One More Round…

I had not intended to do another post on this subject. But in response to P.Z.’s post , my fellow Panda’s Thumber Burt Humburg left a lengthy comment that I feel requires a response. So I’ll ask your patience as we go one more round…

Burt wrote:

You know what audiences really love PZ? The ones who are steeped in religion and have steeped their children in it to the point that they think that all of morality and goodness and apple pie proceeds fundamentally from a love of God? Those guys?

Turns out, they absolutely love it when “2 + 2 = 4” comes coupled with “Therefore, there is no god.” Man, I can’t tell you how many creationists I’ve won over with a message purely steeped in the data alone. That’s all they’ve been missing, PZ. You’re the first person to ever think of such an approach! If they just hear the facts about evolution, they’ll adopt it. That’s what they’ve been missing! Go, PZ! Spread your message of science and data-driven conclusions, resting assured that a data-centered approach without regard to whatever beliefs they’ve held to that point will see them through to adopting science!

I wonder how many creationists Burt has won over with any message at all. He has certainly set himself a difficult task in focusing on people so steeped in religion that they think all goodness flows from a love of God. All the clever PR in the world will not change the fact that viewing humanity as the improbable outcome of three billion years of evolution by bloodsport is difficult to reconcile with the picture of humanity as the intentional creation of a loving God.

It’s not because of Richard Dawkins that people see a conflict between evolution and religion. They see it because it is real, and it is obvious. Some people may be capable of the mental gymnastics required to see divine purpose in the evolutionary process. Others may achieve rapprochement by the clever device of agreeing not to think about it too much. But the fact remains that a long-term strategy based on persuading people that evolution and traditional religion are compatible has little chance of success.

That said, who is it, exactly, who says that public presentations on science should include grand pronouncements against religion? Certainly not me, and I don’t think PZ either. Over the past few years I have given several public presentations about evolution and creationism, all of them sponsored by skeptics and atheist groups, and even in that context it never occurred to me to bring up religion. For that matter, I’ve seen Ken Miller’s public presentations on evolution, and he says nearly nothing about religion either. I would find it weird to discuss religion in such a talk. Yes, of course, in a public presentation on science you stick to the science. And if during the Q and A someone asks you about it you simply note the wide diversity of opinion on the matter while politely explaining your own view.

Umm, you know those kids in your class who you’ve presumably used that approach on? They want to be in your class. And they vote. But that population is dwarfed by the population of people who aren’t interested in understanding the data behind our conclusions and are foremost concerned about a science that bespeaks atheism.

By the way, PZ, that population votes too.

We’ve discussed this before. Coupling strong science education to the proselytizing of atheism just is a nonstarter in places like Kansas. It’s just not politically astute. And you’re calling Mooney and Nisbet craven for recognizing this? How politically insensate can you be?

Leaving aside the completely unwarranted and obnoxious suggestion that P.Z. preaches to his classes, I think Burt has conflated two separate issues. There are the local issues of winning school board elections and protecting science education and keeping creationism out of science classrooms. In that context I entirely agree that a certain amount of political savvy is required. I do not advocate anyone running on an anti-religion platform anywhere in the country, not just in Kansas. I say this both because it is politically unwise and because it is frankly inappropriate. A large part of my anger towards the folks on the old Dover school board, for example, is based on the fact that they tried to bring religion into a place it didn’t belong. I don’t want my side doing that either. Absolutely no one, so far as I know, is saying otherwise, and that is not why Mooney and Nisbet (mostly Nisbet) are being criticized.

The criticism comes when we switch to the global issue. Why do we have these constant flare-ups? Why is it that we no sooner win one school board election then we find crazy people in another state trying to inject religion into science classes? Why is it that election wins in one cycle are so frequently undone in the very next cycle?

It is because of religion. Specifically, it is because of the hold that religious faith has on the American psyche. The polling data that sparked off this latest spat showed that large percentages of people hold to their religious views even in the face of contrary scientific evidence. So long as such attitudes are dominant there can be no long-term victory for science in these matters.

Those attitudes must be weakened, and the only way I know of doing that is to make contrary ideas part of the national zeitgeist. That is what Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett are doing. No one is saying they should be hired as campaign managers for local school board elections. We are saying instead that their polemical tomes have put atheism and rationalism on the national map, and that this is an important service in the fight against religious extremism.

And that is where the criticism of Nisbet in particular comes in. He has been promoting the idea that there is something called “the cause” that is being hurt by Dawkins and the others. The idea was that there are religious moderates out there who are driven over to the darkside because of strong atheistic rhetoric. It is this idea that is short-sighted and, yes, craven.

Burt needs to spend more time pondering a simple fact. The pro-science side of the evolution debate is losing. Big time. If the courts ever step out of the way (which is not an unrealistic scenario, especially if the Republicans win in 08) we will have some form of creationism taught in virtually every school district in the country. Some school boards will do it out of a genuine conviction that it is the right thing to do, while others will do it to appease those in their districts who feel that way. That is where the strategy of treating each school board fight as a spearate struggle has gotten us. Such are the fruits of a strategy based entirely on cowering before religious moderates, pleading with them not to go over to the side of darkness and ignorance just because of a few meanies like Dawkins and Hitchens.

You might win a few battles with such a strategy, but you will inevitably lose the war.

Burt goes on for several more paragraphs, turning up the rhetorical heat while mostly repeating the same points. Since I don’t wish to respond with the same rudeness he showed toward P.Z. , I will stop here. I would simply urge him to take a longer-term view of this struggle. National attitudes change slowly, but they do change. As P.Z. notes, recent polling data provides reason for optimism. It would be a mistake to back down out of fear of alienating a handful of moderates.

Comments

  1. #1 Felicia Gilljam
    September 3, 2007

    Great post!

    I wonder though if it wouldn’t be better to simply ignore people like Burt. He’s unlikely to be convinced that the loud and vocal strategy is correct by any amount of careful arguing… The time spent trying to convince fellow atheists/rationalists that there really is a point standing up for ourselves could be spent standing up for ourselves. ;) All this infighting is starting to get a bit silly.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 3, 2007

    Felicia-

    Glad you liked the post. As I mentioned, Burt is a fellow Panda’s Thumb contributor and I always find his contributions there interesting and well-reasoned. It was precisely because I have such a high regard for him that I felt his comment deserved a response. I wouldn’t have bothered if it had been almost anyone else.

  3. #3 Brian
    September 3, 2007

    I’ll probably get flak for this…but on a general level I find myself agreeing with Humburg. Regardless of the facts, there is a general impression among people that evolution and atheism are one and the same. Sure, people can cling to a kind of theistic evolution, or follow Francis Collins’ encompassing of evolution by “bio-logos”, but the fact is that many people generally equate evolution with some kind of nihilistic atheism.

    As a physicist, I find it interesting that evolution is seen as the God-killer, and not, say, Newton’s laws. I could easily stand up and say “classical determinism, quantum mechanics and the big bang are scientific fact … and therefore there is no God.” Yet physics isn’t atacked in the same way evolutionary biology is. The idea of “intelligent falling” is viewed as a joke, while “intelligent design” is viewed by many as legitimate “science”.

    I understand there are differences between the two, and that in our modern society evolution is seen as the more dangerous threat. But I don’t accept the idea that if evolution is generally accepted it will kill religion. Religion may be forced to change and adapt, but it will still be around a thousand years from now. Gallileo didn’t kill it, Newton didn’t kill it, and neither will Darwin.

    I don’t think that means we should back down from defending science in the slightest. Creationists don’t have a “equally valid alternative view”, they have a wrong view. But I do think we should be mindful not only of how we present science, but also of how we are perceived. If people hear “evolution is compelling, it has a wonderful story to tell and here it is” then people will be compelled to stick around for the facts. But if people hear “you people are stupid delusional monkeys” they will walk away convinced that we don’t know what we are talking about.

  4. #4 Dan S.
    September 3, 2007

    OK, so the idea is this: we’re losing the war for good science in the schools, in countless classrooms across the country teachers gloss over or simply skip evolutionary bio – the cornerstone of the life sciences – because they’re afraid of backlash or don’t want a fuss or even personally oppose it, we face constant flare ups, the next lawsuit that makes it to the currentSupreme Court, I think, probably has a decent chance of giving the creationists a great big stinkin’ win. And since we can’t even manage to teach evolution, the answer is that we’ll just have to smack down religion hard enough – in the famously devout U.S.A. – that it will stop pushing back so much.

    It’s very logical, I’ll give you that. It gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I tend to think it’s wildly grandiose, in a backing-away-slowly way, but logical, yes.

  5. #5 rmp
    September 3, 2007

    I’m a 47 year old lutheran who just completed teaching confirmation classes. This may seem hard to believe but PZ is the main reason that I’ve been able to get through my deconversion. As I am rather closely connected with members of our local school board as well as teachers/principles, I consider myself to be one of the loyal minions of PZ who will help guard and protect our science curriculum.

    I just wish we’d get a shirt or something.

  6. #6 Tyler DiPietro
    September 3, 2007

    That science is incompatible with religious fundamentalism is true on more than just an intellectual level, it is also true at a societal level. All one has to do is look to the middle east, even ostensibly secular democracies like Turkey, to see a conclusive example of this. Weaken science education, and your nation falls behind while the rest of the world advances.

    I think one thing we have to start emphasizing in the evo-creo wars is the economic impact of some things. So often I see the issue debated on abstract rather than concrete terms. It stands to reason that if our science educational infrastructure is weakened by religious mumbo jumbo, then you’ll be graduating less technical talent at the collegiate level. That means companies will go elsewhere looking for such talent, which will only mean disaster for us (meaning, the U.S.) as we face stiffer competition from Western Europe and East Asia.

    I really am getting tired of watching my country slowly commit suicide.

  7. #7 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 3, 2007

    From what I have read on Pharyngula and from listening to PZ speak; I really don’t think that Burt has taken an accurate measure of what PZ says about religion. There are certain commenters on the site who irritate me, of course, but they have their own independent points. PZ has emphatically made the point at times that he doesn’t think that Christians are stupid. He doesn’t understand how scientists can compartmentalize religion separately from the logical and data-based thinking they practice in their work. And it can be hard to figure out.

    The ones he thinks are stupid are the ones that either make shit up, distort science to reflect that which it can’t demonstrate, quote-mine, and do all of the things that Creationists (of whatever stripe, including Theistic Evolutionists) do to try to prove that their faith has a demonstrable evidentiary support structure. And it can’t, by definition.

    I would say that the people who get upset over what Pharyngula is about are the ones who actually have a very weak faith which doesn’t hold up well to ridicule or demonstration of its silliness.

    I have tried to make the point to Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney that by telling atheists to pull back they are patronizing not only the atheists, but the so-called moderate religious as well. It is a matter of intellectual honesty for atheists to discuss openly (unless their social situation requires them to be closeted) their reasons for not having a god-belief. I am not sure how keeping that quiet serves any purpose in popularizing science.

    The people “threatened” by the concept of teaching children scientific modes of thinking are going to kick back no matter what the so-called “New Atheists” write. rmp is a good example of the the type of religious people who don’t push back against science even though many scientists are vocal atheists.

    I think that in order to attain a mutual respect with the moderate religious whose votes we need to prevent a creationist takeover of the United States, we owe them integrity and honesty and only then can we expect it in return. I don’t think that mushiness will serve much purpose.

    Kant thanked Hume for forcing him to abandon his dogmatic thinking on religion.

  8. #8 Stuart Coleman
    September 3, 2007

    I think this is the most lucid explanation of our side of this ludicrous infight that I’ve ever seen. How anyone disagrees with it I will just never understand.

  9. #9 Felicia Gilljam
    September 4, 2007

    Jason, Let me amend my comment then and say we shouldn’t ignore the people, just the fight itself. ;) Seriously though, I agree with Stuart Coleman. Personally I would love it if your post could simply be the last word on the matter. I think the atheist movement (if it’s even possible to say that in singular) would do well to adopt a live-and-let-live strategy, at least when it comes to other atheists!

  10. #10 Russell Blackford
    September 4, 2007

    I have to say that I’m starting to find the whole debate on ScienceBlogs disheartening. It is conducted in a way that is absurdly parochial, based on specifically American issues, largely to do with the teaching of biology.

    Yes, I know that that’s important. But if you’re living in Australia (as I am, and where we’ve recently been winning the fight against the Catholic Church to get therapeutic cloning legalised … but totally losing the fight about gay marriage), or Italy (where the Church has been very successful lately in getting draconian legislation enacted on reproductive and genetic technologies), or the UK (as Dawkins is), or France (as Michel Onfray is), or any other Western country, the total debate about religion and its scrutiny from the so-called “New Atheism” looks very different … much as we all have to shudder at the thought that US-style creationism will infiltrate our societies.

    This debate can’t be all be about what might or might not be the best PR strategy to counter creationist school boards in darkest Kansas.

    I cannot imagine any moderate Christian anywhere in the world – outside of the US – being driven to deny the paradigm of evolutionary biology on the basis that some atheists use evolution to argue against Christianity. Even the Vatican, which is far from moderate, accepts evolution. In any country other than the US, the argument will about the implications of evolution, not its essential correctness. People who criticise Dawkins, in particular, without realising this fact are looking at the whole debate with blinkers on.

  11. #11 Sam t'C
    September 4, 2007

    Russell Blackford has a point, but to be fair to the bloggers and posters, they are working in the USA and fighting that fight.

    And the US problem is unusual because the Age of Enlightenment of the late 18th century affected Europe and the US differently. In Europe, society, church and politics were all affected and (as Russell says) we don’t have these arguments about crazy creationist ideas at any serious scale. In America, the Founding Fathers of the US were very much attracted by and influenced by the ideas of the Age of Reason, giving rise to the very rational political and constitutional system, but everybody else sailed blithely on, so the church still acts as European churches of the Middle Ages acted, bullying and authoritarian.

    I suspect their are other issues now (excessive fear of strangers and the unknown always seems an under-rated factor in the US mindset, if one can talk of a mindset at such a grand scale) but it is easy for us English-speakers to assume that because all those who speak the same language are in similar societies.

    I think Lenny Flank point out the most crucial point:
    It must be recognized that the evolution/creation debate is, at core, not really about science or education. The creationists/IDers are not concerned in the slightest about scientific questions, or about correctly interpreting data, or about forming better explanations and understanding of the natural world. Instead, creationism/ID is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fundamentalist Religious Right — it is a religious and political movement, not a scientific one, and its goals are entirely religious and political, not scientific.
    That’s from http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/2437/

    The scientific argument has long since been won; this is a political or social fight for the power of humane reason over the power of self-appointed bullying liars.

  12. #12 Daryl McCullough
    September 4, 2007

    Jason writes:

    Why do we have these constant flare-ups? Why is it that we no sooner win one school board election then we find crazy people in another state trying to inject religion into science classes? Why is it that election wins in one cycle are so frequently undone in the very next cycle? It is because of religion.

    How do you know it is because of religion? How can you tell whether religion causes anti-scientific attitudes, or whether anti-scientific attitudes cause people to turn to religion?

  13. #13 J. J. Ramsey
    September 4, 2007

    Rosenhouse: “I wonder how many creationists Burt has won over with any message at all.”

    Judging from Humburg’s comment, maybe a few:

    When I go to creationist revivals and I talk to people about what evolution really is about and they respond by saying, “That’s evolution? I thought evolution meant I couldn’t love God anymore…” Well, PZ, I’ve had some success in getting Christians to relax about science education with that approach. And it’s not like “Let’s look at the data” hasn’t been tried in presentations to creationists.

    If you don’t believe him, that’s understandable, but you wrote as if he hadn’t even written that.

    Rosenhouse: “The idea was that there are religious moderates out there who are driven over to the darkside because of strong atheistic rhetoric”

    Careful here. When we are talking so-called “moderates,” we aren’t talking about people like Ken Miller or even (sigh) Francis Collins. We are talking people who are typical Kansans. These are may not be fundamentalists, but they are conservative Protestants and probably evangelical. They aren’t as closed as outright fundies, but getting them away from ID or forms of creationism is touchy.

  14. #14 Texas Reader
    September 4, 2007

    I’ve read Ken Miller’s book. I am a former christian, currently an agnostic leaning towards atheism. I think that religion is only incompatible with science when you are talking about fundamentalist religions which take the bible literally. There are plenty of religious groups, such as Episcopalians, that consider the bible’s creation stories to be myths. And I agree with Burk that attacking someone’s religion gets you nowhere. I think the best hope for expanding rationalism is twofold: 1 – point out and fight against efforts to incorporate religious beliefs into US law (prayer in the schools, restricting access to abortion, etc.) as incompatible with the country our founding fathers set up and 2 – teach the beauty and excitement of science – how forming a hypothesis, testing it, and discarding or revising the hypothesis is such an interesting process and how often the process yields unexpected results. Children and adults like mysterious and stories with strange turns. I remember in college hearing about how a scientist concocted a glue and found that it did not hold well, so he used it to attach pieces of paper together and the 3M sticky note was born. Let’s promote the excitement of the process and then let people turn their critical thinking to their religious views on their own. This is how I ended up where I am. Attacking religion just feeds the misguided christian notion that they are being “persecuted” and must “stand up for their rights” which translates into indoctrinating our society with their views.

  15. #15 David D.G.
    September 4, 2007

    Daryl McCullough wrote:

    How do you know it is because of religion? How can you tell whether religion causes anti-scientific attitudes, or whether anti-scientific attitudes cause people to turn to religion?

    That’s a fair question on the surface of it, but when you consider that religion institutionalizes the perpetuation of antiscientific attitudes and ideas, I think it’s pretty fair to say that religion is the active force here. Balmy ideas are one thing; we’ll never be rid of them, but by themselves they usually only permeate a comparatively small part of the population. A whole organized system for promoting them, on the other hand, is something else again, and it is clearly darned hard to fight, whether it is recognized as religion or is otherwise organized pseudoscience (e.g., chiropractic colleges). The latter must be fought as hard and as publicly as possible on those points of scientific reality that they try so hard to bury and ignore.

    ~David D.G.

  16. #16 Explict Atheist
    September 4, 2007

    Daryl McCullough wrote:
    “How do you know it is because of religion? How can you tell whether religion causes anti-scientific attitudes, or whether anti-scientific attitudes cause people to turn to religion?”

    There are non-religious reasons to object to technology, and we can debate that also, but there is no reason to think that most people who back creationism do so for such non-religious reasons. Creationism is an intrinsically religiously motivated concept.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    September 4, 2007

    Texas Reader: “I think that religion is only incompatible with science when you are talking about fundamentalist religions which take the bible literally.”

    I would only half-agree with this. I’d say that it is the religions that tend to accommodate themselves to the facts, even if they do it by doctrinal kludges, that stay the most out of the way of science. That includes for the most part the more liberal mainline Protestant denominations, but Catholicism is dicier.

  18. #18 hoary puccoon
    September 5, 2007

    Setting up an absolute conflict between science and religion seems to me to be giving away too much. There are a lot of aspects to religion– mystical (“I get this wonderful feeling of peace as I gaze at the mountains/ stars/ sea); ethical (I believe in following Jesus of Nazareth’s/ Mevlana’s teachings); ritual (I love singing the old hymns/ lighting the menorah); traditional (I love the ancient texts for their connection with our ancestors); social (I see my friends at the church/ mosque/ synagogue.)

    None of those aspects of religion conflicts in any way with science. In fact, science has particularly high standards of ethics.

    What conflicts with science is the imputation of natural events to divine intervention and, especially, the insistence that the bible is literally true and absolutely internally consistent.

    So why fight ‘religion’ when a lot of people take religion to mean something innocuous? Letting the fundamenalists get away with claiming that they represent “religion” or even “Christianity” puts a lot of people on the side of ignorance, who would prefer to be on the side of science if they don’t have to give up their social life, ethics, or mystical feelings to do so.

  19. #19 Explicit Atheist
    September 5, 2007

    hoary puccoon wrote:

    “So why fight ‘religion’ when a lot of people take religion to mean something innocuous? Letting the fundamenalists get away with claiming that they represent “religion” or even “Christianity” puts a lot of people on the side of ignorance, who would prefer to be on the side of science if they don’t have to give up their social life, ethics, or mystical feelings to do so.”

    There is something wrong when people insist that atheism is incompatible with being the best kind of citizen and when about 50% of people say that they won’t vote for a qualified candidate for any public office who is an atheist. I don’t think that is innocuous, that is bigotry. Similarly, when the current Republican president and candidates for future president and Congress endorse creationism as an academic topic of public schools, I don’t think that is innocuous. It doesn’t matter if some religionists and some religions are not guilty, some religionists and their religions are still guilty. To address that we have to talk about religion because the problem is rooted there. Religions are the drivers behind these problems, religions are the source of these problems, even if those religions aren’t your religion. Does that make sense? It sounds reasonable and sensible to me.

  20. #20 Dan S.
    September 5, 2007

    Religions are the drivers behind these problems, religions are the source of these problems, even if those religions aren’t your religion. Does that make sense?

    Perhaps. But then why (for example) is evolution absolutely unacceptible for certain Christian groups, while simply not an issue at all for others? You can then argue, well, denominations are the drivers & source of these problems – but is this explaining anything, or do we have to drop down and consider other/additional influences?

    Off on a bit of a tangent – I really tend to think that the biggest problem with certain recent atheist discussions, etc. is that religion is wildly undertheorized as an object of analysis- not the claims of religion, but religion as a social and cultural artifact. There’s very, very little feel for how it works as part of the fabric of many people’s lives (wait, wasn’t that cotton?) – at worst, I sometimes get the impression – rightly or wrongly – that it’s seen almost solely as a kind of bad, corrupted, pathetically primative science – which while not lacking any small sliver of truth, is in some ways akin to the creationists who imagine that “Darwinism” is really a religion, complete with a prophet, rules for living and sources of existential meaning. – and even when there’s a sort of stunted formal appreciation, it’s somewhat like being able to abstract, say, specific rules for gift exchanges within a certain culture, but not really getting much of how this works out in subjective lived experience. Which hey, whatever, but when it comes to figuring out this sort of issue (that is, how to protect actual science education), that might be a bit helpful.

    Or in other words – this is all a bit like sociologists trying to figure out some problem in, say, chemistry.

  21. #21 Dan S.
    September 5, 2007

    Explicit Atheist – I should say, though, that I’m not denying that antievolutionism is obviously and veryvery strongly connected to religious issues – that would be very silly of me – but rather that this by itself doesn’t really tell us much at all; we need to keep thinking.

  22. #22 Explicit Atheist
    September 5, 2007

    All religionists try to balance faith with reason but some start with reason and try not to allow faith to contradict their reason whereas others start with faith and try not to allow reason to contradict their faith. That is why evolution is less acceptable to some and more acceptable to others. They are both making the mistake of elevating ideological faith as a value in competition with reason. Once people opt to do that, the decision on where to strike the balance when there is a conflict becomes a subjective issue. Try to argue why it is wrong to give priority to religious faith over science without arguing against religious faith altogether. Maybe you can do that, but atheists can’t do that without being at least somewhat insincere. If atheists could sincerely make such an argument then we wouldn’t be atheists. So asking us not to make such arguments is sort of like asking us not be atheists.

  23. #23 Explcit Atheist
    September 5, 2007

    Last sentence should have been “Asking us to only argue against religious faith incompletely to accommodate your religious faith because your religious faith is not anti-evolution is sort of like asking us not be atheists or telling us to be closet atheists.”

  24. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    September 5, 2007

    Dan S:

    OK, so the idea is this: we’re losing the war for good science in the schools, in countless classrooms across the country teachers gloss over or simply skip evolutionary bio – the cornerstone of the life sciences – because they’re afraid of backlash or don’t want a fuss or even personally oppose it, we face constant flare ups, the next lawsuit that makes it to the currentSupreme Court, I think, probably has a decent chance of giving the creationists a great big stinkin’ win. And since we can’t even manage to teach evolution, the answer is that we’ll just have to smack down religion hard enough – in the famously devout U.S.A. – that it will stop pushing back so much.

    It’s very logical, I’ll give you that. It gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I tend to think it’s wildly grandiose, in a backing-away-slowly way, but logical, yes.

    I’m not sure it is that logical. The judge who ruled on Dover was a Republican, and a Bush appointee at that. Also, there seems to be implicit in it an idea that we can just “smack down” religion hard enough (although that isn’t how Rosenhouse put it), as if all we had to do was turn up the rhetorical heat.

  25. #25 hoary puccoon
    September 6, 2007

    Explicit Atheist–
    Thanks for the polite, considered reply (unlike so many of my exchanges with creationists.)

    If I understood you correctly, I see 2 issues here– 1) whether ‘faith’ can be used as a way of identifying facts, and 2) whether people’s emotional responses to rituals, ethical arguments, etc. should be criticized.

    On 1) we are in total agreement. I loathe the post-modern ‘there are different ways of knowing and my faith is just as good as your comparative anatomy, fossil, and molecular evidence in determining whether we share a recent common ancestor with chimpanzees.’ IMO, ‘faith’ used that way is simply a bullying technique, and ought to be despised by every fair-minded person, regardless of their other religious views.

    On 2) I think we diverge. If someone feels some kind of ‘in touchness with the universe’, if you will, when taking communion, (or seeing a sunset, for that matter) I think those emotions ought to be respected. I don’t think pressuring people to give up that aspect of religion does any good, and it muddies the waters when arguing point 1). If you’re dealing with, for instance, an alcoholic in recovery, their reaction is likely to be, ‘no matter what you say, I won’t ‘believe in’ (!) evolution, because if I quit the church, I know I’ll be back in the bars inside a week.’ So Humburgs’s reassurance that you can accept evolution and love god, too, seems to me like a good strategy.

    There is also a point 3), and that’s religious intolerance. I was raised in an extremely tolerant, liberal Christian sect (from which I have moved to secure and satisfying agnosticism). But even in Christianity in its gentlest form, there was a lot of sniping at other religious views. Your point that many people won’t vote for an atheist is a mild example of how intolerant religious people can be.

    My reaction to that is to attack the symptom. I think it’s okay to criticize an act. But still, try to respect the emotion behind it. And it does seem to me that an atheist who says, ‘I don’t believe in god, but if elected I will protect your constitutional right to disagree with me, and I will represent all the citizens in my district, regardless of their religious views,’ will have a better chance of getting elected than an atheist who simply says, ‘you’re wrong.’ Maybe that seems like a moot point now, when it’s hard for any atheist, no matter how tolerant, to get elected. But the day is coming….

    (I’m tempted to add, ‘have faith, brother, and hold on…’)

  26. #26 Explicit Atheist
    September 6, 2007

    You are arguing as if the fact claims and the emotional\ethical dependency characteristic of religious beliefs are separate but the Christian, Islamic, Jewish, etc. religions themselves insist otherwise. Its in their prayer books, in their holy books, in their cleric’s sermons. The efficacy of prayer fact claim is an example of the inseparableness of the unjustified fact claims and the emotional\ethical dependency.

    In any case, I think you are tackling the wrong end of the problem. The problem is the religious indoctrination that encourages people to be emotionally\ethically dependent on the religious beliefs or clerics in the first place while you seem to think the problem is atheists arguing against the religious beliefs that people are emotionally\ethically dependent on. Religion encourages people to elevate religious faith into a top virtue which is just another way of saying it encourages people to be closed minded and emotionally dependent on the religious beliefs. When some people realize the fact claims are unjustified they sometimes then feel lost. Mother Theresa’s emotional turmoil struggling with her disbelief is a product of religious indoctrination. The blame here belongs squarely with the religious beliefs that foster the emotional\ethical dependency, not with atheists arguing against the religious beliefs.

    Everyone will adopt the beliefs that they are most comfortable with, but they are entitled to be exposed to a variety of competing beliefs, including atheism. I think your appeals to the emotional or ethical dependency of religious people on their religious beliefs is circular and mistaken. That dependency is itself bad and should be neither encouraged nor catered to.

  27. #27 hoary puccoon
    September 7, 2007

    Explicit Atheist writes:

    “When some people realize the fact claims [of religion] are unjustified they sometimes then feel lost. Mother Theresa’s emotional turmoil struggling with her disbelief is a product of religious indoctrination. The blame here belongs squarely with the religious beliefs that foster the emotional\ethical dependency, not with atheists arguing against the religious beliefs.”

    I am in absolute agreement with you on this point. There is no question in my mind that Mother Teresa suffered cruelly and needlessly because of the pressure to maintain Catholic doctrine. She would have been far better off if she had sympathetic atheist friends encouraging her to work through her doubts, rather than priests performing exorcisms.

    I was thinking more in terms of people who are content with their spiritual feelings, or at least afraid to give them up. Keeping the discussion away from ‘you shouldn’t feel that way,’ is helpful in any situation.

    What is ultimately going to turn people away from religion is meeting atheists who are happy, successful, ethical people. My suspicion is that there are lots of people– perhaps even a majority– who really don’t ‘get’ religion. They go along with it because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do. The more reasonable and tolerant atheists are– by which I don’t mean waffling, but firmly taking the attitude, ‘I respect you even though our opinions differ’– the more likely the secret non-believers are to feel they can relax and drop the front they’re keeping up.

    You said about me, “you seem to think the problem is atheists arguing against the religious beliefs that people are emotionally\ethically dependent on.” That’s not correct. I don’t see atheists as a problem. I don’t see that showing the bible as a book of ancient writings with no claim to inerrancy is a problem. I’m saying arguing against people’s feelings is rarely effective.

    Answers in Genesis argues that people can disbelieve the literal creation story in Genesis and still be good Christians, but they’ll be more prone to losing their faith than biblical literalists. I think AiG are absolutely correct in this. Only, I’m reading them backwards. Encourage people to question the literal truth of the bible without telling them, ‘therefore there is no god and you have to give up your faith,’ and eventually a lot of them will decide, ‘it’s all bogus. I don’t need this superstition in my life.’ And isn’t that what you’re aiming for?

  28. #28 Explicit Athesit
    September 7, 2007

    I don’t know many religious people who say their religious beliefs are not true but they believe them anyway because it makes them feel better to believe them. Beliefs are justified by evidence that the beliefs are true, not by whether or not the belief make believers happy, and msot everyone recognizes this.

    I explained to a religious person not long ago why “god did it” is a declaration, not an explanation. The impression I usually get when I make this argument is that few people have encountered such an argument before, that they have never thought of it that way before, that they realize the argument is strong. In other words, that a “god did it” fails as explanation argument can be effective. I don’t feel guilty at all that I am hurting people’s feelings by challanging their justifications for their god belief.

  29. #29 Explicit Atheist
    September 7, 2007

    hoary wrote:

    “Encourage people to question the literal truth of the bible without telling them, ‘therefore there is no god and you have to give up your faith,’ and eventually a lot of them will decide, ‘it’s all bogus. I don’t need this superstition in my life.’ And isn’t that what you’re aiming for?”

    I am aiming for the notion that atheists are just as qualified to be “the best kind of citizen” as theists. I am aiming for the notion that the United States of America is just as much an atheistic entity as it is a theistic entity, with zero being the measure of each.

    In 1958, a Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of our citizens would not vote for a Black candidate for president merely on the basis of race. In 1999, the last time the poll was taken, the figure was 4 percent. For Catholics, Jews, and women, the latest “would not vote for” figures were 4 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent, respectively. Yet when it came to atheists, that 1999 poll showed that 48 percent of Americans still would not vote for someone merely on that religious basis. In my opinion, this sort of prejudice is in no small measure perpetuated by our government telling everyone with a coin in his or her pocket that our nation officially, openly—even proudly—proclaims that disrespecting atheists is fine.

    Your attitude that atheism should not be openly expressed or advocated for is wrong and counter-productive to these goals.

  30. #30 J. J. Ramsey
    September 7, 2007

    hoary puccoon: “The more reasonable and tolerant atheists are– by which I don’t mean waffling, but firmly taking the attitude, ‘I respect you even though our opinions differ’– the more likely the secret non-believers are to feel they can relax and drop the front they’re keeping up.”

    Explicit Atheist to hoary: “Your attitude that atheism should not be openly expressed or advocated …”

    Does anyone else see a discrepancy here?

  31. #31 Explicit Atheist
    September 7, 2007

    J.J Ramsey asked
    “Does anyone else see a discrepancy here?”

    Not really. Hoary puccoon wants to have it both ways, he wants atheists to avoid antagonizing people by not arguing for atheism (I was responding to his advice not to make arguments of the “therefore there is no god” comment) but he wants to sound reasonable so he also says he favors atheists being “firm”. Since, according to hoary puccoon, it is somehow disrespectfull for atheists to actually argue for atheism, his notion of “firm” for atheists is a double standard since it entails not actually arguing for atheism.

  32. #32 hoary puccoon
    September 8, 2007

    Explicit Atheist:

    I’m not sure exactly whom you’re arguing with, here. First of all, I’m not a he, I’m a she.

    Secondly, ‘therefore there is no god’ isn’t a good, logical argument. That’s why I object to it– not because I think atheists should be stifled. Look at how you say you actually presented your case:

    “I explained to a religious person not long ago why “god did it” is a declaration, not an explanation. The impression I usually get when I make this argument is that few people have encountered such an argument before, that they have never thought of it that way before, that they realize the argument is strong. In other words, that a “god did it” fails as explanation argument can be effective. I don’t feel guilty at all that I am hurting people’s feelings by challanging their justifications for their god belief.”

    You DIDN’T say, ‘therefore there is no god.’ You DIDN’T say, ‘you’re stupid for having spiritual feelings.’ You said,'”god did it” fails as explanation.’ Simple, logical, and not belligerent. Some people’s feelings may get hurt by that, sure. Some people’s feelings get hurt if you don’t tell them how brilliant they are every time they thump their bible. That is not your problem.

    The thing is, ‘ “god did it” fails as explanation’ isn’t an attack on anyone. And, as you point out, in some cases it’s effective. NOW do you see where I’ve been going with this?

    As J. Ramsey noticed, you’ve been putting words in my mouth that I never intended. The point is not for atheists to back down. The point is to show by their actions that they are reasonable people who can respect others even when they disagree with them. Just demonstrating that you can treat people who disagree with you with respect puts you one up in a lot of people’s eyes, compared with born-again Christians who are telling everyone ‘if you don’t agree with me you’re going to burn in hell.’

    Atheists have a huge advantage over fundamentalists because, basically, the truth is on their side. Resorting to the same guilt-tripping and pressure tactics that the other side uses can be tempting, when you see people caving in to it. But it squanders your natural advantage. THAT’s why I object to it. Not because atheists shouldn’t have a right to speak out. Okay? Got it, now?

  33. #33 J. J. Ramsey
    September 8, 2007

    Explicit Atheist: “Hoary puccoon wants to have it both ways, he wants atheists to avoid antagonizing people by not arguing for atheism”

    He certainly argued that can be better to give people the tools to get themselves to conclude that there is no God, such as knowledge of Biblical errors, rather than to press the conclusion itself. There is a certain wisdom in this, though. Sometime people just have to figure things out on their own.

    Furthermore, he was thoroughly in favor of having reasonable and tolerant atheists having a growing presence, which is a good idea. Once people learn that atheists aren’t the scary people that they thought they were, their resistance to the notion of being atheists themselves decreases.

    It is an indirect, low-pressure approach, but it is not the same as saying that atheism should not be openly expressed or advocated.

  34. #34 hoary puccoon
    September 8, 2007

    Thanks J.J., except I’m not a ‘he’ I’m a she. I definitely am on the side of more secularism, less superstitution. I disagree with the ‘therefore there is no god’ approach because it just isn’t very logical. Plus, it usually degenerates into ‘is so’ ‘is not’ ‘you’re stupid’ ‘no, YOU’RE stupid,’ ad nauseum.

    In spite of Explicit Atheist’s rather rough treatment of me, his description of how he has dealt with believers is just the sort of thing I’d advocate:

    EA says:
    “I explained to a religious person not long ago why “god did it” is a declaration, not an explanation. The impression I usually get when I make this argument is that few people have encountered such an argument before, that they have never thought of it that way before, that they realize the argument is strong. In other words, that a “god did it” fails as explanation argument can be effective. I don’t feel guilty at all that I am hurting people’s feelings by challanging their justifications for their god belief.”

    I agree with that approach. Sure some people will get their feelings hurt. But people who are ready to rethink their beliefs won’t be put off, and others probably can’t be reached right now, anyhow.

    So as far as I’m concerned, this debate is all about tactics, not about goals.

  35. #35 Explicit Atheist
    September 8, 2007

    J. J. Ramsey wrote:

    “He certainly argued that can be better to give people the tools to get themselves to conclude that there is no God, such as knowledge of Biblical errors, rather than to press the conclusion itself. There is a certain wisdom in this, though. Sometime people just have to figure things out on their own.”

    Religionists are indoctrinated into their theism, they don’t figure out the God, Jesus, Holy Ghost, etc. beliefs “on their own”, they are directly told, over and over again, to believe these things, that is important, even necessary or essential to believe these things. People are not going to rid themselves of their deeply rooted prejudice against atheism if atheists are going to acquisce into this incorrect and prejudiced notion that it is impolite or intolerant or somehow wrong for atheists to argue directly for atheism. The reality is the exact opposite, it is only when atheists get out of the closet and argue directly and openly that god belief is unjustified (“therefore belief in god is unjustified” because this an issue of belief justification, not of knowledge/proof, and we should word our arguments accordingly, “therefore there is no God” is unecessarily dogmatic) that the prejudice will be defeated. Atheists have a voice, we are entitled to speak and be heard, we need to exercise our rights and speak out, clearly, directly, and unambiguously. The last thing we should be doing is surrendering to the prejudice by self-censorsing our atheist beliefs which is the foolish and defeatist double standard that hoary puccoon is advocating.

  36. #36 hoary puccoon
    September 9, 2007

    Okay, I’m out of here. Have a nice day, EA.

  37. #37 J. J. Ramsey
    September 9, 2007

    Explicit Atheist: “Religionists are indoctrinated into their theism, they don’t figure out the God, Jesus, Holy Ghost, etc. beliefs ‘on their own'”

    So what? We aren’t talking about indoctrinating people or leaving them totally on their own.

    Explicit Atheist: “The reality is the exact opposite, it is only when atheists get out of the closet and argue directly and openly … that the prejudice will be defeated.”

    Only when? Be very careful with that word “only.” It is usually about as correct as an unqualified “always” or “never.” Anyway, you seem to be almost willfully ignoring that hoary is agreeing with you that atheists should be out of the closet. Also, the idea that “showing the bible as a book of ancient writings with no claim to inerrancy” without following it with a conclusion of atheism is any kind of acquiescence is a joke. Just broaching the topic of Biblical errancy requires not acquiescing, and for Christians, it is difficult to accept all in itself.

    What you haven’t done is justify why the direct approach is always better. Instead, you just repeat the claim that anything other than the direct approach is cowardice. You advocate that it is all or nothing.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.