an answer, except to say what I learn from art, music or imaginative writing is important to me as a human being and I feel that good examples of those things are telling me something I didn’t know.

    So where does that leave God and religion? This is a complicated question that I make simple here by concentrating on those aspects of it I consider baneful (you know what I am talking about). Religion is not the only thing that produces these effects. So does hate literature, even music (I am powerfully affected by music and recognize the role that military and patiotic music plays in affecting human behavior). Science can also be misused but not by virtue of it being a way to learn about the world. I won’t discuss the difficult question as to whether some things are best unknown because I don’t think it relevant to this discussion. But I don’t know of any other “way of knowing” that is as pervasively harmful as religion, superstition and the associated tribalisms and on that basis reject and condemn it. If people use it for comfort that’s their business, just as whether they use drugs for comfort or alcohol (both of which can be harmful to others, too). If you feel you know something important in knowing God, fine with me. That puts it in the same category as my knowing something important from Bach’s B minor Mass. Is what I learn from science superior to what I learn from the B minor Mass? To me, that’s a question like would I rather walk to work or carry my lunch. But I’m not aware of anyone being killed because they didn’t share my reverence for Bach, so I am willing to say that the way of knowing represented by the B minor Mass is superior to religion.

    I also can demonstrate the B minor Mass exists.

  23. #23 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Revere,
    Thank you for your explanation.
    Please note that a militant atheism can produce just as much hate and destruction as religion. Some of your readers appear to reflect this militant atheism, which I find disturbing, since I believe it is destructive. Some of your readers present dogmatic atheism.
    And I have no problem with a person believing God does not exist. And that person has every right to present that position.
    But the moment the atheist insists a knowledge of the scientific method proves their atheistic beliefs, they have gone too far, and are in the realm of scientism. To take the position that a knowledge of the natural sciences gives one the power to prove or disprove the existence of God, is absurd. Of course those who believe in God can use science to modify their religious views, and they should do this.
    I totally agree with you that religion can be very destructive, and it is very constructive for you to present this idea. But militant atheism is also very bad, and some of the books you refered to may present this intolerant view, although I do not really know if that is true or not.

  24. #24 Nat
    October 30, 2007

    Herman

    Please provide a single example from recorded history where ‘militant atheism’ has caused as much hate and destruction as religion.

  25. #25 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Nat,
    Are you not disgusted by those are dogmatic. Would not a dogmatic atheist not produce anger and repulsion in a person who is religious? Could this not lead to violence?
    If an antheist tells you that he is a natural scientist, and that as a result, he knows without a doubt that there is no God, because his knowledge of the scientific method gives him total assurance he is correct without a doubt; whould not this person repulse you.
    If an antheist told you he hated those who believe in God, because their belief is stupid; and because all religion is destructive; and that science proves without a doubt that God does not exist; are you telling me this hate could not produce violence.
    Is intolerance a good thing. Is an atheist that is a dogmatist and that hates others a good thing?
    I am not defending the destructive force that exists in religion. But please tell me how many Buddhist monks you know advocate violence against non-believers?
    Is there no violence contained in those who use science to build hydrogen bombs? Would you attack all scientists because some helped build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How many people did those bombs kill? The number is probably much higher than those killed during the Spanish Inquisition.
    Are you saying that those who help the sick and the poor through religious conviction are evil?

  26. #26 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Nat,
    Please have the patience to read this:
    Scientism-an excessive faith in the power of the scientific technique to all else–to human behavior, to ethics, to society, to religion, to culture, to everything.
    Which means,
    1.The scientist has the solution to all problems.
    2.Reductionism–that all human knowledge is reducible to the methods of the natural sciences.

  27. #27 Nat
    October 30, 2007

    So the answer to my question (please provide one example…) is ‘No’.

    followed by a long reel of strawmen…

    I’ll stop troll feeding now Revere. Sorry. I just wanted an update on whether so called ‘militant atheism’ had become militant. Which, of course, it still isn’t.

  28. #28 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Nat,
    Nat, I concede, and of course I am an excellent creator of strawmen. And of course, all atheists are non-violent.
    Now, please tell me the reasons why you are an atheist.

  29. #29 revere
    October 30, 2007

    herman: I’ll give you one answer to the question you asked Nat. There are a lot of things I (and you) don’t believe in: the toothfairy, Bigfoot, leprecauns, etc. I don’t bother denouncing them because they aren’t a factor in my private or public life. Religion is a factor in both and in terribly destructive ways. I’d denounce the toothfairy if the notion of the toothfairy were as destructive as the notion of God. Presumably you are an atheist, too. You don’t believe in many of the kinds of God that others believe in. You and I agree on that. I also include the God you believe in. Of course it might be that you believe in all Gods that others believe in, but that would be an incoherent position. ( I’m not talking about respecting others’ beliefs. I am talking about believing what they believe.) So we’re both atheists. In addition you are one particular kind of theist. I’m not. Why is that hard to understand?

    I presume you feel as strongly about militant theists as militant atheists. Maybe it would help us all if you gave us some examples of militant theists (and why you call them militant because they forcefully advance what they believe in; is the Pope a militant theist?). And what makes someone a militant? Are you a militant anti-scientist? You sound like one. If not, why not?

  30. #30 Dylan
    October 30, 2007

    Revere: I consider that last post among your most salient, trenchant, and transcendentally poetic efforts (that I have had the pleasure of observing, here, at least) designed to lead to resolving the various problems associated with this subject, to date. Not easy ideas to illuminate, at all. Excellent, excellent writing (and explication, too).

    Very remarkable, indeed. Sincerely.

  31. #31 Dylan
    October 30, 2007

    Actually, it was the one before that (didn’t allow for you sneaking one in).

    The one at 3:52 PM. That one was as clear, concise, and as well articulated as one could possibly expect, on the subject.

  32. #32 herman
    October 30, 2007

    Revere,
    Thank you for your explanation. I make no claim to have absolute truth about the existence of God, and I assume you also do not, although you are an atheist.
    For me the perfect example of a militant theist is President Bush, who appears to believe he has been chosen by God to overcome evil in the world. Of course, to accomplish this goal, he may have to bomb Iran. At least that appears to be what he thinks.
    As for a formal religion, I prefer Judaism, even though I was raised in a Christian family. I like John D. Caputo’s book, entitled The Weakness of God, which can be summarized this way:
    The paradigm of God as an overwhelming physical or metaphysical force is regarded as mistaken. God is an unconditional claim without force.
    But I have many doubts concerning religion, and make no absolute claims as to whether God does or does not exist.
    I agree with you that Religion can be a destructive force, but you seem blind to the good aspects of religion. Am I wrong about that?

  33. #33 revere
    October 30, 2007

    Dylan: Thanks. I’m embarrassed (and of course pleased) by the praise. Maybe someday I’ll even deserve it.

  34. #34 Dylan
    October 30, 2007

    herman: There are no “good aspects of religion.”

    Sorry.

  35. #35 revere
    October 30, 2007

    herman: No, I’m not blind to some good features of religion. I’ve seen it up close. But you can’t separate whatever good there might be from the bad. It’s not a matter of cutting away the fat and leaving the muscles. Religion is marbled meat with whatever good there is shot through and through with the bad. It carries in its heart a destructive tribalism that separates people from each other rather than emphasizes how we are alike. I come form a Jewish family but I gave it up before I was 13, that is, by the time I could think for myself.

    As for the good that religion produces, it can be produced other ways. None of it is a unique product of religion. I won’t quarrel with you about your assertion that God is an unconditional claim without force because honestly I don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about. So you are an atheist regarding the Christian God and not the Jewish one. Let me repeat my question about what a militant theist is. George Bush is low hanging fruit. I want to make it harder. Is the Pope a militant theist? How about Joe Lieberman? Billy Graham?

  36. #36 Caledonian
    October 30, 2007

    I consider science one way of knowing. I also partake in other ways of knowing that aren’t science, e.g., music, art and various disciplines sometimes classed as “the humanities.” Indeed I once taught the “humanities” to freshman at a famous unversity.

    Come now, be reasonable. The humanities aren’t “ways of knowing”, they’re things to know. There’s a profound difference.

  37. #37 Nat
    October 30, 2007

    Who said I was an atheist, Herman?

    Correct assumption in this case. Chance is a wonderful thing when you’re down 140 to nil

    I’m an atheist because there isn’t a smidgen of reliable evidence anywhere that any god or gods exist. The god theory has been slowly but surely rolled back since the enlightenment. (And that was after the monotheists had managed to roll back the polytheists). It is a thoroughly discredited theory. And that’s giving the god theory too much credit because it’s such a mess you couldn’t call it a theory/ies in the first place. The historical trend over the past 4000 years seems clear- we have fewer and fewer gods and I hope in my lifetime the last one will also be abondoned.

    You concede the point that I made and then throw in another strawman argument in the process. I never claimed all atheists were non-violent. You made all of the claims.

  38. #38 revere
    October 31, 2007

    Caledonian: If I know something from reading a novel I didn’t know before, what is it I have learned (since a novel is fiction)? If historiography is a scientific way to know what happened, what do you call a method to know something that didn’t happen? This is a puzzle that I short circuited by suggesting that a “way of knowing” hid something that we haven’t really explicated, whatever change comes in my perception by virtue of exposure to art, music or whatever. Is that change knowledge? I’m not sure what to call it. Maybe it’s just a change and we shouldn’t call it knowledge. But then you are stuck with a demarcating methods that produce knowledge from those that don’t and this is a hard problem that isn’t addressed by any comment here.

  39. #39 herman
    October 31, 2007

    Revere,
    All militant theists and militant atheists claim to have absolute knowledge that God does or does not exist.
    I assume you are a militant atheist, because you appear to believe you have absolute knowledge God does not exist.
    I would not say the Pope is a militant theist, since he is open to the ideas of those who are atheists, although he would insist God exists, and could give logical reasons why, without attacking in a hostile way those who are rabid atheists.

  40. #40 herman
    October 31, 2007

    Revere,
    Do you or do you not make the absolute claim that God does not exist? And would you or would you not consider any evidence that would contradict your position?
    Dogma is defined: an authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.
    A dogmatist is one who expresses or sets forth dogma.
    You appear to have taken the dogmatic militant position that God does not exist. If so you are a dogmatist and a militant atheist.

  41. #41 revere
    October 31, 2007

    herman: Your use of the word “absolute” is problematic for me. As far as I am concerned there is no God nor is there any evidence for God, and if God is given the attributes of benevolence, as many will do, then there is evidence there is no God. Is my belief “absolute”? I don’t know. It is what it is. It is as absolute as my belief there are no leprecauns or the toothfairy or woodsprites. Are you agnostic about them, too, or in reality do you act as if they don’t exist? I wouldn’t give God any more thought than I do the toothfairy except militant theists won’t let it be and contour the shared social world we live in by insisting I either acknowledge or take into account their beliefs in the equivalent of the tooth fairy. So I object. Absolutely.

  42. #42 traumatized
    October 31, 2007

    Caldenian said: “Come now, be reasonable. The humanities aren’t “ways of knowing”, they’re things to know.”

    /traumatized laments that the scientific community has forsaken traditional liberal arts education.

    ___
    rev, it would be interesting to hear your take on the demarcation of science.
    Caldonian, it would not be interesting to hear your take on the demarcation of science.

  43. #43 Caledonian
    October 31, 2007

    Caledonian: If I know something from reading a novel I didn’t know before, what is it I have learned (since a novel is fiction)?

    You’ve learned what the contents of the novel are. Nothing less, and nothing more. It’s a thing to know, not a way of knowing. Precisely the same thing can be said about scientific models – they’re simply data, grist for our mental mills. Only by applying the models do we gain knowledge about what they say, and only by comparing what they say to our observations can we generate knowledge about their accuracy and utility.

    But then you are stuck with a demarcating methods that produce knowledge from those that don’t and this is a hard problem that isn’t addressed by any comment here.

    That problem is a Gordian knot that cannot be untied. The solution is to cut through and discard it, not to struggle with the knot fruitlessly.

  44. #44 revere
    October 31, 2007

    trauma, Caled: The demarcation problem is indeed difficult and perhaps isn’t a sensible question. But then Caledonian’s comment falls apart. If you can’t give a criterion for when knowledge is produced or not, then you can’t say whether the humanities produces knowledge or not. The demarcation problem is not resolved by today’s philosophers of science and I have no solution to it (alas).

    BTW, what have I learned from the B minor Mass? What it sounds like?

  45. #45 Nat
    October 31, 2007

    Thinking about the god theory scientifically yields criteria for changing ones mind. Therefore it is not dogmatic and it’s not absolute in the way that religionists will claim again and again in a strawman fashion. Religionists on the other hand won’t or can’t change their mind unless they are told to by an authority figure.

    People have been looking for gods or a god since the beginning of recorded history. They have not found a single specimen. I therefore find it highly unlikely that there are any gods. This is not an absolute belief. In fact it’s not a ‘belief’ at all because I’m quite willing to change my mind. Show me one single example of a god and then I’ll accept that such creatures exist.

    Now read through the paragraph above and replace god/s with bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, fairies, goblins or creatures from another planet that have visited earth. I don’t believe in any of these either and yet I’m willing to change my mind in the face of a single specimen. Victorian descriptions of the platypus for example were ridiculed – then the specimens arrived.

    Is this position not a reasonable one?

  46. #46 Caledonian
    October 31, 2007

    If you can’t give a criterion for when knowledge is produced or not, then you can’t say whether the humanities produces knowledge or not.

    There’s knowledge, there’s belief, and there’s conviction. They’re three distinct things, and there are criteria for them all.

    I wouldn’t look to philosophers of science for answers if I were you… or for that matter, for questions.

  47. #47 revere
    October 31, 2007

    Caledonian: “I wouldn’t look to philosophers of science for answers if I were you… or for that matter, for questions.”

    Fair enough. Point me to whom I should look for the answer to the question you said we should disregard but for which you claim to have criteria. What is the criterion for knowledge?

  48. #48 Caledonian
    October 31, 2007

    Cutting through the knot isn’t disregarding it. I will also note that one cannot call into question a concept that you need to perform the investigation in the first place.

    To know something requires that you be justified in claiming that it is true. Belief doesn’t require that. Nor does conviction. Justification is the key.

    Art is valuable. But it doesn’t provide justification for any belief, except about the perception of the art itself. And that’s trivial.